Gaza War Spillover: Lebanon’s Silent Displacement Crisis

Tyre, Lebanon — For the past few months, the world’s attention has been focused on Gaza and its besieged population suffering from Israeli attacks. However, during this period in south Lebanon, thousands of people have also been suffering due to the reignited conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, a direct spillover from the war in Gaza.

Since October, Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Shiite political party and militant group that controls south Lebanon and claims to have an army of 100,000 soldiers and an arsenal of 130,000 rockets and missiles, has been conducting strikes in north Israel in solidarity with Gaza. Its goal, as outlined by its leader Hassan Nasrallah in his November third speech, is to alleviate pressure on Palestinian factions fighting in Gaza by keeping IDF units tied up in the North. 

On the other hand, Israel has evacuated its border villages and towns and is striking south Lebanon, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even threatening to turn south Lebanon and Beirut “into Gaza.” 

Although the casualties and destruction cannot compare to that of Gaza, the border towns and villages of Lebanon are bombarded and shelled daily by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). According to Beirut Urban Lab, since October, Israel has conducted 2,500 strikes in southern Lebanon, while Hezbollah and its allies have conducted 586 strikes inside Israel.  

The village of Alma Chaab, Lebanon, near the border with Israel, has been at the frontlines of the ongoing Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

The conflict has caused many residents of south Lebanon to flee their homes, worsening the situation in a country which already suffers from a severe economic crisis. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as of February 1, over 86,000 people from Lebanon’s border towns have fled their homes due to the hostilities.

Many of those displaced from south Lebanon are currently staying in the city of Tyre, 20 km from the border with Israel. Those unable to stay with relatives or friends have been placed in schools that have turned into refugee centers.

In November, Unicorn Riot visited one of these schools in Tyre. Bilal Kasmar, an official from Tyre Municipality, stated that there were 200 displaced people housed in that particular school.

A displaced young girl, who was sitting with her siblings while other children were playing football in the schoolyard, said that she had already been staying in the school for one month because her village was bombed. “When a bombing occurs nearby, I feel it is right at our doorstep. That’s why I was scared and my little sister was crying,” she said. 

Young girls displaced from the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah speak from inside a school-turned-refugee center in Tyre, Lebanon.

The elderly also suffer from displacement. Mariam Awada, a retired teacher who recently arrived at the school, faced a very difficult situation in her village due to the conflict. “Before I was with my sisters, for one month we did not know where to go, where to spend the night,” said Mariam.

One hour’s drive south of Tyre, there is Alma Chaab, a small Christian village of about 1,000 people, 1 km from the border with Israel. From the village, the IDF border sites of Jal al Alam and Hanita are clearly visible. The sites have often been at the epicenter of clashes between Israel and Hezbollah.

Bilal Kasmar points to a map of south Lebanon showcasing the hot spots of the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

Alma Chaab gained worldwide attention in October, when the IDF struck a group of journalists covering the clashes. This resulted in the death of Reuters’ journalist, Issam Abdallah, and the severe injury of AFP’s photographer Christina Assi, who lost her leg. One month later, the IDF bombed and killed another two journalists working in south Lebanon.

The frontlines of this conflict can seem oddly calm sometimes, especially when compared to the images coming out of Gaza or Ukraine. However, the constant buzzing of Israeli drones flying above always reminds the people living in the Lebanese border villages that they are under surveillance and that the situation can turn deadly in seconds.

Homes in Alma Chaab, Lebanon, near the border with Israel, have been bombed by Israel in the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

“Now the situation is quite calm, only MK [Heron MK, Israeli drone] is in the sky making noise,” said Milad Ehid, an Alma Chaab resident, while sitting at the village’s café with a few others that have chosen to stay behind. “80% of the population has left already,” he added.

Milad revealed to Unicorn Riot that eight houses and a water tank had been bombed by Israel and one house accidentally by the Lebanese side. In addition, most of the villages’ olive plantations were burned.

Swathes of olive plantations have been burned in south Lebanon from the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

Until now, both Hezbollah and Israel have refrained from escalating their conflict into an all-out war. However, as long as the war in Gaza goes on, peace in Lebanon and regional stability will continue hanging by a thread.

Many fear that if a full-blown war breaks out between Israel and Hezbollah, it could lead to a direct military intervention and confrontation between the United States and Iran. This would turn the conflict into a regional war that could plunge the whole of the Middle East into a new period of chaos. The situation is already extremely dangerous. Recently, the United States has conducted airstrikes against Iranian-backed forces in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

Coordinators in the Unit Management and Disaster Risk Reduction Union of Tyre Region Municipalities work to place and track internally displaced peoples in south Lebanon due to the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.
Families displaced from the conflict in south Lebanon find refuge in a school turned into a refugee center in Tyre, Lebanon.
Displaced children from south Lebanon play soccer in the concrete yard of a school turned into a refugee center in Tyre, Lebanon.

Related: Revolution in Every Country Comic Series: Episode 3 – Lebanon: On the Necessity of Intersectionality

More Unicorn Riot media from Palestine here.

Palestinians Forced to Flee Khan Younis, Come Under Fire by Israeli Military

Maghazi Massacre: Israel Kills Over 100 Civilians in Christmas Eve Bombing

Gaza-Based Unicorn Riot Contributor Speaks on Israel Bombing His Home

Over 10,500 Killed in One Month as Israel Continues its War on Palestine

Hamas Attacks, Israel Responds: Thousands Dead in New War

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