(photo credit: Bilal Hussein/AP)
In his latest press extravaganza, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah exposed what he called evidence of Israel’s involvement in the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The footage Nasrallah presented showed that Israel was monitoring areas in Lebanon since the late 1990s, a fact Israel has never denied. Nonetheless, the footage failed to tackle the most critical element of any crime; motive. Since day one, Hizbullah has been viewed as the prime suspect in Hariri’s assassination, and for good reason; Hariri was a Sunni leader who revived the strength and momentum of Lebanese Sunnis, as well as Saudi influence in Lebanon as a major Arab Sunni force, thus making himself a significant obstacle in Hizbullah’s quest to control Lebanon.
Still, the fact that Hizbullah has been successful in intercepting Israeli UAVs proves, once again, its access to advanced military technology. Furthermore, Hizbullah stands out as a very organized terrorist group with a clear strategy. Much of this stems from the fact that it receives substantial financial and logistical support from a very capable country – Iran – which has a lavish history of state terrorism and a relatively advanced military.
Today, Hizbullah is also well-established militarily. Yet what gives the
group its edge is its propaganda tactics, which is exactly what
Nasrallah was demonstrating with his latest press conference. In fact,
Hizbullah has been playing the media game in a manner unprecedented by
any other terror group.
In 2000, when Israel withdrew its troops from the buffer zones in
southern Lebanon, Nasrallah appeared on most Arab TV screens chanting
that “the mission had not been accomplished yet as Jerusalem and Al-Aksa
mosque were still under Zionist occupation.”
This turned him into the poster child for pan-Arab nationalism,
Islamism, and even Leftist forces in the Arab world. It created a
dramatic shift in Arab public opinion, reviving the so-called “moral of
resistance” against Israel that evolved into an entire change of heart
by most Arabs, who are predominantly Sunni, towards the Shi’ite sect and
principles. Several Arab countries reported cases of denomination
conversion to the Shi’ite faith, alarming major Sunni countries like
Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Hizbullah’s confrontation with Israel in 2006 brought the ultimate media
trophy for Nasrallah. The fact that he remained alive weeks after of a
strong assault by the region’s strongest military force, and that many
“martyrs” fell in the process, played into Hizbullah’s media machine
very effectively, eventually portraying Hizbullah as victorious and as
the protector of Arabs and Muslims. Nonetheless, several Sunni Muslim
scholars stood against it then, calling it “a destructive Shi’ite force”
and still cite the same slogan today.
WHILE MANY, including some Israelis, seem to believe that Nasrallah
loves the Palestinians, and would fight for their cause, the facts on
the ground reflect a totally different reality. Hizbullah represents the
Shi’ites in Lebanon, who describe themselves as an extension of the
global Shi’ite body, with strong emotional and ideological ties to Iran.
The Shi’ites in Lebanon have always felt threatened by the
Palestinians, who are strictly Sunnis, and whose presence in Lebanon is
viewed as adding demographic heavy weight to Lebanese Sunnis. While
Lebanese Shi’ite figures never mention this fact, they have been
vigorously working against it in practice; they even took up arms
against the Palestinians during the Lebanese civil war. In fact,
Lebanese Shi’ite were responsible for some of the most notorious
atrocities against the Palestinians, with welldocumented massacres and
the siege of the Palestinian refugee camps. Ironically, when they ended
these in 1987, Shi’ite leader Nabih Berri told the press that this was
“a gift for the Intifada.”
Hundreds of the war criminals that were involved in those massacres are now affiliated with Hizbullah, some in senior positions.
The group has been ruthless in its efforts to marginalize and control
the Sunni Palestinian population in Lebanon; its leaders insisted on
confining 400,000 Palestinians to the refugee camps as a condition for
ending the civil war in 1989.
Before his latest press conference, Nasrallah was promoting that his
faction would “punish” Israel if it obstructed a Lebanese aid flotilla
headed for Gaza. This comes as one of an endless series of media stunts
in which Nasrallah portrays himself and Hizbullah as the defenders of
the Palestinian cause.
While Nasrallah claims he wants to see food items and medications
delivered to Gaza, Palestinians in Lebanon are literally locked up
inside their camps every evening. Banned from working legally,
Palestinians in Lebanon have to depend on international aid and
donations, which Lebanon monitors and restricts. This has resulted in
intolerable living conditions. The post- Syrian Lebanese governments
exhibited a tendency to improve the living conditions for the
Palestinians on its soil; nonetheless, Hizbullah has been most fierce in
fighting that trend. Waving the flag of the Palestinian cause, and
staunchly supporting the “right of return to Palestine,” Hizbullah has
been obstructing every attempt to improve the livelihood of Palestinians
Furthermore, it has been igniting and financing unrest between
Palestinian factions, as Hamas is not shy in showcasing its alliance
with both Hizbullah and Iran.
Today, while Nasrallah and Hizbullah are considered iconic symbols of
the fight against Israel and the defenders of the Palestinian cause,
Palestinians in Lebanon are dying young, uneducated and poor, all in the
name of preventing them from being naturalized in Lebanon in order to
“keep their love for Palestine.”
This tactic for persecuting the Palestinians is not unique to Hizbullah;
it has been played by many Arab countries and in fact by some of the
countries claiming to be most friendly to the Palestinians.
The question is; with such friends, who needs enemies? The writer, a Jordanian of Palestinian heritage, is a researcher at the University of Bedfordshire.