Lebanese students face exam stress amid ongoing Israel-Hezbollah cross border fire

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Standing under the scorching sun outside of an educational institute in the city of Nabatieh in south Lebanon, students discussed how they fared on their exams. An Israeli jet had just flown low right over the school, causing a sonic boom, spreading momentary panic among parents and students alike as one mother shrieked in fear that it was an airstrike.

The same scenario had unfolded at the same location just the day before.

An Israeli war jet flies over the Israel Lebanon border amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in northern Israel June 13, 2024. (Reuters)
An Israeli war jet flies over the Israel Lebanon border amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in northern Israel June 13, 2024. (Reuters)

“Yesterday, my son didn’t come [to take his exams] because of the situation we are living,” Faten, a mother waiting for her son Hadi outside the institute, told Al Arabiya English. Faten and Hadi are from Kfarshuba, a border village – the second largest in southern Lebanon – which has been under incessant shelling by Israel for the past nine months.

Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged almost daily cross-border fire since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began in October, both targeting towns and villages mostly near the borders.

For the latest updates on the Israel-Palestine conflict, visit our dedicated page.

However, Israel has started to target urban areas since the beginning of the year, including areas like Nabatieh and Tyre.

The students, mostly in their late teens, were in the midst of exam season which is administered by the government. Typically a taxing time in any student’s life, end of year exams represent the culmination of the year’s hard work and determine the future of many.

For the youth in south Lebanon however, their very security is compromised, adding another layer of stress to what should only have been concern over academic performance. Those making the perilous journey from border villages to Nabatieh – a city more than 50 kilometers from the border hosting displaced people from border towns – to sit for exams are putting their lives at risk every time.

“We are putting our kids in harm’s way…coming to Nabatieh with jets flying over our heads breaking the sound barrier and terrorizing us, even now as I’m speaking we are in danger” a mother from Marjayoun, who preferred not to be named told Al Arabiya English. Her daughter was also .

“We are speeding every time driving here [to Nabatieh] because we don’t know if a strike will come or not,” a father from Qlayaa, a village in the southern Marjayoun district, told Al Arabiya English.

Most adolescents in Lebanon have had a rocky educational journey the past couple of years, with a multitude of crises plaguing the country, from mass protests to a pandemic, an economic crisis and now war.

“I study at an institute in Nabatiyeh, but it was hard to travel every day because they [Israelis] were striking the roads…and there were blocked areas,” 18-year-old Lamitta told Al Arabiya English.

People gather near ambulances at a damaged site of what security sources said was an Israeli strike in Nabatieh, southern Lebanon, Feb. 15, 2024. (Reuters)
People gather near ambulances at a damaged site of what security sources said was an Israeli strike in Nabatieh, southern Lebanon, Feb. 15, 2024. (Reuters)

Lamitta, also from Qlayaa in Marjayoun, was barely able to attend her classes during this past academic year. “I missed out [on education],” she said. Online classes were not an option for her, and for others, weak or non-existent internet connection made it impossible.

The father from Marjayoun complained of the same issue for his son.

There are no official figures on displacement but estimates say around 100,000 people have been displaced from border areas and the south of Lebanon in general, with the majority now residing in either Nabatieh, Tyre, Beirut or Mount Lebanon. Many live in designated shelters or with relatives, and some rented apartments. But not everyone has been able to move.

Disconnect between the south and the rest of Lebanon

The ongoing economic crisis in the country – one of the worst globally in decades – has already plunged more than half the population into poverty. The conflict has only exasperated this reality for those in border areas.

While people in other parts of Lebanon live with lingering anxiety over an all-out war with Israel possibly on the horizon, they enjoy relative peace and normalcy, and with the arrival of summer and an influx of expats, many have turned to social activities as a gateway from these anxieties.

But for those in the south, and especially in border areas, life has been starkly different.

People inspect their destroyed houses that were hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Aita al-Shaab village, south Lebanon, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (Associated Press)
People inspect their destroyed houses that were hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Aita al-Shaab village, south Lebanon, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (Associated Press)

“Our lives have completely changed…We just sit around all day and wait, what time the strike is going to land, if we’re going to live or we’re not going to live,” Lamitta said.

Badr Shebli, also in Nabatieh from Kfarshuba for exams, told Al Arabiya English she felt numb from hearing the boom of airstrikes. “We’ve gotten used it.”

The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel has been slowly escalating since October 8, with the intensity and frequency amping up from both sides and new weaponry being introduced by Hezbollah. June witnessed the most dangerous escalations so far.

“This month we’ve been very scared. Our lives have stopped…this fear is affecting us, we are mentally and emotionally spent, we don’t sleep because when the night comes, the strikes come,” the mother from Marjayoun said.

“Whoever doesn’t hear these strikes, doesn’t empathize with us,” she added, highlighting the disconnect between the residents in the south and the rest of the country.


‘No war and no peace’ PTSD

The uncertainty of whether a fully-fledged war will transpire while living in fear of daily airstrikes has made the people in the south more prone to mental distress and to developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


“PTSD has been registered in south Lebanon and other parts of Lebanon affected by conflict at a higher level than there should be in other parts of the world,” Joseph El-Khoury, a psychiatrist, told Al Arabiya English.

The murky situation in Lebanon, where there is no fully-fledged war, nor peace, is bound to lead to PTSD for people in the south. However, it may not be “regular PTSD of normal war” El-Khoury said, because of the uncertain situation.

Trauma is “cumulative and transgenerational,” and young people in Lebanon are at extremely high risk of developing mental health issues, according to Farid Talih, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the American University of Beirut.

“If your grandfather or your father is in a state of depression, or disappointment, or grief, that’s going to impact you and the way you perceive dreams and ambitions,” El-Khoury said.

Amid an uncertain future, emotional upheaval and mental unease, students from border areas continue trying to realize their educational goals amid the ongoing conflict and uncertain future.

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