When Hezbollah retaliated by attacking the Israeli army convoy on Wednesday, my knee-jerk reaction was to call my friend who was the most touched by the 2006 war. She’s a medical student in my class, lived all her life in a village right at the border, spent several sleepless nights back in July 2006 huddled in an underground shelter her family had and still cowers away from sudden loud sounds to this day. She had a test that day, and she was devastated.
As she tried reading Internal Medicine off her iPad while checking news on her phone, she frantically called her parents who told her that schools had closed in the region. People had rushed to the bakeries to buy all the bread they can get. Grains had run out of the market in minutes. Flashback to 9 years prior to presentation, in 2015. Welcome to Lebanon, where the fragile stability in which you try to thrive can be taken away in a second.
For several tense hours, we all wondered what awaited us next. Would we have to go through yet another July war, but in January? Can we handle another war? Do we really want another exacerbation of the situation we’re perpetually in?
As I caught up with news online, I remembered back in July 2014, at the ER of the hospital I’m rotating in when a colleague from the South told me about the house his family had built.
It was a big mansion near Tyr, he said. A massive structure with dozens of rooms and beautiful views, he boasted. They were building it before 2006 but it got destroyed in the war by an Israeli shelling. His moment of pride came when he shared with me how in the 8 years since, his family had rebuilt the entire house, this time bigger, fancier, bolder, and that when the mansion gets destroyed again, as he was sure it would, they would be only too willing to rebuild it once more, bigger, fancier and bolder. “I miss war,” he said. “I can feel my body itching to fight.”
I shrugged him off back then, despite me knowing that he echoed a lot of people in his sentiment. It was madness to me that this cycle would become close to normality. In Lebanon, it is normality.
As such, following the attack on Wednesday, many figured bringing up the data-side of 2006 would sober up some people. 1300 dead, billions in damages, ruined infrastructure, bridges destroyed beyond recognition, economy in tatters, millions of cluster bombs, political repercussions from which we haven’t begun to recuperate 9 years later, just to name a few.
In a way, if all of the previously mentioned data existed in another country, it would guide people away from what caused them, towards more stability, more security, and less volatility. In Lebanon, however, these statistics are as irrelevant as this blogpost you are wasting your time reading.
We are a country ruled by law of emotion. This is not exclusive to Hezbollah and its supporters. It transcends them to all sects and regions. Those up in a fit about Nasrallah’s speech today would only gladly shoot up in the air hundreds of bullets when their politician graces other screens and would also pump their fist in their air in synchrony with the see of “labbaykas” they are in.
People convince themselves that their politics today are what they are because of current times. Those views, however, always stem – almost with no exception – from those same political parties benefitting their supporters in one way or another: protection during the Civil War, financial support in times of need, cover-ups for high profile murders (Yves Nawfal anyone?), wastas for med school admissions….
As such, what Hezbollah did on Wednesday, what Hezbollah is doing in Syria, what Nasrallah said today and what might or might not happen in the coming days are all broad headlines and actions that, for Hezbollah’s supporters, only serve to reinforce the notion their party of Allah is unattainable, beyond reproach, beyond questioning, beyond criticism, and, for lack of better word, allah-like, especially for those whose “faith” was waning. They should have known better. Repercussions obviously be damned.
In a country of emotional rule of law, repercussions rarely matter when the statements and actions preceding them are feisty, ambitious, grand and resistive. The lives of this country’s people are also only a matter of plus or minus numbers when their death and sacrifices are for a greater cause that, in the greater sense, only moves at a snail’s pace except in the eyes of those who view those deaths as advancing that grand cause.
However, those repercussions that don’t really matter are lived and felt by all. Yes, we all live them, contrary to those who have been pointing fingers lately to say that even the 2006 war wasn’t felt by everyone. I was there in 2006 when my part of the Lebanese Bible Belt had more Ali’s than Elie’s. I was there when those Ali’s in my hometown wept at the sight of their demolished homes. I was there when my neighbor was wailing as his son narrowly escaped death at the Madfoun bridge when it was bombed. I was there when every single Lebanese without exception looked at the skies in horror as smoke from across the country filled the horizons.
Between 2006 and 2015, we have done very little, if nothing at all, to lessen the repercussions of a possible new confrontation with our enemy down under. For instance, have we at least made sure that civilian casualties this time around wouldn’t be in the four digits and that we wouldn’t lose children whose only fault was being of a certain region, living at a certain time in Lebanese history, by building shelters for them? No. We can’t even tell our people جهزوا ملاجئكم because they don’t have any. In a culture of the glorification of death, such souls don’t matter.
Today, Hezbollah says it’s ready for war, as it would obviously say. Hezbollah’s entire existence is well-rooted in its preparedness for conflict. I would be surprised if they weren’t. Hezbollah’s supporters would pretend they are ready for war as well. Eventually, in the case of war, the country would also follow suit in supporting our countrymen against Israeli aggression, despite us just waiting until the dust settles to point the finger and shout that we did not ask for this, while people tell us that the whole “another” war rhetoric is futile since the mere presence of Israel invokes lack of safety. But I digress.
The problem with Hezbollah being ready for war is that, once more, it reinforces the notion that they believe they exist in void, which is something they are repeatedly failing to understand. Nasrallah’s party may be ready to roll, but that party operates within the confines of a country that I’m sure he’s sad to be stuck in called Lebanon, a country that extends beyond the borders of the Litani, in which millions other than Hezbollah’s militants exist, in which there are now 1 million plus refugees that are freezing to death, in which there is no president, in which the government is so handicapped it couldn’t convene following Hezbollah’s attack on Wednesday, in which we are facing one of the toughest economical situations in years, in which the entire status quo is hanging on a fragile line that few want broken. And that country, in all its irrelevance, is not ready for the war that Hezbollah doesn’t even want but is “ready” for.
Back in 2006, Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview (YouTube link) that if he had known kidnapping the two soldiers at the border would lead to the July war, he wouldn’t have done it. I highly doubt the country is in a better state this time around. Either way, this isn’t something we get a say in.