Special Report - Jonathan Erasmus
As the clear up in Beirut began today, Hizbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah announced a “strategic, historic victory” for Hizbollah. It was a statement designed to antagonise the Israeli government, and along with applause for Hizbollah from Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it probably has.
But walking around Beirut today I couldn’t help but think what a strange statement it was. The southern suburbs have been levelled, there have been an estimated 1,400 people killed throughout the country and without the ceasefire Israel would most likely reoccupy south Lebanon, yet Nasrallah is on television claiming victory.
In Beirut the face of the capital city’ southern suburbs has been changed forever. There is what can only be described as absolute devastation here. Areas such as Haret Hriek and Beir El Abed are quite literally in ruins.
What were once 10-storey blocks have been reduced to smouldering piles of rubble. The windows of almost every building are shattered. Cars and trucks are scattered around, flipped over and buried. The roads have been pummelled to bits and bridges felled. Beirut did not look like a victorious city. It looked bruised and beaten. This scale of damage is not what is associated with a strategic, historic victory.
But for Hizbollah this damage is not what is important, it is not what defines their ‘victory’. What is important for them is the fact they still exist and have survived the relentless Israeli bombardments. This is their ‘victory’. They believe that although they have not defeated Israel as such, Israel not defeating them is enough to claim victory.
They believe the war has shown Israel is not untouchable, or perhaps even more that Israel is vulnerable. And proved that Israel is not capable of breaking Hizbollah and is not as militarily invincible as was once thought by its hostile Arab neighbours.
Printed on tape cordoning people off from the ruins, are the words ‘The Divine Victory’. Hizbollah and the people here want to show the world they are strong, they are united and they have won this war.
One man pulled me over on the street. He said: “This a victory over the Jews and over the West. Look what they have done. They tried everything and we are still here. They couldn’t defeat us,” he added.
A banner had been placed on one of the destroyed buildings. It read, “Made in USA”. Beneath there was text stating:
“New Middle East project: Design USA – Bush and Co.”
“Execution Israel – Olmert and Co.”
“Execution assist - UN security council.”
People held up victory posters and pictures of Nasrallah supplied by Hizbollah. They shouted out, “Allah, Allah, Nasrallah.”
The support for Hizbollah is immense, but then Hizbollah are public relations experts. They were ready for this situation. Ready to ensure Lebanese support and ready to capitalise on attention from the world’s media. They know what they are doing. Teddy bears and children’s toys covered the debris. They had been strategically placed there. One man shouted and waved a white soft-toy at me until I took a photo of him.
The sympathy vote is being desperately sort after, but they don’t need to work for it. The damage is so awful, there is no need to manipulate the truth. The area is in a catastrophic state and innocent people have been killed, including hundreds of children.
Maybe Nasrallah was right. Maybe in political terms Hizbollah has won. Hizollah has certainly come out of the war with more global credit than previously and has even gained some international sympathisers.
But for the people of Lebanon, the people of southern Beirut, there has been no victory. Their lives have been destroyed. Their homes razed to the ground. And, although they blame Israel, and by all means they should, they also need to point the finger of blame at Hizbollah.
The Islamic fundamentalist organisation, dubbed the state within a state in south Lebanon, has played its part in this destruction.
By occupying people’s homes they made the homes targets, they invited the missiles, just as they invited Israel to attack a little over a month ago when they kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.