Distraught, but defiant

HALOUSIYA — Stoic and unflinching, clutching a yellow and green Hizbollah flag, Yehya Mouanis stood by his brother and sister’s sides until the last smattering of soil filled their grave.

“We won,” he said, after the burial, steeling himself to his loss.

Yehya is just 14 years old.

His sister Attica, 9, and his brother Mohammad, 12, were among 11 people who died in an Israeli air strike on July 24. They were finally laid to rest Wednesday after 23 days buried beneath the rubble.

After weeks under hot concrete, the stench of their rotting corpses forced many funeral goers to mourn through surgical masks.

They came to bid farewell to entire families. Along with the Mounis siblings, Marriam Hamed, 44, and her four children were also among the dead, as were Khalthoum Haji Ali and her daughter and granddaughter.

The same scene is repeated across south Lebanon as the dead are dug out of the rubble of bombed out houses or fetched by family members from the overflowing refrigerated truck that serves as Tyre’s makeshift morgue.

In Halousiya, a remote Shiite village east of Tyre home to 4,000 people, mostly farmers who grow pomegranates, tobacco, olives and cactus fruits, residents boast proudly of a long history of resistance.

When the Israelis laid siege in 1983 they went on hunger strike in protest.

“The history of this village is resistance,” said Adel Mahmoud, a council leader in this town where Hizbollah flags wave from roof tops and fence posts.

“All of the southern towns have fighters,” added Mahmoud.

Many of Halousiya’s inhabitants fled when the war broke out.

Those who stayed behind were sound asleep at 6:00am on July 24, when two Israeli missiles slammed into the Mouanis’ modest stone farm house and the barn next door.

Young Attica died in the first blast. The rest of the family fled the house, but in the pre-dawn confusion they quickly separated.

Yehya went to one neighbour’s house and lived. His brother Mohammad ran to a different neighbour’s home which minutes later was hit by two more missiles, followed by other strikes in and around the village throughout the day.

Anis Saloum, Attica’s 60-year-old grandfather, suffered a leg injury and bled for 10 hours before finally dying from his wounds.

All told, 11 died.

At their funeral Wednesday, a young man cried inconsolably.

“My mother, my mother,” he sobbed.

Unable or unwilling to support his own weight, he was carried away from the corpses draped over a friend’s shoulders before collapsing limp on cement steps, choking back his tears.

The pallbearers hefted the corpses onto their shoulders amid shouts of “There is no God but God.” The funeral procession wove its way through the village carrying flags that read, “Hizbollah, they are victorious.” Dozens of women, draped in black abbayas, stood on a balcony above the funeral march. Amid a symphony of mournful wails, they scattered rice onto the street and waved their palms, a final good bye to their fellow villagers.

At the rear of the procession, silent and sullen men shuffled slowly, their heads hung for the occasion. Some sobbed openly.

“No matter what happened to us, we won,” said Wensa Mouanis, 40.

“They think they can terrify us, but they can’t. We will lie under the rubble and continue fighting.” Altogether 126 corpses were slowly decomposing in a refrigerated truck in front of a Tyre hospital. Those not claimed by family members will suffer the same fate as hundreds of other bodies, buried in mass graves.

“There are still a lot of people we think under the rubble,” said Mustafa Jeradi, the doctor at Tyre’s Government Hospital who is overseeing the burials.

Muslims strive to lay their dead to rest as soon as possible but during the monthlong war that killed 1,150 Lebanese, many relatives have been unable to conduct proper Islamic rites.

Among those still missing is the nephew of Faisal Khanafer, who came to the hospital in vain to try to claim the body.

“He’s buried somewhere but I don’t know where,” said the grieving uncle. 

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