By Jim Miles
In the past year, two completely unexpected events have surprised all the politicians and pundits who never even came close – in the material that I was able to research – to predicting, even as a remote possibility, the actual outcome. The first event was the surprising victory of the Hezbollah forces against the Israeli attack in Lebanon. The second is the recent surprise of Hamas taking full control of Gaza, in spite of the overwhelming favour granted Fatah financially and with armaments by Israel and the U.S. Behind these two actions is a history replete with commonalities.
From the vary origins of the concept of re-establishing a new Israel in the late 19th Century, given formulation in the Balfour Declaration at the beginning of the 20th Century, a movement politically and literally developed for the Jewish people to occupy and colonize the supposedly desert wastelands of Palestine under the protective eye of the British occupation. The Palestinians became fully cognizant of the impact of this settlement as their lands were bought or simply taken possession of through old Ottoman laws and the lack of records on traditional land uses that had remained stable over many centuries. This resulted in the creation of a Palestinian underclass of cheap labourers no longer working fields, or cheap indentured farmers working land they had previously tilled and harvested themselves, now doing it for others. Land dispossession, lack of access to law and rights, civil mistreatment, and poverty eventually lead to various protests, riots, fights, and wars that have been ongoing and now lead us into the 21st Century with the terrorist actions of Hamas – along with its democratic successes – creating much bewilderment in Washington, D. C. and in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Lebanon’s situation resembles this. Formed from the Ottoman Empire and under French occupation and control after World War I, the country is a combination of Christian Maronites, Sunni Moslem, and Shiite Moslem, with a government only currently reformed to better reflect the demographics of the state. Included in this mixture lay a large contingent of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 nakba in Palestine. Later, Yasar Arafat moved the newly created Palestinian Liberation Organization and its militant Fatah wing from Jordan to Lebanon, resulting in increasing Israeli concerns about the area. With the PLO operating from southern Lebanon and in Beirut, they became entangled with the ongoing civil war in the country.
Israel invaded in 1978 to the Litani River then withdrew later to a twelve-mile buffer zone; they invaded again in 1982 and attacked the PLO within Beirut itself before settling in and occupying the south. Through all this, various militias and coalitions formed and reformed, with Hezbollah rising with the final Israeli invasion and occupation in 1982. After a long war of attrition, the Israeli’s withdrew in 2000, but in the meantime Hezbollah had established a reputation as one of assistance at the communal level and effective resistance against the occupying Israeli forces.
Since then, Hezbollah joined in the local politics and again produced the conundrum of a supposed terrorist group acting responsibly in a democratic manner. Most recently, their status as a defensive force reached new levels against another invasion in the summer of 2006, receiving local accolades for successfully resisting the much more massive military forces of Israel.
There are several obvious commonalities to these two groups, apart from the western ideological representation of them as terrorist organizations, commonalities that clearly indicate imperial intentions with their various rationalizations. While the west, in particular the United States, refuses to see the underlying issues with each group, it is the commonalities that highlight the poverty of the American position against them. Killing of innocents, whether men, women, or children is fully reprehensible, but that reality lies on both sides of terror campaigns, as there is much more terror given and received, from helicopter gunships, fighter planes, cluster bombs and phosphorous bombs as there is from a single person carrying a single explosives package on his person into enemy territory. The delivery technology of the powerful western states is far superior to that of any terrorist organization, giving themselves the ability to distance themselves psychologically from the masses of maimed, wounded and killed that their attacks inevitably result in. It is still terror.
The first commonality, is of an invading force occupying territory and through their manipulations of local structures create an indigenous rebellion against themselves.
Both of these ‘terrorist’ groups are responses to either direct or indirect American sponsored invasions. Hamas and Hezbollah are insurgencies against direct Israeli interventions, with Israel being recently unconditionally supported by the Bush regime in their occupation of Palestinian territory and the attempted re-occupation of Lebanon.
Not only are these areas occupied, they have historically been occupied by previous empires, most significantly for Hamas and Hezbollah the Ottoman Empire.
Lebanon is a fractured polity from the old French empire, although the recent Hezbollah defence against Israeli aerial bombardment followed by its ineffective ground attack has led to a consolidation of sentiment in the people of Lebanon giving approval and accolades to the defence. Hamas is operating in an area of multiple empires but within modern times it has had to deal with the British, American, and Israeli empirical demands. Unfortunately for Hamas’ civic developments, increasing pressure from Israeli forces and increasing pressure from the PA and Fatah appeared to be weakening its support that it had harvested successfully in the recent democratic elections. The recent armed revolt indicates a different kind of strength as well.
Occupation is demonstrably the over-riding significant similarity between the groups and in many ways is reflected globally throughout the long history of imperial conquests.
Foreign Monetary and Military Support
Another commonality is the frequent complaints from Israel and the U.S. about the support given to these groups through Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and various overseas Muslim organizations and other governments. That reality is clearly evident, but what is also clearly evident is the huge support that Israel receives from the United States in terms of money, intelligence sharing, and military equipment.
Within each occupied territory, the supposed terrorist organizations function as much as possible as a form of government, providing some form of civil service and structure that the occupiers are or were not even trying to provide, a third and very significant commonality among the groups.
After decades of Jewish subjugation and destruction of local infrastructures, Hamas provided a civil structure within Gaza Strip and in parts of the West Bank, and were initially supported by the Israelis who “encouraged Hamas in its building of mosques and social services as a rival to the ‘terrorist’ PLO and the leadership of the exiled ‘super-terrorist’ Arafat.” The PLO by contrast increasingly became an Israeli subordinated armed group for the internal control of the Palestinian people primarily in the West Bank. Hamas was not officially organized until 1987, but its roots developed much earlier with Israeli support of the Muslim Brotherhood inside Palestinian territories. The Israelis established a series of Village Councils that provided the civil infrastructure missing in the territories as a counter weight to the PLO monopoly on Palestinian power. With funding from various sources including Israel and Saudi Arabia, with training from Shin Bet (resulting in a widespread cadre of informers) the Village Councils grew in power, “Charity organizations proliferated…religious endowments (waqfs) grew richer…the Palestinians were being Islamicized.”.
The Americans knew of this as “U.S. diplomats and CIA officials were aware that Israel was fostering Islamism in the occupied territories,” but did not act to prevent it. There is a full parallel here between the U.S. manipulation of Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan, and the Israeli manipulation of the same in the occupied territories, both with equally perverse and unexpected outcomes. Hamas has had to “navigate between Israeli security forces…and the Palestinian Authority….[developing] a mammoth social services and health care delivery system…in ways the Palestinian Authority is too corrupt and inefficient to do.” Further success came from Hamas’ “carefully calculated ideological flexibility and willingness to work with other Palestinian forces,” while “being careful to avoid direct intra-Palestinian conflict.” The latter statement from 2005, was clearly annulled a year and a half later after Hamas’ success in the democratic elections led to huge pressure from Israel, the U.S., Canada, Britain and a few others to create such a conflict. More on that shortly.
Hezbollah’s rise to significance followed a similar path as Hamas. Lebanon suffered through a protracted civil war, combined with a large influx of Palestinian refugees which in turn led to Israeli attacks and invasions, along with significant war crimes and civic infrastructure damage (Chatilla and Sabra refugee camps, under the direction of Sharon). The Shi’ite population, mainly in Beirut and the south, were “downtrodden, impoverished, and largely overlooked by a government in Beirut in which they had inadequate representation,” and “were primed for a leader who would promise them a better future” From this destruction, which has many parallels in world history and current events, Hezbollah – the party of God – developed their own infrastructure supports for the people of southern Lebanon. As a political party it “runs a network of schools, clinics and other services that many people rely on to fill the gap for what the Lebanese government doesn’t provide. It also controls an array of businesses, including bakeries, banks, factories and an Islamic clothing line, as well as a satellite television station and a radio station.” From its 1982 start from the Israeli invasion, “by the 1990s Hezbollah had developed into a sophisticated political party while also funding free schools, hospitals and social programmes for Lebanon’s often impoverished and rural Shia population.”
The invasion against Lebanon and the Hezbollah Shia areas in the summer of 2006, again accompanied by immense support from the United States, Canada, and Britain, destroyed much of the infrastructure rebuilt from the civil wars and previous Israeli invasion. Immediately after the ceasefire, the Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, now strengthened in popular support throughout the Arab world, (if not the support of the Arab political leaders), “promised to help Lebanese civilians rebuild, pledging money for civilians to pay rent and buy furniture.” Even as the truce was being finalized, Hezbollah “workers were in the streets of Dahiyeh on Wednesday, clearing streets and removing rubble. Some areas were closed by Hezbollah members to protect the building from theft and only residents were allowed to enter after getting special passes.” Hezbollah has acted consistently to support the Shia population in Beirut, the northeast corner, and Southern Lebanon where the majority live. In return they have received increasing support politically in what are considered by western standards to be free and fair elections within the democratic process.
Participation in the Democratic Process
Apart from the actual facts of invasion and occupation, the most important commonality that displays the lie of Israeli and American ideological rhetoric (along with several of their fawning puppet states) is the democratic record of these groups in comparison to the surprised over-reaction of the protagonists when democracy proved to be messy and uncomfortable as the insurgents made significant gains in the political realm. Both Hezbollah and Hamas participated actively in the democratic processes so idealized by the American and Israeli governments, only to have their participation demonized with the reality that democracy in its fundamental messy form did not approach the restricted controlled kind of ‘democracy’ that the imperial duo actually wanted.
Hamas’ election to power with 76 out of the 118 seats, and a voter turnout estimated to be over 80%, was variously described as a ‘shock’ or ‘stunning win’ or less emotionally as a ‘dilemma’. The almost immediate response from Israel, with full support from the U.S., Canada, and a few European allies was to discount the results with the notion that these governments would not negotiate with a terror group. Other terrorist groups have been accommodated within the democratic process, partially if not fully, and have experienced various ranges of acceptance. Ireland is a prime example of a terror group gradually giving way to a negotiated and somewhat more democratic process. Israel used terror to establish its original roots in Palestine and then to cleanse most of the green line territory of Palestinians, yet most arguments view them as being democratic today (highly arguable in relation to its internal Arab-Palestinian population and its dispossession of other Palestinians through decidedly non-democratic methods).
The main surprise probably stemmed from the decisiveness of the Hamas victory and the sudden realization that all the previous rhetoric about freedom and democracy could not be upheld in the context of the larger plans for the area. Unfortunately, Hamas seemed somewhat surprised too, and, not wanting to compromise on their position vis a vis Israel, lost some support as conditions worsened under the aid embargo and as the infrastructure destruction stifled even the basic amenities of everyday life. Former President Jimmy Carter correctly identified the situation saying, "innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime. Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the US government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life… The additional restraints imposed on the new government are a planned and deliberate catastrophe for the citizens of the occupied territories, in hopes that Hamas will yield to the economic pressure."
It could readily be argued that Hamas could not recognize Israel, as such recognition in the past from the Palestinian Authority has done little good for the Palestinian people, except serve as a negotiating cover under which Israel continues its inexorable push towards full ethnic cleansing. The final result remains the same – the Americans and Israelis exposed themselves to the false rhetoric of freedom and democracy that only served its purpose well when there was none. Hamas’ support did indeed collapse during its attempts to form a coalition government with the Palestinian Authority, again with full on interference from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the complicit acceptance of such by PA leader Abbas. Divide and conquer is easy when one side holds all the power and the other side has nothing.
Hezbollah integrated itself into Lebanese politics from the start, either supporting candidates that supported their goals or by running their own candidates. “Hezbollah is an active participant in the political life and processes of Lebanon, and its scope of operation is far beyond its initial militant one. In 1992, it participated in elections for the first time, winning 12 out of 128 seats in parliament. It won 10 seats in 1996, and 8 in 2000. In the general election of 2005, it won 23 seats nationwide, and an Amal-Hezbollah alliance won all 23 seats in Southern Lebanon.” In 2006, under the pretext of rescuing two captured IDF personnel, Israel attacked southern Lebanon. Initially the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain ‘allowed’ the offensive to continue, making ignorant utterances about the “proportional” nature of the response and the need for a “just and enduring peace” between Lebanon and Israel (Condoleezza Rice again). Only after Israel realized that its forces were not succeeding with their objectives did they accept a cease fire permitting a UN force to act as barrier between the two sides – and then with a last minute mass bombing of cluster bombs to make the area even less hospitable than the regular attacks had made it. All that raised Hassan Nasrallah’s leadership status immensely and may have, over the larger view, returned Lebanon to its previous ethnic civil wars in which no democracy existed. The cedar revolution died with the Israeli attack and a democratic Lebanon is not the most likely outcome.
Another consideration is that perhaps the Americans and Israelis intended these conflicting outcomes in their Middle East endeavours, nullifying any larger threat that might launch a more dramatic attack against them. Unintended consequences would defeat this as an ideological enterprise, as a series of smaller insurrections will in no way permit the U.S. to safely extract the resources it wants and will only exacerbate the situation locally as well as globally. It does serve the function of maintaining the ‘war on terror’ fear that has become the mantra of the current – and probably subsequent – administration. As long as the U.S. continues to support Israel fully and completely, and as long as they continue to try and impose democracy through the barrel of a gun in other countries, little progress will be made for any sort of lasting peace in the Middle East.
Oil, Religion, and Suicide
Neither of these three groups is protecting or guarding or fighting against the inequalities and corruption that oil resources have brought to other areas, yet they are all caught up in the overall global American strategy of securing Middle East oil resources for their own consumption and leverage in world markets.
Israel and Lebanon are entwined in the Palestinian refugee problem as well as Israel’s interest in the strategic value of the Golan Heights in Syria bordering on Lebanon as well as the water resources that Southern Lebanon and the Golan provide. For overall global strategy, Israel has no oil, but is has a powerful (yet somewhat ineffective military if not for American support and ignoring temporarily its nuclear weapons) ‘defence’ force and, if not actual agreements, then tacit understandings with several of its Arab neighbours that defuse any of their expressed interest in supporting Palestinian causes – Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as neighbours to Israel being the most complicit in this aspect. From this develops an American sphere of influence over the oil resources of the Middle East, and while the Arab governments still try to curry favour with America and Israel, their position is becoming significantly more tenuous as the occupation of Iraq and the success of Hezbollah create popular support among the Arab and Muslim populations of the area.
From there, the global strategy for oil has come up against a religious strategy for the creation of a full and complete Jewish homeland – obviously supported by the Jewish nation of Israel, but more recently compounded by the Republican political harvesting of the Christian right in the United States, creating a ‘crusade’, ostensibly against terror, but also supporting the messianic beliefs in the second coming followed by the destruction of Israel. What is important here is the combination of an invading and occupying military force that is of a different religion than the area being occupied.
The end result of this combination of occupation and religion is the rise of suicide bombing. Suicide bombing has been popularly designated as the desperate acts of the poor and downtrodden and uneducated fanatics of fundamentalist ‘islamofascism’, a wonderfully construed but meaningless political catch phrase. But many fundamentalists and then those that go further into suicide attacks do not by any measure derive mainly from the poor and uneducated.
Fundamentalism is a phenomenon culturally widespread. It arises from several societal problems as perceived by the groups involved and is similar within Protestantism in the U.S. as it is with Islam in the Middle East: “urban migrants from the lower class…put in an economically precarious position…subordinate, turning in greater numbers to charismatic groups….economic insecurity and an enormous loss in cultural prestige….the striving for upward mobility is either disappointing or denied altogether….among the most significant causes of mobilization is the public loss of validity and prestige of traditional values and life conduct ideals…[leading to] official degradation to the status of a subculture of….inferior rights.” The adherents to the fundamentalist point of view “corresponds to their self-perception, which is based not on economic interests but on common values and ideal ways of life.” In sum, it is not a case of poverty but one of subordination (now full on subjugation) and the perceived loss of one’s culture rather than a class divide that leads to fundamentalism.
From there, fundamentalism leads to a “movement of radical patriarchal moralism”, creating a dualism “which divides the world and the nation into representatives of the divine order and instruments of Satan….or as agents of the “foreigner”. It becomes, in American terms, “you are either with you or against us,” and “this crusade, this war on terrorism” become conjoined. In Islamic terms it is expressed in the martyrs who destroy themselves and the enemy in suicide bomb attacks.
Without the firepower, the physical space, the economic force, nor any of the attributes of a civic society except for the basics covered by the fundamentalist groups, one of the few options left, other than giving up in total subjugation, is to fight back, any method of which is essentially suicidal due to the overwhelming firepower and technical superiority of the invading force. Contrary to most popular attempts to define the suicide bomber as a raving lunatic, any studies done on the subject indicate that the “suicide attackers are normally well-educated workers from both religious and secular backgrounds….they resemble the kind of politically conscious individuals who might join a grassroots movement,” as compared to wayward youth and religious fanatics.
For Hezbollah, Israel “is a religious monolith [with] a doctrine of territorial expansion with biblical justification,” leading them “to assert that Israel’s main purpose in Lebanon was to seize control of the Litani River and to uproot the local Shia from the land so as to resettle Jews there in the future.” Hezbollah’s success both in the long years of occupation and in the shorter recent Israeli invasion displays how a well developed asymmetrical approach to warfare can have significant consequences for an invading force, an idea that history reinforces over and over again with the lesson never being learned.
Hamas developed in Palestinian territory under the continual occupation of the IDF and its many depredations on their society; this was countered by a “network of social service organizations [making] an essential contribution to the legitimacy of suicide terrorism,” with the main argument being “that martyrdom is justified by its instrumental value in protecting the local community from a foreign occupation.” With no recourse to any other alternative to occupation other than giving up hope, suicide attacks, while horrific and seemingly perverse acts of terror, are an asymmetrical response to fight back against an overwhelmingly powerful opponent who uses the basic elements of war as terror.
Webs of Deceit and Conceit
The Middle East is now more explosive and hostile than ever before. With mistake compounding upon mistake, the region is set up for even more serious and potentially world-shaking events. The American crusade will continue to roll while the combination of oil, big business, and the military are incapable of acting in any manner other than the use of brute force to instil democracy on other peoples. The entanglements of greed and ignorance, or religious sanctions for eliminating the ‘other’, of basic political and humanitarian ignorance, and an immorality of action hiding behind rhetorical nonsense, the ‘what you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you say’ syndrome, are leading the world into even deadlier scenarios than currently exist. I will not allow myself to succumb to historians common faux pas of conjecture about what might have been or what is to be, but the imperatives of a truly human morality that treats everyone equally needs to be emphasized before worst case scenarios can breed and blossom.
 Fisk, Robert. The Great War for Civilisation – The Conquest of the Middle East. Fourth Estate, London, 2005. p. 498.
 Dreyfuss, Robert. Devil’s Game – How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Co., N.Y. 2005. p. 195.
 Ibid, p. 198
 See also – Hanania, Ray. “Sharon’s Terror Child – How the Likud Bloc Mid-wifed the Birth of Hamas.” Counterpunch, January 18/19, 2003. http://www.counterpunch.org/hanania01182003.html
 Kamrava, Mehran. The Modern Middle East. University of California, Berkely. 2005. p. 231.
 Jamail, Dahr. “A fight to the finish,” Asia Times, August 10, 2006. www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HH10Ak04.html
 Van Camp, Jon. “Who is Hezbollah?”, Counterpunch, September 23/24, 2006. www.counterpunch.org/vancamp09232006.html.
 Brandon, James. “Factfile: Hezbollah.” Wednesday, July 12, 2006. http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/27EDF072-1581-48CE-812D-A34D7C89A333.htm
 Hamas wins Gaza elections, Al-Jazeera, Friday, January 28, 2005. http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/BC77A1D4-1EB3-4761-B755-B2C16EC22EAD.htm
 Carter, Jimmy. Cited in Fisk, Robert. “The Age of Terror – a landmark report”. The Independent, October 09, 2006. http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/article1814840.ece
 www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?service ID=10029
 Riesbrodt, Martin. Pious Passions – The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the Untied States and Iran. University of California Press, Berkely. 1993. p. 185-192.
 Ibid, p. 184.
 Ibid, p. 199.
 Pape, Robert. Dying to Win – The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Random House, N.Y. 2005. p. 218.
 Ibid, p.136-7.
-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles. His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.