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The reverberating cultural impacts from the use of explosive weapons in Lebanon

The 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and Israel lasted 33 days over July and August and predominantly took place in the southern areas of Lebanon and south Beirut. Approximately 1,000 civilians were killed in Lebanon and 4,400 wounded, of which most were civilians. Almost one million Lebanese were displaced by the violence and 125,000 homes were destroyed in the bombardment.

Whilst it is difficult in many respects to look at the cultural harms and track this to explosive weaponry alone in conflicts, they evidently play a vital role in the harm to communities and their identity. The bombs can destroy sites of culture and heritage, harming too the memory and identity of the communities that live alongside them.

Historical sites and monuments

In Lebanon, at least 12 cultural sites were damaged by the conflict. Some sites were completely destroyed in the bombardment while others sustained limited damage. Direct impacts include total or partial destruction of structures that were directly hit by the bombs and unearthing of archaeological structures after the destruction of upper levels. Indirect impacts include archaeological structures affected by the oil spill and weakening or deterioration of buildings or structures due to the bombardment in their vicinities.

The rebuilding process in many areas also changed the identity in the area. Traditional building practices were replaced by quicker, cheaper methods, as well as to modernise. This was seen in Bint Jbeil where the Old Town and other important sites saw huge levels of destruction and reconstruction did not focus on restoration.[i] The significantly damaged the memory of the city and the connection with the people.[ii]

Hezbollah museum, Mleeta, Lebanon.

The Hojeir valley in mid-southern Lebanon is a place that holds a special meaning within Lebanon’s collective memory. It is known, not only for its natural beauty and historic buildings, but also for its strategic involvement in Lebanon’s politics and conflicts. The valley is known by many other names due to the role it plays in the collective memory: Martyrs Valley, Leaders Valley, Death Valley, Resistance Valley, Mirkava Cemetery. These speak to the cultural and spiritual importance of the valley. The 2006 war amplified and broadened this significance. The valley witnessed the brutality of Israel’s bombardment and was viewed as vital to Lebanon’s opposition – particularly as Israel is criticised for targeting structures significant to the memory attached to the region, such as the ancient olive trees and old mills.

Despite the destruction caused the collective memory was strengthened through this violence, representing Israel’s failures and a victory for Lebanon. The collective memory is also thought to contribute to the strengthened sense of belonging to the land and country, not just for those living in the region but across the whole country, with tourism to the valley increasing since the war. This is also seen through the reference to the Hojeir Valley in speeches by political leaders in Lebanon.

Radicalisation

The use of explosive violence in populated areas can fuel radicalisation and terrorism. For example, in Pakistan it was found that drone attacks led to a rise in both al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist attacks across Pakistan. In Lebanon, the Hezbollah movement is as active as ever, having seen the number of fighters more than double in a decade from 20,000 to 45,000, emboldened by the resistance against Israel. Their weapon arsenal is also estimated to have increased from 12,000 rockets to 100,000 rockets – both suggest greater support for the organisation. When AOAV visited Lebanon in early 2018, Hezbollah support amongst the local population was strong. Many see Hezbollah as the force that drove out Israel. Much of this support was also bolstered by the rebuilding process, with Iran and Hezbollah seen as leading the process in the most impacted areas.[iii]

Hezbollah flags are regularly seen flying across southern Lebanon.

It is also worth mentioning that surviving such bombardment from the IDF also saw Hezbollah become a regional symbol as a force of resistance. Many groups have since come to learn from them – groups that now fight in Iraq and Syria. Though, Hezbollah support has been damaged by their presence in Syria.

Nationalism and Militarism

In Lebanon, left with a sense of victory, even those most impacted were left with a greater sense of nationalism. After the war, civilians quickly returned to rebuild and civilians today often speak with pride on how the country was able to stand up to Israel. Now, many of the Lebanese themselves now engage in war tourism of the most-impacted areas, such as the Hojeir valley, mentioned earlier.

However, after the war, the military was left with a deep suspicion of foreigners, which AOAV experienced first-hand in the south – there is the deep-rooted concern that foreigners could be Israeli spies. The security situation, check points and security checks, are understandably off-putting for tourists and hinder development in the impacted areas. Others, including those in the Lebanese diaspora, reported similar experiences and concerns.

Section conclusion

Explosive violence has a long impact on culture, particularly when historical buildings and monuments are destroyed. The results for locals sees their culture fractured, delaying healing and their sense of belonging – this has profound psychological consequences. Much of this damage, particularly to ancient infrastructure can never be remedied and has the potential to leave lasting holes within a community and history.

This, alongside other infrastructural, economical and health impacts can fuel radicalisation, in both the form of violent nationalism as well as recruitment to terror organisations. And, this can perpetuate a cycle of violence that leaves unending harm for local populations. Often such cultural effects go ignored. Very few people wish to know how such violence damages communities and how terrorist violence is fuelled by such loss under explosive weapons.

 

This article is part of AOAV’s research on the reverberating effects of explosive weapons. For the main report, ‘When the bombs fall silent’, see here. For an overview and some key findings, see here. Or, to reach other articles as part of this research, please see here.

 

[i] Hoteit, A. 2014. ‘War against architecture, identity and collective memory’, IJDR, Vol. 5:2.

[ii] Hoteit, A. 2014. ‘War against architecture, identity and collective memory’, IJDR, Vol. 5:2.

[iii] Interviews with local communities and experts.