By Uriel Heilman
JERUSALEM (JTA) — As Israel pounds Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon with bombs, artillery fire and advancing ground troops, some Lebanese at home and abroad are quietly applauding Israel’s offensive.
Most Lebanese oppose Israel’s widespread bombardment of the country, and even those in the past who called for Hezbollah’s disarmament have, in the face of Israel’s military assault, lined up behind the Shi’ite militia.
Yet a distinct minority of Lebanese are rooting for Israel to crush Hezbollah — silently if not explicitly.
“I’m praying for flattening southern Lebanon,” one Beirut native, Micheline Touma, told JTA recently after fleeing Lebanon for the United States about two weeks after the fighting began.
Like many of those harshly critical of Hezbollah, Touma is a Maronite Christian.
Support for Hezbollah is weakest among Christians, many of whom battled Lebanon’s Shi’ites in the country’s civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. Concentrated in Beirut and around Mount Lebanon, the 1.5 million Christians in Lebanon make up 35 percent to 40 percent of the country’s population.
“It was Hezbollah’s mistake, and they deserve to pay for it,” Touma said of Hezbollah’s July 12 attack on an Israeli military patrol, which sparked the current war. “I wish the Israelis could destroy them all — get them out of the planet.”
Voices like Touma’s are a small minority in the country. But the extreme anti-Hezbollah sentiment these Christians express is a sign of a much more widely held view in Lebanon — common to Sunnis and even to some Shi’ites — that Hezbollah is a long-term impediment to progress and normalization in Lebanon.
Those harboring such sentiments often are intimidated into silence for fear of retribution by Hezbollah, which by some accounts has terrorized Lebanon’s population more than Israel’s.
“The Christians don’t support Hezbollah, but they are afraid of talking,” said one former fighter for the Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army.
“They want there to be a government like there used to be — and government control, not Hezbollah,” he said. “A lot of Muslims also don’t like Hezbollah, but they’re afraid, too.”
The former soldier, who now lives in Israel, asked that he not be identified to protect family members still in Lebanon.
Other Lebanese supportive of Israel refused to be interviewed for this article.
It’s not only Israel “that is fed up with this situation, but the majority of the silent Lebanese in Lebanon who are fed up with Hezbollah and are powerless to do anything out of fear of terror retaliation,” Lebanese native Brigitte Gabriel, author of the upcoming “Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America,” told CNN’s “American Morning” recently.
The more bridges, apartment buildings and innocent civilians suffer Israeli attacks, however, the more criticism of Hezbollah turns into criticism of Israel’s response, which many Lebanese describe as heavy-handed, disproportionate and indiscriminate.
“They should hit Hezbollah, not everybody else,” said Sam Mohamad, who was in Lebanon when the war broke out but has since left for Dearborn Heights, Mich. “If somebody makes a mistake,” Israel “kills everybody else.”
Camille Chamoun, a leader of one of the three major Lebanese Christian families whose faction fought on Israel’s side and against Muslim militias during Lebanon’s civil war, told The New York Times last week that Christian public opinion turned against Israel after the Jewish state bombed Christian neighborhoods in Lebanon some three weeks into the conflict.
Many in Lebanon recognize that Hezbollah militiamen use Lebanese civilians as human shields, firing Katyusha missiles from densely populated neighborhoods either to shield themselves from a severe Israeli response or to provoke Israel into hitting civilians and risking international condemnation.
“Hezbollah is only doing these things so they can trick Israel into hitting civilian areas” and thereby stop their attacks, writes a blogger named Maronite on Freerepublic.com. This “is exactly the same thing Hezbollah did in 1996 in Qana and their plan worked perfectly, as the Israeli incursion was halted.”
The reference was to an Israeli artillery strike that hit a U.N. compound housing refugees, killing 106 civilians. Israel was responding to nearby Hezbollah rocket fire, but the ensuing international outcry forced Israel to halt Operation Grapes of Wrath.
“These Hezbollah people are killing the whole country,” said Tony Terz, a Catholic and a native of eastern Beirut who now lives in Los Angeles. “I’m with Israel all the way. Let them clean up this mess.”
Terz said many people from eastern Beirut support Israel’s attacks against Hezbollah. Israel had allies in Lebanon’s Christian militias during the Lebanese civil war, but Israel’s targeting of sites in eastern Beirut threatens to undermine any lingering support there for Israel.
Opposition to Hezbollah only rarely translates into support for Israel, and there is a strong ethnic component to anti-Hezbollah sentiment in Lebanon.
Christians and some cosmopolitan Sunnis view Lebanon’s growing Shi’ite population as a demographic time bomb that will increase militant Islamic power there and prolong Lebanon’s conflict with Israel.
Hezbollah already has members in Lebanon’s Parliament, and holds two seats in the country’s Cabinet.
“Am really saddened by what is going on in Lebanon, and to think that some 60 years ago we Christians were the majority, it kills me inside and I feel as if I am losing my country that I love so much,” the blogger Maronite wrote. “Practically all my family has fought against the Palestinians and Syrians and the countless of other Muslims from other countries who came and slaughtered us Christians. I salute Israel for taking out the PLO in ’82 and I salute them now for taking out Hezbollah.”
Of course, it was the Phalangists — Lebanese Christians — who massacred up to 3,500 Palestinians and Lebanese Shi’ites in September 1982 in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps on Beirut’s outskirts. An Israeli inquiry commission held the Israeli defense minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, indirectly responsible for not foreseeing and preventing the massacre.
Both Terz and Touma said they want their country to look more like Israel than like the Arab countries of the Middle East, with their angry Islamists, teeming refugee camps and despotic rulers.
“They’re fanatical, crazy people,” Touma said of the Shi’ites, lamenting their tendency to produce large families. “All they care about is fighting. They’re brainwashed. If they don’t care about life, they shouldn’t live.”
By Uriel Heilman
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