SRIFA, Lebanon, (AP) – When not fighting under the Hezbollah banner, Abu Hadi is a farmer whose faith in the guerrilla movement appears unshaken by the destruction of his village and the deaths of his relatives.
Neighborhoods here lie in ruins, and Srifa’s main Shiite Muslim mosque had giant holes punched into it by Israeli rockets. A partially constructed school was flattened, and the city markets are mounds of concrete and steel.
Abu Hadi said Israel’s overwhelming use of force took Hezbollah by surprise. But Hezbollah had used the time since the Israelis withdrew in 2000 to prepare for the assault, including training missions in Iran.
“In the last six years we have made progress in all kinds of missiles and in all kinds of rockets. In Hezbollah every man has an expertise. There is training and learning in Iran,” Abu Hadi said. “Even if we have some kinds of missiles from Iran, this is our right … just like Israel gets help from the United States.”
In wartime, Hezbollah fighters are reticent to identify themselves. But since the cease-fire, young men have emerged from the ruins of south Lebanon claiming to be Hezbollah fighters. Their credentials are often difficult to check.
Abu Hadi, a 35-year-old father of two, gave only his nickname, which means “Father of Hadi.” He said if he gave his real name the Israelis might somehow target him — with or without a cease-fire.
But evidence of his credentials as a Hezbollah fighter go beyond his claims and can be seen in the rubble of his village. By all signs, Israeli planes targeted Hezbollah fighters like him in a campaign of destruction that the Israelis said was aimed at crippling the Shiite guerrilla movement.
The destruction in Srifa, near the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, suggests that the Israelis believed Abu Hadi and his neighbors were Hezbollah fighters.
Abu Hadi pointed to his house — blasted into ruins — and said the bodies of two of his nephews were buried in the rubble. A third family member was wounded, unable to be moved for three days because of the ferocity of the Israeli assault, he said.
Abu Hadi’s diary — notes hurriedly scribbled as bombs and missiles pounded the ground — is a vivid recounting of the horrors of war. Though his claims can’t be verified, his words relate the intensity both of the conflict and the emotions it has engendered among the Shiites of south Lebanon, Hezbollah’s base of support.
“On the first day of the war on July 12. They are shooting at the school. There is no one inside. The school is under construction but they think the school is a military center for Hezbollah. It isn’t.”
He continued reading from the single sheet of paper he’d pulled from his pocket, the words small and crammed together:
“The first day they shot from the planes and hit the house of my friend and killed him and his wife and his two children. They were my good friends, and I was afraid that maybe they would fire on my house. After that I sent my wife and children away from Srifa.”
On July 18 he wrote: “It was 3 in the morning. The planes came. There were so many overhead. There were maybe 30 planes and they were firing rockets and missiles. They thought they were hitting the centers for Hezbollah but they killed 25 people, they were civilians” — a claim that is impossible to substantiate.
Village officials have reported 15 houses destroyed in airstrikes about the same time, and two days after the cease-fire took hold they reported 32 bodies pulled from under the rubble. Srifa last Friday buried 25 natives, 10 of them Hezbollah fighters.
Another entry: “On Saturday they attacked a graveyard. They are even afraid of the dead. It was very heavy attack for two days, they attacked with rockets and with planes.”
Aug. 9: “They hit all the houses that had belonged to the martyrs of Hezbollah. They started to shoot at every house of the Hezbollah men who had died.
And the last entry: “In the last two days before the cease-fire (on Monday) they had a big, big attack on the homes in Srifa. They destroyed everything they thought belonged to Hezbollah, was near to Hezbollah, that was in the neighborhood of Hezbollah.”
That was when Abu Hadi says his home was smashed.
Abu Hadi said things were particularly hard in the final days of fighting. There was no shortage of weapons, but food supplies had run out.
“In the last days of the war it was very hard to survive. We had just one can of tuna in 24 hours and some bad bread,” he said.
Ghandourieh, a southern village that overlooks the Litani River, fell to Israeli forces in the final hours of the conflict. It was Abu Hadi’s first hand-to-hand combat, he said.
“There were about 150 Israelis and 20 Hezbollah. We were waiting for them. When you are coming to my house, I will be waiting. I will prepare very well,” Abu Hadi said.
Hezbollah’s spotters saw the Israeli tanks and radioed from one Hezbollah group to another until the message reached Srifa. “In each village there is a Hezbollah observer and he transmits to the next village that Israelis are coming and saying the best way to fight them,” he said.
With the cease-fire, Abu Hadi has put down his weapon and begun the work of documenting the damage to his village for Hezbollah, which has said it will rebuild it. In his notebook he has each building identified. There are 601 destroyed or partially destroyed buildings in Srifa, according to his reckoning.
“We will rebuild everything,” he said.