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 destroyed.”
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 billion.
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.
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 worldâ€¦Hizbullah 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.
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 Guevaraâ€¦with 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 Lebanon.