A Christian Village in Lebanon

The tiny hilltop village of Qawza is home to a small Christian community. In the first days of August the Israeli army moved into Qawza and occupied buildings, homes, and the local church. Many of the occupied buildings, including the church were vandalized. We speak to a couple of residents who stayed in the village while the Israelis were there.

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In southern Lebanon the tiny hilltop village of Qawza is home to a small Christian community. In the first days of August, the Israeli army moved into and occupied buildings, homes and the local church there.

Some of the villagers have been telling NPR's Jamie Tarabay about their experiences with the Israeli army.

JAMIE TARABAY: Jon and Nashatt Arbelias(ph) are one of those old married couples who've been together so long they're used to finishing each other's sentences. The diminutive pair sip Lebanese coffee poured from a thermos and pass a lighter back and forth for their cigarettes. There's a large hole in the wall of their living room, the result of fierce fighting one night during the war. That left Jon Arbelias with a shrapnel wound to the head.

JON ARBELIAS: Next day, in the morning, we wake up, open the door. I saw the Israeli soldier in the front door. Many of them. About 10 or 12 soldiers. Straight away, I told them. Good morning. Anyone speak Arabic or English? One of them say yes, I speak Arabic. Another one said yes, I speak English. And they call me, come here.

TARABAY: Jon Arbelias said the Israeli soldiers helped them. They tended his wounds and helped another elderly resident of the village who was also injured in the fighting. He said the soldiers didn't have any food themselves and escorted his wife, Nashatt, to their home to bring some back.

ARBELIAS: They saw my wife cry. One of them ask her, why you cry? She told them, because I'm worried about my son in Melbourne in Australia. Soldiers say, ring him. She had no telephone. He give us his mobile and we'll ring to our son in Australia. And we told him, and we talk with you from Israeli soldier mobile.

TARABAY: Speaking to a Western reporter, Arbelias said he wanted to pass on a message to that Israeli soldier who helped them that day.

ARBELIAS: Thank you, my son. Thank you. You help us and we talk with our son. Thank you, for you. I don't know what is your name, but I know one thing. You are a gentleman. You are a good fellow. You are a good man. Thanks for you. Many, many thanks.

TARABAY: Arbelias said he and his wife lived under the stairs of a neighbor's house for 16 days as the war raged around them. He said the Israeli soldiers told them to stay there because their own house wasn't safe.

ARBELIAS: Sometimes I ask the soldiers, what's going on? And when this bloody war will be stopped.

NASHATT ARBELIAS: They say I don't know, too.

ARBELIAS: The solider laughing and really don't know, as a soldier. One of them, he told me, what do you think I am? The prime minister of Israel? I am a soldier. I don't know anything like you.

TARABAY: Arbelias's rapport with the Israeli soldiers changed dramatically when a new unit came into the village. He says the second group of soldiers rummaged through everything in their house, stealing some items and damaging others.

ARBELIAS: They not army. They're like Genghis Kahn army. I told you, you make our houses, our church, our (unintelligible), you make it toilet.

ARBELIAS: Not just my house.

ARBELIAS: Not just my house.

ARBELIAS: Many houses, they do.

ARBELIAS: Many houses. Many houses.

TARABAY: Qawza resident Fadid Filzos(ph) says Israeli troops also vandalized the village church. He points to the broken pews stacked on top of each other with a large portrait of the Virgin Mary stuck in between them.

The religious icons are in pieces, and Filzos says soldiers took mattresses from some of the surrounding houses and turned the church into their sleeping quarters. An adjoining room became their toilet.

FADID FILZOS: (Through translator) There was a lot of bombing before they went in. Then they went in, and they put mattresses in and vandalized the church. They threw a lot of things outside.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALKING)

TARABAY: Reminders of the Israeli military are everywhere in the small village. Bottles of water, cans of tuna, bags of bread, all with Hebrew writing on them, are strewn throughout people's houses. There is graffiti on one wall which reads Israel Rules.

Back in the Arbelias home, Nashatt Arbelias sifts through mounds of clothes dumped on their bed, trying to take stock of what's left, what's missing and what's destroyed. Her husband Jon says that in the 16 days the soldiers lived in Qawza, they got to see both the good and bad sides of the Israel military.

ARBELIAS: First thing, I told you. Thanks for them was very good people. One of them, he looked to us, he started to cry. Believe that? Our enemy look to us and he cry, young fellow about 19 or 20 years old.

ARBELIAS: He asked me how many children you go.

ARBELIAS: He looked like my son, he looked.

TARABAY: But Arbelias says the second group of Israelis who entered the village behaved like barbarians.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, in Qawza, Lebanon.

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