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Why South Lebanon Remains Unfarmed This Year

Why South Lebanon Remains Unfarmed This Year

By Prof. Rami Zurayk

Much of the land in South Lebanon has remained unfarmed this year. In Rami Zurayk spite of the active de-mining efforts deployed by the UN and by local NGOs, it has been difficult to plough, sow and harvest, as only a fraction of the million and a half Israeli cluster bombs have been removed. These bombs were sown by the Israelis in August 2006, in the last 72 hours of the war, and after a cease fire was agreed upon in the UN Security Council. Now why would the Israelis do something like that?

A close look at these bombs will show that they were manufactured around the time of the Vietnam War and that they were long past their expiry date. It has been conjectured that Israel was trying to save on its military waste disposal bill by dumping the expired ordinance into Lebanon. This would not be the first time that Israel would have shown total disregard for the environment and for its neighbors. There is a long standing dispute between Cyprus and Israel over the issue of Israel’s disposal of toxic wastes which affects the entire Eastern Mediterranean. The only reason why neighboring Arab Governments have never caught up with this issue is their constant state of political comatose. During the 2006 summer war on Lebanon, Israel deliberately bombed the fuel tanks of the Jiyeh power plant, spilling 15,000 tons of fuel, and causing the largest oil spill in the history of the Mediterranean. The Lebanese government complained timidly, the United Nations ran a couple of workshops, and that was the end of that.

However, the reality is that this “dumping” is much more than an environmental crime. Cluster bombs are like big containers with hundreds of small, hand grenade sized, often brightly colored bomblets inside. When dropped from the air, they spread over an area several hundred square meters wide, and explode before reaching the ground, causing the largest possible number of casualties. In expired ammunition, bomblets do not explode in the air. They reach the ground where they effectively become anti-children mines. Because they have odd shapes and bright colors, it is children who are most attracted to them, and who tend to be the first victims. Hundreds of children have been killed or maimed since August 2006. There are new victims every week, and they are not mentioned in the press anymore. The cluster bombs have become a fact of life, like traffic accidents.

While the direct damage caused to the civilian population is dreadful enough, and well worthy of the ethics of the Israeli army, it may not even be the primary goal of Israel’s “sow a mine” campaign. Farming is still important in Lebanon. This is especially true in the South where, like elsewhere in rural Lebanon, agriculture is not the main source of income, but contributes to about one third of total family income. Most farmers in the South are small holders who produce primarily for auto-consumption and local trade. During the war, they lost their harvests and their livestock. Many are still unable to farm their lands because of the cluster bombs.

Recovery from this damage is bound to take a long time, but its effect is immediate: people who suddenly lose 1/3 of their income do not have much choice; they need to fill the gap right away. Southern villages are full of young men waiting for a visa or a job to come through, usually for the Gulf but also for West Africa. With migration, the villages become depopulated. This is exactly what the Israelis want.

It looks like the Israelis are once again attempting a cleansing operation in South Lebanon. Of course, the Israelis are experts at this type of ethnic nettoyage. They have been practicing it on the Palestinians since before 1948. The uprooting of tens of thousands of olive trees, the appropriation of water resources, and the construction of the Apartheid wall are evidence to that, along with more overtly bloody acts such as the massacres of Deir Yassine and Jenine. The fact that the cleansing operation of South Lebanon is being carried out under the cover of the “war on terrorism” allows the international community to turn a blind eye to it.

Destroying the social fabric in order to displace people is an Israeli specialty. This is part of the policy they practice in South Lebanon: targeting children and women to create insurmountable grief, demolishing the historic core of villages to destroy local culture, and annihilating agriculture are all part of the same strategy.

Destroying agriculture is an especially important tactic because farming connects people to the land. Land is the source of livelihood, but it is also where local habits, customs and culture are rooted. When land is rendered unusable and valueless, farmers do not only lose physical and financial assets. When nothing binds them to land anymore, they drift away, and become poorer in other places. When their ties to the land erode, their resolve to defend it wanes, and their steadfastness weakens. This is exactly what the Israelis want.

In the great controversy surrounding the UN-sponsored International Tribunal for the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, Israel’s acts of murderous terrorism in Lebanon are easily forgotten. There is no doubt that true justice is needed, everywhere in the world, and that all those guilty of international crime must be brought to international justice. On top of the list is Israel. There are hundreds of crimes for which it should be tried, but one could start with some that are still fresh, lest they are forgotten. They include the deliberate massacre of hundreds of children in civilian buildings in Qana, and Chiyah (over 200 women and children in 3 bombing episodes), the deliberate targeting of a minibus carrying families to safety in Marwaheen after they had obtained safe conduct from the Israeli army (30 women and children in one single event), and over a hundred children maimed or killed by cluster bombs since August 2006.

Israel must be tried for the cold blooded murder of civilians, men, women and children, for cultural and environmental crimes, and for attempted ethnic cleansing. Only then will international justice be true.


Rami Zurayk is a Professor of Ecosystem Management, American University of Beirut. The opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the American University of Beirut. Interested in food, farming and rural society? You can view more of Prof. Zurayk's work at


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