Six months on, Lebanese displaced by Israeli attacks have little hope of going home

Six months on, Lebanese displaced by Israeli attacks have little hope of going home
Over 91,000 people have been displaced by fighting in south Lebanon. Six months later, they had little optimism of returning home any time soon.
5 min read
South Lebanon
28 March, 2024
Mustafa Seyed's two daughters play in the displacement shelter in Sour, both suffering from infected lymph nodes. [William Christou/TNA]

When fighting between Israel and Hezbollah started on the 8 of October, Mustafa Seyed was worried. Hezbollah had launched rockets "in solidarity" with Hamas-led surprise attack on Israel, and Israel responded by shelling Lebanon – kicking off fighting that has since spread to nearly the whole country.

Seyed's house was situated on the outskirts of Beit Leif, a small village about two kilometres from the Israeli-Lebanese border, a conspicuous target for Israeli bombs.

He decided to move his two wives and 11 children to a friend's home nearby and wait for the hostilities to stop. After ten days of steadily increasing fighting, Seyed telephoned a friend in the city of Sour, some 20 kilometres away, who told him about a shelter that had been set up to receive displaced people.

Six months later, Seyed and his family are still stuck in the displacement centre with little optimism that they will be able to leave anytime soon.

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They are some of the over 91,000 people displaced from their homes in southern Lebanon by the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

"The help is not enough; we are provided three meals a day here, but what about our daily needs? I have gone into debt to the local store to buy basic things," Mustafa Seyed told The New Arab from a displacement centre in Sour.

Authorities from the municipality repurposed the first floor of a local school to house fleeing families a few weeks after clashes began.

The school's interior is completely dark save for the light which filters in from the windows – there is only a few hours of electricity a day. Lines of clothes hang across the school's courtyard, usually occupied by playing schoolchildren.

Seyed pointed to the meagre supplies he has in the two school classrooms which house his 14-member family – some bread, lettuce, and foam mattresses laid on the floor.

His situation is not unique among the some seven hundred and ninety displaced across five shelters in the municipality. Sickness is common among the displaced residents, who share just two bathrooms per center and are in close contact.

Two of Seyed's daughters have infections, their cheeks swollen from lymph node infections. Though the municipality will cover part of their treatment, he cannot afford the remaining US$400 for their treatments.

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How long will this last?

Most of the 24,000 who were displaced to Sour have either stayed with friends and relatives or have managed to rent homes by themselves. However, even outside of the shelters, displaced residents are facing similar challenges.

"People left their homes without their belongings – they didn't expect this to last so long," Bilal Kashmar, the media coordinator for the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) unit in Sour, told TNA.

"There is not enough to secure their daily needs, we can only give them the basics. Even the shelters are not intended for long term stays," Kashmar said.

Six months on, fighting is still displacing residents anew as the scale and intensity of clashes steadily increase, pushing even those who were determined to remain out of their homes.

As Kashmar speaks, a frazzled woman comes in, explaining she is newly displaced from the border town of Marwahain. Kashmar patiently explains the steps she must take to register and receive shelter, as if from a script.

He shows a storeroom where pallets of water bottles, boxes of food aid and bags of sanitary products are kept. The supplies are given out daily, but Kashmar says that what they are doing does not keep up with the pace of needs.

"Emergency aid is not enough, we need more from international donors, especially for those outside the shelters," Kashmar added.

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Children traumatised

Nancy Faraj and her family tried to remain in their homes as long as possible. Their home town of Bint Jbeil, known as the "capital of the resistance" due to it never falling to Israel in the 2006 war, remained relatively unscathed until late December. Then, airstrikes and shelling began to occur on a regular basis.

Faraj and her two children would hear the sounds of warplanes and nearby shelling around them – but she still tried to maintain a sense of normalcy in the home.

"Whenever we heard planes or drones, we turned the TV as loud as possible, and the children covered their ears. The adults would refrain from screaming so as not to scare them," Nancy Faraj told TNA.

One day, the house next door was targeted in an Israeli strike, and Nancy knew that they had to leave. She came to Sour with her family and stayed in a displacement shelter for a month and a half before renting out an apartment in a neighbouring city.

Despite her attempts to shield her children from the realities of the war, they still suffer from psychological distress.

Her oldest child has begun wetting the bed and has a phobia of going back to his home. Faraj took him to a therapist, which stopped the bed wetting. Any mention of Bint Jbeil, however, induces fear in her son, who reminds Faraj that there is a war going on there.

Kashmar says that signs of stress among the children are common. Psychologists from local associations have been brought in to assist, but he says it is not enough.

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According to the UN, around 10,000 children in the south of Lebanon have been prevented to going to school due to cross-border clashes.

Residents are not optimistic that life will return to normal anytime soon, and that they will be able to restore a sense of normalcy for their children.

"I'm afraid that the situation will last a long time. I think that it will," Faraj said.