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Picnics at the border: Hezbollah resistance in Bint Jbeil and Maroun ar Ras

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Monument at Maroun ar Ras, site of Hezbollah defeat of Israeli army

Some time after descending further south from the former Khiam prison, the fortified fence separating Lebanon and occupied Palestine appears, as do the red-roofed Israeli homes in the formerly mixed Palestinian and Lebanese town of Metulli: M notes that this town was an example of many such towns home to Jews and Muslims, living side by side without problem...before the arrival of Zionists.

The landscape is confusing: looking south, the border fence loops northward, peninsula-like as it encircles "the Finger of Galilee"...now occupied Palestine. I'm alarmed that we can drive so close to the fence, my own experience with border fences in Gaza meaning anyone within one to two kilometres of the Green Line border risks being assassinated or maimed by IOF soldiers. But in Lebanon, the presence of UNIFIL soldiers and the mediation of the UN "keeps both sides on their side," M says, adding, "but if the Israelis ever crossed the fence, everything would change."

At Kfar Kila, we speak briefly with some of the UNIFIL soldiers stationed at Bab al Fatima (Fatima Gate) who tell us all is calm along the border now. We break for Arabic coffee in the shade of a nearby, low-key cafe, the staff of whom are enjoying shisha (tobacco water pipe) as they look towards Palestine and the hilltop Israeli town that now occupies the land.

M tells me a little about Kfar Kila. The front line of resistance since the mid 70s, it like most of southern Lebanon was occupied by the Zionist army, the towns' residents fleeing north to Beirut.

"This town has had many, many martyrs, since the 70s," he notes, something I continue to hear as we pass through more towns further south, the martyr posters re-iterating the vast losses.

Leaving Kfar Kila, we head up mountain roads again, from which below and to the east more of "the Finger of Galilee" becomes visible, laden with apple orchards and surrounded by Zionist fencing.

"This is our land," M murmurs, adding "Shams" when I ask what he means. "It was all Arab land, there were no borders."

The winding roads take us through familiar Lebanese villages, with their small town squares, and into the terrain of rolling hills that stretches across Lebanon and Palestine. "This village was also occupied in '78," M's refrain continues, out of respect to history.

To the east, IOF military bases flank hilltops, lording over occupied Palestine and taunting Lebanon. Posters of Hassan Nazrallah and Hezbollah flags brave up to the challenge: We're ready for you.

At the entrance to Mays al Jabal-another town with numerous martyrs and strong resistance -- a sign reads: "In these hills and valleys the Zionists were defeated by the resistance."

Aytaroun comes soon after, "a town of martyrs". In the '60S and '70s, "they used to actively confront the IOF. In the '70s, the IOF came to the town and assassinated many of the resistance" M says. The town was occupied, and 95 per cent fled to Beirut-to the "belt of misery" as Bourj Hamad, Bourj el Barajney and the suburbs of Beirut were known due to their sub-par living conditions, great poverty, and over-crowding.

Along the hilltop road at Maroun ar Ras, a town roughly one kilometre from the border, a crumpled Israeli tank sits roadside, a rusting display of the IOF defeat at Maroun ar Ras.

The town itself was badly bombed during the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, M points out as we stand next to the ruin of one of the few homes not since re-built. During the drive south, M has been pointing out village after village where mass numbers of homes were destroyed by the IOF bombings but re-built by Hezbollah.

"The battle at Maroun ar Ras changed question of the 2006 war," he tells me. "Hezbollah resistance took the IOF by surprise, so instead of trying to advance north up to the Litani river, they changed plans and resorted to heavy bombing instead."

Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry wrote in detail about Hezbollah's victories over the IOF during the 2006 war ("How Hezbollah Defeated Israel").

Regarding Maroun ar Ras, they wrote:

...On July 22, Hezbollah units of the Nasr Brigade fought the IDF street-to-street in Maroun al-Ras. While the IDF claimed at the end of the day that it had taken the town, it had not.

...IDF detachments continually failed to flank the defenders, meeting counterpunches toward the west of the city. Special three-man hunter-killer teams from the Nasr Brigade destroyed several Israeli armored vehicles during the fight with light man-made anti-tank missiles.

...After-battle reports of Hezbollah commanders now confirm that IDF troops never fully secured the border area and Maroun al-Ras was never fully taken. Nor did Hezbollah ever feel the need to call up its reserves, as Israel had done. "The entire war was fought by one Hezbollah brigade of 3,000 troops, and no more," one military expert in the region said. "The Nasr Brigade fought the entire war. Hezbollah never felt the need to reinforce it."

Reports from Lebanon underscore this point. Much to their surprise, Hezbollah commanders found that Israeli troops were poorly organized and disciplined. The only Israeli unit that performed up to standards was the Golani Brigade, according to Lebanese observers. The IDF was "a motley assortment", one official with a deep knowledge of US slang reported. "But that's what happens when you have spent four decades firing rubber bullets at women and children in the West Bank and Gaza."

Atop the one kilometre hill, the Iranian Park attracts visitors pursuing history and families wanting to picnic at a site both scenically stupendous and revered for its resistance.

The park, funded largely by Iran, comprises a mock military training site-tight rope walks and all -- with a playground, bbq picnic sites, and a reproduction of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque.

We climb to the top of a three-storey tower, where the view of Lebanese hills and occupied Palestine is panoramic and stunning. A powerful telescope, free of charge, affords a chance to view Palestine close-up.

Below us lies Bint Jbeil, a town known as "the Capital of Liberation." M points to a large pool of water, citing the Battle at the Pool, and explains that Hezbollah held off invading IOF soldiers, eventually repelling them from the town.

Crooke and Perry wrote:

Later... on July 25, the Israeli military fought its way into Bint Jbeil, calling it "Hezbollah's terror capital". The fight for Bint Jbeil went on for nine days. But it remained in Hezbollah hands until the end of the conflict. By then, the town had been destroyed, as Hezbollah fighters were able to survive repeated air and artillery shellings, retreating into their bunkers during the worst of the air and artillery campaign, and only emerging when IDF troops in follow-on operations tried to claim the city.

...On July 26, IDF officials conceded that the previous 24 hours in their fight for Bint Jbail was "the hardest day of fighting in southern Lebanon". After failing to take the town from Hezbollah in the morning, IDF commanders decided to send in their elite Golani Brigade. In two hours in the afternoon, nine Golani Brigade soldiers were killed and 22 were wounded.

On July 27, in response to the failure of its units to take these cities, the Israeli government agreed to a call-up of three more reserve divisions -- a full 15,000 troops.

...Hezbollah officials calculated that from the time of firing until the IAF was able to identify and deploy fighters to take out the mobile rockets was 90 seconds. Through years of diligent training, Hezbollah rocket teams had learned to deploy, fire and safely cover their mobile launchers in less than 60 seconds, with the result that IAF planes and helicopters ... could not stop Hezbollah's continued rocket fire at Israel ("Israel is about three helicopters away from a total disaster," one US military officer commented).

Moreover, and more significant, Hezbollah's fighters proved to be dedicated and disciplined. Using intelligence assets to pinpoint Israeli infantry penetrations, they proved the equal of Israel's best fighting units.

...The robust Hezbollah defense was also taking its toll on Israeli armor. When Israel finally agreed to a ceasefire and began its withdrawal from the border area, it left behind upwards of 40 armored vehicles, nearly all of them destroyed by expertly deployed AT-3 "Sagger" anti-tank missiles -- which is the NATO name for the Russian-made vehicle -- or man-deployed, wire-guided, second-generation 9M14 Malyutka -- or "Little Baby."

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