Death in Lebanon versus flight to shelters in Israel

Hazem Saghieh

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To sum things up explicitly, our biggest tragedy is the contradiction of reality and slogans; or rather, the latter’s deception of the former. The more reality shrinks and dwindles, the more slogans grow and solidify, under the guise of being consensual.

This equation holds true almost every time.

An example of this can be drawn from Lebanon. When relations between Christians and Muslims exploded in the sixties and seventies, the atmosphere in Lebanon was rife with slogans like Arab Unity and Building Socialism. When, on top of the distressed Christian-Muslim relations, came the clash between Sunnis and Shia, insistence on liberating Palestine and praying in the Holy Mosque increased.

There is no association whatsoever between the weakening of our capacities until exhaustion due to our own conflicts, and the demanding missions inflicted on us, be they genuine or not. To bridge this vast gap, cheap headlines are inflated, like “ending the age of defeat” or “preventing Israel from changing the rules of engagement.” However, only those who are pre-convinced of everything they are told fall into the trap of these big statements.

To add insult to injury, all these slogans help achieve is exacerbate internal conflicts and reinforce the mutual fears of our religious communities. The simple reason for this is that in light of the existing civil fragmentation, these slogans fail to achieve their alleged purpose of garnering solidarity and overcoming “the grudges of the past” to confront “the fateful enemy,” which are empty slogans that only serve to fan the flames of civil conflict.

The wiser and more experienced among us, who understand reality and call for abandoning pompous slogans and focusing instead on bringing our conflicting communities closer, often become an easy defamation target. At worst, they are labeled as traitors and spies. At best, they are described as orientalists; and surely, orientalists do not understand us. As we look for beds to hide under from the fire of other communities, we claim unity as one people on all these noble issues. As in the vivid images we see from North Korea, we present ourselves as a united front on the path to glory.

Regarding Israel, for instance, sticking to the extent possible of solidarity with the Palestinian cause in politics, economics, and the media is frowned upon. Instead, the impossible extent is required. “This is a war of existence, not a war of borders. Either we survive, or we perish.”

However, on top of asking people to make sacrifices they cannot make, or do not want to make in the first place, we soon discover that the slogan is far from innocent. Between the lines of such a slogan are the traces of sectarian purposes that occasion the armament and strengthening of one community over others that soon become frightened of its power. Not to mention the regional ambitions that use the slogan as a doorway to a foreign influence that is feared by many in a country burdened with slogans.

Recently, the people of Chouaya, a town in the southern Lebanese region of Hasbaya, challenged Hezbollah’s attempt to install its rocket launchers in the town. The incident goes to show just how impossible the impossible extent of demands really is. All it did is reinforce rivalry between the Shia and Druze communities, in a replication -- albeit on a smaller scale so far -- of the incidents that took place between the Palestinian resistance and the people of the south in the sixties and seventies. At the time, the launching of rockets from residential neighborhoods and the devastating Israeli retorts on civilians hurt the Palestinian-southern Lebanese relations to their core, even prompting some infamous armed clashes, especially after the establishment of the Amal Movement as the arm of southern Shia.

Just like now, those who refused to be slaughtered at the time did not need “misguided” thoughts or US funding or “Zionist” propaganda or pro-Israel Lebanese groups to defend their lives. This strong motive is only reinforced by the fact that the armed party belongs to a different sect or group, as it was then, and as it is now. What’s worse is that the only possible “victory” that can be eventually achieved, and for which civilians are supposed to die, is that some Israelis in Galilee will run to shelters, or some alarms will sound out in this or that Israeli town!

Thus, we reach our next equation: the more Hezbollah demands this kind of “sacrifice” from its people, the bigger the hatred for the party -- one community after the other, one region after the one -- and the bigger the disaffection with all the issues the party claims to represent.

Instead of all this, the party would have better devoted itself to resolving issues of common interest to people, like the Khaldeh incident south of Beirut a few days ago when clashes erupted between Hezbollah and Arab tribes. Such a policy would help make slogans more moderate and less deceiving.

At the end of the day, the flight of some Israelis to shelters is no consolation for the death and humiliation of the Lebanese.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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