- Hezbollah's Youth
By Fatima el Issawi
Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- In a small office which also doubles as a
temporary Hezbollah media center in the southern fringes of Beirut,
Ali, 23, tries to explain the complexities of his relationship with
Ali has witnessed the Israeli occupation firsthand and has remained
loyal to the resistance movement. He carried food to the soldiers in
their trenches, and helped them move weapons from one hiding place to
Next to Ali sat some of his colleagues in what is known as Hezbollah's
"educational mobilization" department. There, they talked about the
dual nature of Hezbollah's youth, which is what renders them capable
of adapting to so many different circumstances, unlike other youth.
This is because Hezbollah's youth, according to these young men, are
university students, employees, and professionals at the same time.
All the while they are also Mujahideen [fighters for the cause of
Islam] who are ever-ready to exchange their civilian clothes for a
military uniform serving a greater military cause, the dimensions of
which are not understood fully by everyone.
Hezbollah's youth are men who are capable of adapting to two lives,
that of the military man and that of the civilian. The educational
mobilization department is just one of Hezbollah's organizations. It
is a military organization that emerged in the 1980's during the
Israeli incursion into Lebanon [summer of 1982] under the name
"Islamic Amal," [it seceded from the Amal Movement and was led by
As the organization evolved, it expanded to resemble a basic military
nucleus that offers a number of social and political services. It also
assumes dual tasks in that it repairs the social fabric so that it
complements Hezbollah's ideology and offers a myriad of social
services, as well as assuming its military role.
However, the organization's military role is far less important than
that played by those at the top of the pyramid, i.e. the veteran
frontline fighters, or Hezbollah's Elite Fighters, as they are known.
The Elite Fighters, according to consistent estimates, form a group
that ranges from 2,000 to 2,500 members of highly-trained village
dwellers who have no other job. These soldiers have accumulated much
expertise in the field of fighting that goes back to the 1980's, (the
average age of the members is 40 years old). It is most likely that
these fighters played a key role in the most recent war's frontline,
and hence made up the bulk of casualties.
Alongside the Elite Fighters, there are the men of the reserve
apparatus, who are no longer active in the role of fighting. This is
either due to old age or their occupation of other posts. Their
previous experiences coupled with the intensified training courses
that had taken part in allow these men to carryout sideline tasks in
times of war. Such tasks include sending messages, weapons, and food
to different units, as well as observation and communication tasks.
These are significant duties that do not require physical fitness and
military readiness, both of which are imperative for professional
The military dimension of Hezbollah is ever-apparent on all three
levels, [the social, the military, and the Elite Fighters]. It
manifests itself, however, according to the situation and how much
military preparation is required.
In the small office where we met, the young men of Hezbollah's
Educational Mobilization department, who introduced themselves as Ali,
Husayn, Rida, and Bashar, avoided referring to the military dimensions
of their posts. Whenever one of them slipped up and began to discuss
security issues, for example, the female media official interrupted to
kindly remind us of our agreement, namely to restrict this interview
to personal experiences and nothing more.
When asked whether they participated in the most recent war, the young
men decided to answer, "When it is time for studies, we study. But we
are all trained and ready to confront our enemies if and when the need
The young men continued to dodge military questions so much that it
would seem that they were living by the Arabic proverb, "Every
situation hath its statement, and every incident its dialogue," which
Husayn happened to repeat ardently. Instead, the young men decide to
laughingly tell the story of an instance when they took their uniforms
off and replaced them with that a janitors uniform. In those clothes,
they say, they helped remove the rubble from the streets after the war
ended. They believed that, when required, there would be no shame in
carrying a broom. Still, they contended, carrying a rifle remains the
After I persisted to ask them military-related questions, the young
men gave me a simple explanation: Hezbollah in its entirety is a
society of resistance. Hezbollah's youth have the ability to adjust to
many different circumstances. No one can match Hezbollah in this
regard, they say.
"No one knows the full military structure of Hezbollah," explained the
boys, "because no one knows absolutely everything about the other. For
instance, one of our colleagues was martyred during the war while we
did not even know he was fighting. Each one of us has a private side
that no one else knows about, even though we are very close to one
The social backgrounds of these young men vary, despite the fact that
share similar ages. Husayn comes from a family with close ties to the
Shia political spectrum; he joined Hezbollah when he was 13-years old.
His family was opposed to this and had even beaten him for his decision.
Bashar, on the other hand, did not perform his five daily prayers
[Salat] until he reached the age of 17. He also claims to have been
influenced, at one point in his life, by Marxist dialectics.
Rida, who despite having been brought up in Hezbollah's Imam al Mahdi
Scouts [a youth wing of Hezbollah], claims that he only recently
joined Hezbollah, after becoming more religious.
Lastly, Ali, who was born in the south, grew up in a home of
resistance. His parents and neighbors have all fought in the war, some
of whom he has had to say goodbye to throughout the years. In his own
words, Ali claims he "defied and rebelled" when he was younger, until,
as years went by, this rebelliousness turned him to religion.
Bashar, who holds a senior position in the educational mobilization
department and is responsible for youth activities, describes
belonging to Hezbollah as, "A bare necessity to survive, like eating
and drinking. Hezbollah and I are inseparable."
This quiet young man, who barely speaks but whose colleagues never
interrupt him when he does, says of his commitment to Hezbollah's
ideology that he was inspired to join it upon hearing a story that one
member wrote `Be free, O men of Hussein,' in his own blood, before
dying on the battlefield.
"I felt that this gave new meaning to concepts such as 'life' and
'freedom'. These people gave me new meaning even as they were dying,"
he explained. "It was a turning point in my life; I felt that I wanted
to find God."
Ali, on the other hand, says that he experienced the suffering of
occupation firsthand. His elder brothers were members of the
resistance. His cousins were martyred in a battle. He passionately
went on to explain that even his own mother was a mother to all
members of the resistance. Ali soon became consumed by the ideology of
resistance. As a young boy, he helped young soldiers move their
weapons from one place to another. He waved goodbye to the soldiers as
he watched them brave the battlefields, knowing that some if not many
of them would never return.
Ali says that he joined the `Imam al Mahdi scouts' when he was a child
and grew up as part of it. "However, I reached a stage in life where I
asked myself: Do I really want to join Hezbollah?" he explained. "I
kept asking myself questions that challenge Hezbollah's ideology, in
order to test my faith and identity. Instead of being mired with
doubt, I found that my faith was only being reaffirmed." "Now, I thank
God for an upbringing like mine, despite the fact that I was deprived
of the delight of discovering Hezbollah, for the first time, like my
friends," Ali added.
"Unlike my colleagues, my relationship with the resistance is not
merely that of a shared ideology. It is also a relationship of
spirituality. I have experienced the suffering firsthand, and thus as
a Lebanese from the south, I understand our need for resistance,"
concluded Ali, a student of political science at Beirut's Universite
Still I had to ask, does the phrase "Lebanese resistance" still carry
the same connotation now that the south has been liberated for over 7
years, and now that we hear talk of Arab states negotiating with Israel?
"This question irritates me!" snapped Husayn bitterly. "You say that
Arab states do not care about the resistance. In that case, I shall be
a role model for the Arabs. As a young Arab man, I do not accept to
see our mothers being humiliated and the Israelis rape and humiliate
them on a daily basis. My own aunts were raped and killed by the
"My blood is boiling!" he continues. "I won't take this lying down. I
will fight if I have to?" At this point, Husayn's colleagues try to
calm him down, but their efforts soon prove futile.
"My problem with Israel," says Bashar, "is not only that it marched
into Lebanon uninvited and stole parts of our land but is that we
cannot survive as long as Israel exists. It is a foul entity that is
consistently ever-ready to attack. I believe it to be the cause of all
conflict in the Middle East."
"In fact it is because of Israel that a civil war erupted in Lebanon,
and it is because of it that dictatorial regimes dominate the region.
Shia-Sunni tensions are also a result of Israeli tactics. The weakness
of the Arab world can thus be blamed on Israel," he concludes.
I couldn't help but ask, "Do you want to annihilate Israel in that case?"
Bashar quickly contains himself and says, "I may aspire to wipe Israel
off the map, but I realize that this is not our responsibility. My
responsibility as a young Lebanese is to liberate my land, and bring
our prisoners of war back home."
Husayn, who was keen to express his gratification for the "educated
environment" within the organization, tells us that since his early
years he has dreamt of dying a martyr. This is only underpinned by the
fact that he is the son of a martyr from the Amal movement.
Husayn, who is a teacher by day and a salesman by night, says: "When
the war broke out, my mother told me and my brothers off saying that
we should be fighting. She said, 'What are you doing at home? Go and
fight, you are men!' She kicked us out of the house."
Rida, a law student who usually takes part in Hezbollah's educational
processes, says that he was brought up in Hezbollah schools and as
such was much more familiar with Jihad rhetoric than his colleagues.
"This, however, does not mean that they tell us to go kill ourselves,"
he clarifies. "They only guide us to the right path."
"Martyrdom is not the end, it only opens the gates to immortality," he
contends. "Martyrdom is but a means through which one guarantees two
lives; one for himself and another for the people. This is because a
martyr declares victory for the people, and salvation for himself on
the Day of Judgment," explained Rida.
Ali, on the other hand, expresses that he very much misses a friend of
his who was martyred during last year's war. "I have never before felt
that I was this close to him. The experience has made me discover
feelings I never knew I had. Sometimes, I feel that he is with me, and
I can talk to him." "I felt sad at first. But now I believe he should
be congratulated," Ali said.
Bashar decides to explain to me what a "loving life" should entail
according to Hezbollah doctrine. "The muezzin [a person who leads the
call to prayer] calls 'Come to prayer,' and we believe that when he
does this he is calling us to live through prayers."
With regards to other aspects of life, Bashar suggests: "Every place
has its own set of circumstances. While we are at our university, we
are students. While we are in jihad, we are Mujahideen." He continued,
"A brother from the Mujahideen tells us that while he was preparing
ammunition once, he heard a shepherd playing his flute. Can you
imagine that while he was fighting, the sound of the flute was still
playing in his head?"
The young men suddenly began to contend over who gets to explain the
concept of martyrdom to me, but I was interested in other issues such
as the losses that this concept bears and the husbands, brothers and
relatives it takes away. What about human emotions such as love,
longing, and melancholy?
One of the young men offers the following: "Have you not heard the
Arabic proverb: "To be the widow of a hero is better than to be the
wife of a coward?" The rest nod in agreement.
The image that the people of Lebanon's South present of Hezbollah's
youth is identical to that presented by the young men of Hezbollah's
educational mobilization department. They describe their flexibility
with particular amazement, and of course, their matchless ability to
adjust to all kinds of different situations, from situations of peace
to that of war.
With regards to the identity of Hezbollah's members, they all agree
that their most general characteristic would be that they were born
and raised in one of the villages of the region. They do not, however,
take part in social gatherings and the like. In fact, their families
and neighbors do not know much about their lives. In most cases they
do not ask questions about it either, despite their long and
In many Shia villages, which in most cases are incubators of
resistance movements, the people of the village say that they know
that so-and-so would belong to Hezbollah, but that they do not know
the exact post that they would fill. They did not know, for example,
that many of their neighbors were trained soldiers until the most
recent war, in which they participated.
While the people of the Shia villages talk about them with some
familiarity, as they refer to them as "our young men," Hezbollah's
youth is not granted the same ease among Christian and Sunni villages,
where they almost seem more like ghosts than humans in their description.
In response to my questions about the members of Hezbollah, the people
of Christian and Sunni villages say that they have seen some of them
on motorcycles. They have not seen anyone carrying weapons. They also
talk about chance encounters they have had with them.
One woman says that she once, during a night of shelling, heard the
sound of footsteps in her garden. When she looked through the window,
she saw shadows. Others say that in the few times they dared to look
through their windows during shelling, they saw individuals crossing
the road, or that they found remnants of food when they returned to
their houses after the end of the battles.
Secrecy is a big part of Hezbollah's identity, which at its inception
was but a humble cell of fighters from an array of political parties,
including individuals who seceded from the Amal Movement, members of
the Palestinian Fatah Movement, individuals influenced by the Islamic
revolution in Iran, and remnants of the Al Daawa Party.
At the time, Husayn al Musawi, a splinter who was the deputy leader of
Amal Movement just before, played a key role in founding this cell. Al
Musawi had close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Another notable figure was Sayyid Ibrahim Amin al Sayyid, who did not
carry the title of Hezbollah's secretary general, but who was instead
given the title of "official spokesperson". In February 1985, al
Sayyid read the foundation statement of Hezbollah, which was entitled
"An Open Message to the People of Lebanon."
This foundational cell is the cell that was linked to the attacks on
the US Marine Corps headquarters as well as the attacks on the French
forces in 1983, despite the fact that it never officially confirmed this.
The first major suicide attack claimed by the movement was the attack
on an Israeli military post in Tyre in 1983. Preparations to launch
the very first military cell of Hezbollah began in Lebanon's al Biqa,
particularly in Baalbak, which was a Hezbollah stronghold and was the
largest source of soldiers. This was partly due to Amal's declining
influence in the region, which was once considered competition; unlike
south Lebanon, where Amal held sway.
Hezbollah's influence slowly trickled down to the southern fringes of
Beirut, which was then transformed from a predominantly Christian area
of multiple faiths to a shelter for the displaced people of the south.
Hezbollah settled the battle against Amal and diminished its presence
in the southern fringes completely by the end of 1986.
Organizations of social welfare geared to look after soldiers'
families ensued after the growth of Hezbollah's military units.
Hezbollah built new schools, as well as Husayniyas, and took control
of the existing ones.
Hezbollah's organizations started to expand and its roles grew when it
publicly declared itself official in 1985. Most of these organizations
are tributaries from the mother organization in Iran. One such
tributary is the Jihad al-Bina foundation which is concerned with the
reconstruction of towns hit by Israel. Another is the Imam Al-Mahdi
School, which is considered one of the biggest educational institutes
in the predominantly Shia region. Lastly, the Al Shahid Institution,
which plays the most significant role among Hezbollah's organizations,
as it provides comprehensive care for the families of martyrs. Some of
its services include: housing, education, health care, and monthly
The growth in Hezbollah's social welfare organizations was followed by
trade union participation, and the development of media departments.
These media departments played a key role in spreading Hezbollah's
message. Some examples include: al Manar TV, the al Ahd Bulletin, and
the al Nur radio station. In 1992 and 1996 Hezbollah decided to
partake in the parliamentary elections, which revealed just how
influential this group had become.
Perhaps the main factor that has kept this massive organization
together is the special tie that binds its members, which have proven
able to even transform the region's social fabric. The region has now
become, thanks to Hezbollah's influence, a full fledged militant
incubator. It has even paid the price for this: being a target of
In his book `The Nation of Hezbollah' [Dawlat Hezbollah] the author,
Wazzah Shararah argues that in order for Hezbollah to have achieved
what it has against Israel, the soldiers, on the one hand, must have
freely dispersed and taken shelter among civilians. On the other hand,
they must have also moved without restraint among them as well, until
they locked themselves up in hideouts and shelters.
"The soldiers must have had to rely on the people to store weapons,
communication equipment, supplies and first aid materials," says
Wazzah. "They cannot spread among the people without at first
appealing to them, guaranteeing their cooperation, and cementing their
place there by recruiting some of them, especially the youth."
Wazzah Shararah, a Lebanese Shia writer, and one of Hezbollah's
harshest critics, believes that Hezbollah has two inseparable faces.
"In times of peace, it blends in with the people, and shares their
rights. In time of war, however, it is a military force in its own
right, whose members are capable of defending themselves, moving and
coordinating with one another."
For his part, Ali Fayyad, president of Hezbollah's Consultative Center
for Studies and Documentation [CCSD], believes that Hezbollah's
uniqueness "stems from the nature of the challenges witnessed by the
region during the 22 years of Israeli occupation, along with the
threats that came from them after that."
"When a Lebanese man is both a soldier and a civilian at once,"
explains Fayyad, "this is due to the special circumstances of his
region coupled with the human need to socialize. He is a civilian by
nature, but a soldier if the need for that arises."
Fayyad says that Hezbollah's organizations will go back to their
previous ways of assuming public activities. The military
organizations, however, have never gone public, as they have always
been kept a secret. According to Fayyad, military organizations might
even, in fact, become "more cautious" than they have been in the past.
"The nature of our organizations will not change, but we will benefit
from the lessons learned from the previous war, chief among these
lessons is that defeating the enemy is the easy part. What is tough is
the extent to which the enemy is willing to uncontrollably destroy
[us]," he explained.
Hezbollah has not made any official estimates with regards to the
number of its soldiers who were killed in last summer's war. In
response to questions about this, the answer given by Hezbollah's
media official was, "There is no justification for this. We just do
not give any figures. These martyrs were seen off to their final
havens and that is that."
Ibrahim Bayram, a journalist and researcher, offers an approximate
number ranging from170 to 200 soldiers. This journalist, who has close
ties with Hezbollah, says that the reason Hezbollah did not reveal any
official figures is that it did not want to confuse those of the elite
with other Hezbollah members or even mere supporters on the streets
who were killed during the war.
Bayram believes that the professional rank was heavily affected due to
the fact that fighting on the frontlines was restricted to these
soldiers. He also contends that this great loss was also due to what
he called "the independence" of the resistance body from Hezbollah's
other organizational bodies so that no one actually knows what
happened to the fighting units other than these units themselves.
"In the beginning, Hezbollah announced the names of its martyrs," says
Bayram. "However, later on, it no longer had all the information
required to do that, because of the independence of every group, each
determining its own tactics accordingly."
On the other hand, Wazzah Shararah rejects these figures, and believes
Israeli figures to be more accurate [Israeli sources announced a
figure that is close to 600 dead].
According to Shararah this is but a "minimum number" of Hezbollah's
dead; as this is based on the news circulated by the people about the
death of their sons, without funerals or even proper places of burial.
Shararah also believes that the sole funeral that was held for
Hezbollah's dead gave evidence to what he believed was "Hezbollah's
great losses from the ranks of the professional soldiers," as the
funeral that was held was for seven soldiers with "great honors."
This soon became a widely discussed media topic among news agencies.
Even the Israeli officials called them "the generals" out of respect.
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