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Monday, September 10, 2007

Lebanese Farmers Still Reaping the Bitter Harvest of Last Years Deadly Assault

Little more than a year has passed since Lebanon experienced the brutal invasion by Israel in which 1109 Lebanese died. Until this day, Israel has still not released the maps of where they dropped approximately two to three million (some estimate four million) cluster bombs.

Sari Makdisi wrote in October 2006:

"Cluster bombs are, by definition, inaccurate weapons that are designed to affect a very wide area unpredictably. If they do not discriminate between civilian and military targets when they are dropped, they certainly do not discriminate in the months and years after the end of hostilities, when they go on killing and maiming anyone who happens upon them.

When the count of unexploded cluster bomblets passed 100,000, the United Nation's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, expressed his disbelief at the scale of the problem.

"What's shocking and, I would say to me, completely immoral," he said, "is that 90% of the cluster-bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict, when we knew there would be a resolution, when we really knew there would be an end of this."

That was on Aug. 30, by which time U.N. teams had identified 359 separate cluster-bomb sites.

Since then, the true dimensions of the problem have become even clearer: 770 cluster-bomb sites have now been identified. And the current U.N. estimate is that Israel dropped between 2 million and 3 million bomblets on Lebanon, of which up to a million have yet to explode.

In fact, it is estimated that there are more unexploded bomblets in southern Lebanon than there are people. They lurk in tobacco fields, olive groves, on rooftops, in farms, mixed in with rubble. They are injuring two or three people every day, according to the United Nations, and have killed 20 people since the cease-fire in August.

"What we did was insane and monstrous," one Israeli commander admitted to the newspaper Haaretz. "We covered entire towns in cluster bombs."

As Egeland noted, the majority of these bombs were dropped in the last three days of the war--a time when the U.N. resolution to end the fighting had been agreed on, when the war was virtually over, when it was clear that Israel had failed to accomplish its declared objectives in launching this campaign."

Since last summer, as reported by Landmine Action UK, last month:

"The UN estimates that Israel used 4 million submunitions, the majority in the last 72 hours before the ceasefire. Of the 219 civilians killed or injured by unexploded submunitions in Lebanon since August 14 2006 about 35% have been children. "

Less than three weeks ago, a Lebanese mine-clearing expert was killed while working in Nabatiyeh.

And yet, life must go on for Lebanon. Below is a report about the tobacco farmers of Southern Lebanon and the short documentary, "Siddiqine's Harvest" (Produced last fall)

Abu Ali (R), a Lebanese farmer, works on his land as a Syrian worker brings sacks of manure to pour on the soil in the southern Lebanese village of Ain Baal, March 2007. The residents of southern villages like Sidiqin, Frun and others, whose land was devasted and agricultural cycles interrupted by Israeli bombing during last year's summer war, expect a meagre harvest this year.

Poisoned by war, Lebanon reaps meagre harvest

FRUN, Lebanon (AFP) — In the field bordering the remnants of his home, Amin Akel Saad points to skeletal tobacco plants pushing up out of land burnt by Israeli bombs.

"Look at this field, Israeli planes dropped 30 bombs on it," said the elderly man. "Seventy years of work destroyed."

For many farmers in south Lebanon, the 34-day war last year waged between Israel and Shiite Hezbollah militias meant ruin, or at best a meagre harvest.

In his fields around the village of Frun, 68-year-old Saad and his sons grow tobacco with an average annual harvest of five tonnes. That, along with some fields of wheat, maize, chick peas and sesame, is usually enough to provide for the 17 members of the extended family.

But the war, unleashed by Israel on July 12, 2006, largely destroyed the harvest in the fields near the Lebanese border with Israel.

The Saad family managed to salvage 800 kilogrammes (1,760 pounds).

This year, the family was forced to abandon part of its land because of the cluster bombs dropped by the Israelis, which spread more than a million bomblets, many of which did not explode on impact, making them as dangerous as landmines.

Instead, Saad has leased other fields to plant 15,000 square metres (about four acres) of tobacco.

It has hardly been worth the effort. In fields targeted by the Israeli air force, the burnt land can scarcely support a harvest and the return is expected to be very low.

"They've poisoned our land. Nothing can be done, not even with fertiliser. Where we used to harvest 20 kilogrammes, we are not getting more than one now," Saad said, forecasting a total of 400 to 500 kilogrammes for this year.

Cultivated by generation after generation, tobacco provides a living to some 16,000 families in Lebanon, mainly in the country's south.

The state tobacco company, which maintains a monopoly, "buys 5,200 tonnes a year, at eight dollars per kilo," says Nahla Slim, the firm's communications officer.

For Saad, the calculation is simple: "The harvest will bring around 3,300 dollars (2,400 euros)." From that sum must be taken the 1,200-dollar fee for leasing the land, plus pay for fertiliser and other expenses. After that, he said: "There will be practically nothing left."

Saad says the state has given him nothing, neither for his lost harvest nor for his house that was practically destroyed. "Not even one litre of fertiliser," he said.

An official with the state tobacco company, Hussein Berro, himself a farmer, commented: "On average, the harvest will be 20 percent below that of a normal year.

"Normally, the farmers made a profit. This year, they will have to do everything they can to come out all right. Those who can, lease fields to their neighbours. But the situation is catastrophic for everyone."

At Deir Syrian, close up to the frontier, another tobacco cultivator Hassan Karim reckons to harvest 650 kilogrammes compared with his normal 800 kilogrammes. That will reap an income of 4,300 dollars -- minus the 2,800 dollars he owes to the bank in two years.

His land still bears the marks of war.

"The plants don't grow, they are sick," comments Muna, Karim's wife, looking at the long stalks and the irregular spaces left in the soil where the plants have died shortly after pushing up from the earth.

Karim has another field which de-mining specialists have carefully checked to clear of the Israeli cluster bombs.

"But we daren't go there any more. We have heard of accidents in lands which have been de-mined," he said.

"Siddiqine's Harvest":This short movie is a result of an activist video workshop in the village of Siddiqine, South Lebanon. In the course of the war, more than half the village got destroyed by the Israeli army. But more than on the destruction, the film tries to show the implications the war had for the local tobacco agriculture. On one hand people couldn ' t harvest the tobacco leaves right in time so the plants dried out, on the other hand the contamination of South Lebanon with cluster bombs stops people from reaching their fields. This video can be downloaded in full length and better quality at 31.shtml.

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