Monday, August 6, 2007

Heart-to Heart with Israel/cont'd

Of Facts and Truths (Part Two)

Nifsi Fi wi’ Tfou Aleh (I Want Him and I Spit on Him)

There is no better way to usher you into our house of mirrors and paradoxes, a mirthful abode where the rules giggle every time they are broken, where every absolute and its opposite may share the same bed and the most prudish of principles can turn playful at a moment’s notice.

Let me begin with the year 2000, right before Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Eight years into the end of our civil war, the country had become the incarnation of that wonderful Palestinian adage Min Barra Rkham w’ Minjouwah Skham (On the Outside Marble, On the inside Crap). In this most imperfect of democracies, as the charade of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction lulled the willing and the fatigued into a life of silver linings, fiefdoms thrived, corruption turned frogs into princes and villains and heroes ran around happily exchanging business cards. Lebanon was either flying or sinking, depending on the sect, the day, the issue and—it goes without saying--our pocket’s demands. Underneath it all, bad people with bad intentions kept their eye on the ball, and way above everyone hovered mother Syria, eyes fixed on every single one of her babies.

The South was occupied but so was the rest of the country. It would be sheer heresy for us to even insinuate a likeness between an Israeli offense and an Arab brother’s affront but, emotions aside, on the most practical level, the upshot for us was all the same: Decisions were made but none were made by Lebanon. Between Syria and Israel the dos and don’ts had been agreed, the deal had been sealed and the rough (sometimes bloody) haggling was fine tuned into hardheaded bargaining.

In this context soared Hezbollah, an unusually motivated Iranian-Lebanese Shiite endeavor provoked into life by Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and subsequent occupation of the South. Into the pundits’ bag of examples fell yet another illustration of how Israeli brutality suckles the very radicalism it pretends to detest, and into our Arab-Israeli predicament was woven another thread in the paradox that makes of Israel and Islamic fundamentalism the best of friends even though they are the worst of enemies.

There is nothing original about this proposition if you are under the impression that the friendship between the two is the unintended consequence of Israel’s stubborn attachment to physical force as a principal instrument of policy. If that is where you are, then you must be as flummoxed as all those who cannot quite fathom why Israel keeps resorting to methods that further radicalize its foes, or as certain as those others who believe that Israel pursues them merely because it is genuinely (if erroneously) convinced that Arabs understand only force. But if you dig deeper into psyches, if you dare ponder the exhaustively researched ways Islamism and Israel nurture one another’s raison d’etre, if you allow yourself the thought that both cannot survive without a life of stark, frightening contrasts, if you bring yourself to see how both cannot be without their ghouls and monsters, then you will have successfully crossed from the fact of Islamic fundamentalism and Israel as enemies into the truth of their friendship.

When Israel occupied Lebanon’s South it gave the most noble of meanings to Hezbollah’s quest. From the start, Hezbollah never really was much interested in our fratricide. There were violations here and there (kidnappings of Lebanese citizens, for one) but when every warlord was busy dipping his hands in Lebanese blood, Hezbollah was content to watch from the sidelines. Its interests lay elsewhere, its technique was different and its ambitions were grander than back-street fights.

By 2000, as Hezbollah, under the auspices of Syria and its active protection, progressed from a firebrand militant group into a flourishing resistance movement with a remarkably successful record against an otherwise unbeatable Israeli army, the cross-sectarian consensus behind its struggle in the South had blossomed into near-reverence. While still purposefully operating on the outskirts of Lebanese politics, it had become a full-fledged enterprise investing in everything from heroism to schooling for its children.

Suddenly Israel up and left, without so much as a goodbye. In some key people’s breath Ya, Habibi (roughly, Oh Dear) ran very close after Allah Akbar. Like clockwork, asinine questions began to be asked, and not only by the “collaborationists” and the “cowardly.” Absent an Israeli occupying army, to what end the arsenal of the Resistance? Absent an Israeli occupying army in a multi-confessional state, to what end a resistance in the exclusive hands of one sect? Absent an Israeli occupying army, to what end a resistance which refuses to cede its role to the state’s revived forces? And if in fact there was and is not much of a state to cede roles to, as Hezbollah claims, to what end then running in its parliamentary elections, taking ministerial portfolios in its governments, filling up quotas in its departments? If this activism actually demonstrated Hezbollah’s willingness to engage with the Lebanese state, then to what end the exclusion of the military from such noblesse oblige?

It did not matter that Hezbollah had (and still has) a myriad of answers for each of these questions. That they were being asked in the first place—and by many—signaled an imminent turning point. Now that the Resistance had no actual land to liberate, applause started to grow more faint. That the fellows (and Syria) clumsily latched on to Shebaa Farms (Israeli occupied 25 square kilometers of previously Syrian but now conveniently Lebanese land) to buy themselves an extension for the Cause only added to suspicions that they were not in the mood to rethink identities or rewrite mission statements. Still, things were not so bad: Syria was still in control, our political class was still beholden to it and Hezbollah was still basking in its shade.
And then, suddenly, Syria was chased out of town. The silent grew rowdy, the meek turned mean, questions developed into accusations and, like a trapeze artist on speed, Hezbollah’s ripostes swung between the perfectly reasonable and the downright nasty. Eloquence itself began to stutter.

Are you with me so far?

This is where friendships come to the rescue. Had Israel been the least bit interested in a peaceful resolution to the problem, had it been keen on depriving Hezbollah of its reasons—or showing them up for the excuses that they are—and undercutting Iranian and Syrian encroachments on the Lebanese state, this would have been the golden moment to strike through creative diplomacy. Neither the Farms nor the landmine maps are of any historical or strategic importance to Israel. It could have handed the two to the UN and released two of the three remaining Lebanese prisoners, leaving Samir Kuntar, who smashed four-year old Einat Hrat’s head against a rock, to rot for another thirty years in his Israeli prison. But as hard as the world’s emissaries tried, Israel just wouldn’t bite because, you see, creative diplomacy is for ninnies, war is for men. For Israel, the Lebanese state is only sovereign enough to take punishment for Hezbollah’s actions, for everything else it might as well keep twiddling its thumb--and, funnily enough, that is exactly what Hezbollah keeps saying.

Every time the Lebanese government broaches the subject of the Farms with the UN, Hezbollah comically accuses it of conspiring against the Movement, not realizing that, in its haste to defend the logic of perpetual resistance, it is tacitly offering us a most embarrassing revelation: By refusing thus far to return the Farms peacefully, Israel can only be serving the Movement’s interests.

But in the end, this is certainly not about a conspiracy of interests or treason, or of Zionism and Islamic currents in active cahoots—as the latter keep accusing their adversaries—this is about a meeting of mindsets, an intimacy of the most disturbing kind between two orientations.

With such like enemies who needs friends. For what fun would there be without a scarecrow with which to scare the children? What’s the point of rooting for the good guys if there are no bad guys to vilify? What’s the use of all that armor if there are no bogeymen to pound every once in a while? How can Israel keep shining if Lebanon stops looking so black? Now switch names in the last sentence, and you get yourself a ditto for Hezbollah.

More to come.