Normalization with Israel: A Fading Red Line
By: Nisrine Hammoud
Published Sunday, July 8, 2012
When Gabriel (not his real name) was 21 years old, he rushed from his workplace, on the al-Sayyad roundabout, to shake then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon’s hand.
He had found out that Sharon was to accompany the commander of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia Saad Haddad to visit Israeli officers who had occupied offices in high-rises overlooking “West Beirut” during the Israeli invasion in 1982.
“I was a fan of Bashir Gemayel at the time. I would listen attentively to his speeches. I still remember some of them, especially those that said: we would work with the devil to protect ourselves,” says Gabriel, adding, “But, I did not know I was greeting the devil himself.”
Thirty years after the incident and repenting of his deeds after “reading history,” Gabriel believes that this only represented his personal position.
Nevertheless, waning hostility towards the Zionist entity, in some communities that used to see fighting Israel as a “duty,” should not be overlooked. Especially when this hostility is replaced with hatred of Iran under the guise of “the Persian threat to the Arab region.”
Identifying with the Aggressor
Psychology professor Kamal Bakdash explains that “describing the position towards Israel can begin with the simple feeling of decreased hostility due to being embroiled in livelihood issues and internal conflicts.”
“This can immediately develop into denying the threat through a psychological trick during a period of decreased hostility. This denial could develop into empathy in particular situations.”
“Someone could justify the issue by saying ‘Israel is not a threat. It is an objective ally against the real threat,’ which could be Iran or Hezbollah,” Bakdash says.
While it seems that “the phenomenon of admiring Israel and feeling inferior goes back to the June 1967 defeat,” he asserts that “empathy and oneness with the Israelis is a result of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon.”
“This was adopted by the [Phalange-led right wing civil war coalition] Lebanese Front, in particular, and some Islamic milieus, including people from South Lebanon. Some felt that this is their war and greeted the Israeli invasion as salvation from the Palestinians,” he maintains.
Bakdash elaborates, saying that “the victory of the resistance in 2000 [leading to Israel’s withdrawal from the South] remedied this problem and toned down the phenomenon to a large extent.”
“But during the 2006 [Israeli war on Lebanon] and due to confessional divisions, this meant that some were hoping that Israel would defeat Hezbollah. This is a very clear case of identification with the oppressor. In other words, there was a segment that could not overpower Hezbollah or its weapons, so it wished that Israel would do that for them.”
“Although Hezbollah’s resilience reduced this feeling, it did not alter it completely. It was later bolstered by the May 7  events. The conflict between Iran and the Arabs today, which is taking on Shia-Sunni characteristics, plays an important role in increasing this phenomenon. All while looking at Israel as a tool to challenge Iran,” Bakdash concludes.
Today, it is no longer difficult to monitor the weakening position towards Israel. A human rights activist complains about the time when his grandmother replaced a picture of al-Aqsa mosque in her bedroom with one of murdered prime minister Rafik Hariri.
In one private university, the “cool” greeting between students these days seems to be “shalom,” as an indication of their liberalism!
Similar “anecdotes” abound. During the ArabNet digital summit in Beirut, none of those who were busy tweeting throughout the session seemed to be “provoked” by the Hebrew writing that appeared on the screen.
The words, written by a virtual participant from Tel Aviv, were translated as saying that he “hopes for a radical step which involves organizing a Hebrew-Arab internet and IT seminar.”
Enlisting the Shia
Khodor Salameh, from the blog Jou3an (Hungry), speaks about the “suspicious” projects of NGOs funded by USAID and the EU, which impose conditions including calling for peace and nonviolence.
“NGOs today have replaced the political parties which used to attract young people, especially the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party and the Communist Party. Involvement in such groups bring financial rewards,” Salameh elucidates.
He notices that “those in charge of such organizations mainly aim to ‘recruit’ young Shia to force them to adopt a peaceful rhetoric and to struggle using nonviolence, coexistence, peace, and accusing everyone who carries a gun of being backward.”
“These NGOs conduct training on electronic media and political awareness in Lebanon. It ‘infiltrates’ the clean civil society through the introduction of the culture of peace and surrender to this generation,” Salameh warns.
He contends that “when bloggers write about Palestine, they are accused of using ‘wooden language.’ When they express their hostility towards Israel, they are accused of supporting backward regimes such as Assad’s.”
“There is a media war on the internet against anyone who speaks about Palestinian rights or expresses enmity towards Israel. We should not ignore that donors have been successful in liberating ideas and principles from ideology. This causes some to ‘digress’ into calling for dialogue with Israel. Some young people say this without blinking!” he adds.
On the other hand, Salameh is disappointed with “parties that claim to be protecting the resistance by restricting it to a group within a confession, their absence from social media, and their regurgitation of a rhetoric that does not fit with the language of today.”
Walking by a certain huge bank in Achrafieh, one notices that it is “guarded” by men wearing the uniforms of the same contractor that provides security services to Israeli settlements and military training camps in occupied Palestine.
Moreover, some medical and beauty equipment in Lebanon, which are said to be manufactured in the US, are actually Israeli products being sold under several brands of different nationalities. The same goes for computers and their programs, vehicles, construction materials, restaurants, and food products that support Israel.
But there are always alternatives. A minority of activists scour the market for such products to report them to the Office for Boycott of Israeli Products in the Ministry of Economy. Nevertheless, there are whispers that say that the office is actually just two employees who often argue against the issue with the activists.
The activists are organized in the Campaign to Boycott the Supporters of Israel in Lebanon. They focus on boycotting companies that support the enemy through investment or building factories and research centers.
They are part of an international campaign which began in 2005 following a call by Palestinian civil society organizations to unite the efforts of hundreds of Palestinian associations under the umbrella of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel movement (BDS).
Based on human rights principles, the BDS campaign also targets artists who entertain Israelis during tours of the region, in addition to academic events.
This brings us to the Facebook group Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon, which was formed following the controversy surrounding the announcement of a concert by Israeli-lover Lara Fabian. The “public mood” is laid bare and shows “apathy” towards the boycott. BDS activists are accused of being similar to the censors of the Office of General Security!
“If you are so stupid as to boycott every artist who performs in Israel, why don’t you stop breathing because southern winds bring Israeli air?!” someone wrote on the group’s wall.
But an activist replies to those who say that art should be exempted from the boycott by saying, “Culture cannot be without dignity. A position of boycott is a question of national dignity. How can someone dance to the music of those who entertain the Israeli people and army?” he said.
The law does not allow judges to give lenient sentences in cases of treason, because the protection of society is at stake. The case should be dealt with as a general issue that threatens national security and not as a private matter.
But recent sentences on two “first class” collaborators show that collaboration with Israel is being treated as a minor misdemeanor whose sentence can be commuted. This should make many people refrain from stealing motorcycles — a felony with a 5-year sentence — and go into the spying-for-the-enemy business, whose sentence is between three months and three years!
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.