Defiance in the orange groves

Captain Ole Tomb was leading our little United Nations convoy across the battlefield of southern Lebanon. Not an auspicious name, I had to admit, as a muffled roar from far out over the orange groves set the UN radios crackling. "Two Katyushas," a Fijian voice said. The thump of Israeli shells followed, and a grey cloud rose from behind the hill line. All around us, the orchards spread away, deep green foliage lit by the golden, unpicked fruits.

We were carrying milk powder, tinned meat and fruit to two villages inside the battle zone, two hamlets set on rocky plateaux where a few hundred Lebanese civilians stubbornly refuse to leave their homes only a mile or so from the Israeli gun line. Could anyone want to go on living through this, I had to ask myself as the shells went on cracking into the neighbouring village of Qleile. Their detonation changed the air pressure over the glistening orchards.

But when we arrived in Buyut es-Saed there they were, smiling women and elderly men, a schoolmaster and a clutch of children, walking out of their houses to greet us. Polish UN troops began to unload the sacks of food. We heard the jet before Captain Tomb caught sight of the spray of phosphorus dripping bright and pink through the sky, a decoy for heat seeking missiles that always precedes an air strike.

From the orchards where the Katyusha had been fired there was a hollow explosion and a brown cloud of smoke rose over the orange trees. The UN radio broke in. "Two Katyushas." This time they were being fired from Qabriqa, far to the north west. The villagers of Buyut es-Saed paid scarcely any attention. They just went on unloading their precious supplies, courteously shaking hands with the UN soldiers.

A humanitarian affairs officer took notes. A woman had given birth three days ago; she needed medical attention. A herd of 2,000 goats had wandered into the village two days ago and the people were trying to water them although no-one knew from what village bombardment the animals had fled.

I found the schoolmaster, Hassan Safiedin, near the UN truck. Why did he stay, I asked him, when 400,000 had fled? "It is our duty to stay on our land. It is better we should die here than run away. This is my land, my house, my home, my family. The three children killed in the ambulance [attacked by an Israeli helicopter] near here were all in my school. My children were in their class. But we must stay here all the same, to prevent any other people from taking our land.

"Why do the Israelis stay on our land?" Here the schoolmaster looked up at the Israeli gun emplacement above us. "If they would leave, the war would end. Yes, I am afraid, and so are all the people here. There are 120 of us. Yes, we would be very happy if the Israelis left and the Lebanese army came here to protect us."

We drove out of the village and back to the coast road, past the shattered ambulance, unloading more food to a Fijian UN position. And on to Batulay, the shells still swishing overhead, the same delighted faces - there were up to 700 people here who had refused Israel's orders to leave their homes.

The women walked down from their homes, some carrying children, others with middle-aged, frightened husbands. And they smiled so happily to welcome the foreigners who could not protect them, who could only hand out food and retreat to the coast, who six days ago in Qana were unable to save the lives of just such trusting, innocent people from Israel's shells.

In the jeep, the radio continued the war across southern Lebanon. "Three Katyushas," it barked. This time at Ghandouriyeh, probably fired at Kiryat Shmona. It was like a sinister football report, each incoming Israeli round, each outgoing Katyusha logged in dry military jargon. And all the while the oranges glowed from the dark orchards.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Investigo: International Finance Analyst

£270 - £300 per annum: Investigo: An exciting opportunity to join an internati...

Recruitment Genius: CAD / CAM Ladies Cocktail & Eveningwear Gerber Grader

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Field Sales Rep -Management Software - £45,000 OTE

£28000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £45,00 + pension: h2 Recruit Ltd: A great new ...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?