01 July 2000
Reem Haddad , Daily Star staff
Just a month after the South was liberated, the ugly sights of quarrying have already sprung up around several villages. The rich, clean, untouched sand and rocks have caught the eyes of many profiteers who, it seems, were granted quarrying licenses by the Interior Ministry almost as soon as Israeli occupation forces moved out. For truck drivers like Mohammed Safa, who travels throughout the country looking for sand, the new quarries are great news. He makes his living by purchasing, selling, and stocking sand. “I have more choices of where to go now,” he said.
Now that the South has been liberated, roads have been opened up and customers are arriving from as far away as the Bekaa to buy sand and rocks from new quarrying sites. Wednesday was Safa’s first trip to the South specifically to Kfar Houna to buy sand. “It’s not as good as Mayrouba’s sand,” he explained, “but it’s pretty good. “Since the liberation, the roads have opened up and the demand has increased,” he said as he drove off after loading several tons of sand into his truck. Watching him, quarry owner Ismail Deeb quickly interjected: “I’m not without a conscience,” he declared. “I own this land, and I don’t want to ruin it.” All around him was 300,000 square meters of land, a large part of it filled with pine trees. A significant portion of the plot, however, did not have any trees, a sign that much of it had been quarried before, and he blamed it on the South Lebanon Army, Israel ‘s defunct proxy militia. “The SLA used to take sand from here,” he said.
Soon after the withdrawal last month, Deeb applied for a quarrying license from the Ministry of the Interior. He was granted permission to quarry for one month beginning on June 26. The license was signed by the minister himself, Michel Murr, who could not be reached for comment. “I can apply again at the end of the month, and get it extended,” said Deeb. But to guard against the unlikely event that he is not approved for an extension, he plans to quarry intensively this month and store the sand to sell in the future. So far business has been good, and it promises to get better as the displaced return to their villages and start rebuilding their homes. The only drawback has been the appearance of numerous competitors. “There is competition,” said Deeb.
As far as he knows, he added, there are about 10 sites that have opened up in the past few weeks. “Please understand,” he said. “I’m only quarrying where the SLA quarried before me. When I’m done, I plan to turn it into agricultural land. I love trees and won’t destroy any.” The same cannot be said for another quarrying site on the other side of the hill, where a bulldozer started making its path on Wednesday through a wooded area on a rise covered with pine trees. Only the bulldozer operator was there the lessor of the land, Jean Kariakus, was off running errands. “There’s a lot of work ahead,” said the operator, who asked not to be named. It was still the first day of quarrying, and the vast area still needed to be dug up. Just below the hill lies a green meadow filled with wildflowers. “I have to quarry down there,” he said. Then, pointing to the hill above him, he added: “And then all the way up there.” “Up there” was the stand of pine trees.
“Oh, we won’t chop the trees,” he said. “Only a few. All the ones here on the ledge have to go and also the ones on the other side.”
Already, just a few hours into the quarrying, many of the trees’ roots were uncovered and some with sand having been extracted from underneath seemed about to topple over. According to the bulldozer operator, Kariakus also has a one-month quarrying license granted by the Ministry of the Interior. He had been running another quarry in the village of Siniya that was shut down only two weeks ago, largely due to pressure exerted by the environmental organization Green Line. A few months ago, Green Line members were notified about four huge quarrying sites in the middle of a pine-tree forest in the Jezzine villages of Haitoura, Zahlatie and Sniya and denounced them.
In April, Green Line held a press conference in Beirut calling on the media to pressure the government to shut down the quarries. Ironically, one of the quarry owners was none other than the mayor of the village of Roum , Gergie Haddad better known as Abu Ajaj. Green Line seems to have succeeded, as three of the quarries closed down. The remaining one is a rock quarry for Sibline company, which was founded in 1998 and licensed to operate for 10 years by the Interior Ministry. While the Sibline quarry is still a thorn in the group’s side, Green Line’ Salman Abbas said that “if we work together and we do something about the wrong that we see, we can exert the needed pressure and we can close down those quarries.” But, he admitted: “It’s like playing cat and mouse.
“We close one quarry; they open another,” he said. “It’s ridiculous … Quarries should be organized. It’s a shame to ruin such a beautiful area. It just doesn’t seem that this government is serious about environmental issues.” A quarrying master plan was unveiled by former Environment Minister Akram Chehayeb in the mid-1990s, but it has yet to be enforced.