Hizbollah: Rebel Without a Cause?
Should Hezbollah Be Next?
Hizballah of Lebanon: Mundane Politics vs. Extremist Ideals
A visitor trying to discover who controls Lebanon’s south, the heartland of Lebanese Shiism, soon finds that Hezbollah flags fly from the wreckage of demolished tanks abandoned by the Israeli army when it withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. The smiling face of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the prominent Shiite cleric who is Hezbollah’s political leader, is ubiquitous, and posters of Hezbollah’s “martyrs”—guerrilla soldiers who died fighting Israeli occupation troops—hang from utility poles along the main roads. These images are sometimes accompanied by detailed descriptions of the fighters’ final “operations”—guerrilla ambushes on Israeli troops and military installations, occasionally in the form of suicide bombings. (Although Hezbollah is notorious for having developed suicide bomb attacks in the 1980s, the group has used the tactic sparingly, unlike Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The last known Hezbollah suicide attack in southern Lebanon was in 1995).
But “Hezbollahland” is more than a shrine to Shiite martyrdom. It is also central to the party’s efforts to increase its following through civic activities, the promotion of Islam, and charitable work. Jihad al-Bina, the party’s Iranian-subsidized construction company, has repaired thousands of houses destroyed by Israeli raids in southern Lebanon. And though the region remains poor, its economy is slowly improving, thanks to support from Iran and donations from well-to-do Shiites. The arid hills are now dotted by white mansions, built by Shiites who made their fortunes in Africa and the Gulf states and who have returned home, many of them pouring money into Hezbollah’s large welfare system.
At least 100,000 Lebanese children attend Hezbollah-run schools, and several hundred thousand Lebanese (including a significant number of Christians who live in predominantly Shiite areas) receive health care in Hezbollah’s four hospitals and fifty health clinics. As many as half a million Lebanese—Palestinians in several of Lebanon’s miserable refugee camps among them—get their drinking water from water tanks provided by Hezbollah. And an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 Lebanese Shiites work on farms and in small businesses, shopping malls, hospitals, and other enterprises run by Hezbollah. For many of these people, Hezbollah is also a source of interest- free business loans and advice on everything from child-rearing to the cultivation of olives.
Hezbollah’s ideology of permanent resistance and martyrdom can be found in these social programs in both subtle and more pronounced ways. The Hezbollah-run Hospital of the Martyr Salah Ghandour in Bint Jbeil, for example, is named after a Hezbollah fighter who in 1995 drove a car rigged with explosives into an Israeli convoy, killing himself and twelve Israeli soldiers; at the hospital’s main entrance there are two buckets for donations labeled “services” and “resistance,” respectively. In Hezbollah’s fifty state-approved secondary schools, which are mostly in the south and the Bekaa Valley, Lebanese youths are instructed in party doctrine and play games designed to reenact Hezbollah battles against Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon.
Unlike the madrasas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the curriculum …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.