Walden Bello: Beirut – A Bittersweet Day


Richard Moore

Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2006 07:57:44 +0200
Subject: Walden Bello WG: Beirut, August 14: A Bittersweet Day
From: "H. Ritter" <•••@••.•••>

Beirut, August 14: A Bittersweet Day
By Walden Bello*

BEIRUT - The bittersweet mood in Beirut on this 
day when the ceasefire took effect was perhaps 
best expressed by Rahul, a taxi driver, who tells 
me, "We won, but at what cost?  So many people 
displaced, so many dead, so many buildings 

The final toll of this war is still being counted 
but it is likely that the death count will go 
above 1400 and the economic damage will reach $6 

As soon as the cessation of hostilities came into 
effect at 8 am, cars and vans and trucks started 
to roll down to the South as people who took 
refuge in the Beirut and other parts of the 
country went back to their homes. "They'll most 
likely find their houses gone, but their lands 
will still be there and there's really no place 
like home," says Anwar El Khalil, an MP 
representing the area of Marieyoun, the site of 
the strafing of a civilian convoy by Israeli 
planes last week, who himself is eager to return 
home. With a full third of the country's 
inhabitants having been displaced from their 
homes, a massive civilian movement is expected to 
bring traffic along the country's main highways 
to a crawl in the next few days.

The Losers

There is no doubt about who the loser is in this 
war.  Everyone we talk to in this day of national 
pride agrees with the editorial in the Daily 
Star, Lebanon's liberal English language paper, 
that states that "The Israeli government has been 
discredited and serious wrinkles in the 
US-Israeli relationship have been exposed. The 
Israelis now have to contend with a political 
arena that is in disarray." With even members of 
the government of Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert 
saying Israel has lost the war, the Jewish state 
is indeed plunged into its worst political crisis 
in years.  Perhaps the prevailing mood in the 
Israeli establishment is reflected in Haaretz 
commentator Zeev Schiff's call for a 
"reconsideration of the military and strategic 
management after the facts have proved that the 
army is no longer capable of adapting to the kind 
of warfare imposed by Hezbollah."

Nor is there doubt about who the other loser is. 
For many Lebanese politicians and analysts, there 
is a strong conviction that this war was planned 
by Washington way before the Hezbollah captured 
two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid in 
early July.  During our brief visit with him, 
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud tells our peace 
delegation, "We know that the Israeli offensive 
was planned way in advance, with the support of 
external forces."   MP El Khalil is not shy about 
identifying the US as the real author of this 
war, and he points to a recent article in the New 
Yorker by Seymour Hersh that claims that US 
neoconservatives had a grand plan for 
restructuring the Middle East via Israeli 
military force as early as 1996.

Destruction of the Hezbollah was perhaps even 
more vital for the United States than Israel, 
claims Henri Barkey, chairman of Lehigh 
University's International Relations Department 
and a former member of the US State Department's 
Policy Planning Staff.  In a recent article, 
Barkey claims that while Israel can live with a 
Hezbollah driven north of the Litani River, the 
US would not.  The key reason has to do with the 
"Hizbullah model." According to Barkey, "it 
represents the nightmarish metamorphosis of a 
well supplied and trained militia. If it can work 
in Lebanon, the model can be emulated elsewhere 
around the worldŠHizbullah is far more 
sophisticated and entrenched than Al Qaeda.  It 
is impossible to defeat it without inflicting 
civilian casualties. Therein lies Hizbullah's 
strength: it calculates that the outside world 
will relent in the face of civilian casualties." 
In this view, the triumph of the Hezbollah over 
Israel is the worst of all possible worlds.

The Victor

For the Lebanese, the view is very different.  In 
the thirty day war, most of the country's 
political groups and most of the country have 
come together in supporting the struggle against 
Israeli aggression led by the Shiite Muslim-led 
organization. First among these is the country's 
Maronite Christian President Emile Lahoud, who is 
not shy about praising "the leadership of 
Hezbollah in the national resistance."  Everybody 
acknowledges that Hezbollah's sterling military 
performance is the source of what the Daily Star 
calls the "unprecedented level of solidarity" of 
Lebanese society today.  Domestic critics who, at 
the start of the war, accused Hezbollah of 
dragging Lebanon into war by capturing two 
Israeli soldiers for prisoner-exchange purposes 
are quiet in these heady days of national pride.

If anything has been put to rest by the events of 
the last 30 days, it is the lie that the 
Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Deliberate 
Israeli targeting of civilian targets while 
Hezbollah fighters focused on fighting Israeli 
soldiers has put the shoe on the other foot. 
Indeed, there is now a massive clamor among 
international civil society groups to try the 
Israeli political leaders and the army for war 
crimes and state-sponsored terror.

It has not only been Hezbollah's military prowess 
that has been on display but also its tremendous 
capacity to provide welfare services, in this 
instance for the country's displaced population. 
Indeed, in a country whose social services, 
especially for the poor, are very backward, 
Hezbollah's social infrastructure is a model of 
efficient modernity.  It runs, for instance, 46 
medical centers and a hospital.  Its Jihad for 
Construction, which supervised the material and 
social infrastructure of South Lebanon in the 
1990's, is now poised to manage an even more 
massive post-war reconstruction.

Also on display on both the local scene and the 
international stage have been the talented 
intellectuals and spokespersons of the Hezbollah, 
among who is Dr. Ali Fayyad, the head of the 
organization's Consultative Center for Studies 
and Documentation (CCSD), which has produced more 
than 300 reports on social, economic, political, 
and administrative issues.

An urbane intellectual, Dr. Ali explains to us 
that there were three main reasons for 
Hezbollah's victory.  One was the employment of 
rockets to neutralize Israeli airpower and give 
Hezbollah an offensive air capability without 
airplanes.  The second was the Hezbollah's use of 
guerrilla warfare, which stymied an Israeli Army 
used to fighting conventional Arab armies. Third 
was the Hezbollah fighter who is "not only a 
guerrilla trained in self reliance but is also 
filled with ideological conviction that he is on 
the right track."

Switching to another topic, Fayyad says that 
while Hezbollah's policies are "of course, 
determined principally by internal Lebanese 
considerations, we also consider the Palestinian 
struggle and international solidarity." It is 
this Arabic and internationalist perspective that 
has given Hezbollah a great deal of resonance 
throughout not only the Arab world but in other 
parts of the globe.  Hezbollah leaders speak with 
admiration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, 
and the admiration is said to be mutual.

Fayyad, a member of the Political Bureau, became 
one of the public faces of Hezbollah during the 
thirty day war, forcing him to switch cars and 
lodgings almost every night since it was assumed 
that he was a prime Israeli target.

Beirut in the evening of August 14 is a city 
filled with sorrow and pride, with the latter 
clearly dominant.   Throughout the city, there 
are motorcades celebrating Hezbollah and its 
General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah. Everyone 
tunes in when Nasrallah comes on television at 
nine o'clock to announce what he considers a 
"tremendous strategic victory for Lebanon" and 
announces Hezbollah's preparedness to withdraw 
its fighters behind the Litani River.

As he speaks, a high official of the Lebanese 
Communist Party, perhaps the epitome of secular 
politics in Lebanon, says of the man who is the 
face of Islamic politics, "There is our Arab Che 
GuevaraŠwith a turban.""

*Walden Bello is professor of sociology at the 
University of the Philippines and executive 
director of the research and advocacy institute 
Focus on the Global South based in Bangkok.  He 
is one of the members of the International Civil 
Society and Parliamentary Peace Mission to 

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