Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

An emblematic life

The ideological and religious shifts that characterised the life of Samir Al-Qintar, recently assassinated in southern Syria, were common among his generation, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi in Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

The life of Samir Al-Qintar, the longest-serving Lebanese prisoner in Israel who was recently assassinated in southern Syria, was iconic in more than one way.

Born a Druze, he died a Shiite. Once fighting as a secular guerrilla in the ranks of Palestinian leftist organisations, he died fighting for a religious party with Iranian connections.

What happened to Al-Qintar, famed for having served the longest prison sentence handed down to a Lebanese in Israel, is emblematic in a sense. Many of his generation have left the progressive ideas of Kamal Jumblatt and the pan-Arab views of former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser to propagate the policies of Hizbullah, a party that copies the ideology of Iran’s mullahs.

Al-Qintar’s death was a major blow to Hizbullah, which had banked on his Druze background and his reputation as the longest-serving Lebanese prisoner in Israel to recruit Syrian Druze in the Golan Heights and the Al-Suweida Governorate.

Hizbullah had tried to secure the release of Al-Qintar twice, once in 1999 and then again in 2005. The latter attempt, involving an operation in northern Israel to abduct servicemen, led to Israel’s full-scale invasion of south Lebanon in 2006.

Al-Qintar was killed in what is believed to have been an Israeli raid on Hizbullah positions in southern Syria.

It is curious to note that the Russian air force, which has established air surveillance in the area, did nothing to stop the Israelis from conducting the raid, showing the limitations of the Russian-Iranian alliance in Syria.

Both Moscow and Tehran are intent on keeping Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in power, but the Russians – who have established a measure of military coordination with the Israelis – are not eager to help Hizbullah secure a stronghold in southern Syria.

Samir Al-Qintar was born in 1962 in the Lebanese town of Abbiya to a Druze family. He was imprisoned in Israel in 1979 after leading a failed operation in the north of the country during which five people were killed, including an Israeli nuclear scientist and his daughter.

Israel sentenced Al-Qintar to five life sentences, but released him in July 2008 in a deal with Hizbullah. Al-Qintar and several Lebanese Hizbullah members gained their freedom in this deal in return for Hizbullah giving Israel the mortal remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2006.

Al-Qintar joined Hizbullah immediately after his release. When Hizbullah intervened in the Syrian civil war, he was sent to coordinate operations in southern Syria, his main task being to liaise with Druze fighters in the Golan and nearby areas.

Strangely enough, Al-Qintar seems to have been an easy target. According to Lebanese sources, he used to go to the same café every day in the town of Jerma near Damascus.

In a eulogy for Al-Qintar, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said that he was “one of us.” His funeral service was conducted in the Shiite tradition, and thousands of Hizbullah’s supporters showed up to pay their last respects to a man many considered a resistance icon.

Among those who took part in Al-Qintar’s funeral was Iranian diplomat Mohamed Sadek Fadli.

The life and career of Al-Qintar is a reminder of how many intellectuals and resistance fighters have abandoned the ranks of the leftist movements over the past three decades to join Hizbullah propaganda efforts.

Indeed, it seems that Hizbullah, a Shiite party whose actions have deepened sectarian divisions in Lebanon and the region, has inherited the mantle of resistance from the pan-Arab and leftist movements.

Ironically, the pan-Arab and leftist figures of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s sought to establish secular societies that were free of sectarianism.

But the failures of the left-leaning and pan-Arab elite, led by figures such as Nasser in Egypt and Jumblatt in Lebanon, tilted the balance of resistance in the region, opening the door to the theological preferences of Hizbullah, a party that gained popularity because of its success in fighting off Israel in south Lebanon.

Another reason for the shift in the resistance ideology was the failure of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which proved to be no equal to Israel’s military machine during the 1983 invasion of Lebanon.

Hizbullah, which has copied the Iranian model, has succeeded where the traditional leftist and pan-Arab movements have failed. It has stood up to Israel in more than one confrontation, forcing it to withdraw from Lebanon’s south in 2000, and inflicting major losses on it during the 2006 aggression.

Such performances enticed former leftists like Al-Qintar to join its ranks, forge alliances with it, or work for its media services.

According to Al-Qintar’s biographer Hassan Al-Zein, Al-Qintar’s relations with Hizbullah started around 2000 after the group launched an operation aiming to secure his release through a prisoner exchange. Subsequently, Hizbullah smuggled a mobile phone into Al-Qintar’s prison cell and maintained regular contact with him.

One night in 2005, the Israelis conducted a thorough search of the cell but failed to find the phone. This, says Al-Zein, was such an unusual sign of divine providence that Al-Qintar felt the need to embrace the Shiite faith.

According to Al-Zein, Al-Qintar’s conversion to Shiism did not affect his relations with his Druze family who saw the move as an expression of personal freedom.

Not all Lebanese leftists have joined Hizbullah, although many have sympathised with its cause.

The Lebanese Communist Party maintains a measure of independence from the Hizbullah-led 8 March Alliance, but agrees with it on most foreign and economic issues.

Some members of the Lebanese left joined the recent civil society protests in Lebanon, and a considerable number of leftists, especially Sunnis, have joined the Future Current.

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