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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: About 440,000 Americans consider themselves of Lebanese descent. They remain connected to their homeland by giving money to help develop their hometowns. During the recent battle between Israel and Hezbollah many gave money directly to those affected by the fighting. Two dozen Lebanese Americans recently traveled to Lebanon to see where their dollars were needed most. Ben Gilbert joined them and files this report.
BEN GILBERT: The last time most of the businessmen from Dearborne, Michigan’s Arab American Chamber of Commerce came to Lebanon was for vacation.
But in October, they returned to survey the physical and economic damage from the 34 day war between Israel and Hezbollah. Naseer Baydoon, the chamber’s chairman, got his first real view of the destruction IN Beirut’s southern Suburbs.
NASEER BAYDOON: I have two aunts that lived in that building that was over there.
Bydoon looks stunned by the devastation. He points to an area the size of a football field that’s now just dirt and debris, book-ended by blocks of 10-story apartment buildings.
Bydoon helped lead the delegation of 30 Lebanese Americans back to their hometowns.
Dearborne Lawyer Ali Dagher is from Bint Jbeil , one of the border towns that was hardest hit by the Israelis. Before the war, he and other members of the chamber put up $800,000 to showcase U.S. support in the Hezbollah-dominated town.
From their tour bus, they are seeing what happened for the first time since the war.
ALI DAGHER:“We had a plan to build a community center here, and I think we want to move ahead with that community center now as quickly as possible. And we’re going to put “From the people of the United States” right on the front side, so that they know that indeed this is something that we as Lebanese Americans are doing, and it is in fact indirectly from the American people.”
Dagher left Bint Jbeil when he was 11 years old and his visit to the town is like a city tour but in reverse. He describes in detail buildings that are no longer there.
DAGHER: It’s hard to believe, yeah, where are all the buildings? Where are all the buildings? Oh my god there’s nothing left.
Dagher gets off the bus and heads toward his late grandfather’s home. The two-room concrete home is damaged beyond repair. An artillery shell exploded on the roof, leaving a huge hole in the ceiling. Chunks of wall mix with broken furniture inside.
Dagher says that despite the destruction, he’ll help to rebuild his grandfather’s house.
DAGHER: I think it’s important for people to see vitality of a town. A town without homes is a town without a soul, represented in those homes is really not a town at all. We can’t let just one battle destroy that.
The war did destroy one of Dagher’s plans: He wanted to move back to Lebanon with his family in the next five years. Now he wonders if that will ever happen.
In Beirut, I’m Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.
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