Unhealed Wounds of Nabatieh: Unforgiving Anger After Israeli Strikes

The relentless buzz of Israeli drones resonates through the southern sky, forming an eerie symphony over Nabatieh. The haunting hum echoes all day, alternating between distant murmurs and intrusive roars. Israeli planes weave in and out of the sky sporadically, leaving uncertainty in their wake.

On February 15, 2024, citizens of Nabatieh went about their day like any other, accompanied by the humming sound of death drones cutting through the skies, creating an atmosphere of eerie familiarity.

Soon, a sharp sound of a missile sliced through the air, and a resounding blast followed.

Nabatieh on February 15, 2024.

It’s not the first time Israel has attacked Lebanon – rather, it’s a recurring nightmare. The looming threat of another Israeli strike breeds stress and the haunting fear of losing family members, but it also fosters further hatred for Israeli oppression.

“This is revenge warfare, a conflict in Gaza and Lebanon devoid of ethics. The Israelis violate all these rules and ethics to achieve their goals. Israel’s overwhelming presence has fundamentally altered how I live,” says Kamel Sobhi Jaber, a resident of Nabatieh, in an interview with Beirut Today. Kamel initially spoke with us in Arabic, but his answers have been translated for the purpose of this piece.

The 60-year-old journalist Kamel was struck by fragments in the chaos of the second Israeli explosion in Nabatieh on February 22. Meanwhile, Bilal, a 31-year-old multimedia officer, experienced the deafening blast at home as it echoed through his family’s house. Aya, a 19-year-old nail artist, also felt the eruption up close in her own home.

Three distinct individuals, each with a unique tale to tell. Yet, their shared bond lies in being of the south of Lebanon – a connection that endures in the face of potential Israeli aggression.

Nabatieh on February 15, 2024.

Strikes as everyday background

Nabatieh, a vibrant town with approximately 120,000 residents, plays a crucial role in southern Lebanon. With an array of shops, schools, and universities, the town is a significant stronghold for Hezbollah, enjoying substantial local support, according to L’Orient Today.

The recent surge in violence in Southern Lebanon marks a dangerous escalation. Despite Nabatieh’s location over 50 km from the Naqoura border region with Israel, keeping it out of direct clashes, the recent strike demonstrated Israel’s determination to hit targets, even if it meant reaching deeper into civilian areas.

On February 15, Israeli airstrikes in southern Lebanon resulted in the deaths of 10 people, marking the deadliest attack in over four months of cross-border exchanges. The Nabatieh strike led to a collapsed building, claiming seven lives of the same family, including that of a child. Miraculously, a missing boy was found alive. In the village of as-Sawana, a woman and her two children tragically lost their lives. Israel’s airstrikes came in response to Hezbollah’s projectiles, which took the life of an Israeli soldier.

Nabatieh on July 19, 2006. Photo by Kamel Sobhi Jaber.

The attack in February wasn’t just another bout of fear or a novel encounter for 31-year-old Bilal. It reignited a tapestry of familiar emotions, unleashing vivid flashbacks to bygone bombardments and traumas. In 2006, an airstrike hit perilously close to Bilal’s house, a mere 100 meters away.

The specter of Israeli threats is a familiar presence for the residents of Nabatieh, who vividly remember the Israeli attacks during the Hezbollah-Israel war in 2006. The Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon from 1985 to 2000 also marked a tumultuous era. It spanned approximately 10 percent of Lebanese territory along the border with Israel. This occupied zone encompassed over a hundred villages and towns within Lebanon’s provincial administrative districts of Tyre, Bint Jbail, Marjayoun, Hasbaiya, the Western Bekaa, and Nabatieh.

Nabatieh, 2006. Photo by Kamel Sobhi Jaber.

Kamel, at 60 years old, has carried the weight of Israeli attacks since childhood. As a young boy, he witnessed the transformation of a Palestinian refugee camp near Nabatieh into a target for Israeli planes, a memory etched in his mind. The explosions and roaring planes left him terrified, prompting a more than ten-kilometer run home.

Haunted by these experiences, Kamel chose journalism to delve into the aftermath of these bombings. He discovered the indiscriminate shelling on civilians during resistance operations against Israeli sites.

“It hurts me every day to hear about someone in the south being killed. As a human being, it distresses me,” he expresses, hoping for an end to the aggression and a return to normalcy. 

Kamel Sobhi Jaber, resident of Nabatieh.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Aya copes with the stress by immersing herself in work. Yet, amidst the uncertainty, she reflects on her entire life, shaped by the strangeness of existence in a conflict-ridden region.

“Since I was born, life has been quite strange. I hadn’t done anything except contemplate the unfolding events.”

As the war in Gaza unfolds, Lebanon faces relentless Israeli strikes, tallying around 4,500 by October 7, 2023, according to L’Orient Today.

A growing ember of anger

As a child during the 1982 invasion, Kamel vividly recalls a harrowing scene etched in his memory. An Israeli tank carelessly rolled over a civilian car. The weight of the tank mercilessly crushed the car, bodies trapped beneath, including those of innocent children. A ten-year-old Kamel was terrified by the tragic event.

Nabatieh, 2006. Photo by Kamel Sobhi Jaber.

As he aged, a form of resilience against Israeli aggression gradually took root in him. However, specific memories persisted, etched indelibly in his mind. In 2010, another traumatic episode unfolded when he narrowly escaped an Israeli airstrike in Al-Adaysseh town, bearing witness to the heartbreaking loss of his colleague Assaf Abu Rahal from the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.

Having witnessed the devastating impact of Israeli actions in Lebanon, where innocent lives paid the price, Kamel has come to regard Israelis as enemies. The loss of loved ones and cherished lives at the hands of Israelis is a wound so deep that forgiveness remains beyond his grasp.

“In southern Lebanon, we always pay the price of retaliation, just like in Gaza,” Kamel says.

The widespread danger weighs heavily on Kamel, causing deep sadness and worry, particularly concerning his family’s security. The persistent fear of losing loved ones consumes residents of southern Lebanon, who have witnessed the worst befall on other Lebanese families.

Nabatieh on July 19, 2006. Photo by Kamel Sobhi Jaber.

As of March 5, the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health reports a total of 308 killed and more than 1,100 wounded. Among them, at least 51 confirmed civilian deaths, with nearly half being females. 

“The main emotion I feel is anger. I sense the madness of the strikes when civilians are known to be present. It’s a red line that Israel has already crossed, and if they have a target, they will do it again,” Bilal expresses, conveying his anger towards Israeli oppression.

Nabatieh’s sons pledge to stay put

Nabatieh is situated approximately 50 kilometers from the Israeli border and houses around 18 percent of Lebanon’s displaced population, as reported by The New Humanitarian. Until recently, the city enjoyed a sense of relative security.

Despite the subdued atmosphere following recent strikes, Kamel remains resolute about staying in the city. Since the 1982 aggression, he has steadfastly refused to leave Nabatieh, regardless of the potential for further Israeli targeting. Displacement or fleeing due to Israeli actions is still not an option for him.

“I am a son of this region. It cannot be abandoned,” Kamel declares.

Nevertheless, Kamel asserts that he abides by peacekeeping rules, steering clear of imminent danger, while remaining vigilant to the constant threat posed during invasions or aggressions.

Nabatieh, 2006. Photo by Kamel Sobhi Jaber.

Bilal’s family in Nabatieh braces themselves for what might come. They diligently gather essentials: oil, rice, and lentils, transforming a room into a makeshift storage area. This silent preparation speaks volumes about the gravity of the situation and the tangible danger they sense looming ahead.

In weighing the decision to stay or evacuate, Bilal’s parents opt to rent apartments in a village near Beirut. The family contemplates relocating only women and children if Nabatieh faces another bombing. 

To ensure everyone’s safety, Bilal’s family keeps an open line of communication, maintaining a group chat where they share information about strikes, offering mutual support and reassurance.

“I began pondering how the situation would be resolved and how long we would continue like this,” Aya expresses, her gaze fixed on the uncertain horizon, as she and her family choose to stay in Nabatieh, treating the sounds and disturbances as if they are mere passersby.

As of March 5, The New Humanitarian paints a gripping narrative of the most significant surge in hostilities between Israel and Lebanon since the days of the 2006 war, forcing over 90,000 individuals to flee their homes in search of safety and refuge.