Will the Party of God Deliver the Palestinians from Exile?

The response to the massacre at Sabra-Shatila was for the resistance to become active in Lebanon. If the Lebanese people had given up on the resistance, they too would have been complicit in the massacres of Qana and Sabra and Shatila.

— Hasan Nassallah June 4, 2002

We renew our pledge to Jerusalem, to the Palestinians, and to the cause and Imam of Jerusalem; their city will forever remain in our souls, and will continue to be our cause, our battle, and our ultimate objective.

— Hasan Nassallah October 28, 2005

The fundamental consequences of the 1982 Massacre at Sabra-Shatila and the founding of Hezbollah are two seismic events from the same time and place which some argue are locked in a swirling expanding embrace that will return Palestine to the Palestinians.

In fewer than 45 minutes following the explosion in Islamabad at the 315-room Marriott Hotel during the Ramadan Iftar mealtime, Saturday, Hezbollah security units nearly invisibly secured the area of the 162-room Beirut Marriott Hotel. One of the embassies they secured was that of Palestine, which opened last year.

The security precautions were less out of love for the Bush administration, which the movement and increasing numbers internationals consider a rogue terrorist regime, or love for the Zionist-owned hotel chain, than the fact that the Marriott is within one of Hezbollah’s densely populated base areas. Dahiyeh, which includes several southern Beirut neighborhoods, often erroneously referred to as “suburbs,” is less than a mile from the Palestinian refugee area known as Sabra-Shatila.

Hezbollah works regularly to intercept elements openly boasting of or secretly planning on attacking its neighborhoods. Some being watched and infiltrated are Al Qaida inspired Sunni Salafist cells, who consider Shia Hezbollah more their enemy than they do the US or Israeli governments. Contrary to brother Robert Fisk’s recent reports, these groups are indeed growing in Lebanon and inside the Palestinian Camps, particularly Ain el Helwe, Bedawi. They are trying to launch in the so far peaceful camps near Tyre. This observer would agree with Fisk that it will not be easy for Al Qaida to find enough supporters and adherents of the Salafi-Jihadi ideology to challenge the strength of Hezbollah’s well-organized partisans. Yet, no fewer than 11 Al Qaida-inspired groups, eager to destabilize Lebanon, and sometimes related to US-Israel projects, have been organizing according to Palestinian Popular Committee Representatives inside the Camps. Some of their goals are being telegraphed by the rising campaign of threats coming from their sometime-sponsors in Tel Aviv and Washington.

The Angry Bear Returns to the Levant: From Russia with Love

When the rest of the story is able to be told concerning what really was happening during the late April and early May events in West Beirut, the facts will support a very different conclusion than the narrative offered by the Welch Club. Researchers expect to elucidate contents of ten and one half hours of taped conversations between Washington and its Lebanese surrogates. Conversations are referred to during a meeting between Hezbollah’s number two, Sheifk Naim Qassim, and a former US Ambassador with his American delegation during a July 2008 dialogue in Dahiyeh. A full report of the May events will also document details of what is known by many here, that every incoming and outgoing communication at the US Embassy is carefully monitored, analyzed and contemplated. The same with Israeli Sunday Cabinet meetings.

This week the Israeli Army’s Information Security Chief, Colonel Ram Dor, complained in the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot (Latest News) that Russia is relaying intelligence information to Hezbollah. Dor said Russian Navy spy ships and Russian personnel serving at monitoring stations on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights carry out intercept and hacking missions and relay Israeli secrets to Hezbollah.

“My evaluation is that such facilities can cover most of Israel’s territory,” Dor said.

The US intelligence unit in the American Embassy in Beirut also blames the hacking and sharing of its ‘most secured communications’ on the Russians while others claim its tit-for-tat for what the Mossad and CIA did early last year in Georgia.

US Embassy Internet security experts are unclear to what extent the Russian military is directly responsible for “communication compromises,” but they claim that the traffic patterns and servers used in the operation are definitely coming out of Russia and result from increased Russian activity in the Middle East.

Some in Beirut speculate that this explains why the meticulously planned US-Israeli “May Surprise” turned out to be a “May Surprise” for its sponsors and their local teammates, who were dropped like a bad habit when the project imploded.

To counter this problem, the US Defense Intelligence Agency’s newly created Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center is authorized for the first time to carry out “strategic offensive counterintelligence operations” in Lebanon and against any group anywhere which the Bush administration considers “terrorist,” according to Mike Pick of the DEA, who will direct the program.

Covert offensive operations will be carried out in Lebanon and abroad against people known or suspected to be connected to foreign intelligence or international terrorist activities, according to Toby Sullivan, Director of Counterintelligence for James R. Clapper, Jr., the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

According to Walter Pincus, who covers counterintelligence for the Washington Post, these sensitive, clandestine operations are “tightly controlled departmental activities run by a small group of specially selected people” within the Defense Department. The new unit is designed to thwart what groups like Hezbollah might be trying to do to us and to learn more about what they’re trying to get from us,” Sullivan said. In the case of “terrorists,” the object would be to identify people who might be “trying to do harm, collect information about us, and keep them from doing that. So far we don’t know if Hezbollah is trying to do anything to us but we will watch them,” he stated.

“You stop, we stop,” is the Putin offer to the next US administration, according to Congressional staff sources on the US Senate Intelligence Committee. Many in power in Moscow also consider the Bush administration a “terrorist cabal” and are awaiting the November election results, hoping Obama wins.

The Student Laptops and the KKK Kid

Hours before the Marriott was attacked in Pakistan, Fairouz Husseini sat with her girlfriends in the courtyard outside Haifa Middle School across the road from Shatila Refugee Camp, which is administered by UNWRA in Bir Hassan. Fairouz and her friends were giddy two days after receiving laptops at the 26th Anniversary of the Sabra-Shatila Massacre Memorial.

“I love it! I can’t believe it’s mine to keep!” Fairouz exclaimed as she protectively dusted off the pale green cover of her new XO laptop, and recorded an interview with the screen sized video and built-in camera. The XO laptop is part of an advanced teaching tool developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that some believe can revolutionize education in developing countries.

“That American man told us that if we used it properly it would open the doors to the Great Library of Alexandria for us and we can learn as much as any student at the best schools anywhere in the World!” she added.

Amal, a very loquacious 13-year-old friend of Fairouz chimed in, “We are making a laptop club at our school. We call it: Learn for our Return! Is that a good name? What do you think? Our friend Ahmad says it’s a silly idea. Anyway, Ahmad does not behave properly and is sort of wild. He is what we call a KKK kid — Kalashnikov, Kassem and Katyusha. Anyhow, most students in the camps are peaceful and we want to rebuild our country when we go back and we need lots of knowledge to do it!”

Fairouz and her Ramadan-fasting pals were already out of school for the day even though it was not yet noon. Lebanon’s camp Palestinians are severely challenged by a shortened school day due to overcrowding. On average around there are 35, but sometimes there are as many as 50 students per class, and because UNWRA must run two shifts daily. Student and teacher absenteeism is high, standards are low, text books insufficient, infrastructure poor, and dropout rates increasing.

Of the 59 Palestinian camps in the Levant (Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon) only the camp schools in Gaza are as bad, indeed worse, as those in Lebanon.

Gaza Director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) John Ging reports that up to 60 percent of Gazan children at UNRWA schools had failed their math exams last year, while 40 percent failed their Arabic exams at the beginning of the year.

UNRWA provides schooling for Palestinian refugee children from grade 1 through 9, but offers limited secondary education and, as in Lebanon, these schools are forced to operate double shifts due to overcrowding. “Many children come to school hungry and unable to concentrate,” according to Ging.

Haifa Fahmi al-Agha, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Education Ministry’s Director General in the Gaza Strip, has documented that failure rates at schools in Gaza were deliberately lowered the past few years to cope with overcrowded classrooms, too few schools and limited educational funds. The same “lowering of the bar” trend is creeping into Palestinian schools in Lebanon.

Shatila Camp, as well as its sister, Burj al Baraneh, is located in Ghouberi Municipality, whose Council is now controlled by Hezbollah, whose party members won all 21 Council seats in both the 1998 and 2004 elections. Hezbollah security protects the whole area around Shatila Camp, and Haifa and other Palestinian Schools with their Shia, Sunni and Christian students. The Sabra-Shatila area is an increasingly close-knit area bringing together the Sunni Palestinians and the Shia Hezbollah.

More than 90% of Lebanon’s Palestinian students interviewed recently, in an admittedly unscientific poll, appear to believe that Hezbollah holds out their best hope to return to Palestine, and insist their parents would vote for Hezbollah in next year’s critical election if Palestinians were allowed to vote in Lebanon.

Before leaving for home, Fairouz introduced this observer to her lovely mother, Nour. Nour is a community organizer who had come to collect her daughter. She elaborated on why the Sunni and partially secular Palestinian community of Bir Hasan (where the first killers assembled 26 years ago before being sent into the Camp) have come to support the Shia Party of God despite a sometimes troubled past relationship.

The Non-ID Issue and Palestinian Gratitude

Besides shared values regarding education, Hezbollah supports the project that is now finally happening to give Palestinians identification cards for the first time.

“This is so important to our people in Lebanon. Actually Hezbollah worked quietly with Prime Minister Siniora’s people to achieve this much needed progress,” the community organizer explained. “They do a lot for us but they don’t announce it to the public so much.”

Many Palestinians credit pressure and dialogue from Hezbollah with the announcement last month that the government of Lebanon will finally issue temporary identification cards to perhaps as many as 5000 Palestinian families (around 20,000 individuals) who have no documents and who habitually hide from the authorities or risk imprisonment. PM Fouad Siniora, in bed with the Bush Administration, wins kudos for his work on this issue. Siniora appears to reject the Bush-Cheney and Israeli intense antipathy toward Resistance-supporting Palestinians.

The Lebanese authorities have thus agreed after 40 years to give temporary ID cards to “non-ID” Palestinian refugees. Palestinians without any ID documents are subject to more capricious treatment by authorities than those holding UNWRA ID or Ration Cards or NR (“Non Registered”) cards.

Most non-ID Palestinians are either former “Fedayeen” or descendants of the Palestinian fighters who came to Lebanon in the 1970s after being driven from Jordan during the “Black September” conflict with the Jordanian monarchy.

To qualify for the new IDs these individuals need to get a residence notice from a Mukhtar and submit it to the Lebanese General Security. The Non-ID card will help settle the legal status of thousands of Palestinians living in Lebanon and is about the only good news for the Palestinians here since their PLO protectors left Beirut in 1982, when the camp’s steep descent into misery accelerated. Lebanon’s new PLO “Embassy,” which was allowed to open in May of 2006, has already received 2,600 names of applicants.

Like all Palestinians, the new ID-holders will still not be allowed to work in professional vocations or to own property, but at least their marriages will be legally registered and, theoretically, they can no longer be rounded up by the authorities at whim.

Sidon Mukhtar Mohammad Baasiri explained that dozens of Palestinians were flocking into his office on a daily basis seeking IDs. “I have hundreds of applications from Palestinians who want to get a residence notice as a starting point toward getting an ID,” Mukhtar Bassiri noted.

Over the past two years, more than 350 non-ID refugees had been arrested in Sidon alone and more than 200 students were denied the right to access its schools and universities. To its everlasting credit, UNRWA often allows non-ID children to “sneak” into its schools — but they cannot pass their examinations at age 18 and gain qualifications because that requires legal papers. As reported by Daily Star‘s Fayez Najjar, an unregistered Palestinian father of 14 children from Ein el Helwe Camp explained that his sons had been arrested for lack of ID several times as they stepped outside the autonomous security system of Palestinian-controlled camps. Hezbollah is credited with helping advance this project.

Fatima Khalife’s Quadruplets and Hasan Nasrallah

This is another example of Hezbollah “good neighborliness” mentioned by Hajjah Nour, which this observer had actually learned about earlier while conducting research in Mar Elias Camp in Beirut.

Many foreigners may not be familiar with the 6000-resident Mar Elias Palestinian Refugee Camp located just to the Northwest of Sabra and Shatila. It is small, one of the original camps set up in 1948. It is heavily made up by Christians from Nazarath and surrounded by Gulf-funded high rise construction projects. Salivating investors eye its boundaries and prime location near the sandy beach of Ramlet al Baida and Hamra.

Last month, this observer, en route to an appointment inside the Camp, was negotiating the sharp turns of alleys so narrow and dark that they have likely never been warmed by direct sunlight, barely enough space to advance along on a motorcycle.

Suddenly I noticed a gaggle of squealing pre-teens lining up for motorcycle rides and practicing their English with “hello!,” ‘how are you?,” “welcome!” The kids apparently recognized me and the trusty steed “Silver” from an earlier visit. But this time it was necessary to apologize and explain in very weak Arabic what “next time” meant because I was rushing to an appointment with a camp social worker, who told me yet another “Hezbollah story” which affords insight into the Party’s relationship with Palestinians in Lebanon:

On August 9, 2005, a Palestinian mother named Fatima Khalife gave birth to Quadruplets in Shatila Camp. One of the four babies, Omar, was very ill and not expected to live. He needed life-saving surgery and his family inquired at the nearby Safah Hospital. Being Palestinian, Lebanese law forbids any assistance from the National Social Security Fund, meager as it is. UNRWA contributed around $2000 and some local NGOs another $1,500. Still about $37,000 shy, the family was very happy when an article about the boy’s plight was published in the local daily, As Safir. Two wealthy humanitarian Lebanese women came forward and offered to help the infant by paying for his surgery.

The Palestinian community was ecstatic and prayed for success with the delicate operation. Shortly before the scheduled surgery, a call was received at the hospital business office that caused its cancellation. When it was learned that Omar is a Palestinian, the well-to-do Lebanese ladies, perhaps with memories of the civil war and lost loved ones, withdrew their offer of medical assistance.

Word of what happened circulated in the crestfallen community. A local TV station, New TV, ran a story about the Khalife family’s desperate plight as Omar’s brain infection took a virulent turn. Within minutes of the program being aired, the office of Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called Omar’s father. Hezbollah said it would like to pay for the boy’s surgery and all subsequent expenses until the boy was well. And it did. Nasrallah had watched the program and was deeply moved. Today, Omar is healthy, sweet, rambunctious, beautiful, three years old who just learned how to press the ignition button and start a foreigner’s motorcycle.

Hezbollah cannot solve all the Palestinian’s problems in Lebanon pending their return to Palestine, but with no one to rely on but themselves, Palestinians appreciate enormously such gestures as saving Omar.

At the risk of over-simplification, one concludes that these kinds of “Robin Hood” stories have created a broad admiration for the Hezbollah-led Resistance in Lebanon’s Palestinian community — as do Hezbollah’s straight-dealing with the Shatila and Burj al Burajneh Camps in the Ghoberi Municipality, where it helps with infrastructural, sewer and water projects (probably against “the law” and wishes of many in Lebanon).

This is not to say that there are no lingering personal grudges within Lebanon’s Shia-Palestinian community from individuals who suffered at the hands of the other over the past four decades during the civil war and Zionist occupation. Yet, one Palestinian friend, Samer, a Mar Elias Camp social worker, reported that both communities want to let bygones be bygones. He points out that marriages between Shia and Sunni and Christian Palestinians are increasing (his wife is Shia). He also pointed out and that he personally has more Hezbollah friends than Palestinian, as he introduced me to his best friend, Ali, a Shia and Hezbollah party member.

Franklin Lamb is author of the recently released book, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel's Use of American Weapons in Lebanon. His volume Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners is due out soon. He can be reached at fplamb@gmail.com. Read other articles by Franklin, or visit Franklin's website.

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  1. Brook said on September 27th, 2008 at 7:07am #

    what is completely lost on Franklin, is the inhumanity of leaving Palestinians in these camps and treating them like 2nd class citizens — for 60 years! No other region of the world would be able to get away with this, but people like Lamb look the other way, when it comes to the Arab world.

    I am demanding that Palestinians get the same opportunity and equal citizenship they get in every Western nation — in the Middle East.