Winning the Peace with Hammer and Nails

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For the past two days, Ali Al Tawil has been trudging around the rubble of Haret Hreik, a Shi'a neighborhood in southern Beirut, wearing a Hizballah yellow vest and matching baseball cap that says "Jihad of Construction." Armed with only a clipboard, Al Tawil is one of about 1,500 Hizballah civil engineers who have fanned out across the country to survey the damage from over a month of war with Israel. For now, they are simply recording which buildings have been damaged, slightly damaged or obliterated. More detailed surveys will soon follow to determine what repairs need to be done and what buildings need to be torn down. "Your mind can't comprehend the destruction," said Al Tawil.

And yet, he and Hizballah are not only making sense of the rubble left from the Israeli bombardment; they are already doing an impressive job cleaning it up. After weeks in hiding or living as refugees, the Party of God has taken charge of the reconstruction of Lebanon with enough speed and organization to make any government envious. Almost as soon as the cease-fire went into effect on Monday, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah went on television to promise that all Lebanese whose homes were damaged or destroyed would receive at least $10,000 for a year's worth of rent, and during that time Hizballah would repair or rebuild all their homes. With Hizballah officials estimating that the Israelis totally destroyed 15,000 homes and partially destroyed another 40,000, that means that Hizballah has essentially promised to hand out at least $550 million in cash.

With funding that mostly likely comes from Iran, Hizballah appears to be in a hurry to make good on its promises. The party has set up what amount to claim centers in school buildings throughout the areas that have been heavily damaged — south Beirut, southern Lebanon, the Bekkaa Valley. And officials say there are going to begin handing out cash within 48 hours.

"People have given everything, their homes, their blood, their children, so what we give back is nothing compared to that," said Munir, one of the officials in charged of recording claims in Haret Hreik High School. "We have the will and strength. I don't know where the money comes from, but our leaders tell us we have all we need. In a few weeks it will become clear if it came from Iran or the Arab countries."

Their reconstruction system relies on an intimate knowledge of the damaged neighborhoods and a reputation for efficiency and incorruptibility. Munir showed TIME detailed diagrams of the buildings in Haret Hreik with files listing the inhabitants of each building, the size of their apartments, whether the resident was an owner or renter, and phone numbers of those who could afford phones. All a resident has to do is show up at the school —with or without identification, deeds, or leases —ˇ and a Hizballah representative assigned to their building checks to make sure that their claim was legitimate. Very few people try to make fraudulent claims, according to Munir. "People are very cooperative," he said. "We know who everyone is, and they trust us not to cheat them."

Ten thousand dollars is more than enough for most displaced Lebanese families in Lebanon to rent an apartment for a year. During that year, Hizballah will rebuild all their homes, according to Hussein Kheireddine, the manager of Jihad of Construction, Hizballah's engineering wing, which in effect has become the largest contracting firm in Lebanon overnight. The Jihad of Construction plans to hire some of the country's biggest construction companies for projects that need to be done quickly, like removing debris from the streets before the autumn rains begin. But it will hire smaller companies from the most affected communities to do the bulk of the reconstruction work. "Many of them will go bankrupt if they don't get work soon," said Khereddine. "And we will survey the work so that we will know if they are doing it well." Infrastructure repairs to the electricity and water systems will be left to the government, he said.

With the banners everywhere proclaiming their military victory against Israel ("Divine Victory," they read), Hizballah's reconstruction teams seem just as determined to win the peace. Certainly any other country, such as the United States, will be hard-pressed to match Hizballah in the coming battle to win the hearts and minds of Lebanese, or at least of Shi'a Muslim Lebanese. "Hassan Nasrallah has said he will help us, so he does what he says," said a woman as she left the Haret Hreik High School, where she had come to register her claim. "Hassan Nasrallah carries the whole country on his robes."