Hezbollah, the only party in Lebanon
On Monday evening I was surprised by a visitor, bearing a package of sweets. Y. had arrived from Beirut. In the morning, she had taken off from Lebanon, then Amman and then she landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Had it not been for her four-hour delay at the airport here, the trip could have been quite short.
Y. is an Arab woman from a Sunni Muslim family, but she has a European passport so she can travel freely between Israel and Lebanon. She has been living in Beirut for several years. She spent the Second Lebanon War there. We met for the first time in Tel Aviv after the war and traded experiences. She liked Tel Aviv - it reminds her of Beirut. She did not like the war at all, but in no way could she be considered anti-Israeli. She came to visit her Israeli friends a year later. I asked her what life is like now in Beirut, a year and a half after the war.
The situation is not good, says Y. "It's depressing. Things started going downhill after the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005," she relates. Before that, Beirut had been an open, vibrant city. After the assassination, the suspicion and the tension increased. The war only exacerbated the situation. Ever since Hezbollah tried to topple the government by erecting a tent city in the middle of Beirut, the city center has been paralyzed. The tent city is empty, but the tents are still there. The city has become one big traffic jam.
The atmosphere is very tense. The inter-religious suspicion, never mind hatred, is growing stronger. Not only between Muslims and Christians, but also between Sunnis and Shi'ites. There is no social solidarity. A lower-class Sunni will seek support from the Hariri family. A lower-class Shi'ite will go to Hezbollah. They do not find a common denominator between them, and I find this painful, sighs Y.
She says many people in Lebanon feel the country is on the brink of civil war. Such a war, she fears, will be worse than the last civil war between Christians and Muslims. The Muslim and the Christian neighborhoods are separated; the Sunnis and the Shi'ites live together. If war breaks out there, it will be very ugly. But Y. doesn't think the tension will degenerate into civil war. Everyone wants to avoid that.
So Nasrallah isn't popular any more? Hezbollah isn't still viewed as heroes? I ask her.
Are you kidding? she replies. Hezbollah's base is very solid. Not just among the Shi'ites. The middle-class Christians, supporters of the former general Michel Ayoun, believe Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government represents the interests of the large, old families. They want social mobility, and this they find with Hezbollah. The movement represents a possibility for change.
In addition, says Y., Hezbollah is the only real political party in Lebanon. The state does not exist: The public schools are terrible, and anyone who wants a decent education goes to private schools. There is zero health insurance. The other political parties exist on paper. In fact, these are one-family parties. Hezbollah, however, is everywhere; it provides education and welfare. Non-religious people also enjoy its services.
Hassan Nasrallah also knows how to adapt and be flexible. A while ago, relates Y., a market for organic food opened in one of Beirut's prestigious Christian neighborhoods. A small market, sky-high prices. Just a few weeks went by, she says, and Hezbollah opened a competing organic market. Ten times larger and rock-bottom prices. Everyone was happy. Both the Shi'ite farmers from the south who can sell their produce, and the Beirut residents, who can buy good merchandise at good prices.
Nasrallah also claimed he is in favor of environmental quality and recycling. He has put new meaning into the term "green revolution."
From time to time Y. herself is in contact with Hezbollah members. They are always efficient and organized and they have spokesmen in every possible language - French, English, German.
True, she says, there is criticism of Hezbollah. Even Nasrallah's devoted supporters in South Lebanon have no desire for a new war with Israel. They are having a hard time rebuilding from the ruins of the last war and would rather see Nasrallah concentrate on domestic issues and not prepare for a new war against the Zionist entity. But Hezbollah really does not feel defeated. On the anniversary of the war, Hezbollah put on a very impressive display with an Israeli tank that rose up on a platform from underground and a light-and-sound spectacle. They screened video footage that showed Hezbollah sending its forces into action by means of laptops from trenches in Southern Lebanon, in areas the Israel Defense Forces called "nature reserves."
Nasrallah has not succeeded in toppling Siniora's government - that is so. But he is succeeding in blocking the election of a new president until his conditions are met. Y. herself is very far from Hezbollah's positions. At night she goes out to drink at bars in Beirut - she doesn't sit home in a hijab. Nor does she think he wants to take control of Lebanon. "Lebanon is too small for him," she says. "He sees himself as a regional leader."
Y. departed. I told her that to my regret I will not be able to pay her a return visit in Beirut. That night Nasrallah made his speech about the body parts. The next day all the newspapers were filled with commentators who explained that Nasrallah has been weakened, that he is losing support in Lebanon.
But if there is one lesson to be learned from the last war, it is that Israel knows almost nothing about Hezbollah. A senior military source has said the Mossad brought zero operational information about Hezbollah. They did not know where the nature reserves were located, where Hezbollah was hiding, where their field commanders were. This is one of the reasons, according to a Human Rights Watch report, why only 50 Hezbollah members were killed in Israel Defense Forces bombings and bombardments, and 150 were killed in battles on the ground. More than 1,000 of the dead were civilians, says the organization.
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