The differing fortunes of those displaced from southern Lebanon

Allegiance, community, faction, and religion all matters when it comes to the inequality of provision for families fleeing Israeli bombing. Unsurprisingly, Hezbollah families get the best deal.

Members of a Lebanese family displaced from a village near the Israeli border to the town of Hasbaya on 26 October 2023.
Members of a Lebanese family displaced from a village near the Israeli border to the town of Hasbaya on 26 October 2023.

The differing fortunes of those displaced from southern Lebanon

Seven months after Hezbollah and Israel increased their attacks on one another across the Israeli-Lebanese border, the Lebanese government has still not said how many have been displaced from the southern regions. That has not stopped Lebanese media outlets from estimating. Given the intensity of hostilities, most think more than 100,000 have had to leave their homes.

The largest concentrations of displaced families lie north of the Litani River, given that most of the shelling has occurred south of the waterway. Distribution maps focus on Nabatieh, Al-Zahrani, and Tyre, extending further towards Sidon and Jezzine, all the way to Beirut, Mount Lebanon, and the Bekaa Valley.

According to reports, Tyre accommodates around 30,000 of the displaced, while Nabatieh hosts nearly 26,000. More than 14,000 have sought refuge in Sidon, and several hundred are in Jezzine. Around 17,000 are in Mount Lebanon (most in the Baabda district), 2,000 went to Bekaa, 6,000 to Beirut, while 7,000 stayed in the southern river region but relocated to relatively secure villages in the districts of Hasbaya and Marjayoun.

Aiding the displaced

Most who have had to leave their homes near the border with Israel are staying with relatives. Often, the accommodation is provided at no cost. Around a fifth of those displaced are renting houses, many of which are unfurnished, whereas around 5% have had to seek shelter in designated facilities.

Most of those forced to flee have expressed frustration and anger at what they see as the Lebanese government’s failure to address their needs. At the onset of the conflict, the government pledged to pay a monthly allowance of $140 per displaced family, yet as the numbers surged, this payment became bi-monthly, then dwindled to $100.

In seven months, displaced individuals have received one or two food rations at most. Many lack essentials such as cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, basic furniture, blankets, and clothing. Minister of Environment Nasser Yassin said Lebanon needed $73 million to fulfil the basic needs of the displaced, but the country is in the grip of a deep financial crisis, with a parallel political paralysis for good measure.

Shiite groups’ support

The two big Shiite groups, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, have proactively compiled information regarding displaced families and their relocation sites. This is to ensure the welfare and dignity of their supporters by securing them accommodation and offering both financial assistance and other forms of aid.

Lebanon needs $73 million to fulfil the basic needs of the displaced, but the country is in the grip of a deep financial crisis.

Families associated with these parties receive rental allowances of up to $300 per month, plus food packages and free medical care. Over Ramadan, they got up to $400 in additional support, depending on family size. Payments were made through the Social Affairs Department (affiliated with Hezbollah), the Council of the South (an official institution backed by the Amal Movement), and municipal councils aligned with both parties.

Hezbollah gets some funding from Iran, while the Amal Movement taps into the Lebanese state's budget for the Council of the South and the Disaster Management Unit. Expatriates top up its coffers. The two groups' primary focus is on the families of the "martyrs, wounded, and fighters on the path to Jerusalem," arguing that they bear the highest costs of war, in addition to displacement.

Their second priority is the broader Shiite demographic, while non-Shiites receive less attention. This has led to accusations that Hezbollah and the Amal Movement are "sectarianizing" the conflict.

An unequal burden

Non-Shiite Lebanese groups say the war has impacted everyone equally and that it is unjust to vary the burden depending on one's identity. Many of the displaced are from Sunni-majority western border villages like Yarine, Marwahin, Zahajra, Boustane, and Zalloutiyeh. They now live with relatives in coastal towns in the Tyre district or in the five big housing centres in Tyre and Borj El Chmali.

They cite a lack of assistance or support, with no offers of free housing or rent allowances. Their financial and food aid is also less than that of others. Most of their meagre help comes from the government or international sources. Those in the eastern border villages such as Shebaa, Kfarchouba, Hebbariye, and Kfarhamam say they have encountered a similar reality, but to a lesser extent.

Israel occupied southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000. Most of those displaced by this occupation have returned to their alternative homes in areas like El Aamroussieh, Chouaifat, and Kfarshima in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. While many still bear the names of their southern villages, the majority have now been internally displaced towards the Hasbaya region.

A lucky few have found free accommodation in tourist resorts hosting the displaced. Others have been given rent-free vacant homes by locals. Most are sharing the homes of relatives and friends.

Those forced to leave Christian villages have also expressed grievances. They have not been officially classed as 'displaced persons', so they are excluded from assistance plans because their villages are not deemed to have been targeted.

Smoke from Israeli bombing rises over the village of Kafr Kila on 10 May 2024.

Tell that to the people of Yaroun and Aalma El Chaeb. Under relentless Israeli shelling since October. Homes, shops, a church, and even a fleet of vintage cars have been hit, while farming land has been blighted by phosphorus and incendiary bombs. Around 250 families have been displaced. Some moved to neighbouring Rmaych, a once lively commercial and educational hub. Now, it is mainly farmers who stay. Daily life feels paralysed, visitors remain absent, and essential goods are scarce.

The towns of Deir Mimas, Borj El Mlouk, Kolea, and Jdeidet Marjayoun in the eastern sector have also been targeted by Israeli jets, leading to displacement, particularly among women, children, and those living in remote areas. Most displaced families from these areas do not receive rental allowances or any form of assistance. Instead, they draw on their own funds or get help from expatriates, sponsors, churches, and governmental and international organisations.

Some think this formal miscategorization of Christian villages is a form of political punishment. Indeed, the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel has further highlighted the political divisions in Lebanon.

Shiites unusually divided

The country is no stranger to political division, but for the first time, the Shiite community has been split over Hezbollah's decision to engage in conflict by opening the southern front. Typically, it rallies behind all the party's decisions and dissent is marginalised.

Following the party's engagement in the so-called "support war," this communal unanimity in backing Hezbollah was partially disrupted. Some Shiites have accused Hezbollah of "provoking" Israel on 8 October, asking how this could possibly serve Lebanon's national interests. The implication is that it instead serves Iran.

For Lebanon's Shiites, the way some displaced families have been supported more than others does not sit comfortably, exposing a kind of elitism—the VIPs (those who support Hezbollah) and the rest.

It comes down to money. Hezbollah's war chest is brimming, so it makes sure that its supporters are well looked after. The Amal Movement, by contrast, lacks financial firepower, especially following the country's economic collapse.

Salvation has come from abroad. Expatriates and members of the Lebanese diaspora have always reached deep when southern Lebanon has been hit. They have done so again in recent months. Grateful families watching the news from a strange bedroom dread to think what would become of them had they not.

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