Student - September 7, 2006

The Middle East 2

Despite an air of despair and optimism about him he manages to smile into the camera. Hussam Hawwa, a MAKS student at Wageningen University, returned just four days ago from his home country of Lebanon, which has been ‘put back twenty years’.

Hussam Hawwa had just started fieldwork in a remote village in the north of Lebanon when the war broke out in July. He wanted to do something to help so he went to Beirut and joined a relief centre, where he distributed food and baby milk to refugees from the Israeli attacks. Hussam: ‘Last year was the first that Lebanon had positive economic growth for many years. Now Israel has not only killed a thousand civilians, a third of them children, displaced a quarter of the population and destroyed our tourist industry and infrastructure. It has ruined our hopes and dreams for a better future.’

It is hard to remain objective when you witness the basic principles of humanity, justice and ethics crashing down around your own people’s heads, says Hawwa. Yet, he believes he is being objective when he says that Hizbullah is an officially recognised Lebanese resistance movement, represented by two ministers in the government and a number of members of parliament. ‘Israel wants everyone to believe that the party falls into the American category of terrorist. If you call it that, then you should also call Israel a terrorist state, and that is a much more worrying prospect to me. Palestine is proof of that.’

Hawwa continues: ‘Israel can’t remove Hizbullah from the country by invading. Hizbullah was actually created out of the resistance against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Since the 1970s, before Hizbullah was even born, Israel has violated many UN resolutions and killed thousands of civilians, and the most recent war fits this pattern. Israel wanted to crush Hizbullah and perhaps spark off a new civil war through forced migration and the old divide and conquer strategy Israel is notorious for. But they haven’t succeeded.’ Hawwa believes that Hizbullah is even stronger since the war.

Nevertheless, Hawwa is not in favour of Iranian or Syrian support for Hizbullah. ‘I do not approve of any foreign intervention in Lebanon. We are not a chessboard where everyone can play war games. Nor do I support Hizbullah in its religious fanaticism, or any kind of war. I do respect the brave resistance of a small army with no fire power against the oppressors.’

Even though Lebanon has been torn by civil war between different religious sects, Hawwa, himself not a religious person, believes that Lebanon can become a symbol of religious harmony. ‘It is a diversified country, in its culture, geography and food as well as its religions. We were on the way to a democratic government which, through internal negotiations, would represent the various communities. Then Israel attacked, backed by the US, which claims to be spreading democracy.’

Three days before the ceasefire, Hawwa went to the south of Lebanon in a civilian convoy bringing aid to victims and refugees. ‘It was dangerous. I didn’t tell my family and girlfriend about it at the time, but it took away some of my anxious guilt of not doing enough. It was what I truly believed in: peaceful civilian resistance.’

What needs to happen for a better future in the country? ‘Exchange Israeli and Hizbullah prisoners, liberate the Lebanese territory that was occupied before the July war started, and respect the sovereignty of Lebanon and the blue line. The government should be the only governing body and the army the only institution carrying arms, so it can spread its control throughout Lebanon. If these terms were fulfilled, Hizbullah would lay down its arms, as it claims, and become just a political party. If Israel had negotiated, we could have avoided this hellish and unbalanced atrocity. Does justice always have to come too late?’/ Joris Tielens

Re:act