By Uri Avnery
So is Hezbollah a terrorist organization?
Of course not.
So why has the Arab League decided that they are?
Because most of the league’s member states are Sunni Muslims, while Hezbollah is a Shiite organization supporting Shiite Iran and Alawite (quasi-Shiite) Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
So were Israel’s Arab parties right when they condemned the league’s resolution?
Right, yes. Wise, no.
Let’s start with Hezbollah. Surprisingly enough, it is in a way an Israeli creation.
Lebanon is an artificial state. For centuries, it was considered a part of Syria. Because of its mountainous terrain, it was an ideal place for small persecuted sects, which could defend themselves there. Among them is the Maronite Christian community, called after a monk by the name of Maron.
After World War I, when the victorious Great Powers carved up the Ottoman Empire between them, France insisted on the creation of a Christian Lebanese state under its stewardship. Such a state would have been very small, devoid of a major port. So, unwisely, the territories of various other sects were added to create a larger state, consisting of several mutually antagonistic communities.
There were (a) the Maronites in their mountain bastion, (b) diverse other Christian sects, (c) the Sunni Muslims, who had been settled by the Sunni Ottoman Empire in the major port cities, (d) the Druze, who had split from Islam many centuries earlier, and (e) the Shiite Muslims.
The Shiites are the inhabitants of the South. They were the poorest and weakest sect, despised and exploited by all the others.
In this federation of sects which is Lebanon, the constitution gives each sect a senior job. The president of the state is always a Maronite, the Prime Minister a Sunni, the army commander a Druze. There was nothing left for the poor Shiites, except the post of the Speaker of Parliament, a title without power.
For more than a generation, the Israeli-Lebanese border, which is in practice the Israeli-Shiite border, was Israel’s only peaceful one. Farmers on both sides worked in close proximity, without fences, without incidents. The saying was that Lebanon would be the second Arab state to make peace with Israel – not daring to be the first.
Once in the early 1940s I crossed the unmarked border by mistake. A nice Lebanese gendarme intercepted me and politely showed me the way back.
After the “Black September” in Jordan (1970), when King Hussein crushed the Palestinian forces, South Lebanon became the new Palestinian base. The quietest border became quite unquiet.
The Shiites did not like the Palestinians and the trouble they caused. When the Israeli army invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the unspoken aim of pushing the Palestinians out and installing a Maronite dictatorship, the Shiites were happy. The pictures of Shiite villagers receiving Israeli soldiers with bread and salt were not staged.
I crossed the border on the fourth day of the fighting to see for myself. A Yemenite soldier, who vaguely remembered seeing my face on TV and assumed I was somebody high up in government, opened the gate for me. I traveled with two female colleagues in my private car with the yellow Israeli license plate through the Shiite villages and was received everywhere with great joy. Everybody wanted us to visit their home and have coffee.
The reason for this spontaneous friendship was obvious. The Shiites assumed that the Israelis would rid them of the arrogant Palestinians, say goodbye and leave. But Israelis are not good at leaving. After some months, the Shiites realized that instead of a Palestinian occupation they now had an Israeli occupation. So they started a classical guerrilla war. The docile, downtrodden Shiite farmers turned overnight into fierce fighters.
The moderate Shiite party which had represented the Shiites for so long was replaced by the very militant new Hezbollah – the Party of God. The Israeli troops were ambushed by an invisible enemy. Soldiers moved in convoys. I once joined such an army convoy. Some soldiers were literally shaking with fear.
After 18 years of this, the Israeli troops left for good, almost in a panic. They left behind a mini-state ruled by Hezbollah. Its leader was assassinated by Israel, and the vastly more able Hassan Nasrallah took his place.
Today the Shiites are by far the strongest community in Lebanon. They are an important part of the powerful “Shiite arc” – Iran, Iraq, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and Hezbollah.
Binyamin Netanyahu believes that this arc constitutes a mortal menace to Israel. He has secretly allied himself with Saudi Arabia, which has created a Sunni counter-force with Egypt and the Gulf monarchies and is loosely connected with Daesh, the Islamic “Caliphate”.
Hezbollah our most dangerous enemy? I beg to differ. I believe that our most dangerous enemy is Daesh – not because of its military prowess, but because it is a powerful idea, and is inflaming hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world. Ideas can be more dangerous than guns – a fact alien to Israeli thinking.
Hezbollah now has regular troops and is fighting in Syria against Daesh and others.
Be that as it may, one thing Hezbollah definitely is not: it is not a terrorist organization.
What is “terrorism”? By now, it has become a cuss-word without real content.
Originally, terrorism just meant a strategy of striking fear to achieve a political end. In this sense, every war is terrorism. But the term is more precisely applied to individual acts of violence, the aim of which is to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy population.
By now, every country and every party calls its enemies “terrorists”. It is the fashionable expletive. It has no real meaning.
If at all, every army is an instrument of terrorism. In times of war, armies always try to frighten the enemy into accepting their demands. Dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima was a terrorist act, and so was the incineration of Dresden.
In the past, the term terrorism was used to describe the acts of Russian revolutionaries who killed Russian ministers (acts condemned by Lenin) or the Austrian heir to the throne (the act which ignited World War I, which itself was not called “terrorism” because it killed millions, not just a few).
Terrorists do not achieve their goals owing to the magnitude of their deeds but rather by their psychological effect. The killing of a hundred may be forgotten the next day, the killing of one may be remembered for centuries. Samson, the arch-terrorist, has been immortalized in the Bible as the great hero of Israel.
(Because the psychological effect is so important, most reactions to acts of terrorism only serve the terrorist.)
Modern terrorists – real terrorists – lay bombs in markets, shoot at random civilians, run over people. Hezbollah does none of these.
One can hate Hezbollah and detest Nasrallah. But calling them “terrorists” is plain stupid.
All this came up because of a chain of incidents that has recently rocked Israel.
The Arab league, dominated by Saudi Arabia, has declared that Hezbollah is a “terrorist” organization. This is almost meaningless, a little gesture in the battle between the Saudi monarchy and Iran. Or between the “Shiite arc” and the “Sunni bloc”.
Two small Arab parties in Israel, both members of the 4-party Arab “Joint List”, have condemned the League’s declaration and sided with Hezbollah. They are the Arab nationalist Balad (Motherland) party and the (pro-Assad) Communist party.
The Knesset exploded. How dare they?! Defending our enemies? Denying that these arch-terrorists are arch-terrorists?
Jewish members, practically from wall to wall, are demanding the outlawing of the two parties, expelling their members from the Knesset, and what not. Since there is in practice no legal death penalty in Israel, they cannot, alas, be hanged. Pity.
Were these Arab members right in their statement? Of course they were.
Was their statement logical? Indeed it was.
But logic can be poison in politics.
For ordinary Jewish Israelis, Hezbollah is a deadly enemy. Nasrallah, with his sneering, superior style is detested by each and all. By making their declaration, which actually had nothing to do with Israel, the Arab Knesset members just provoked and upset the entire Jewish public.
Of course, these Arabs are part of the Arab world. They have the right to express their opinion about everything that happens in the Arab world. The right, not the duty.
Arab members of the Israeli Knesset are torn between two seemingly opposite tasks: to serve the interests of their constituents and to take a stand on issues concerning their Palestinian nation and the Arab world in general.
By criticizing the Arab League’s condemnation of Hezbollah, they served their second task. But by widening the gulf between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens without an urgent reason, they definitely harmed the first. Thereby they also harmed the chances of peace.
I understand them, but I believe that it was not a wise thing to do.