Israel’s assault on Lebanon has revived bitter memories of its previous onslaughts on that nation. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon. Some 14,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed in the ensuing conflict.
As with today, Israel claimed it was reacting to attacks on its borders. But in reality it was implementing well laid plans to remove the Palestinians as an organised presence from the country.
Israel planned its attack in conjunction with the fascist Phalange party, which was fighting a civil war with the Lebanese left and the Palestinians.
Zionist terror gangs had forced tens of thousands of Palestinians to flee northwards into Lebanon in 1948, when Israel was founded. The Palestinians lived there in refugee camps as second class citizens.
As Israeli forces laid siege to Lebanon’s capital Beirut, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation agreed to evacuate the city in exchange for a promise that Israeli forces would not enter the refugee camps.
But instead Israel’s cabinet approved a plan to let their Phalangist allies off the leash. Phalangist militias entered the camps of Sabra and Shatila on 16 September 1982.
They began knifing and machine gunning the people left behind - the elderly, women and children. The precise number of victims of the massacre may never be exactly determined, but it is believed to be between 2,400 and 3,500.
Rafael Eitan, chief of staff of Israel’s army, met the leader of the Phalangist forces the next day and congratulated him on a smooth operation.
The 1982 invasion and massacres were an attempt to draw a line under a rising challenge to Israel and its allies.
Divide and rule
In the 1970s the Palestinians had forged an alliance with the poorest sections of Lebanon’s people. They had been carved out of a system dominated by corrupt politicians and based on divide and rule tactics put in place by France, the old colonial power.
A rising workers’ movement and unrest in the countryside merged with a tide of Palestinian resistance. As Palestinians launched attacks across the border on the Zionist state, Israeli reprisals followed against Lebanese villagers. The Lebanese army stood idly by. Local people turned to left wing and Arab nationalist organisations.
In 1975 this exploded into civil war and the alliance of the left seemed set to win. The US encouraged Syria to invade to stop this happening. Syrian troops defeated the left and hemmed the Palestinians into their camps.
But this was not sufficient for Israel. In 1982 it invaded after years of border incursions and bombing. Its aim was to create a “buffer zone” north of its border with Lebanon. That illegal occupation lasted 18 years.
But a new power was emerging to fill the void created by the defeat of the left - a movement that drew inspiration from the 1979 Iranian revolution and took root among Lebanon’s marginalised and poor Shia Muslims. Its name was Hizbollah and it vowed there would be no compromise with imperialism.
Throughout the 1990s Hizbollah spearheaded the resistance to Israeli occupation. The Israelis responded by assassinating its leaders and launching punishing raids on its supporters.
Hizbollah was transformed by its role in the resistance to Israel. The movement launched health and welfare programmes, opened schools, and began to look beyond narrow Islamist politics to appeal to a national movement.
Its young leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, built a reputation for honesty and deft strategic planning.
Slowly Hizbollah guerillas ground down the Israeli army while its popularity grew among ordinary people.
In May 2000 the Israelis abandoned the south. Hizbollah was celebrated as a national saviour. Its success in defeating the Israelis stood in sharp contrast to the dismal record of the Arab states. Hizbollah stood in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections and was drawn into the government.
Hopes of peace were dashed after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. Hizbollah was declared a terrorist organisation by the White House.
The US and France authored UN resolution 1559, which called for Hizbollah to be disarmed and for the Lebanese army to protect Israel’s northern border.
But this strategy faced a problem - who could disarm a powerful movement with such popular support? At first the US hoped Lebanon’s pro-Western government would send in the army, but that proved too unreliable.
The capture of the two Israeli soldiers became the pretext for Israel, backed up by the US and Britain, to launch its war of destruction on Lebanon. In the process they have sacrificed their allies in the Lebanese government.
By punishing Lebanon, the US and Israel hope the country will turn on Hizbollah. But far from destroying the resistance, they are widening it. The actions of the imperialists have ensured that Lebanon has now become part of the arc of resistance stretching through Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.
Bassem Chit is a democracy activist based in Beirut. Go to Letters to read his appeal for international solidarity and humanitarian aid.