Hezbollah Rides a New Popularity

BEIRUT — As the war in Lebanon approaches the one-month mark, and amid the destruction of much of Lebanon, Hezbollah appears to be gaining strength within the country and around the Arab world.

The Israeli aim of widespread bombing of the Lebanese infrastructure in order to create resentment against Hezbollah seems to have played into the strengths of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, known in many western countries as a “terrorist organisation”, is widely seen in Lebanon as a legitimate political and social power.

One reason for this, according to an official representative of Hezbollah and member of the Lebanese Parliament, is that Hezbollah has never aimed to turn Lebanon into an Islamic state.

“Hezbollah is a democratic party whose principles are based on the Lebanese constitution,” Tarad Hamade told IPS. “This means we have to respect the cultural and religious diversity in the country. We have never intended to establish an Islamic state.”

Hamade, who is also labour minister, said: “Israel wants to terrorise the country and inflict as much damage as possible. They call us terrorists, at the same time as they are exercising state terrorism. Are they not terrorists?”

More and more Lebanese are beginning to hold this view.

Lebanese see the destruction by Israelis all around them. The damage to the civilian infrastructure will cost billions of dollars to fix.

All three of Lebanon’s airports and all four of its ports have been bombed. Damage done to houses and businesses is estimated at above a billion dollars. At least 22 fuel and gas stations have been bombed. Scores of factories have been damaged or destroyed.

Red Cross ambulances, government emergency centres, UN peacekeeping forces and observers, media outlets and mobile phone towers have been bombed — all in violation of international law.

Mosques and churches have been bombed, and illegal weapons such as cluster bombs and white phosphorous used. More than 90 percent of those killed, close to 1,000 according to official estimates, are civilians.

The result is that rather than pressuring Hezbollah by destroying Lebanon, Israel has increased popular support for the group, and brought the wishes of most Lebanese more in line with the stated goals of Hezbollah to keep Israel at bay.

With Hezbollah engaged in at least 60 percent of the relief efforts in Lebanon, the kind of work that gave it power in the first place is now only increasing its popularity.

Israel could also have fallen for the military strategy of Hezbollah. Hezbollah would like nothing more than to engage the Israeli military in a guerrilla war in southern Lebanon – and this has begun already now that Israeli troops are in the south, and suffering casualties.

Hamade says Hezbollah’s stated demands for a ceasefire are simple and have remained unchanged since the beginning of the conflict.

“There can only be ceasefire if Israel stops firing as soon as possible, accepts an exchange of prisoners and leaves Lebanon.” But more than 10,000 Israeli troops now occupy parts of southern Lebanon, widespread air strikes continue, and Israel refuses a prisoner exchange.

IPS recently interviewed a Hezbollah fighter who asked to be called “Ahmed”. The Israeli aggression has only made him a more determined fighter.

“I care about my people, my country, and I’m defending them from the aggression,” he said. “My home now in Dahaya (southern Beirut) is in ruins. Everything in my life is destroyed now, so I will fight them.”

Like most followers of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Ahmed said: “We are all with him. He has given us belief and hope that we can push the Zionists out of Lebanon, and keep them out forever. He has given me purpose.”

He added: “We are like the French resistance against the Nazis.”

Mohamed Slaibi, a 21-year-old business student at the American University of Beirut (AUB), said that he has never supported Hezbollah, but he now feels it is their right to defend Lebanon.

“And now I feel betrayed by America,” Slaibi said. “The U.S. supports Israel 100 percent in everything they do. Even though my dream was to go to the U.S., and I study at AUB, now I hate the Americans for supporting Israel.”

This is just the kind of sentiment that Israel did not want to provoke. And it has been caused by the extent of the Israeli aggression. In the past Israeli attacks were aimed primarily at Hezbollah, but now all Lebanese people are suffering.

It is well known that Hezbollah enjoys strong political support from Syria and Iran, and likely receives arms and munitions from those countries, but more than ever it is enjoying the support of the Lebanese people.

And it certainly seems to have resources. “Some of it is donations from the Lebanese people,” Hamade said. “Some of it is revenues from companies established by Hezbollah. In addition, Muslims pay ‘Zaqaat’ (a voluntary donation for the cause of religion). The arms we can buy on the market. There is an endless supply of arms.”

Hezbollah can of course not match Israel in weaponry. “We might not be as powerful as the Israeli army but we will fight until we die,” Hamade said.