Playing The Jerusalem Card In Lebanon With Deft Hypocrisy – OpEd


Not 20 minutes had passed following President Trump’s outrageous “Capital offense” declaration recognizing all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel when shouts were heard in parts of Lebanon of an arriving apocalypse. Some self-flagellations were observed in certain Shia quarters, predications of end of times spread as well as many calls for a Third Intifada to “liberate Jerusalem.”

Ninety out of a hundred US Senators approved of Trump’s statement. None voted against and the ten who abstained are well known hardened Trump detractors. The vote reflects the continuing strong pro- Israel sentiment among both fundamentalist and liberal Americans. On 12/15/2017, Trump administration officials also declared that Jerusalem’s Western Wall is part of Israel, a declaration that will doubtless enflame more passions among Palestinians and others in the Middle East and globally.

As is well-known by now, every Arab country and more than 100 others have strongly condemned Trumps decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem despite weak sounding White House pledges to increase its support for the Palestinian cause. Mild protests from the EU, UK and many US allies also quickly followed. Egypt’s UNSC draft resolution affirmed that any decisions on the status of Jerusalem were “null and void and must be rescinded”, and urged all states to “refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the holy city” would have passed with 14 yea votes but for the American veto. A similar indictment of the Embassy move did pass the UN General Assembly under the Uniting for Peace resolution on 12/21/2017 with 128 states in favor, 35 abstaining and nine voting against.

It’s quite likely that every 5th year Palestinian youngster in Lebanon’s 13 camps knows that the United Nations partition plan drawn up in 1947 planed that Jerusalem would be a separate “international city.” But the 1948 war that followed Israel’s declaration of independence cut the city in two and as part of an Armistice, drawing with green ink on a map, the Green Line creating East and West Jerusalem. Israel controlled the western half, and Jordan controlled of the eastern half, including the Old City. In 1967 Israel took over all of Jerusalem and declared it to be its eternal undivided capital. And that’s the cause of today’s problem because it is claimed as the capital of Palestine.

Trump’s moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which hopefully will not survive the next Presidential election, has created much politically calculated hand wringing in Lebanon and this region and the manipulation of the struggle to make Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. Palestinian leaders are adamant that an embassy move to Jerusalem is a violation of international law, and a huge setback to the “peace process”.

The first claim is accurate, certainly it’s an egregious violation of international law which the UN must work to block with Security Council resolutions urging all countries to refrain from moving embassies to Jerusalem. With respect to the ‘peace process’ there is no such thing today and arguably there has never been a serious one.

For the past quarter century, American presidents, both Democrats and Republicans get secure more Jewish and Fundamentalist Christians, have declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv.

In 1992, Bill Clinton declared, “Jerusalem is still the capital of Israel and must remain an undivided city accessible to all.”

In 2000, entrenched in a tight race with Albert Gore, Clintons Vice President, George W. Bush promised: “As soon as I take my office I will begin the process of moving the United States Ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital, Jerusalem.”

During his 2008 election campaign, Barack Obama made an even stronger commitment to the Israeli position on Jerusalem than his predecessors declaring his support for Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, emphasizing that ”

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and must remain undivided.”

Since Trumps announcement, plenty of anti-Palestinian politicians seeking to cash in politically, including Lebanese President, Michel Aoun who is only in that post because Iran installed him by instructing Hezbollah to break its deadlock of Parliament, are wringing their hands and seeking political advantages from Trumps provocative action.

Aoun, is widely known for his anti-Palestinian views and actions and is thought to care less about Jerusalem being the Palestinians capital, rather he just wants every Palestinian out of Lebanon, the sooner the better. And so do the Palestinians—they want to return to their homes in Palestine. One anti-Palestinian tactic Aoun regularly uses in many of his speeches is to insist that “Lebanon needs to be freed from the 600,000 Palestinians in our country who seek naturalization.” Sometimes he uses the figure 500,000. Truth told, fewer than 175.000 Palestinians remain in Lebanon today and Aoun knows this. A just released census of Palestinians in Lebanon, the first counting every taken, confirms this. Tens of thousands have emigrated because by law, Lebanon bars them from the elementary civil rights to work or to own a home. Of those who remain very few would accept naturalization. The noted above first ever official census of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon was released on 12.21.2017, and it established that 174,422 Palestinian refugees are living in the country, much lower than anti-Palestinian politicians have been telling their followers that past few decades.

Also, being heard are renewed promises by the Hezbollah led “Resistance” that it will withdraw its forces fighting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere and make Palestine its top priority, promising that if it is necessary Iran/Hezbollah will import Shia militia from across the region to help “liberate Al Quds.” Shortly after Trumps declaration, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah announced that his fighters would return from abroad and focus its fighting on behalf of Palestinians, since Hezbollah’s fighters had already defeated its enemies in several other regional battles against Syrian “terrorists”.

Addressing a 12/11/2017 rally in South Beirut via a video feed, Nasrallah declared “Jerusalem, Palestine and the Palestinian people will return to be the priorities” for Hezbollah, adding that the group would “dedicate all its time to Palestinian resistance.”

Nasrallah’s promise that the “Resistance” will dedicate all its time to Palestinians comes as good news to the Beirut-Washington DC based Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) volunteers who have been pressing Hezbollah over the seven years in Syria to arrange 90 minutes of Parliaments time to grant the elementary civil right to work and to own a home for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Sixty of the minutes would be required to enact the right to work for Palestinians without Kafkaesque restrictions that prevent them from working and thirty minutes to repeal the 2001 racist law that criminalized home ownership for Palestinians in Lebanon.

A few days later, Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, also declared that his party “will give full support for the resistance in Palestine and liberate Al Quds.”

On 12/11/2017 Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, called the leaders of the military wings of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to offer military support. According to the pro-Iran Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV Soleimani ordered Hezbollah to defend Jerusalem. He expressed Iran’s full support for the Palestinian cause Hezbollah has quickly sought to take a leadership role in response to Trumps decision and the reaction it caused among Palestinians in Lebanon and elsewhere. After of break regarding the Palestinian cause since Hezbollah entered the civil war in Syria in March of 2011. Killing, it is reported by some Syrian Palestinian leaders, more Sunni Palestinians over the past seven years than Israel has killed since the 1948 Nakba, nearly 70 years ago, Nasrallah claims Hezbollah will help Palestinians.

Nasrallah was emphatic on 12/11/2017:

“And I declare today that I speak not only on behalf of Hezbollah, but on behalf of the entire Resistance Axis (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Iraq, Yemen). I know their opinion and their position very well, being in constant contact with all. Previously Nasrallah has insisted that Hezbollah had nothing to do with Yemen and had no fighters, military training centers or even contacts there.)  to the Palestinian people and ready to stand by them.” Nasrallah assured the Palestinians in Lebanon’s 12 camps that Hezbollah will “liberate Al Quds (Jerusalem)!”

It’s quite unlikely that the “Resistance,” as Nasrallah claims will expel Israel from Jerusalem anytime soon. Such boasts fall these days on skeptical ears in Lebanon because to date Hezbollah has done very little for Lebanon’s Palestinians. In June of 2010 Hezbollah pulled out of a Palestinian march for civil rights near Parliament and in August of 2010, blocked, in Parliament, an effective proposal to grant Lebanon’s Palestinians the most elementary civil rights to work or own a home.

But at the South Beirut Hezbollah rally after the Trump announcement, the Shia assembly from my neighborhood who came to listen to Nasrallah via video feed, were excited and on que would look at the media cameras and offer the following chants when signaled by rally organizers:

*        “We are moving towards Al-Quds by the millions, seeking martyrdom, (death) !”
*        “We are at your command, O Nasrallah”,
*       “Death to Israel, Death to America”,
*      “I will never abandon you, O Hussein!”( ed: Hussein is Aba Abdallah al-Hussein (grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and the 3rd of the 12 Imams of Shiism. He killed at Karbala on October 10, 680 fighting rival Sunni Muslim forces during an Umayyad military victory)
*      “ O Allah! Protect Nasrallah for us!”

Among the crowd listening to Nasrallah were many relatives of the 10,000 plus Lebanese Shia men from Lebanon who were either killed or wounded over the past seven years, all being victims of Hezbollah’s wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. For their families, maybe during the short emotional period of the event and while hearing and seeing the popular Nasrallah, they experienced a brief respite the grief of losing their loved ones in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Yet increasingly they express that the reasons for their irreplaceable loses were for no other purpose than what very few Shia believe in these days. And that is Tehran’s insistence that the Lebanese and other Shia from half a dozen countries “seek Martyrdom” carrying out a revenge ritual against Takfiris for the death of Hussein at Kabala, nearly fifteen hundred years ago.

As of 12/17/2017, a week after Nasrallah’s announcement, there are no signs of Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria. Hezbollah fighters joined Syrian government forces and entered parts of the Idlib province in north-west Syria, one of four “de-escalation” zones which foreign powers including Turkey, Iran and Russia established. Fighting was to stop along with the targeting of civilians. Government forces, including Hezbollah, took control of the Tahrir al-Sham Organization’s villages, including the village of Tal al-Khanazir south-east of Idlib.

But for all its “Resistance” commitment exhortations to liberating Palestine, Tehran does not want Hezbollah to ignite any war in Lebanon, which is far too important to Iran’s main goal in Lebanon. Rather is wants Hezbollah to tighten its grip on Lebanon during the run-up to the coming May 2018 elections in which Hezbollah plans make a clean sweep and virtually control all the Lebanese leadership posts including President, Prime Minister, the Army, all Security Services, Parliament, and even change the constitution which it is reportedly planning to if it wins the coming election. For example, Hezbollah could discard the current the power-sharing distribution in parliament from half Christian/half Muslim to a three-way system between Christians, Sunnis, and Shia. If so Hezbollah would have achieved perpetual power in Lebanon’s institutions. It has wanted to do this for years but lacked the Parliamentary majority which it may now achieve in the May 2018 elections.

It’s not been just Arab politicians who playing the Jerusalem card, some perhaps ironically, depending on one’s sense of humor includes the Turks. Turkey’s President Erdogan has taken a leading position as spokesman for the Palestinians claim to Jerusalem, yet it was the Ottoman Turks who colonized the Arabs for over 600 years and ignored Jerusalem as a backwater city of no religious importance and of little value. Earlier, when Caliph Omar captured Jerusalem in 637, it had nothing to do with the Koran or Prophet Mohammad ordaining that it was to be Islamic. Jerusalem just happened to be in the geographical area of the war between Arabs fighting the Byzantines. For a period, Muslims did pray towards Jerusalem because of its connections to Abraham and because Mecca was in pagan hands, but when Jews rejected Prophet Muhammad as the promised messiah, and Mecca was cleared of idols, Muslims largely lost interest in Jerusalem.

Such is history– with a fair bit of the devil rising from the details of the ill-advised White House preemption of an explosive issue that will continue to ignite unpredictable conflicts in this region and beyond.

Franklin Lamb

Franklin Lamb, a former Assistant Counsel of the US House Judiciary Committee at the US Congress and Professor of International Law at Northwestern College of Law in Oregon, earned his Law Degree at Boston University and his LLM, M.Phil, and PhD degrees at the London School of Economics. Following three summers at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Lamb was a visiting fellow at the Harvard Law School’s East Asian Legal Studies Center where he specialized in Chinese Law. He was the first westerner allowed by the government of China to visit the notorious “Ward Street” Prison in Shanghai. Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and works with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon and the Sabra-Shatila Foundation. His new book, The Case for Palestinian Civil Rights in Lebanon, is due out shortly.

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