Abu Alaa had had enough. The thugs with the guns had harassed him and had beaten his wife while she gathered wood. Now they wanted to plant trees on his land next to his tobacco crop. He had told them “no” several times, telling them that planting trees near tobacco affects the crop.
But the next day, when he went to the field, he found the trees had been planted. The crops and the land were his livelihood. So he went to the Hezbollah office in the South Lebanon village of Marwahein to complain.
“I asked them why they did what they did,” he told NOW. “We had an agreement to not plant trees there.” The official told him that they would plant the trees even if Abu Alaa had to sue. “He told me, ‘my foot is on your neck’. Then he hit me.”
Abu Alaa sits on a plastic chair on his veranda under the thick tobacco ropes left to dry. The smell is heavy, but it doesn’t seem to bother him on this hot afternoon at the beginning of Ramadan. His wife brings glasses of water for the guests and sits beside him.
“Tell them how old you are,” she urges. “I’m 68 years old,” says Abu Alaa, showing a scar on his arm. “There were five of them, but I managed to escape.”
Abu Alaa said they came after him but that the entire village came to his help. The Sunnis in Marwahein had had enough of the Hezbollah office in their village, and it was not the first time one of them had been harassed.
“I was sick for two days. Look, my medicines,” Abu Alaa’s wife, Fatima, says, picking the packs of pills from an old biscuit box. “See how many? I have to take them all.”
She sits back on her chair and sighs. “We are poor people. My husband is sick and we have only this land. We only plant tobacco.”
“Everybody has problems with Hezbollah,” Abu Alaa explains. “We don’t know why they are doing this to us. We haven’t said anything to them, and we didn’t do anything to them. We don’t even talk to them. We go to work in our land and we come back. We will never leave. It’s our land. Where else can we go?”
Khaled, one of Abu Alaa’s neighbors, sits on his veranda smoking grape-flavored arghileh while his wife and sister-in-law prepare food. They’re not fasting today.
“It started with Abu Alaa, three days ago, but it got bigger,” he explains. “They brought around 200 armed men, and all the people in the village came out to fight them. The army came. The police came. Then the secret police came. We called the mufti from Tyre, and somebody senior from Hezbollah was also here, and it is all settled now. Nothing happened. But God knows what will happen next.”
According to Khaled, the problems with Hezbollah started after the July War in 2006. Until then, there was peace and quiet in Marwahein and the other Sunni villages of Em al-Tout, Yarine, Al-Boustan and Bouhaira, which all sit on the Israeli border.
“They do this to us because we are Sunnis, and there are political problems in Beirut,” Khaled says. “Nothing like this happens in the Shia or Christian villages. But here they beat the workers on the land. They beat the women looking for wood. They beat the kids taking care of the cattle. They want to be in charge in this village.”
The anger is not shared by everybody in Marwahein. Three women sitting in front of their house swear there was never any fighting.
“No, no, no. Not at all. It’s not even something we talk about,” one woman explains while handling the tobacco ropes. “We don’t even speak of ‘Sunni’ or ‘Shia’. We are all Muslims; Arabs. Israel doesn’t differentiate between Sunni and Shia. We have the same enemy, and we’re on the same mission. My mother is Shia, and my sisters are all married to Shia. Whether we’re from Beirut, the South or the Metn, we’re all Lebanese.”
Her sister brings water and sweets. “I am with the Resistance, and I love the Resistance,” she says. “It protects us from Israel. The army or UNIFIL do nothing for us. The UN people kick us out when we go to ask for help.” She says she has had to live with an unexploded bomb buried in the family’s garden since the July War because UNIFIL have been unable to carry out a controlled explosion.
When told that the Israeli army had filmed the fight between the locals and Hezbollah, she denied it could be true. “It’s just propaganda to divide us. There’s nothing at all. Maybe the feeling of fear is there in some people, but not in me. This is normal for us. We coexist.”
Abu Alaa is amused to hear that the Israeli Defense Forces filmed everything. “Well yes, Israel is nearby,” he laughs. “Up that hill. It’s a shame that the Israeli media knows about this before the Lebanese media. We called the Lebanese newspapers and radios and nobody came.”
He leans back on his chair and sighs. “We are not against Hezbollah. Make sure you say that in your report. They are Lebanese like us. They helped us during the war. We don’t want the Israelis to get our land. My sister and my brother-in-law had seven children, and they all died in the July War. All we want is to live in peace.”