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Hezbollah's Youth

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    Hezbollah s Youth 21/07/2007 By Fatima el Issawi http://www.aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=3&id=9649 Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- In a small office which also
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      Hezbollah's Youth
      21/07/2007
      By Fatima el Issawi
      http://www.aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=3&id=9649


      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
      Hezbollah's weapons.

      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
      another.

      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
      Nabih Berri].

      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
      fighting.

      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
      arises."

      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
      "highest honor."

      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
      another."

      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
      Libanaise.

      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
      Israelis."

      "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
      questionable absences.

      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
      salaries.

      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
      Israeli attacks.

      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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