Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
16 - 22 December 1999
Issue No. 460
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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Determined to fight on

By Khaled Dawoud

Since the death of his 17-year-old son, Hadi, in fighting with Israeli forces last year, Hizbullah leader Sayed Hassan Nasrallah has become a national symbol for the 17-year-long Lebanese resistance against the Israeli occupation. Any visitor to the office of the 37-year-old leader in Beirut's southern district has to go through various security measures before meeting the man who is a target of the Israeli army which assassinated his predecessor in an air raid. Sayed Nasrallah spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly about the reasons behind Hizbullah's victories and the future of resistance following the announcement that Syrian-Israeli talks were to resume in Washington.

How did Hizbullah manage, with its limited resources, to maintain an open front against the Israeli army in south Lebanon for the past 17 years, despite Israel's arsenal of advanced weapons and aircrafts?

Resistance in south Lebanon, and especially the Islamic resistance, is an act of faith and determination. When the resistance began in 1982, we faced not only difficult regional and international conditions, but also difficult local conditions. Lebanon was occupied, and due to the civil war, it was torn apart. Many people thought that resistance was futile. They thought that Lebanon had entered the Israeli era and it wouldn't be able to get out of it. However, a group of young Lebanese believers managed to launch the resistance. In our view, which is based on a religious perspective, this initiative depended on an important factor -- belief in God's support. We believe that God promises victory to those who fight for his sake and in defence of their people, their countries and the weak. While it is true that Israel possesses tremendous capabilities, on the human level, it is poor and very weak. What kind of state or army shakes when a number of its officers or soldiers are killed, and allows such events to turn it upside down? Surely this is a sign of weakness. When they suffer losses they tremble because they are not ready to make sacrifices for their beliefs. In contrast, this is exactly our point of strength. We are ready to sacrifice for what we believe in with our lives, and those of our sons, and loved ones. This spirit, which the resistance and the fighters enjoy, is the reason for all of our victories. It is the reason the resistance has continued for the past 17 years without suffering from exhaustion, decline or loss of morale.

What is Hizbullah's position on the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Syria? Do you think this will force you to scale down your resistance in the coming period?

Nine years after the start of the Madrid peace process, we feel confident in saying that this process has not solved the problems of this region, or dealt with the real causes of behind the existing conflict. The fact that the return to the negotiating table is hailed as a historic achievement and a major breakthrough is an indicator of how desperately troubled this process is. Looked at from this perspective, one is no longer surprised when complications arise. In any case, Hizbullah's concerns remain the same; the return of [Arab] land and the safeguarding of our dignity and sovereignty. We stand firm in our belief that resistance is the only means for achieving these goals. This stance is borne out by the fact that any political gains made by Syria, Lebanon or the Palestinian people are the result of our resistance, our refusal to surrender and our steadfastness in the struggle.
Sayed Hassan Nasrallah
Nasrallah speaks to the Weekly with the picture of his son, Hadi, who died while fighting against Israel, in the background

Even before he took office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced that he was ready to withdraw from south Lebanon by next July. Do you think that he is serious about this offer, and that Israel will withdraw by this date even if Syrian-Israeli talks have not been concluded by that time?

We, in Hizbullah, have a distinct view on this matter. From our perspective, Barak is making his offer for withdrawal only to improve his image on the international level. Additionally, we believe that Barak wants to foment internecine strife amongst the Lebanese and between Lebanon and Syria. He wants to embarrass Syria by making it appear, in front of the entire world, as the country which rejects Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon. Our view that Barak is not serious about withdrawing from south Lebanon is supported by the contradictory nature of Israeli statements. Once they spoke of a withdrawal on condition that an agreement with Syria and Lebanon is reached, while on another occasion they spoke of withdrawing without agreement, and at other times they have said that they will wait until April to decide on the matter. The only thing that these statements confirm is that the Israelis are intent on playing games and manoeuvering, and that serious offers are not being made. On the ground, and along the Lebanese-Palestinian borders, we have not seen any indications that preparations are under way for either a partial or a full withdrawal.

If peace talks between Syria and Israel are successful, wouldn't Israel be able to withdraw in a matter of days, given that it occupies only a small area in the south?

Until this moment, there are no indications that withdrawal will be effected. On the contrary, Israeli raids have intensified. Withdrawal necessitates certain arrangements before it starts and after its completion. Currently, we see no evidence that such arrangements are being made, or that they are imminent.

You have repeatedly declined to state your position on the future of resistance against Israel after its withdrawal from the south. Recently, the Lebanese government said that withdrawal from the south is insufficient as a basis upon which to conclude peace with Israel. It asserts that matters such as the return of Palestinian refugees and the return of territories occupied by Israel since its creation in 1948 must also be resolved. Do you share this view?

While Hizbullah supports the official Lebanese position, our own position is different... For Lebanon, Israel's withdrawal to the Lebanese-Palestinian border, or what Israel considers the official international border, is insufficient. It also wants the repatriation of all Palestinian refugees and Israeli withdrawal from the Golan to the 4 June, 1967 borders. The latter stipulation is based on a Lebanese-Syrian commitment that the two tracks will remain united. A few days ago a new facet was added to the Lebanese position when parliament approved a resolution demanding the return of all Lebanese territories usurped by the Zionists before and after 1949. These include seven Lebanese villages occupied by Israel since 1949, and other pieces of land which were annexed to Israel during the past decades. From the foregoing it is clear that the official Lebanese position includes issues other than withdrawal from the south. Hizbullah's position is that peace in the region will not be achieved by withdrawal from one piece of land 'here and there.' Rather, the problem in this region is the Zionist entity and its aspirations for regional domination. Even if we assume that the Zionists have given up their ambitions for a 'Greater Israel,' extending across the Arab world from the Euphrates River to the Nile River, there is still a Zionist project that, regardless of the existence of borders, aims at imposing Israel's political, security, military and economic domination on the region, a sort of 'Super Israel.' The existence of an entity with such goals precludes the achievement of peace.

Does this mean that Hizbullah will continue to fight against Israel?

In light of our political view, whether we will continue to fight or not is a matter which we will decide when conditions necessitate that such a decision be made...

But don't you think that any Israeli withdrawal from an occupied Arab territory is a victory for your resistance and a restoration of a legitimate right to its people?

We will be very happy if withdrawal takes place. As I have said, we do not exclude such a possibility. However, in addition to demanding withdrawal without any restraints or conditions [on the part of Israel] or any guarantees or concessions [on the part of Lebanon], we are also fighting for it. If withdrawal takes place, it will be a great political and military victory as well as a strategic one. It would allow us to proclaim the validity of the logic that we have been operating under during the past 17 years to the Palestinians and all Arab peoples. Negotiations managed to return some Jordanian lands which were leased to Israel. Palestinian-Israeli talks are now facing many difficulties and they [Israel] are only giving crumbs to [Palestinian President Yasser] Arafat. However, resistance in Lebanon managed [in some cases] to oust Israelis without conditions, concessions or negotiations...
Sayed Hassan Nasrallah
"Any political gains made by Syria, Lebanon or the Palestinian people are the result of our resistance, our refusal to surrender and our steadfastness in the struggle"

Many analysts assert that Syria uses Hizbullah as a card in its negotiations with Israel, and that you do not make a single move without Syria's sanction. What is your reaction to such a viewpoint?

This evaluation is incorrect. Hizbullah was established by a group of Lebanese people as an Islamic movement built around the notion of Jihad. These people decided to fight the occupier of their land.

Definitely our group came to an agreement with Syria which supported Lebanon and stood by it. We also came to an agreement with the Islamic Republic [of Iran], because it, too, stood with Lebanon against occupation.

But it is not correct to say that this group named Hizbullah moves according to orders from here or there. What Hizbullah is doing in Lebanon is an act of martyrdom, sacrifice and Jihad.

Hizbullah has its convictions and makes its own decisions. The fact that Syria, or any other Arab party, benefits from the situation created by the resistance, which strengthens the Arab position and helps to restore our land, causes us no harm. On the contrary, we say [to Arabs], 'make use of our existence, our resistance and our blood for the benefit of the nation and our peoples.'

No doubt you are aware of the fact that many Lebanese say that "a war of others" is taking place on their territory. They also question why Lebanon alone should pay the price for the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. What do you think about these views?

Those who speak of the "war of others" are fooling themselves. Throughout the past 20 years, and even before that, the Lebanese have fought amongst themselves on their own territory. During this period they sought help from, and created alliances with, others. If the Lebanese had not been in such a sad plight, would anyone have been able to fight on their land?

What happened in Lebanon was a result of internal problems which have existed for centuries and were not related to recent regional developments.

As for the question of why Lebanon alone should continue to pay the price, I can say that had the [Hizbullah] fighters not insisted on launching a resistance movement in Lebanon, Israel would still be holding all of south Lebanon, Beirut and its outskirts, and the mountain. Had we stopped our resistance, Israel would have appointed our government, set our laws and we would be living under the Israeli flag. Had we waited for the Arab League, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement, we would have been living under occupation.

The Lebanese, from 1982 and until today, have been fighting in their own defence and for their honour, dignity, freedom and sovereignty. They have not been fighting on behalf of others.

An American newspaper, the Washington Post, reported recently that Iran had supplied Hizbullah with long-range Katyusha rockets to attack northern Israel. Is this true?

What kind of evidence does the Washington Post have? Americans circulate baseless accusations all the time.

As a matter of principle, the fact that Iran supplies arms to a movement fighting for liberating its land should not be something for which it is condemned. All parties, and even international law, recognise that what is going on in the south is legitimate and legal resistance -- Lebanese resisting Israeli occupation.

So what if Iran provides weapons for the resistance in Lebanon to help us fight to liberate our land? This is our legitimate right under international law. One should note that the United States provides weapons to the army which is occupying the land "of others" in south Lebanon.

I am not trying to escape responding to this question, nor am I trying to avoid condemnation because it is an honour for Iran to offer assistance to Hizbullah and other similar organisations. As for this particular report you are referring to in the American press, this did not happen.

What is the nature of Hizbullah's relations with Iran. In the media your party's name is very often preceded by the words, "Iranian-backed." How do you feel about that?

This causes us no harm, and as a matter of fact, this kind of definition is more a condemnation of others. There is an occupied Arab land and Lebanese Arabs are fighting in Lebanon to free this land. Yet, we do not find a single Arab country providing those fighters with support. The fact that only Iran provides support is actually a source of pride for Iran and a condemnation for each Arab country which does not extend a hand to help Lebanese Arabs liberate their land. We should look at the issue from this perspective.

The resistance in Lebanon is a source of pride for all Arabs. Every single Arab throughout the Arab world feels proud of us. They know that there is a group of Arabs who managed in Lebanon to confront Israel, defeat it and force it to withdraw in 1985 and 1986 from the capital as well as from much of the territory it occupied. We liberated the capital and its outskirts, Sidon, Tyre, Nabatiyeh and other places without negotiations. We did this by force and with the blood of our martyrs.

Iran helped Lebanon and did not ask for anything in return. Its stand is not based on serving its own political interests, but on its beliefs. Iran's support for the resistance in Lebanon and for the Arab stand against the Zionist project is at the expense of its own interests.

I am certain, and let the Americans deny it if they can, that not only now, but a year ago, five years ago and nine years ago, or since the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference opened, the Americans have made offers to Iran, through various channels, regarding two matters. Firstly, the Americans asked that Iran remain silent vis-à-vis the settlement process, not that it was asked to support this process, but that it not reject it or speak out against it. Secondly, they asked Iran to end its support for resistance movements in the region. In return, the economic and political embargo the United States is imposing on it would be lifted and its isolation ended; many countries, which cannot move without a green light from the United States, would also start normalising their relations with Iran. Added to this, the United States promised to recognise Iran's regional role in the Gulf, Central Asia and other areas. Furthermore, it promised to resolve Iran's conflict with the United Arab Emirates over the ownership of the three Gulf islands.

Given Iran's firm stance based on ideological principles, should we have rejected its assistance saying: 'I do not want your support because that would condemn me?' No. Iran is loyal to us, and this fills us with pride. Its support is a condemnation for all those who shirked their responsibilities towards the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples in their struggle to liberate their lands.

How do you see Hizbullah's future after Israel's withdrawal from the south?

Aside from its role in the resistance in the south, Hizbullah is the largest Lebanese political party. We have broad-based popular support and our own institutions in the areas of politics, media, culture and social matters. We are concerned with all that happens in Lebanon, whether on the political, economic or social levels. We have a presence in parliament and in professional associations... This situation will continue whether or not Israel withdraws from south Lebanon.

An Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon would strengthen Hizbullah in terms of its popular base in Lebanon and political status in the region. We would not be weakened, as some analysts predict.

Could you explain Hizbullah's views on the reforms to the Lebanese political system and the economy which are currently being debated?

On internal matters such as the political system, we support its modernisation in Lebanon. While it is true that ideologically we support the idea of an Islamic government, we are not trying to impose this notion on anyone. Lebanon has its own circumstances and diversity which have meant that there is no room for this idea. However, this does not mean that our alternative political programme is one in which chaos and fighting are advocated.

Hizbullah affirms the importance of maintaining national unity, social peace and stressing that the Lebanese people should never return to internal fighting under any circumstances. Any differences should be resolved by political means and dialogue. We believe in building a state with a strong institutional basis and that peaceful coexistence should be the basis of interaction among Muslims and Christians of all sects, parties and groupings. Participation by all Lebanese is needed in the building and running of state institutions.

Finally, Sayed Nasrallah, you have been and continue to be targeted by Israel. Your son, Hadi, lost his life while fighting against Israel. How does this affect your day-to-day life?

This has become a routine matter for me, and I have become accustomed to living under these conditions. As a result, I am no longer upset by this situation. Initially, such a lifestyle is somewhat uncomfortable, but after years it seems normal. It is simply one of the prices that one has to pay for having a commitment to resistance and Jihad.

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