Wajih el Ayassa, official at the Democracy and Worker’s Rights Center in Ramallah
Hammad Abu-Hartheh, Head of the Al Haq Law Center Human Rights Group
Various citizens of South Lebanon
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
SHEIK NABIL KAOUK: [speaking via a translator] Israel is not really a natural state. The Jews came from all over the world and they are now ruling that land. They are living in Palestinian houses and on Palestinian land. They come from Poland, Russia and everywhere. They should go back to those countries.
JEFF MARTIN: In Lebanon the Hezbollah, one of the most ardent enemies of Israel, has gained ground as a political force. Internationally and within Lebanon’s borders it is gaining the reputation as a legitimate party. But Hezbollah still carries out attacks against Israel and in return its villages are attacked by the Israeli forces who occupy a security zone in the southernmost part of the country.
ISRAELI SOLDIER: The Israeli Army fired at terrorists and either by mistake hit someone else or maybe it was a terrorist but nobody wants to tell you about it. Maybe he was dressed in civilian’s clothes but actually a minute ago he was firing at Israel.
MARTIN: A report on Hezbollah in this edition of Common Ground. And then later a story abut the Bushmen of South Africa, natives of the area who years ago were forcibly conscripted into the apartheid-era South African Army.
That night they took me across the river in a Land Rover. They told me to make a choice: will I ever say yes to joining up, or always no, so that they’d have to kill me.
Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Jeff Martin.
Lebanon’s “Party of God” or “Hezbollah” became infamous for kidnapping Westerners and conducting terrorist bombings in the 1980s. Today, however, the fundamentalist Muslim group is carefully recrafting its image as a parliamentary party and resistance fighter against the continued Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. Reese Ehrlich reports from South Lebanon about the changing face of Hezbollah.
ADEL OLLOIK: I think we have an emergency case right now.
REESE EHRLICH: Doctors rush down to the emergency room here at the Al-Janup hospital to help an elderly woman with a heart problem. The hospital is supported financially and politically by Hezbollah. The Party of God now operates schools, social welfare agencies and hospitals. Hezbollah seeks to shed the image of hard-line fundamentalism. Some women doctors here for example don’t wear the traditional Muslim head scarf. Hospital Director Adel Olloik explains.
OLLOIK: Not all of them are veiled. Our personnel here are not all, they are, they have the Islamic clothes and the Islamic ideas and because as I told you we look to human beings, are human beings, as human beings. So we share a lot of common ideas and values and between any, people are not different except in terms of the way they want to reach God or the way they live.
EHRLICH: Back in the 1980s however, Hezbollah prohibited alcohol, forced women to wear head scarves, and even banned loud music in areas under its control. Sheik Nabil Kaouk, one of the top leader of Hezbollah, explains his group’s new policies.
KAOUK: [speaking via a translator] We don’t force anyone to follow Islam. The only thing we do is give advice to stay away from these sins because we do believe in a healthy society. As you seen when you go to the Hezbollah strongholds in the South or southern Beirut the people are living free. We’re not forcing anyone to wear the head scarf or not to drink. We do not agree with the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example. They’ve stopped people from watching TV and don’t allow women to work. That’s against Islam.
[sound of Islamic music from Hezbollah radio]
EHRLICH: Hezbollah has indeed changed tactics in cities and larger towns. Riding through Lebanon drivers can hear Hezbollah’s radio station, an attempt by the group to reach a wider audience.
[sound of Islamic music]
EHRLICH: In small villages, however, Hezbollah presents a less tolerant face. The party encourages a process of the way it calls “Islamization.”
[sound of gate opening and person walking down a path]
EHRLICH: Opening the gate and walking up into the modest house is farmer Ali Hammad Salman, a visitor first sees a room filled with pictures of martyrs, young men who have died in the guerrilla war against Israel. The martyrs include two of Salman’s teenage sons. Salman is a rank-and-file Hezbollah member. He says the village is coming closer to Islam by setting up religious schools and enforcing Islamic morality.
ALI HAMMAD SALMAN: [speaking via a translator] We live an Islamic life here. There is no alcohol. No one drinks here. Since Hezbollah came to this village they stopped people drinking. They try from time to time to build religious schools to put people on the right path.
EHRLICH: Asked if this Islamization is the first step toward creating an Islamic state, Salman says:
SALMAN: [speaking via a translator] If we can establish an Islamic state, why not?
EHRLICH: Hezbollah is encouraged by Iranian mullahs to promote a particular brand of Islamic fundamentalism. Farid El Khazen, a professor at the American University of Beirut, estimates that Hezbollah receives $100 million a year from Iran to run its military and civilian operations. Hezbollah leaders, however, no longer talk publicly about creating an Iranian-style Islamic state because it alienates too many people. Professor El Khazen says Hezbollah is just being pragmatic.
FARID El KHAZEN: The official line of Hezbollah is that the ultimate objective of the party is to create or is to build an Islamic state in Lebanon. But at the same time they say that the objective conditions for such an endeavor, an objective, are not there and therefore for the time being we suspend this objective. So ultimately Hezbollah knows that a country like Lebanon with so many different communities and sects—Sunni, Shia, Christians, and so on—they know that it’s not easy to establish an Islamist state in Lebanon.
EHRLICH: Hezbollah maintains a hard line towards Israel as well. Hezbollah leaders call for dismantling the modern state of Israel, a position that the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Arabs rejected many years ago. Sheik Kaouk, explains Hezbollah’s position.
KAOUK: [speaking via a translator] Israel is not really a natural state. The Jews came from all over the world and they are now ruling that land. They are living in Palestinian houses and on Palestinian land. They come from Poland, Russia and everywhere. They should go back to those countries. Jews who lived in Palestine before 1948 can stay but the others must leave.
EHRLICH: Professor El Khazen says most Lebanese don’t share that extreme view and would like to see both Palestinians and Israeli’s have their own states. But the overwhelming majority of Lebanese do want Israel to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
[sound of Islamic music]
EHRLICH: Israel invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in 1978, with the stated goal of stopping Palestine Liberation Organization attacks on northern Israel. Although the PLO withdrew from Lebanon in 1982 Israel continues to occupy a 330 mile swath of land, saying it still needs to protect its northern borders from Katyusha rocket attacks. This Israeli soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, served in the occupied zone of South Lebanon.
ISRAELI SOLDIER: Although I didn’t like it I had to serve there. Citizens in Israel are suffering from Katyusha attacks and terrorist attacks that comes from Lebanon. So we have no choice but to defend ourselves and if that needs to be done from within Lebanon then there’s no choice. I am not sure that this is the way but now people that are higher than me and knows better than me think that this is the way to protect northern Israel, so we have to be there.
[sound of people talking]
EHRLICH: Here in Kfar Roman Village a Lebanese farmer strongly disagrees. He’s dragging sacks of wheat over to be weighed. Sweet onions hang in huge clumps from the ceiling of his shed. Less than a half mile up a hill from his farm Israeli soldiers man a look-out post. The Israelis fire artillery shells and have also been experimenting with a new low-flying missile that has hit houses in this area. Farmer Hassan Ali Alim says life would be prosperous here if it weren’t for the almost daily Israeli attacks.
HASSAN ALI ALIM: [speaking via a translator] At ten last night they shelled the village. We hid. All the people went home to hide. Everyone was frightened. People who had shelter went into the basements. Others just went inside their houses. They shelled over there and around these houses there. Luckily no one was injured this time.
EHRLICH: Israeli officers say they only go after guerrilla fighters not civilians. Sometimes houses are hit they say, because Hezbollah launches military attacks from the villages. The Israeli soldier says the army has strict rules against attacking civilians.
ISRAELI SOLDIER: The Israeli Army fired at terrorists and either by mistake hit someone else or maybe it was a terrorist but nobody wants to tell you about it. Maybe he was dressed in civilian’s clothes but actually a minute ago he was firing at Israel. So you can’t really know that. And unfortunately this is a war. And in war people get hurt.
EHRLICH: But that’s not how civilians here look at it.
[sound of trucks moving down a highway]
EHRLICH: As the passing of this army truck shows, the Lebanese Army has an outpost in Kfar Roman Village, making it difficult for Hezbollah to operate here. Residents of Kfar Roman say their village is not even politically sympathetic to Hezbollah, much less a launching point for guerrilla raids. Hezbollah guerrillas do operate from mountains several miles to the east, however. Farmer Ali Alim says Israelis want to punish civilians in hopes of diminishing support for Hezbollah.
ALIM: [speaking via a translator] When Hezbollah hits the Israelis the Israelis hit back. There was an attack from these mountains. After the attack they hit the village. They usually hit the nearest village when there’s a guerrilla raid. They’re trying to make people fed up and leave. I’ve been here for only three years but I can’t afford to pay rent in Beirut. I can’t afford to go back there.
EHRLICH: If the Israelis are attempting to chip away at civilian support for Hezbollah their tactics are backfiring. Most Lebanese, even conservative Christians, see Hezbollah as resistance fighters not terrorists. Professor El Khazen explains.
EL KHAZEN: In general in Lebanon there is support for the war in the South, even though many people question the risks that are involved in this war and maybe would want to look into other possibilities of regaining Lebanese territory. But there is not doubt that Hezbollah and the Resistance in the South has popular support in Lebanon.
EHRLICH: Many Lebanese see Hezbollah as the only effective fighting force against an occupying army. The Israeli soldier grudgingly admits that Hezbollah has become stronger over the past few years.
ISRAELI SOLDIER: Unfortunately they get a better, they get, they are getting better at being a guerrilla force. They have no chance fighting the Israeli Army as an army, but in terms of small hits every once in a while, yes, they have a chance to hurt us, and yes, we get wounded and we get casualties.
EHRLICH: Hezbollah has also entered the realm of civilian politics. It has six elected members of Parliament and holds many local offices as well. While remaining a fundamentalist party appealing to Shiite Muslims, Hezbollah also makes pragmatic alliances. It is winning respect from ideologically diverse groups. Faud Hamdnn, the head of the environmental group Greenpeace in Lebanon, worked with Hezbollah to close down a toxic incinerator in southern Beirut. Unlike other Lebanese political parties he says, Hezbollah is both honest and principled.
FAUD HAMDNN Greenpeace had, knows almost every political party or movement or politician, in Lebanon. And to be honest the only party with which we had a very positive interaction on environmental issues was the Hezbollah. Because they are very, very organized and they have principles, you know. I mean we might disagree with them, all of us, with most of their principles, maybe, but when it comes to working on the ground and supporting the people in their social, economic and environmental problems these guys were very serious.
EHRLICH: Hezbollah seeks to expand its influence through such pragmatic alliances. As long as it maintains a fundamentalist ideology, however, it faces contradictions. Hezbollah draws members exclusively from the Shiite Muslim community, which makes up only about 30% of Lebanon’s population. And not all Shiites support fundamentalism. Professor El Khazen explains.
EL KHAZEN: Hezbollah of course is not a mainstream or moderate party and therefore it would not be really the most appealing party for most Lebanese, I would say. But people would vote for Hezbollah candidates and they did. Just like Hezbollah supporters voted for others who have nothing to do with Islamist platform. And these are coalition politics in elections. And Hezbollah has been quite pragmatic here. And it benefited from this flexible policy and you know, they have played the political game in Lebanon in elections, I mean. Specifically in parliamentary elections. Like any other political party.
EHRLICH: Hezbollah will face a major test if and when Israel withdraws from southern Lebanon. Will Hezbollah continue guerrilla attacks on northern Israel, risk Israeli military retaliation, and alienate the broader Lebanese public? Or will it pursue a more pragmatic parliamentary road that inevitably means compromising its fundamentalist political goals? So far Hezbollah is taking the first steps toward the path of pragmatism. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Beirut.
[sounds of Islamic music]
MARTIN: We’ll break for a moment and when we return, a report on the status of the impoverished and largely abandoned Bushmen of South Africa.
DEREK HANEKOM: I think they have gone through particular hardships and their position, being a small group in an area where they weren’t born, where they could be treated as an alien group of people, makes them particularly vulnerable. And those are simple realities.
MARTIN: Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts varied programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
As far as anyone knows, the first people to inhabit South Africa were the Bushmen. Earlier this century, during the apartheid years, the Bushmen were forcibly conscripted by the South African Army to help with border wars. That systematic practice has nearly destroyed their culture. The following report was first prepared for English language stations in Africa by Search for Common Ground, an organization that builds bridges between groups in conflict. The reporter is Komotsu Matsuyani.
[sound of fierce thunderstorm, followed by African music and chants]
KOMOTSU MATSUYANI: Rainmakers, trance dancers, shamans, whose red and ochre painting on rocks tell the story of a gentle people who sent out their spirits into the animals they followed and hunted. Who lived lightly on the Earth without hierarchy or armies. Their legacy, music, stories, paintings, dances, is found all over southern Africa, like seeds blown by the wind into unexpected places. The Bushmen were the first people of southern Africa. Where are they now?
[sound of martial band music]
MATSUYANI: In fact the largest concentration of Bushmen now to be found in southern Africa are at an army base called Schmidsdrift in the Northern Cape. As soldiers in the South African Defense Force the Xu and Kwhe people were first used as trackers in South Africa’s border wars against the liberation movements in Namibia and Angola.
[sound of helicopters and gunfire]
MATSUYANI: Colonel Delville Linford was the founder of 31 Battalion, made up of Bushmen soldiers. In 1974 he established Omega base in the Caprivi on the Namibia-Angola border. Some twenty years later he has returned to live with the Bushmen as a missionary.
DELVILLE LINFORD: We didn’t recruit them out of the bush as some people believe. No. They were refugees from Angola. Like all the other people from Angola and, that went, that had places to go went there. They went to—you name it. A lot of them resettled in South Africa. But these people had to move because they were threatened with extinction in Angola and they fled across the border like all the other people but they had nowhere else to go. So, they were accommodated by the South African Defense Force. And they were, became involved in the war because that’s where they were before they came here.
MATSUYANI: But Augistino Victorinoh, a leader of the Xu clan, tells a very different story.
AUGISTINO VICTORINOH: [via a translator] And the third letter they wrote to us was four pages long in red ink, giving us two choices. Either we come to Namibia or they bomb us with helicopters.
[sound of a vehicle starting up then driving away]
VICTORINOH: [via a translator] That night they took me across the river in a Land Rover. It was about 30 to 40 kilometers from our area. They told me to make a choice: will I ever say yes to joining up, or always no, so that they’d have to kill me. I said I’d chose death rather than joining up. They asked me two or three times if I was sure. I said I was dead sure. I just asked them for a chance to pray before they did it and they gave me that chance. Then they told me to carry on walking. And you expect the black night to fall at any time. I heard arguing at the Land Rover among the three officers saying, “you mustn’t do this, you mustn’t. And then they called me back.
[sound of a vehicle starting up then driving away]
MATSUYANI: Maria Mahongo is another Xu clansmen, conscripted from Angola.
MARIA MAHONGO: [via a translator] They said we worked for the whites just to kill people, but it wasn’t true. It’s a lie. We were all soldiers—blacks, whites, everyone. We have a problem with being called good soldiers. Everyone saw us as traitors. We blamed the army that used us.
MATSUYANI: How did the army make sure that the Bushmen remained compliant? Joachina Dala and Legina Kameia were married to Bushmen soldiers suspected of being agitators by their commanding officers at Omega in 1979.
JOACHINA DALA: [speaking via a translator] I can’t describe how I felt and what I saw that day. My husband’s shut were beaten shut and were covered in blood. He was first beaten to death and then shot. Up to this day I still can’t accept it. But I cannot do anything because I am staying with the Defense Force.
LEGINA KAMEIA: [speaking via a translator] I saw with my own eyes how they hit him and killed him. They dug a hole in the ground and threw him in there and covered him with sand. The children saw how their father was killed. I have a feeling they were going to kill us all the way they handed us. They drove through the sand and the holes, and we fell off the trucks. My husband worked well for the Defense Force but they killed him.
MATSUYANI: 1990: Namibia becomes independent and the South African forces have to withdraw.
[sound of helicopter]
MATSUYANI: Amigo base breaks up and nearly 5,000 Bushmen soldiers and their families are flown to Schmidsdrift Army Base in South Africa. Schmidsdrift is a dot on the map so small it makes the eyes squint warding off the scorching Northern Cape sun. A huge and desolate tent town. Spread over the red plain between scrubby trees.
[dramatic music and sounds of wildlife]
MATSUYANI: Since 1990 the Bushmen and their families have eked out a marginal life at Schmidsdrift. Unemployed, bored, and utterly dependent on the Army. Their own languages and traditions submerged, almost forgotten.
[sound of women talking]
MATSUYANI: There is nothing here for the women. They have no role in this rigidly structured male society. Except to stand in line for the daily food rations. And alcohol.
LINFORD: You know, when I first met these people the women were proud. They were chirpy. They were cheeky. They were boisterous. They were, they always laughed, they always had something to say. They were happy people. They were active. They worked and they did their thing. Now, you can see them, they have nothing to do. They have all day to do it and they just sit.
MATSUYANI: Schmidsdrift soldier Lukas Dreben.
LUKAS DREBEN: [speaking via a translator] The women struggle in the Army. And we do too. If you are out and its raining you think of your tent. And that all your things are wet. And for that reason we are heart-sore.
MATSUYANI: In 1993 the Army decides to disband 31 Battalion and disperse the Bushmen soldiers in other units while keeping a reduced number of people at Schmidsdrift. Colonel Linford:
LINFORD: What I see as a problem, very decidedly, is to assimilate the Bushmen in the South African Defense Force with a few here and a few there and a few all over the place. And they will die, like you throw a drop of ink into a bucket of water. They will disappear.
[sound of African music]
MATSUYANI: Only the Soutkerk, a complex mix of Christianity and trance dance, which has become the Khwe people’s church, provides some food the soul. The swirling dance opens the way back to some authentic feeling of belonging, somewhere.
[sound of music, chanting and singing]
MATSUYANI: At the end of 1993 the Tswana people lodge a successful claim to the land at Schmidsdrift. The Bushmen soldiers and their families, with nowhere to go, are faced with yet another move. Maria Mahango.
MARIA MAHANGO: [via a translator] They say this was Tswana land and that Tswanas were forced off the land by the apartheid government. They gave this area to the Army as a training ground. So we came down here to Schmidsdrift. As a result of the new government’s land claim laws the Tswanas thought they could reclaim their land. And they did claim it. Now we’re sitting without land and the Tswana people want us to leave as soon as possible.
MATSUYANI: In 1993 the community at Schmidsdrift are assisted to form a trust which they control. This trust, financed with their own money and with overseas donations, bought them a farm near Schmidsdrift. In 1997, however, they were still living in squalor at Schmidsdrift, struggling to occupy this farm in the face of objections from local farmers and stalling by the Northern Cape provincial government. But sunlight is emerging at the end of the long dark tunnel. A home is in sight. National Minister of Land Affairs Derek Hanekom has stepped in.
DEREK HANEKOM: I think they have gone through particular hardships and their position, being a small group in an area where they weren’t born, where they could be treated as an alien group of people, makes them particularly vulnerable. And those are simple realities. They qualify for the same grant as all other people who are in need of land. So the first thing is, an acknowledgment that they’re South African citizens. It is of little concern to us where they were employed before and what they did before. What is of concern to us is that they don’t have a place which they can call their own.
[sound of African music, then an African voice speaking]
MARIO: We belong to southern Africa. It doesn’t matter which part. We can be in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, or South Africa. We belong here because there are tracks of our ancestors in this land.
[sound of African music and singing]
MARTIN: That report is “Africa’s Search for Common Ground,” a 13-part radio series on conflict and its resolution across Africa. It was produced by Common Ground productions of Washington, DC, and Ubuntu TV and Film of Cape Town, South Africa.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security