14 April 2007

Bint Jbeil Memories, from Above

(click on picture for a larger view)

A in the first picture above shows Wast-el-Balad, or "Center of Town" in Bint Jbeil, the village of my family and my ancestors. This is the highest hill in the village, and is the oldest part of town. The oldest architecture of Bint Jbeil is there, hundreds of years old, including beautiful yellow-stone arched homes and some beautiful old doors and windows. the rest of the areas in the picture are a series of outlying valleys surrounding the center of town, and those outlying valleys are surrounded by highlands (not visible in the picture.) The highest is "Jabal Maroon" (Mt. Maroon,) overlooking Bint Jbeil on one side and the occupied Palestinian Jaleel (Galilee) on the other side.

B (the dark-green area) "el-Birkeh" or "the Pool," is a man-made pool that is currently not in use, but which for countless generations had been a place that collected rain water for livestock to drink, and also served as a place where all the villagers came to wash their clothes and housewares, before the time when running water became available.

C is "Karm el-Midan," the field in whose earth my grandfather and his children toiled for their livelihood. Many farm fields in Bint Jbeil are given names by their families. During the mid to late 70's, when I was a child, there were two large craters in "Karm el-Midan", each about three meters in diameter and just as deep, caused by Israeli bombs. We used them as playthings, sliding down their slopes and climbing back up in countless hours of play.

For a time, my grandfather planted tobacco in that field. At a difficult period in the history of Southern Lebanon, during and after the famine of the 20's, many farmers in the South of Lebanon were duped by a French company called ROGÉS into planting tobacco, a very difficult crop to maintain, requiring year-round labor, and waking up before sunrise to harvest the large prickly leaves, since doing so under the hot sun caused the sticky milky-white liquid that seeped from the stem to build up on one's hands and caused problems for the farmworkers. ROGÉS exploited the farmers by securing a monopoly from the French-Mandated government of Lebanon, giving the company the ONLY legal license to buy and distribute the farmers' tobacco crop. Many farmers lived in debt throughout the year, until ROGÉS came at the end of each year to pay them just enough to pay off their debts for the previous year.

D shows our house and barn. The house was abandoned throughout the Israeli occupation of Bint Jbeil (1978-2000,) a dark period for the town when 90% of the poor villagers chose to leave instead of live under the degradation of occupation. Many struggled against the occupation from outside of the occupied zone. The blue-grey rectangle is the barn and the bright white triangle is the house. The small clump of green directly to the right of the barn is our olive grove.

When my grandfather first moved from the old part of town to these outlying parts, during the first half of the twentieth century, the townfolk did not understand why he did so and all asked him why he was moving out "to live among the wild wolves," as they put it. This part of town at that time was all wilderness and outlying farmland and fruit groves, and his new two-room mud house was the only structure in the area.

E shows "Al-Wadi," or "the Valley," where my family maintained a grove of fig trees. I don't quite remember which of the sections is the one that belonged to our family, because the Wadi was sectioned off into various groves and fields for various farming families, but I have many memories of going there.

Throughout the 70's, we left Beirut during summer vacations for three months of paradise in Bint Jbeil. My three uncles Yusuf, Abdallah and Ghassan, who were just a few years older than my older sisters, would walk us younger kids to the Wadi for an afternoon among the fig trees. All the fig trees in our field bore fruit that was golden on the inside, except one tree, whose fruit had a red inside; this one tree, however, was never approached by us, because there was a large poisonous snake that lived in its trunk. My uncles would send us on our way to play among the trees, and when we got back they would have a pot of tea brewing on a small campfire. They would have the pot, the tea leaves, the matches, the tea glasses, spoons and sugar hid somewhere among the rocky terrain of the fig grove, and never told us where. It was a game, a sort of a trick they played on us every time we went there: They would first distract us, then they would dig up the tea kit before we knew it, we would drink tea and eat and play for a while, then they would distract us one more time with some playing in order to hide everything again.

My father's mother died at the age of 36, when he was only ten. Medicine was not readily accessible in remote villages back then. He was raised by his father and his mother's mother, Amneh. My great-grandmother Amneh was paralyzed from the waist down, but she was still an active member of the farming family. Every season, when the figs were ripe, she would tell her family to transport her to the grove in the Wadi, where she would camp out for the duration of the season. She actually lived in a tent! Because she was paralyzed, she did not want to be carried back and forth daily. For the entire harvest season, she would sit in her tent and work on the fruit, pickling, drying, and preserving the fruit.

(click on picture for a larger view)

The pictures above show Bint Jbeil before the Israeli assault on it this past summer. The picture below shows the aftermath of the war. All the grey is debris of the destroyed town. The Israeli assault on Bint Jbeil included the elite of the supposed "mighty" Israeli army, including the "famed" Golani Brigade, but they could not take the town. The battle for Bint Jbeil was compared to the siege of Stalingrad during World War II, when the Nazi army besieged the city for more than half a year but could not occupy it, and destroyed it in the process. Israel was defeated in its siege of Bint Jbeil because it could not occupy the town but chose to destroy it out of spiteful punishment.

(click on picture for a larger view)


Anonymous said...

The devastation is intensely apparent even from such a high altitude.
Thanks for the reminder. We should never forget.

note from the coast said...

after all my jokes about Bint Jbeil, it should be noted that this has been a strong hold of the people's resistance and without the brave souls of this town, there may not be a Lebanon. Even while occupied by Izrael, it was fighting back and never gave up until freedom. Last year Izrael thought it could just walk in and take over, but the people didn't leave and never gave in. It will be rebuilt again and again with more pride and determination.

Hassan said...

Many thanks to Ibn Bint Jbeil for this uniquely personal yet quintessentially relevant post (to those who are Lebanese). It is a very tender and enjoyable read. One question though, where did you get the satellite pictures from?

alzaher said...

if you have more photos or maps like this one, can you post a one that shows where the famous battle took place