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Meeting Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah: ‘Encounter with a fighter’


A decade ago, in the wake of “Operation Grapes of Wrath,” the 17-day Israeli military assault on southern Lebanon in April 1996, there was a spate of articles in the Western press on Hizbullah and its secretary-general, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.[1] The Israeli operation stopped under pressure from the US Government, wary of the political repercussions from the mounting toll among Lebanese civilians, including the massacre of more than 100 refugees in the village of Qana on 18 April 1996.  However, humanitarian sympathy for the Lebanese victims did not translate into a less biased image of Hizbullah, typically presented in nefarious terms in the Western media, as a shadowy and rabidly anti-Western terrorist organization.

 

There were very few exceptions. In the British press, Robert Fisk in the Independent and David Gardner in the Financial Times wrote honest and factual articles, including interviews they conducted with Nasrallah in May 1996 (Fisk[2]) and July 1996 (Gardner[3]). The most remarkable article was one by Eqbal Ahmad in July 1998, entitled “Encounter with a fighter,” where he gave a particularly sensitive and fair account of his meeting with Nasrallah.[4]  Although in English, Ahmad’s article appeared in the Egyptian Ahram Weekly, at a relatively safe distance from the censorship (and self-censorship) of the mainstream media in the West. But these remained all too few and in sharp contrast to the relentless demonization by other journalists and political commentators.

 

In the US press, occasional more objective views of Hizbullah only appeared after the year 2000. This was probably elicited by several developments that occasionally drew some attention and respect in the West. In the 1990′s, in addition to pursuing its guerilla activities against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, Hizbullah gradually emerged as a powerful political and social movement, promoting dialogue with other Lebanese parties and winning seats for its candidates in the Lebanese parliament. Just as important was the surge in popular support among all Lebanese for the dominant role Hizbullah played in the successful resistance to Israeli occupation, which (mostly) came to an end in May 2000.

 

In July 2003, Seymour Hersh wrote an article on Syria‘s situation and the surrounding turmoil  – the American occupation of Iraq, the bloody Intifada in the Palestinian territories, and simmering discontent in Lebanon.[5]  Hersh’s article included an account of a meeting with

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