Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Jennifer Loewenstein, "Awakening the Resistance," CounterPunch, August 10, 2006.

Thousands of Lebanese, Palestinians and others made a kind of pilgrimage to Fatima’s gate in the summer of 2000 to celebrate the end of Israel’s 22 -year occupation of south Lebanon. ‘Fatima’s gate’ denoted a stretch of land on the Lebanon-Israel border newly controlled by Hizbullah after it pursued the retreating Israeli forces back into Israel. Yellow Hizbullah flags flew everywhere. The atmosphere was festive and light. People set up souvenir stands selling Hizbullah memorabilia – flags, key-rings, postcards, pens – to commemorate the historic event. Families strolled up and back along the road parallel to the border, pointing out the Israeli towns in the distance. Friends strode along together talking politics and stopping to stare at the last wreckages of the event, the burned out jeeps and cars, the bullet holes and shrapnel wounds in the facades of the walls and buildings left behind by the retreating Israelis. Parents and children alike gazed at these remains; some took pictures posed next to them. Others passed by more solemnly, wary of disturbing the near-sanctity of these symbols of struggle and of the years of adversity they recalled.

Across a stretch of land demarcated by barbed wire and signposts stood a lone Israeli watch-tower. From Fatima’s gate one could just make out the shapes of helmeted soldiers within, behind a small rectangular window of bullet-proofed glass: the hapless targets of rocks hurled continually across the border by all who could manage to throw them and the cheering on-lookers applauding each lob.

The summer of 2000 has taken on the transient quality of a landscape brightened by a break in the clouds for an all too brief interlude.

That was the summer Lebanon began to awaken again; to bloom into a metropolis of culture and scandal, nightlife and slums, commerce and tourism, stretching, yawning and weeping with sorrow and relief. The stiflingly hot streets of Haret Hreik in the south suburbs were neighbors the of the Bourj al-Barajneh, Chatila and Mar Elias Palestinian refugee camps all full of the squalor and pulsing of life, the worlds within worlds of poverty, hope, despair and faith. There in the slums of the city a young, intelligent doctor from the camp hospital invited me to his home to meet his mother and sister and to explain why he, a Sunni Muslim and a Palestinian, had chosen to become a member of Hizbullah. Safwat was an anomaly then, or so I believed. But now, when I traverse the streets of Haret Hreik in my mind, the fruit and vegetable stands, the phone stores and electronics shops, the clothing stores, restaurants and cafes, the banks and Internet stops, the grocery and household supply marts where one could purchase all her daily necessities, it is clear that the seeds of a vast resistance had just begun to germinate. It was unclear to me then just how fully it would bloom; just how tenacious its roots would become.

Today, the bustling streets of Haret Hreik are gone. Where families lived and thrived, struggled and laughed, is an emptiness of rubble –the bombed ruins of a greedy imperial war that stops at nothing. Today Lebanon stands behind Hizbullah. The Lebanese have become the bitter, cheering on-lookers of the resistance which lobs its out-dated missiles relentlessly across the border as the Israeli war machine refuels again and again. But US precision guided bombs, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, unmanned aerial drones, drones to guide the bombs, helicopters armed with missiles, F-16s, gun ships and state-of-the-art armed and trained ground forces with night vision surveillance and combat goggles have succeeded in uniting far more than the Lebanese behind the daring defiance of Hassan Nasrallah.

Sixteen years of civil war, of murderous sectarian acrimony, of inter-ethnic killing, suspicion and paranoia and today –after 28 days of hell unleashed upon it by the arrogant racism of a militant and ideological Zionism— 89% of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, 80% of its Christians, 80% of its Druze and 100% of its Shiite populations support Hizbullah’s resistance against Israel and the United States.

At least as telling are statistics showing that 97% of Palestinians support Hizbullah’s position toward Israel including 95% of Christian Palestinians. Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories and Iran are not the only places where support for Hizbullah has increased dramatically in the last month. Among the populations of the American-backed Arab states, notably Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, there is also widespread support. Indeed, seizing upon the corruption and obsequiousness of these regimes and their tacit support of Israel, Nasrallah intoned in a recent address, “there will be no place for [you] if you abandon your moral and national responsibility…. For the sake of your thrones I say to you gather [up your humanity] and act for one day in order to stop this aggression on Lebanon.” He understands, as do they, that their unwillingness to condemn the insouciant murder of more than a thousand people will cost them dearly. Suddenly these merciless, sell-out regimes are left scrambling to help author a ceasefire agreement less embarrassing than the Bolton-Gillerman diktat that left the Israeli military in place in south Lebanon while seeking to disarm Hizbullah.

Are we really surprised by the vast, Hizbullah-led resistance? By the linkage it makes with people across the boundaries of national insult, defeat and humiliation? Are we really surprised that 40 years after Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights and 6 years into its continued occupation of the Shebaa Farms in Lebanon that people are have had enough? Are we really surprised that 3 and a half years into the US occupation and devastation of Iraq, 5 years after the US invasion and destruction of Afghanistan and decades of killings, intrusions, violations, abductions, assassinations, meddling, economic sanctions, pilfering and exploitation of the people, lands and resources of the Middle East that the reckless, racist, power-drunk mercenaries of empire should finally be met with a legitimate popular resistance? –not an outgrowth of displaced fanaticism, not an al-Qaeda gang of killers, but the beginnings of a grassroots pan-Arab and pan-Islamic movement seeking to heal the wounds of perpetual subjugation?

What message have the purveyors of state power brought with them that their listeners should wish to continue to bow in subservience? The conditions are not right for a ceasefire, say George Bush and Condoleeza Rice. First burn down the house and then we can discuss how to put out the flames. We are not just fighting Hizbullah, says Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, but Syria and Iran as well. Accept our vision of a Starbucked-MidEast; a Middle East with sanitized Muslims appointed by the corporate board of Ziocondriacs who break into hives at the words “Islam” and “Arab;” whose peace imposes fast food franchises; whose freedom is the right to purchase arms at the Great Mall of the Gulf States; whose riches are the oil wells mortgaged to Texas; and whose water resources run through the processing plants of the Ariel and Gush Etzion settlement blocs.

They tell you that a Jewish state is democratic but a Muslim state is evil; that Palestinians living in Palestine have no rights and no state but Jews living in the rest of the world can ‘return’ and live there as rights’-bearing citizens; that Jesus wants you in Palestine unless you are a Palestinian or a Muslim; that Washington, London and Tel Aviv can produce nuclear warheads but that Tehran is a global threat for daring to enrich uranium; that legitimate resistance is terrorism but state terrorism is “self-defense”; that the desert state of Syria is Nasrallah’s courier and puppeteer but that Washington is an honest broker and a partner for peace; that Iran is a rogue state for arming Hizbullah but that America is freedom-loving for arming Tel Aviv; that we cannot talk to Damascus or Tehran unless they renounce themselves out of existence first; that expansionism and regime change are necessary for American and Israeli national security but that the Arab and Muslim winners of free and fair democratic elections should be arrested in the middle of the night and imprisoned in secret police detention centers for attempting to rule.

They tell you that three soldiers captured by Hamas and Hizbullah are worth the collective destruction of Palestine and Lebanon but that civilians kidnapped by Israel are not worth the price of a printed page; that the tens of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails and the hundreds of Afghanis, Pakistanis, Arabs and others at Guantanamo Bay are worth less than the abandoned pets of the residents of North Israel fleeing to the bomb shelters. They sing sanctimonious hymns to the glory of international law as they veto it into the oblivion of a million shell fragments.

Don’t count the blackened bodies of the peach farmers of Qaa laid out in the afternoon sun along the roadside. Don’t weep for the petrified, death-stolen children under the concrete rubble of Qana. Don’t suffer the incinerated of Marwaheen, the blasted of Srifa and Khiam and Tibnine. Don’t list the villages lost or the homes destroyed; don’t number the dead of Beirut and Tyre. Don’t listen to the wailing on the beaches of Gaza. Don’t mourn the lost lives of Khan Yunis or Beit Hanoun, people of the sand and the dust; of corrugated iron and uprooted orange groves. Don’t number the fallen in Nablus or Jenin: the old shepherds, the young rebels, the pregnant wives and weary husbands, the somber schoolgirls and the angry boys in the lost alleys of the camps. We will hear all of their voices again; see their likenesses in the shattered streets of the Levant. They will gather beneath the cedar and the minaret; carry with them the kuffiyeh and the Qur’an; they will speak the language of the resistance that we have breathed into them like fire.

Jennifer Loewenstein is a Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford University's Refugee Studies Centre. She has lived and worked in Gaza City, Beirut and Jerusalem and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, where she has worked as a free-lance journalist and a human rights activist. She can be reached at:
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