- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

GHAZIYE, Lebanon — Israeli warplanes dropped the leaflets on Sunday, warning residents that they should leave for their own safety.

None did, according to neighbors, who were indignant that Israel would order them to flee their homes in this village just south of the port city of Sidon.

Early yesterday, bombs fell on three of the village’s apartment buildings, killing 15 persons and injuring 20, according to local police.

The United Nations estimates that 70 percent to 80 percent of Lebanon’s people south of the Litani River have abandoned their homes and moved northward for safety, part of a total dislocation estimated at more than 900,000 people nationwide.

But thousands more still cling to their homes and fields in the war zone, refusing to leave for reasons of ideology or economics or just plain stubbornness, in spite of the imminent threat of Israeli bombing and a ground war with Hezbollah.

“Where would we go?” asked a witness to yesterday’s strikes in Ghaziye, who declined to be identified. “I was here in 1982, and I saw Israeli soldiers coming down this road. I was not afraid then. I have been through five wars, and I am not afraid now.”

In Qana, a village which Israel says was the source of Hezbollah rocket fire that killed 12 reservists on Sunday, farmers stayed on their land through a week of sporadic bombing, including a strike that crushed 28 persons under a house.

To abandon their summer fields lush with tobacco, tomatoes and figs, survivors said, would be to lose the income for the year.

In Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold near the Israeli border and one of Israel’s first targets in the war, thousands of civilians walked to safety after having been pinned down by a week of air strikes and harrowing ground fighting.

But many stayed, aid workers said, to guard their homes, to care for those too weak to walk away or to support the Hezbollah fighters.

Still others across the south are desperate to get to safer ground, but cannot afford the extortionate taxi fare — which currently runs between $200 and $1,000 for a trip to Beirut from anywhere in the region.

“Most people here have taken the decision not to leave,” said Abdul Rahman Bizri, the mayor of Sidon.

“Many of us have suffered … Israeli occupation before. We felt the humiliation of leaving our homes. Many lack the resources to leave. Many have no place to go.”

In Beirut, much of the social life has shifted to the safety of the mountains, less than an hour out of town. It is not exactly standing fast against the enemy, but those who are summering in Beit Meri or Jounieh say they are more loyal than those who fled to Paris, Toronto or Grand Rapids, Mich.

Across Lebanon, people are wrestling with the daily calculation of risk.

Some say they have decided to stay put in the face of near-certain danger rather than endure the indignity and discomfort of sheltering in overcrowded schools or parking garages.

Others have sent their women and children to the relative safety of Cyprus or Syria, leaving behind towns filled only with men. Some are making money on the war economy; others are motivated by something more complex.

“Every house here has a fighter,” said Mohamad Mowla, a burly Baalbek taxi driver, who added that resistance takes many forms.

Bourj al-Barajneh, a heavily bombed southern Beirut suburb, has been largely abandoned apart from a cadre of young men aligned with Hezbollah who have remained to guard against looters among the clusters of small apartments that once teemed with large families.

“No one comes in here without us,” said a boy who gave his name as “Bob.”

Some of the young and socially conscious say they are staying in Lebanon to show their loyalty to a country that has survived civil war, occupation and crushing debt, all in their lifetimes.

“I am the generation that lived the civil war,” said Suzanne, a physicist and poet who feels the need to volunteer in Beirut’s shelters but declined to be identified in full.

“We Lebanese, we do not shock so easily. There is no one else like us.”

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