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Hezbollah’s Palestinian problem…and vice versa

Hezbollah’s Palestinian problem…and vice versa

by Franklin Lamb | Beirut
June 22, 2013

Many Lebanese and Syrian supporters of the region's Resistance culture, increasingly led by Hezbollah, are chastising, for a number of reasons, their former Islamist ally Hamas. Pillorying them with accusations that the latter are ingrates who are creating a host of problems for Hezbollah and its support for the Syrian regime, during the continuing crisis. Unnecessary problems, it is frequently asserted, that inure to the benefit of their mutual arch enemies, the Zionist colonizers of Palestine and their American and Arab enablers.

An outsider living near the center of the Hezbollah security zone in Dahiyeh, South Beirut, as does this observer, hears from friends and neighbors both sides of this rancorous domestic argument. Having respect for, and being a supporter of both, one feels a bit awkward-- rather like a good friend of a married couple, who are engaged in an increasingly acrimonious marital spat. While sympathetic to each friend's seemingly legitimate complaints with the other, one does not want to take sides for, among other reasons, the risk of appearing disloyal to mutual friends and alienating perhaps both while being labeled a weak, “friend betrayer.”

Yet one cannot disagree with the Palestinian community in both Syria and Lebanon who repeatedly assert that they want to stay neutral in the Syrian crisis which appears unlikely to end anytime soon. Palestinian refugees, in Palestine as well as in Syria and Lebanon, want to stay out of internecine conflicts and focus on trying to survive and confronting their real enemies, those who stole and are still living on their land.

Some supporters of Hezbollah and the Palestine Resistance seek to avoid exhibiting dirty laundry to public view, but given the voracious craving of media outlets linked to various local parties as well as foreign sponsors, there is much pressure and opportunity to condemn each side for, some real but many illusory, Hezbollah-Palestinian cross-border conflicts. This mutually destructive phenomenon appears to be spreading.

Hezbollah’s local Palestinian problem started to form in the spring of 2011 as the Syrian crisis quickly gained momentum. Some Palestinians joined the rebels and nearly 28 months into the maelstrom, continue fighting the Assad government. The numbers appear to this observer to be a tiny fraction of the unemployed, discouraged Palestinian youth. Some have succumbed to the allure of $200 per month, free cigarettes, and an AK-47 and have joined one or the other of literally hundreds of jihadist militias operating in Syria, some currently scoping out Lebanon.

Some point out that those Palestinian refugees in Syria should not be seen as betraying those who have helped them most. The undeniable fact is that Palestinian refugees in Syria have for more than six decades been granted by the government rights to education, medical care, housing, employment, and in many instances, preferential treatment. In addition, Syria has granted them identity and travel documents, to an extent that no other Arab League country has. This despite decades of Arab potentates blathering interminably about supporting the "bloodstream and sacred cause of Palestine.” So there is festering resentment when certain media blare that Palestinian groups such as Hamas are with the rebels and are insisting that Hezbollah fighters not enter Syria under any pretext. Hamas stands accused of closing their Damascus offices, accepting a $400 million grant from Syria’s nemesis Qatar and of joining the US-Israel axis by harming their own people as well as undermining the resistance to the Zionist regime in the process. Certain other Palestinians in camps such as Yarmouk in Syria and Shatila in Lebanon tacitly accuse Hamas of abandoning the Palestinian cause and misguidedly sparking sectarian strife with Hezbollah. Others argue just the opposite and blame Hezbollah.

Some Palestinians are also said to be carrying guns for the Saida-based, Lebanese Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir, the imam of Saida's Bilal bin Rabah Mosque, while supporting his anti-Hezbollah-Assad regime which is trying to unite Sunnis who make up roughly 85% of the world’s Muslim population, to eliminate all Shia Muslims.

Syrian government forces claim that Hamas has even trained Syrian rebels in the manufacture and use of home-made rockets. Some Hezbollah fighters complain that they taught Hamas many of their battlefield skills which they turned around and used against Hezbollah forces in al-Qusayr and are preparing to do the same, with larger numbers, in the coming battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

Many supporters of Hezbollah believe Hamas and some other Palestinian factions were being needlessly provocative when a few officials issued an unusual admonishment of Hezbollah on June 13, demanding it direct its firepower at Israel and withdraw from involvement in the Syrian conflict. “We demand of Hezbollah to withdraw its forces from Syria and call on it to leave its weapons directed only at the Zionist enemy,” read a statement allegedly from Hamas, posted on the Facebook page of its deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouq.

Despite its withdrawal from Syria in early 2012, Hamas, as an Islamic organization, has been wary of publicly criticizing Hezbollah for its military support of the Assad regime. On June 13, the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Araby reported that a schism existed within Hamas regarding its attitude toward Hezbollah. Hamas’s military wing, the Izz Ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, reportedly endorsed the alliance with the Syria-Hezbollah axis, while its political leadership opposed it. Some have questioned the accuracy of this report.

Other more petty accusations have been made by some Hezbollah supporters, for example that some Palestinian camp residents in Ein el Helwe camp near Saida and Jalil camp near Baalbek, were encouraged by Hamas to burn refugee aid packages provided by Hezbollah for Syrians and Palestinians forced to flee Syria. The reasons cited by the Palestinians for this odd act were that they felt they could not, given moral Islamic values, accept “blood” gifts, even of much needed food.

This observer met with some Palestinian leaders from different factions and is satisfied by their explanations that this was not the case. Hezbollah has given emergency aid to all the Palestinian camps. What happened with the symbolic burning of a few parcels was entirely politically motivated and organized by certain Salafists in Saida and a few troublemakers from the pro-Saudi/US factions, including rump elements from the pro-western March 14 alliance. That issue has now been resolved by Palestinian popular committees and the Hezbollah donors. Hopefully it will not recur.

Some Hezbollah partisans complain that certain Palestinian factions have circulated rumors in the media accusing Hezbollah of wrongdoing and thereby are in effect collaborating with the US and Israel to divide and weaken the National Lebanese Resistance.

Yet additional criticism of certain Palestinian factions, specifically Hamas, relates to the nature of the movement’s relationship with the state of Qatar which is accused of essentially appointed itself godfather of all the Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood movements in the region. According to some, this has caused Hamas to lose the credibility and popularity that it once enjoyed from diaspora Palestinians.

The Palestinians’ Hezbollah problem

Revisiting the “marital spat” analogy, some of the accusations against certain Palestinian groups mirror those made against Hezbollah. Some Lebanese analysts and some camp Palestinians have warned that Hezbollah’s foray into Syria is fueling a Sunni-Shiite polarization that threatens to feed extremism on both sides and catapult the conflict to the wider region Syrian opposition groups reported on May 30 that Hezbollah had ordered Hamas’s representative in Beirut, Ali Baraka, to leave the country immediately because of Hamas’s public support for Syrian rebels fighting Assad. Baraka denied the report, telling Lebanese media (and his neighbors) that there was no change in the relationship between the two organizations. As of today, this observer’s kitchen balcony overlooks the Hamas office in central Haret Hreik and it is clear that it is still functioning.

The Hamas disagreement with Hezbollah still stands but both parties have agreed to discuss it by holding a series of meetings. In response to a question on this subject, former Foreign Ministry undersecretary in the ousted government in Gaza Ahmad Youssef, pointed out that Hamas needs and very much wants the support of all the powers and sides in the region to face the colonial Zionist implantation, what some refer to as “the 9th Crusade.” Youssef explained: “We needed and still need Iran and Hezbollah. However, the movement’s position is that this behavior had damaged the relations which we wanted to be close and strong with the party.” Next month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has his own problems with Hamas, will reportedly visit Lebanon to meet with Palestinians who fled Syria and is expected to attempt a Hamas-Hezbollah musalaha (reconciliation).

The resistance to the Zionist colony has multiple pillars, two of which are Hezbollah and the Palestine National Movement. Both of these as well as a growing number of others, including hundreds of militia now fighting in Syria, share one principle objective, to liberate occupied Palestine and ensure the Palestinian's right-of-return to the 531 villages that were ethnically cleansed 65 years ago, by whatever means required.

Neither Hezbollah or those Palestinians now fighting each other in Syria, and, God-forbid, soon in Lebanon if the US-Israeli is successful in achieving it's divisive project, need 2-cents worth of advice from this foreign observer. But surely, most from each camp will agree that this is not the time for Hezbollah and the Palestinians to use their scant resources to battle each other over perceived wrongs. There will be time enough to discuss these, if either group is still feeling wronged, after Palestine is freed from its racist colonial yoke.


Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon.

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