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My Grandmother Loves Hezbollah

She loves peace, but she also loves the pride and dignity the Iran-backed group and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, claim to provide

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A poster of Nasrallah hangs from a damaged apartment building in a southern suburb of Beirut in September, 2006, after the end of the war with Israel. (Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images)

My grandmother loves Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah. She is confident that he will lead the Shia in Lebanon to a better life, with dignity and pride. She believes every word he says and even cries during his speeches. Undoubtedly, he is her only hope. Decades of war and a lifetime absorbing collective memories of oppression and injustice have made my grandmother and many other Shia in Lebanon prefer a world without shades of gray.

For my grandmother, there is no real difference between a Jew and an Israeli. There are no distinctions to be drawn among the Israelis themselves. “They all despise us, and all they want is to see us powerless and defenseless,” she has told me since I was 6 years old.

My grandmother does not like questions and arguments that would challenge her comforting bubble of stereotypes. It is very simple for her: Jews are evil; Hezbollah is good. Black-and-white reasoning is the easiest way to live in the south of Lebanon, under constant threat of another war between Hezbollah and Israel. Either you question Hezbollah and its divine power, and thus face fears of what another war could bring, or you believe blindly in the “wisdom and power of the Party of God.”

All her life my grandmother struggled to raise her seven children and create a home for herself and her family—a home that is at risk of being demolished each time a military conflict erupts. Yet she cannot tolerate arguments related to Hezbollah and its credibility. “Hezbollah is defending our land. They know what they are doing,” she tells me with the confidence of an elder who knows better. “The Iranians are helping us and we can only thank them for their support.”

She believes strongly in wilayat al-faqih, the doctrine that the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran embodies the will of God. You cannot doubt the sacred.

And yet despite invocations of the sacred and the ancient, the mood that prevails among the Shia in Lebanon today is new, formed by the Israeli withdrawal of 2000—what is known as the “liberation of the South”—and the war with Israel of 2006, known as the “divine victory.” These two events gave my grandmother and many other Shia a strong sense of identity that shields their inner fears of war, destruction, and death.

“Hezbollah made us proud when they liberated the South in 2000 and then defeated the Israeli army in 2006,” Walid, a cell-phone shop owner in my village told me. “And be assured, the Sayyed”—an honorific referring to Nasrallah—“made it very clear to the Israelis that they can never instigate another war on Lebanon.”

I love my grandmother. But every time I go to the South, a sense of sadness fills me. It is not the South that I know. It is not the South where I lived as a child. Slogans of death and martyrdom fill the streets, and people stopped laughing long ago.

Black is everywhere. More women are draped in abayas, and segregation between the sexes is almost a rule in public ceremonies. Colors have faded inside houses, where pictures of Khomeini and Nasrallah prevail. If you’re not religious, you’d better hide it; otherwise, you will not be regarded as a decent person. People drink in private, dance in private, and scorn Hezbollah in private.

My village is not small. It is a coastal town near Saida, a port city about 25 miles south of Beirut. The village’s population is close to 50,000, but the heavy weight of war and Hezbollah’s arms keep personal plans on hold. Hezbollah controls the only public spaces for young people or families to meet. People tend to stay indoors, leaving the streets bereft of life.

I left the village at the beginning of the 1990s to pursue my undergraduate studies in Beirut. I was fleeing to a new life. Two wars with Israel have happened since I left, and with each one, I felt more distant from my people and my family, not for lack of love. The increased infatuation with Hezbollah, the repeated justification of its violence, pushed me away. I feel that I am open to other opinions, but it is difficult to communicate with people who have been imprisoned, who have imprisoned themselves. The rhetoric and reasoning of the Party of God have turned them into different people.

How fast can people and their individual and collective memories change? The question fascinates me. In 1982, during the Israeli invasion of the South, I was 8 years old. I remember one scene from the beginning of the invasion vividly. I was on my grandmother’s balcony with all my aunts and uncles, watching the Israeli tanks force themselves through the narrow streets of my village. All the neighbors’ balconies were full of people throwing rose petals and rice at the Israeli tanks.

I remember my mother telling me that people were happy because the Israelis were helping us remove the Palestinians. It was not that people no longer believed in the right to resist or the validity of the Palestinian cause. It was that the Palestinians failed to integrate into the Shia community. After the Israelis, too, began to overstay their welcome, Hezbollah convinced the Shia that resistance was essential to their political and social empowerment. That is why the 2006 war was endurable. My village was bombed, and many people died. But destruction and death are endurable if they are perceived to be necessary costs of achieving a common cause.

The people of my village say they are not afraid anymore. “Because Israel will never dare to start another war with Hezbollah after its defeat in 2006,” my grandmother, uncle, and cousin attest. All three generations live in denial of the defeat that we, as Lebanese, as people of the South, suffered.

Who lost more lives? Whose houses and infrastructure were destroyed? The facts don’t lie. Yet they refuse to see the reality, because Hezbollah has convinced them over the past two decades that “dignity is above all.” Slogans of dignity and honor flood their everyday lives through Hezbollah’s media channels, Nasrallah’s speeches, and street slogans.

But who can blame them? Without the conviction that they won, the pain of loss and the fear of more agony would be too much to bear.

Yet the rhetoric of fearlessness, so often heard in the South, vanishes the moment a security incident happens. A single rocket launched toward Israel could cause a traffic jam of people trying to flee from the South to Beirut. “We cannot tolerate another war,” Rasha, my childhood neighbor said. “Look around you. We haven’t finished reconstructing our houses yet. But what we think does not count.”

Hezbollah’s “divine victory” in the summer of 2006 provided a sense of closure to the years of grief the people of my village suffered; but Hezbollah cannot afford another “divine victory.” “I feel that because of the resistance, we are risking our land, houses, and lives,” Rasha tells me, adding that she doesn’t express her feelings out loud.

My grandmother loves Hezbollah, but she also loves peace. She hates Israel, but she also hates war, death, and destruction. The collective dignity of the community makes her proud. She knows that it is not enough to be proud, because she had to suffer the humiliation of fleeing under bombs in 2006. However, the closure of the “divine victory,” mixed with dignity and pride, offer her a way to go on living a life in which she feels comfortable and, in a strange way, secure.

Hanin Ghaddar is a Lebanese journalist based in Beirut.

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Oh Hanin, how you’ve opened my eyes. We are blind followers. If only people accept Israel right to exist and expand then we will go back to laughing and dancing drinking(ALCOHOL (very important)) and we will all live in peace. You’re a genius. By the way quoting 10 or even 20 people from those you know or are your immediate family shouldn’t make you allow to formulate an opinion for the whole population. Enjoy your parties in Beirut 3youni.

Annette Smith says:

the hatred makes me so sad. Israel’s existence has never been accepted by these people…But Israel MUST and WILL survive, and if they really love peace, the time has come to accept it.

Thank you for remembering the 1982 war. I drove one of those tanks. One time the convoy stopped in a village, and the first thing I saw were villagers climbing on the tank and offering me water. And yes, there were flowers on the tank.People today don’t seem to recall that Israel and Lebanon used to have open borders, that Israel has never gone to war against Lebanon, but against the groups inside Lebanon that aim to destroy Israeli lives. I fear for people like your grandmother. In Gaza, Hamas uses people like her as shields. I don’t doubt that Hezbollah would do the same.
By the way, Lebanon is a very beautiful country. It is a sin that it’s been plagued with the likes of Hezbollah that has brought violence, war, and a lot of destruction. I wish there were more people like you in Lebanon whose eyes are open.

Hezbollah gives the people of Lebanon a sense of communal dignity and honor, through an ethos of common struggle. In a twisted way, the more the Lebanese suffer from Israeli retaliation, the better off Hezbollah is.

Israel is therefore always stuck between under-reacting to Hezbollah aggression (i.e. leaving Israeli citizens unprotected) and overreacting (help Hezbollah gain support by invading and fighting through the human shields). I think Israelis can do more here, but Lebanese, Arab, European and other players share the responsibility.

The top priority is to see that the Lebanese find an alternative way to preserve their dignity in more constructive ways.

Racist Annette, these people want their existence to be unthreatened by the racist zionists who want to cleanse them. Why should I bother explaining to a racist. I really don’t care what you think. I just wanted to call you a racist.

Waxman you invader zionist. It wasn’t open you barged in. The invasion was done under false claims of lack of security. Go read “Fateful Triangle” by Noam Chomsky. The only sin is that you’ve plagued beautiful Palestine. And we purified ourselves from the sin that is you in 2000. Albeit, we still have a bit of sin that we have to completely cleanse in Shebaa farms. Her eyes aren’t open. She just has no dignity. She perfers to be under the boot of the zionist criminals than live poor but with honor.

Ehud, the only responsibility is that the international community implements the international consensus and that is for zionst criminal to leave occupied Palestine. Leave and pay reparation for all the damage you’ve done to the Palestinians. I am sure you can find the money. What happened to Bernie Madoff 50 billions. I am sure someone has it. I wonder who.

These comments offer the most salient view of the differences in mentality between the 2 peoples. While one raves about zionists and martyrdom and conspiracies, the others comments are clear lucid and sobering. When will the Arabs join the 21st century?

It seems that they are regressing more and more back into the dark ages of blood “martyrdom” and misery.

Oh so the 21st century is made up of dishonorable people who have no qualms about their lands be stolen and their self respect trampled. How can I check out of this century please. For the love of god, how do I eject myself from this century of slaves.
And by the way Sami, your mentality is not salient at all. How do you like being a robot. And besides I like being different.

Also, where did I invoke martyrdom and blood. Can you not erase images from your head that the TV imprinted. Wow, I mean really how gullible can you be. Go watch some more TV and carry on with your consumption. It’s good for the economy of the 21st century genius.

Palestiniansareamyth says:

Hez; Go away you stupid Arab terrorist! The Arab terrorist land thieves need to go back to their homeland of Arabia now! Ancient Israel was re-named Palestine by the Romans and has no Arab conecction. There has never been a Palestinian country, people, language, or culture. Jews were the first people to be called “Palestinians” because they have always lived in Israel/Palestine.
The Arabs are full of hate and anger and want to kill all the Jews. That will never happen because G-d is on our side!

hey dummy you should go away. You’re making your friend sami look bad. What century do you come from?
I like how stupid zionists write God.
Try it once. Write God without the dash in the middle. See what happens. He won’t smite you. He’s on your side. :)
You’re so dumb. By the way I love the fact that we incite terror in your heart, witout even doing anything.

Bianca says:

Hi Hanin,

It sounds like we are contemporaries, but from across the border & across the world!

Thank you for sharing your perspective. I am not aware of many from an Arab Muslim background who have had the courage to write in a Jewish forum.

I think the to-ing and fro-ing of constructive and thoughtful reflections and observations have much to offer.

Bianca

Ah yes, we peasants of the south are so proud of you Hanin. We remain blind and ignorant, but our ray of light, our hope, is in the ones we send out to be educated and return to guide us out of our wretched existence. Enlightened children of the south as yourself, and another proud child of the south for whom we shall erect the tallest of monuments, Fouad Ajami.

Hey AC,
Look who Hanin Ghaddar hangs out with: Michael J. Totten and Jumblatt. The biggest flip flop ever. Here’s an excerpt from Totten(zionist idiot) blog:

/*
“Again?” I said incredulously. “With an armistice? Has Israel invaded Jordan since the peace treaty? Egypt? I mean, come on.”

Hanin Ghaddar, an editor at NOW Lebanon who grew up in Hezbollah’s southern stronghold, nodded in agreement with me. “Yeah,” she said and laughed.

“The people of the south,” Jumblatt said, “think the weapons of Hezbollah are protection against Israeli incursions.”
*/
check it out here in the comments section.
http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/2009/09/the-warlord-in.php

Ya Hezbeleb, the sad thing is they never run out of Arabs at the Five & Dime (although the beloved Fouad costs more than the likes of Hanin, he has paid dividends)

alRadee3alSagheer says:

When in a state of war and under constant threat of the looming enemy a people must direct all their efforts towards facing that war and dealing with that threat. At several historical junctures we find that the people of southern Lebanon have lived under these circumstances. The current mobilisation is against Israel, an entity which was formed in 1948 that has aggressively and barbarically warred with all of its neighbours. Were it not for its invasion there would be no resistance.

masiral al istiklal says:

Dear Hanin, i enjoyed your vivid surrealistic description of the invading tanks, but it seems you have not enough history of this land.

This Land of Lebanon through the ages has always welcomed the foreigner with flowers and used the same flowers later to put them on their graves, it is a characteristic of this country, we always dream of the foreigner who will take care of us and loves us more than we love ourselves.

Do not be fooled by flowers they are used in weddings and in funerals, cest la vie

Alegro says:

Hanin, The Lebanese people should be proud of people like you who have the vision and courage as well as the writing skills to convey a fresh message of hope for an eventual peace between Lebanon and Israel. That struggle should be carried out first inside Lebanon in order to throw away the blindfolds of prejudice and hate handled by Hezbollah.

southerner says:

“Who lost more lives? Whose houses and infrastructure were destroyed?” If these are the measures that decide who won,then Viet Nam lost its war with the USA since it lost 1.5 million killed while the USA lost only 58,000 killed.Stalingrad must have also been defeated since the number of Russian casualties exceeded the German’s.Such logic does not sit well with historians.I advice Hanin to watch Finkelstein’s interview with Al Mustakbal where he states:” You have the right to live on your knees,and I have the right to respect those who refuse.”

the one who said that Palestine is a myth..i reply to him that he and his people and Israelis are the biggest myth the world have ever seen…what history book do you read,”the cooking book”. Israelis came in 1948 and took our land and have ever wondered how come what is called “Israel”is in the middle of the Arab world!!!!!well because it is Palestine an Arab nation you egghead!!!and Arabs have the right to take back and kick the Zionists out to their homes in Europe and america!!!so please dont add any silly and unbiased comments!!!and one day you’re going to look at the map and see that its not Israel anymore its Palestine “the free nation”.and by the way i liked your article Hanin but unlike you i’m ready to risk my life and land and home for another divine victory and for the freedom of Palestine from Zionists who are not letting us to live the way we like they are always threatening us and destroying our will to live and develop……thank you

Cluedo says:

This article is highly inaccurate. First Hanin Ghaddar is generalizing to a great extent. The opinions in the article are personal and in many ways do not express the reality of the people in the south. And as for her village, it is almost impossible to find an empty street there; everywhere it is shops children and people, and who ever said there was no laughter? Hezbollah also scarcely “controls” any public places in Lebanon, if any at all, Lebanese can go wherever they want.
And just because her grandmother does not differentiate between an Israeli and a Jew doesn’t mean it’s the same for others. In any case what do you expect from an old women whose only encounter with Jews has been seeing the Israeli army repeatedly bomb her home and country and take its young men away, an army that has failed to keep its promises to Lebanon when it entered in 1982 when the people welcomed it. It is not surprising that since then people have changed with regard to this matter, Israel came into Lebanon claiming it would not stay one second more than necessary and yet today we find that it has still not completely withdrawn from Lebanon. Anyway what did the Lebanese, especially the southerners, see from the Israelis? The repeated assaults (even before Hezbollah ever was)? The unjustified breaking of ALL UN resolutions that deal with Lebanon and Israel? The repeated bombings of hospitals and UN CENTERS filled with women and children? The use of ILLEGAL war weapons against civilian areas? The inhumane torturing of hostages in the Israeli prisons that were in Lebanon, the evidence for which could be seen by all until Israel bombed these prisons in 2006 and removed them?
Wasn’t Israel, and it still is, an occupying force in Lebanon? Isn’t it a right agreed upon by all nations, to fight for your country against occupiers? Aren’t the crimes that have happened here in Lebanon under Israel’s eyes and in my cases by the Israeli army itself also violent?
As for the Palestinians,

Cluedo says:

it wasn’t that they failed to integrate into “Shia” community. At that time the Palestinians had become a burden upon all the Lebanese in different parts of Lebanon and in Beirut, and the people wanted them gone from their homes because the Palestinians had abused the country and created a certain state within a state.

As for the war of 2006 and what she calls “denial of the defeat”, the Israelis themselves claim defeat. So I’m assuming that it is some sort of victory for the Lebanese. But indeed the facts don’t lie. Many more Lebanese lives were lost, and a lot of Lebanese homes and infrastructure destroyed. Yet if I may point that this does not necessarily imply defeat on Lebanon’s behalf. What characterizes that a war is lost or won? In general a country loses a war if it fails to achieve the goals that it went to war for. Otherwise, if we want to measure defeat by the amount of physical losses, then we can very wrongly claim that the Nazis won the war again the Soviet Union in world war two. In that war the Russians lost far more lives by a HUGE margin, many people in Russia were even starving to death. Yet historically the Nazis lost the war. So clearly having more casualties does not in any way mean defeat. In 2006 Israel failed to achieve EVERY goal it set for this war. In the end it had to bend to Hezbollah and release the Lebanese prisoners it had formerly said it would NEVER release.

You also cannot blame the people for fleeing to Beirut whenever they hear something has happened. The civilians will definitely flee. They are not fighters to stay behind, you can’t expect civilians to put their lives and children in danger. They support the cause but they are not after leaving themselves so vulnerable for the Israelis who will in many cases end up killing them. Many young men from the south are in Hezbollah and will stay behind but do you expect from families, children, and the old?

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My Grandmother Loves Hezbollah

She loves peace, but she also loves the pride and dignity the Iran-backed group and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, claim to provide

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