Al Jarha Association

(Courtesy of the Daily Star, Beirut, Jan. 17, 2002)

Getting by with a little help from a friend
Beirut’s Al-Jarha Association helps wounded resistance fighters build themselves a future

Reem Haddad
Special to The Daily Star

Since childhood, Kamleh Wehbe has been wanting to marry a resistance fighter. But not any resistance fighter - a severely wounded one.
Five years ago, her aspiration came true. She married Hassan Wehbe, a former fighter who is paralyzed from the neck down after being wounded during a Hizbullah operation against an Israeli observation post in 1988. “It’s a privilege and an honor for me,” she said. “These men have given their lives for their country and this is the least we women can do.”
Last year, Kamleh presented her wheelchair-bound husband with quadruplets. Today, the couple and their children live on the fourth floor of a new apartment building and have obtained the services of a maid.
Hassan receives a monthly stipend of just under $500, his and the family’s medical bills are covered, the children’s future school tuition will be paid, a driver and a car are at his disposal and currently even “the diapers and milk are paid for,” said Kamleh.

The purchase of the apartment and all its perks come with compliments from the Al-Jarha (Wounded) Association, which caters to the war-wounded and disabled and is one of the social services provided by Hizbullah.
Established in 1989, the association, located in Beirut’s southern suburbs, cares for over 3,000 men, women and children. Eighty percent of the men the association assists were resistance fighters. The rest were wounded during the civil war or by Israeli aggressions in the South. Once a fighter or civilian is hurt, the association steps in and pays all medical bills, including trips abroad for any needed surgery or therapy.
“Once their health is taken care of, we turn to looking at how to make them a functional part of society again,” said Ali Yassine, the association’s spokesperson. And the only way to rejoin society is for the disabled to become independent, he continued. The rooms in the association’s headquarters are all classrooms or work labs: “We don’t have any beds or dorms.”

For those who need homes, the association purchases, furnishes and equips apartments. At times, a nurse or maid is employed. Each wounded person receives a monthly stipend from the association. Then the training begins: classes include language, computer, artisan and vocational - “we pay the university fees for those who want to attend,” said Yassine.
An interest-free loan is dispatched to those who want to start their own businesses. Field trips and even a holiday home in the South are available for families in the summer.
The costs can be heavy. Last year alone the association doled out over $8 million .

 The cash comes from a charity in Iran, individual contributions and mostly from the khoms, where Shiite Muslims around the world are asked to donate one-fifth of their savings to the needy.
Once settled and independent, bachelors are introduced to potential wives. “There’s no shortage of brides,” said Jouhayna Raad, a volunteer at the association who has found herself playing the role of a matchmaker. Women come to us asking to be introduced to wounded men - specifically resistance fighters. I try to bring together the right couple.”
Raad has a challenge ahead of her: two women from Saudi Arabia called her up recently wanting to come to Lebanon to marry wounded resistance fighters. Who is suited for whom? “I admit I’m enjoying this matchmaking,” she said.

Somebody obviously did a good matchmaking job with 40-year-old Hassan Abdullah Ali. Blind, hearing impaired and limping, the former resistance fighter was married 10 years ago.
“I have three children,” he said proudly as he deftly wove a straw basket. For the past 12 years, Abu Abdullah, as he is better known, has been employed at the association teaching straw weaving. His children’s schooling is paid for by the association, as is his home and the family’s expenditure.
His story begins in 1985 when he left his job as a construction supervisor near the southern village of Marjayoun to join the resistance movement. During a military operation against an Israeli post, his group of four fighters were spotted and fired upon.

Three fighters were killed, leaving Abu Abdullah alive but severely wounded. Unable to move his legs and knowing he had lost the sight in his left eye, he lay on the ground until members of the South Lebanese Army militia located him.
“They grabbed me and dug the antenna of their radio in my right eye,” recalled Abu Abdullah. “Then they shot me in my right thigh and cut off my big right toe.”
In agony, and blinded in both eyes, Abu Abdullah was dragged off to the SLA barracks, interrogated and beaten. He was then sent off to prison in Tel Aviv. Despite his injuries, he never received any medical attention. He was released three and a half months later, “practically dead,” he recalled.

“I had to spend several months in the hospital recuper-
ating. Doctors tell me that if the Israelis had treated my eyes back then, I might still have had some vision now. But they
didn’t.” Depression was out of the question. Abu Abdullah shrugs his shoulders. “Why should I be depressed?” he said. “I knew the risks when I became a fighter. I gave up myself for my country. I am proud.”
His words are repeated by other wounded fighters. Depression, they say, is an unknown concept. “How can I explain this?” said Yassine, who as a fighter has lost three ribs and has little mobility in his right arm. Like 40 percent of the staff, he is an employee of the association. “We knew this might happen,” he said. “And to us, it is a blessed event. We have given up our lives and bodies so others can live in peace. Shouldn’t we be proud?”

The attitude is contagious.
Wheelchair-bound civil war victim Iman Atrasi, 36, has long accepted paralysis; she was shot at the age of 18. “At first I just stayed in the house and was alone most of the time,” she said. “But since the association has been established they bring me here (to the headquarters) everyday and I take classes and meet friends.”
Today, the latest patients are land mines victims - one is just seven years old. Most have been fitted with artificial limbs and efforts to rehabilitate them are underway.
The association’s work is far from over. A new 40,000-square-meter project in the southern town of Ferdous will be opening its doors in another 18 months. The project is made up of disabled-friendly apartment buildings, hotels, gardens, swimming pools and physical therapy areas. “It is the least we can do for our war-wounded,” said Yassine.


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