The mountainous terrain is not friendly to those who are not familiar to its roads. But the view it presents one with is a gift of sheer magnificence as though to make up for its hostile welcome. The sun is fading into the shadows as our car zooms its way up the rocky paths, zipping down winding roads, dizzying one into a breathless sense of directionless vertigo.
Travelling on this path, it is obvious why Israel is so desperate to maintain control of Shebaa farms (altitude ranges from 150m to 1880m above sea level and overlooks Israeli towns and settlements) and gain incursion into the South of Lebanon. With its vantage viewpoint over Israeli settlements, this is an area Israel does not just want, but strategically needs. Recently, in the July/Aug war on Lebanon, it made an attempt to capture this land, dropping bomb after bomb, which international human rights groups declared to be a violation of International Law. However, the modern weaponry of Israel against the outdated rockets of Hizbullah was not enough. The will of a people proved to be far stronger.
Hizbullah epitomizes this will. A resistance movement labeled by America and other countries as a terrorist organization, it refuses to disarm, proclaiming its legal right to resistance. The members of Hizbullah will not sacrifice their dignity and freedom at the bloodied hands of Israel.
As the moon rises in a ball of orange brilliance, it symbolizes the future of Hizbullah. With the icy country air inching its way into my bones, I shiver with anticipation. I am on my way to meet with a key figure in the Hizbullah leadership. The meeting was first scheduled for late afternoon. Then we received a call saying an interview would not be possible that day. My contact, however, is persistent, and eventually it is approved.
So in the stillness of night with only the lucid stars witness to our journey we arrived at the home of Hassan* and his wife Fatima*. I am told to wait in the car while my press card and passport are taken in for verification. During the war, a journalist alleged to be American, and was granted a high-profile interview. It turned out he was Israeli. After twenty minutes of waiting, I am called in.
I walk into a well-furnished lounge decorated in burnt orange and bronze. The rich colors, plush armchairs and soft cushions are warm and welcoming, but the house itself is cold. The floors are bare ceramic tiles, but my hosts are oblivious to the chill. A well-built man in his late twenties, Hassan is dressed casually in track pants and a sweatshirt, which suggest strong muscles underneath. Fatima is dressed in a fully encompassing black abaya (loose fitting cloak), Iranian style. Her headscarf is drawn to her chin, and she seems frail underneath. Hassan and my contact, Tarek, then engage in conversation, leaving myself and my other two companions, David from Ireland and Steve from Australia to chat amongst ourselves. Fatima offers us coffee, and the thick strong liquid, my third for the day, swims a viscous stream down my throat. But her lemon and poppy seed cake is simply divine. A quiet Fatima sits next to me smiling, but not talking. It is only when Tarek prompts me, that Fatima and I begin talking. Thankfully, she understands my amateurish Arabic, and we get along splendidly. Fatima, like other women of the South possesses a strength which her city counterparts lack. “If I had to fight for my religion and for my country, I would do so without hesitation”, she remarks strongly. I ask her what role the women played in the war. She replies that they played a supporting role, encouraging the men, and helping those who had lost loved ones and possessions. But they did not actively participate.
At this point, Hassan joins in our conversation. He joined Hizbullah from an early age. His keen acumen and wise understanding enabled him to rise fast within the leadership ranks. Hassan feels that while women are welcome to fight, this is not necessary as there are enough men available to do so. “We will not be weak and make our women fight our wars”, he exclaims. When that happens, it will be the biggest disgrace to Lebanese men.” “However”, he adds, “we will never prevent women from fighting if they so wish.”
The discussion deepens, but due to the presence of David and Steve, Hassan is reluctant to go into detail. And my grasp of Arabic can only take me so far. Tarek translates the less sensitive questions, but warns that not all my questions will be answered. Hassan is adamnant that Hizbullah will never disarm. “If we were to give up our weapons, Israel knows it will be able to invade Lebanon at any time. The Lebanese government is weak- the army even weaker”, he says. He is secure in his belief that Hizbullah is strong because they derive strength from their belief in Allah.
During the war, there were theories that Syria and Iran would join forces with Hizbullah and get involved too. This did not happen. With frustration growing on the situation in Palestine, many wonder why the Arab League does nothing, and look to Syria and Iran as being the only countries, together with Hizbullah, with the resilience to fight Israel. Hassan laughs when this scenario is presented, and remarks, “All we did was defend ourselves against Israel. This was our right and our duty.” He then asserts, “Why does the world expect this of us, together with Syria and Iran? This is impossible. The only way the Palestine conflict can be resolved is if the Arab League makes a concerted effort to do something. But they won’t.” It is argued that there were some Muslims who did not support Hizbullah in the July/August 2006 war simply because they are Shi’ites. Likewise, it is said that Hizbullah, and their Shia Syrian and Iranian comrades won’t fight for Palestinians because they are Sunni. Hassan, Fatima and Tarek are shocked at this hypothesis. “We are all Muslim!”, cries Fatima. “What does it matter if one is Shia or Sunni-we are all brothers and sisters in Islam!” exclaims Tarek.
Hassan’s tone is calm, “This is what the enemies of Islam, specifically the Israeli and American governments, are trying to achieve. They are sowing seeds of distrust between Muslims. Here in Lebanon, there is no difference between Shia and Sunni. We live together in peace. If we believe the lies of our enemies, then we have lost.”
According to him, the time has come for the Lebanese leadership to change. The war garnered support for Hizbullah from previous groups which were once openly hostile toward it. But Hizbullah does not want to be part of a corrupt government. They want a leadership which is honest, and based on Islamic values. This is something even some of its supporters can’t accept- Shariah law.
Hassan signals to Tarek that the interview is over, but I have one last question. What does it take to be a fighter for Hizbullah? “Firm belief and faith in Allah and his Prophet (may peace be upon him), strong morals, a clean heart and mind, knowledge that you are fighting not for personal glory, but for your religion, and to uphold the true principles of Jihad”, replies Hassan with quiet conviction.