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A Family Connected to Its Battered Land

A Lebanese couple begin anew at a home that has been rebuilt repeatedly after Israeli operations. `I cried for joy' to be back, the wife says.

September 05, 2006|Borzou Daragahi | Times Staff Writer

GHANDOURIYE, Lebanon — It was six years ago when the tobacco farmer and his wife planted grapes alongside their home in this lush valley of rocky ridges and steep slopes, picking up the pieces of their lives once more after the last wave of war subsided.

The farmer watched with satisfaction as the vines spread across the wooden trellises. On slow afternoons, after tending to his fields, he basked in the sun and picked sweet grapes.

"This is a life," Mahmoud Kadouh says. "The water, the land, the air -- this is the life of a person."

His boisterous wife, Alia Hamoud, contented herself with caring for the younger of their five daughters and two sons. It was a happy time. The crops brought in a handsome $10,000 a year, with another $10,000 in income from jobs taken on by his sons. Cousins and nephews from Beirut and Tyre paid visits. Their elder son and his fiancee were to move into a third floor they were building atop the house.

Their home was a simple, gracious concrete rectangle, partially submerged in the craggy mountainside. The roof had red decorative tiles. A lone portrait of a cleric looked over the few pieces of store-bought furniture serving as a living room. At night the couple and their younger children slept in the rooms downstairs, a half-cellar that is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Much of that is gone now, burned and bombed by ordnance and gunfire that badly damaged the home and dispersed the family.

Like the rings of a tree, the house tells some of the history of Arab-Israeli conflict. It was bulldozed by Israelis in 1978, destroyed in 1982, damaged in 1993 and again during the 1996 incursion, called the Grapes of Wrath.

Each time, the house has been rebuilt.

Alia and a gaggle of young nieces from nearby villages have spent the days since their arrival from their refuge up north cleaning up the broken glass and sweeping out the debris, preparing for guests coming to pay their respects to a nephew, Imad Hussein Kadouh, a 35-year-old Hezbollah fighter slain while battling the Israelis.

Alia tries her best to make guests feel comfortable. She apologizes that there is little tea and no food to offer.

"It's not fair to have these things happen to us," she says with a rueful smile. "God never said that our lives should be so bitter like this."

*

The family's troubles started with the Israeli incursions in the late 1970s, meant to rid southern Lebanon of Palestinian militants who were launching attacks against the Jewish state. Alia and Mahmoud rattle off the names of relatives lost to the wars that went on and on. Alia's mother, killed in the 1978 invasion. Ali Hamoud and his wife, Zainab, their daughters Sabah and Nizar and sons Hamoud and Abbas, crushed when their house was struck by ordnance in a subsequent war.

Mariam Bazzi, their visiting sister-in-law, lost her 7-year-old son, Hossein, along with his 6-year-old cousin and a neighbor's 3-year-old child. They died playing with a piece of ordnance after the 1982 invasion that gave birth to the Hezbollah movement.

"We plant our bodies in the land; the harvest is coming and it is liberation," intones Hassan Kadouh, a nephew visiting from Germany, where he operates a sandwich shop near the Berlin Zoo.

Mahmoud winces, but stays silent. Over and over, the young men and women who filter in and out of the house to pay their respects mouth revolutionary slogans, as well as blustery talk about the resistance and the enemy, the bravery of the fighters and cowardice of the Israelis.

Ghandouriye has long been a front line in the fighting between Hezbollah and the Israelis, its sweeping hillsides scarred in battle. A disabled Israeli tank lies along the road, a war trophy. An annual festival near the site marks Israel's 2000 withdrawal. "This town has always been a target," said Jihad Kadouh, another of the visiting nephews. "Ghandouriye is called the gateway of liberation."

Mahmoud stares at the ground, letting the young men have their say before he speaks.

"I only have two sons, but we are about 50 people in the family, living in this valley," Mahmoud says. "But we all have one soul. Islam is my religion. It's the religion of God and the land."

The minute the Aug. 14 cease-fire took effect, the Kadouhs piled into their car and rushed back to their home, enduring an hours-long traffic jam along a coastal road dotted with bomb craters and pushing their car through the shallow waters of the Litani River.

"My soul had gone away when we left," Alia says. "Your land is equivalent to your soul. There's nothing like your home, even if it's a tent. We feared that the Israelis would never let us back to our land. We are farmers."

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