Nasrallah, Hasan (1960–)
Hasan Nasrallah is a major political figure in Lebanon. He is the leader of Hizbullah (Party of God), a mass political party, social service organization, and militia that is the chief political instrument of the poor Shi'ite population of Lebanon. He was the primary strategist of the resistance to the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon in the 1990s and led the war against Israel in the summer of 2006.
The ninth of ten children, Nasrallah was born on 31 August 1960 in Qarantina, a shantytown near Burj Hammud, an impoverished suburb of Beirut inhabited predominantly by Armenians and Shi'ite Muslims. Nasrallah's father, Abd al-Karim, had left his vegetable stall in the southern Lebanese village of al-Bazuriyya, near Tyre, to seek his fortune in the capital. He opened a modest grocery store in Burj Hammud that displayed an imposing poster of Imam Musa al-Sadr, then a charismatic leader of Lebanese Shi'ites. By his own account, Nasrallah used to assist his father, but almost always dreamt of the imam as he contemplated the spiritual leader's photograph. Whether his mother's influence or this attachment to the imam—who disappeared on 31 August 1978 on a flight from Libya—was the catalyst for his later activities is debatable. Still, Musa al-Sadr left a deep impact on him, as he did on the vast majority of Lebanese from all religious persuasions.
Like many young men trapped in poverty, Nasrallah became interested in religious studies, even though his father was not particularly pious. In Burj Hammud, Nasrallah attended the al-Najah public school, where he earned a certificate, before switching to another public school in nearby Sin al-Fil. According to Nasrallah, he went to the old Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut when he was nine to purchase secondhand books from roadside stalls. This visit to Martyrs' Square made an indelible impression on Nasrallah, fostering in him a love of his country and reminding him of those who had sacrificed their lives for the land. In 1975 Abd al-Karim Nasrallah moved the family to their ancestral home in al-Bazuriyya to escape the ravages of the civil war that had transformed Qarantina into a slaughterhouse. It was during this period that Hasan Nasrallah opted to pursue serious religious studies. Yet, at fifteen years of age, and even before graduating from a Tyre secondary public school, he joined the Amal Movement, a Shi'ite political organization, which was then known as "the movement of the deprived." This was a natural course for a motivated individual and admirer of Musa al-Sadr.
In the Tyre mosque he attended on a regular basis, Nasrallah met Sayyid Muhammad al-Gharawi, a pious cleric who taught in the name of Imam Musa al-Sadr. Al-Gharawi recommended that Nasrallah consider a serious seminary, which meant travel out of Lebanon. For the first time in his life, Nasrallah thus left Lebanon in 1976 for Iraq, to attend the renowned Shi'ite seminary of Najaf. Al-Gharawi, who knew Sayyid Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr (the cleric who was murdered on 8 April 1980 on direct orders from the Ba'th regime) in Iraq gave Nasrallah a strong letter of recommendation to the erudite al-Sadr.
Hasan earned the honorary informal title of "Sayyid" (a Muslim term of respect meaning, roughly, "master") in Najaf after completing relevant courses in Muslim theology, although he may not have completed a full curriculum. He returned to Lebanon in 1978 after the Iraqi Ba'th regime expelled hundreds of foreign students. In part to fulfill educational requirements, and because he needed a job with a steady income, Nasrallah accepted a teaching position at a school in Ba'albek. The site of ancient Roman ruins set in one of Lebanon's richest and most picturesque places, the Bekáa Valley, Ba'albek was the home of Sayyid Abbas al-Musawi, an up-and-coming Amal leader. Nasrallah completed his religious education under the careful guidance of Musawi, who recruited the charismatic young man into Amal's political wing. Shortly thereafter, Nasrallah became a member of the Amal central political bureau.
Nasrallah married Fatima Yasin, from the southern village of al-Abbasiya; they had five children: Muhammad Hadi (who was killed in 1997), Muhammad Jawad, Zaynab, Muhammad Ali, and Muhammad Mahdi.
Name: Hasan Nasrallah
Birth: 1960, near Burj Hammud, Lebanon
Family: Wife, Fatima Yasin; four sons, Muhammad Hadi (d. 1997), Muhammad Jawad, Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Mahdi; one daughter, Zaynab
Education: Elementary, al-Kifa' private school, Burj Hammud; intermediate and secondary, al-Thanawiyya al-Tarbawiyya, Sin al-Fil (Beirut) and al-Thanawiyya, al-Bazuriyya, South Lebanon
- 1975: Joins Amal as organization officer, al-Bazuriyya
- 1976–1978: Studies with Sayyid Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr in Najaf, Iraq
- 1978: Expelled from Iraq, joins Sayyid Abbas al-Musawi, Ba'albek, Lebanon
- 1979: Appointed political officer, member of politburo, Amal movement in Biqa region
- 1982: Withdraws from Amal following disputes in aftermath of Israeli invasion; helps found dissident group later known as Hizbullah
- 1985: Moves to Beirut
- 1987: Becomes chief executive officer of Hizbullah, member of its Consultative Council
- 1989: Travels to Qom, Iran, to pursue religious education
- 1990s: Leads resistance to Israel in South Lebanon
- 1992: Elected secretary-general of Hizbullah, succeeding Sayyid Abbas al-Musawi, assassinated by Israelis 16 February
- 1997: Son Muhammad Hadi killed in South Lebanon by Israeli forces, September
- 2006: Leads Hizbullah in war against Israel
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Like the Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whom the Iraqi government also expelled from Najaf in 1978, Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah was deeply affected by his forced eviction from Iraq. However, the event that changed him was the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which turned into an occupation that lasted until 2000. To Nasrallah, the invasion necessitated resistance and it was in 1982 that he and key supporters rebelled against Amal for failing to organize an effective opposition.
Hizbullah (Party of God) was founded as a faction within Amal in June 1982, and not constituted as a separate body until 1985, when the prominent Shi'ite cleric Shaykh Ibrahim al-Amin officially released its manifesto. The Hizbullah Program, an open letter to all the "Oppressed in Lebanon and the World," was first published as a pamphlet in 1987. It called for the establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon, although this was left in abeyance as a future objective. More immediately relevant was the call to fight against imperialism as well as its eradication from Muslim countries and, perhaps even more important, a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, forces that had occupied parts of southern Lebanon since 1982. During its early stages, Musawi and Nasrallah struggled to give the new organization a semblance of coherence, and quickly embarked on a two-pronged effort: provide the long neglected Shi'ite population of Lebanon with the means to survive, and organize military opposition to occupation. Nasrallah's genuine concerns for the poor coupled with his fiery sermons drew a large Shi'ite following that swelled the ranks. In a largely unexplored chapter of his life, Nasrallah then left Lebanon for Qom, Iran, ostensibly to pursue religious studies. Although details are sketchy, Nasrallah was in Iran between 1987 and 1989. By the late 1980s, Hizbullah had been transformed into an effective guerrilla movement, with an ever-increasing base of support among average Lebanese. In 1991 Musawi became secretary-general of Hizbullah; he was assassinated, along with his wife and child, by Israeli commandos in 1992. Nasrallah replaced Musawi as Hizbullah leader and vowed revenge for his fallen brethren throughout South Lebanon.
Under Hasan Nasrallah's leadership, Hizbullah was gradually transformed into a movement with formidable military capabilities. Over the course of the 1990s it defended a hapless population largely abandoned by the Lebanese army and all other central authority. Hizbullah took credit for the estimated sixteen hundred Israelis killed in Lebanon between 1982 and 2000, even if its own casualties were probably much higher. Among those casualties was Nasrallah's eldest son, Muhammad Hadi, who was killed by Israeli forces in the Jabal al-Rafi in 1997. Still, Hizbullah's military campaigns were a main factor in the Israeli decision to withdraw from South Lebanon in May 2000, and end an occupation that had lasted over eighteen years. Not surprisingly, Nasrallah was therefore credited, especially among his countrymen—both Christian and Muslim—as well as throughout the Arab and Muslim world, with ending the Israeli occupation. Hizbullah thus significantly bolstered its political standing within Lebanon.
Whether by design or coincidence, Nasrallah came to play a critical role in a complex prisoner exchange with Israel when, in 2004, 400 Palestinian and 30 Hizbullah detainees were freed—and the remains of fifty-nine Lebanese returned to their families—in exchange for businessman and former colonel Elhanan Tannenbaum and the remains of three Israeli soldiers. This agreement was perceived across the Arab world as a great victory for Nasrallah, who was praised for negotiating the deal.
Abbas al-Musawi (1952–1992) was an influential Shi'ite cleric and early leader of Hizbullah who was assassinated by Israeli commandos in 1992. A native of the Bekáa Valley in eastern Lebanon, Musawi went to Najaf, Iraq, in the 1970s, where he studied in a religious hawzah (school). It was in Najaf that he met Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who instilled a revolutionary zeal in his heart and mind. Back in Lebanon by 1978, Musawi organized the resistance movement in Ba'albek, as he mounted various guerrilla operations against the Israeli occupation after 1982. His popularity propelled him to the leadership of Hizbullah in 1991, when he replaced the hard-liner Shaykh Subhi al-Tufayli. On 16 February 1992, Musawi, his wife, his son, and four others were killed in an ambush by Israeli forces.
Hizbullah as a Political Force
For most of the 1990s but especially after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, Hizbullah underwent a carefully tailored process of "Lebanization," which led it even to contemplate a rapprochement with a variety of non-Muslim groups. This process entailed Hizbullah's acceptance of a multiconfessional country in the aftermath of the Ta'if Accord, which introduced rough parity between Lebanese Christians and Muslims and rechanneled authority from the president to the prime minister. It was deemed useful to participate in elections, to increase various welfare programs, and expand beyond its Shi'ite constituency. Nasrallah espoused a nationalist, even patriotic, line, although Hizbullah's yellow flag was still quite prominent. Yet, simultaneously, Hizbullah assimilated various other groups, both to improve discipline and enhance its legitimacy. Toward that end, Islamic Jihad, the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, and the Revolutionary Justice Organization were all incorporated into Hizbullah under Nasrallah's close supervision. The additional manpower and enhanced military capability quickly translated into raw power that, in Lebanon's context, signified an effective "street" presence.
It was at this time that Nasrallah made what was probably a tactical error of some consequence: He continued to back Syria against Prime Minister rafiq hariri, even though Hariri had stood by Hizbullah for many years and personally supported Nasrallah within the limitations of the Ta'if Accord. When Hariri managed to get international support calling for a withdrawal of the Syrian troops that had been in the country since 1976 (under United Nations [UN] Security Council Resolution 1559), Nasrallah aligned himself with Syria and Iran against a fellow Lebanese leader. Whether Nasrallah actually intended to separate himself from the mainstream is impossible to know, but on 14 February 2005, Hariri was assassinated and a new era in Lebanese history was set in motion.
A week after the assassination, on 21 February a large demonstration in Martyrs' Square called for the removal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. In response, Hizbullah organized an even larger counterdemonstration on 8 March supporting Syria and accusing Israel as well as France and the United States of meddling in internal Lebanese affairs. Nasrallah rejected UN Resolution 1559 calling for the disarming of Hizbullah (and other militias) because, he asserted, Lebanon needed the resistance to defend itself. The pro-Syrian protesters, while flying the Lebanese flag, held pictures of Syrian president bashar al-asad along with placards reading "No to the American Intervention." It was unclear whether many of Lebanon's five hundred thousand Syrian expatriate workers participated in the rally, as claimed by the Hariri-owned media, but one thing was crystal clear: Nasrallah was deeply beholden to his Syrian patron. To further display its political muscle, Hizbullah held additional demonstrations in the northern Sunni city of Tripoli as well as the southern city of Nabatiyya.
Less than a week later, on 14 March, one month after the assassination, the Cedar Revolution gathered at an equally large, or possibly larger, demonstration, also at Martyrs' Square. These demonstrations and counterdemonstrations illustrated that Lebanon faced a serious political dilemma.
The 2005 Election
To its credit, the outgoing government organized relatively free elections in April 2005 that upset the existing balance of power. The 2005 general elections saw the Current for the Future (Hariri's party, headed after his death by his son, Sa'd) win 36 seats in Parliament (out of 128), while Hizbullah won 14, and Amal gained 15 more for a total of 29 Shi'ite seats. Sa'd Hariri managed to put together a formidable coalition, controlling 72 seats, with the Progressive Socialists, the Lebanese Forces, the Qurnat Shihwan group, and various independents. Even when Nasrallah rallied the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and a few leftist deputies, his grand total never exceeded 35. There was consequently serious pressure for Nasrallah to align Hizbullah with the Free Patriotic Movement of former General michel aoun, which controlled a total of 21 seats.
Nasrallah's decision to align himself with Aoun, a former commander of the Lebanese army who fought the Syrians before being exiled to France, could be construed as a second mistake. Aoun, a Maronite Christian, was determined to succeed emile lahoud as president even if the majority of fellow Maronites rejected his candidacy. Still, Aoun and Nasrallah entered into an unusual national compact, ostensibly to reform the country's confessional electoral system and move in the direction of one man, one vote. Whether Hizbullah would allow its militia to be folded into the Lebanese army in exchange for this new contract was the primary source of disagreement between Hizbullah and the majority. In short, few Lebanese believed that Hizbullah would ever disarm, especially as long as Israel occupied territory—the Shiba Farms—that Hizbullah claimed was Lebanese. Nasrallah donned a non-Shi'ite cover by aligning with the Maronite Aoun, but few Christian, Druze, or Sunni Muslim Lebanese accepted his logic.
War with Israel, 2006
On 12 July 2006, Hizbullah troops kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed three others, in a routine border clash similar to previous such exchanges. When Israeli forces attempted to rescue their soldiers, the operation failed with the loss of an additional five, which triggered a massive retaliation. Land, air, and naval strikes continued until 14 August, with devastating consequences for Lebanon and parts of northern Israel. Over 1,100 Lebanese and 165 Israelis were killed; most of the Lebanese were civilians, while 119 of the Israelis were military personnel. An estimated million Lebanese were displaced on a more or less permanent basis. On 11 August 2006, the UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1701 calling for a cease-fire, although much of southern Lebanon remained uninhabitable due to millions of unexploded Israeli cluster bombs.
With his proven military capabilities—lobbing thousands of short- and long-range rockets into Israel—Nasrallah displayed a rare knack for action that, not surprisingly, concerned Lebanese and Arab officialdom. He quickly came under intense criticism from pro-Western Arab regimes, including those of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Egyptian President husni mubarak warned on 14 July 2006 of the risk of "the region being dragged into adventurism that did not serve Arab interests," while Saudi foreign minister Prince Sa'ud called the Hizbullah attacks "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts."
Although a 26 July 2006 public opinion poll in Lebanon indicated that 87 percent of all Lebanese citizens (80 percent among Christians and Druze and 89 percent among Sunnis) supported Hizbullah in its war with Israel and perceived it as a legitimate resistance organization, Nasrallah came under intense criticism from Lebanese leaders. walid jumblatt, the Druze head of the Progressive Socialist Party, spoke out quite forcefully, challenging Nasrallah's decision to go to war without national consensus. Nasrallah conceded in a 27 August 2006 interview on Lebanon's New TV that he would not have ordered the capture of two Israeli soldiers had he known it would lead to such a war: "We did not think, even 1 percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on 11 July … that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not."
Because Nasrallah grew up in a shantytown partially inhabited by Palestinian refugees, he saw and felt the plight of that hapless population, although he opposed naturalizing them in Lebanon. According to Nasrallah on al-Manar, Hizbullah's television station, on 5 November 2003, "the Lebanese refuse to give the Palestinians residing in Lebanon Lebanese citizenship, and we refuse their resettlement in Lebanon. There is Lebanese consensus on this … we thank God that we all agree on one clear and definite result; namely, that we reject the resettlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon." Still, while he rejected naturalization, Nasrallah was not eager to expel them, as that would increase their burden even more. Nasrallah blamed the Arab states for their overall complaisance, and recommended that Palestinians take up arms and fight the occupation forces. His colorful rhetoric, declaring "death to Israel" or "death to America," stood in stark contrast to his live-and-let-live preferences stated elsewhere. In a 2002 interview with the New Yorker, Nasrallah stated that "at the end of the road no one can go to war on behalf of the Palestinians, even if that one is not in agreement with what the Palestinians agreed on." His official Web site carried a starker declaration: "We do not want to kill anyone. We do not want to throw anyone in the sea. Give the houses back to their owners, the fields back to their landlords, and the homes back to the people. Release the prisoners, and leave us alone to live in this region in security, peace and dignity." These pronouncements indicated that Nasrallah was primarily concerned with Lebanese issues and did not necessarily have wider Arab or Muslim regional ambitions. He cared for Palestinians, Syrians, and others, but he cared more about the Lebanese, especially his fellow Shi'ite brethren.
DOESN'T THIS ENEMY KNOW WHO WE ARE?
Today on the twenty-second of September you astonish the whole world again, as you verily prove … that you are a great people, a steadfast people, a proud people, a loyal and a brave people … Doesn't this enemy know who we are? We are the children of that Imam, who said: Is it with death you threaten me? Death to us is normalcy and martyrdom is dignity offered from God…. Today, we celebrate the significant historic divine and strategic victory…. That your resistance and steadfastness dealt a severe blow to the New Middle East Project, of which Condoleezza Rice said that the  war was its labor pains, the illegitimate child now aborted…. Just as your resistance provided the victory of the year 2000 as a model of a liberation resistance, in 2006 it has provided amodel of steadfastness and legendary endurance—a steadfastness miracle; this … has become a proof against all Arabs and all Muslims, rulers, armies and peoples….
As for saying we are weak. I say the people of Lebanon demonstrated to all peoples of the world, the Lebanese resistance presents the proof against all Arab and Islamic armies. The Arab armies and peoples are not only able to liberate Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but simply, and with a little decision coupled with some will, they are able to regain Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. However, the problem is when a person places himself between two options: between his people and his throne chooses his throne, between Jerusalem and his throne chooses his throne, between the dignity of his country and his throne chooses his throne.
"TEXT OF HEZBOLLAH LEADER NASRALLAH'S SPEECH DURING 'VICTORY RALLY' IN BEIRUT." CLEVELAND INDY MEDIA CENTER. UPDATED 25 SEPTEMBER 2006. AVAILABLE FROM HTTP://CLEVELAND.INDYMEDIA.ORG.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
Hizbullah is considered a legitimate resistance movement in the Arab and Muslim worlds while in Lebanon it is an officially recognized political party with elected members of Parliament. Yet, even before the 2006 war with Israel, Hizbullah was designated as a terrorist organization by Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, and the United States. Australia and the United Kingdom designated the party's "external security organization" as a sponsor of terrorism, differentiating its socioeconomic and political activities from its militia. Importantly, the European Union did not list Hizbullah or any group within it as a terrorist organization, although the European parliament passed a nonbinding resolution on 10 March 2005 that acknowledged "clear evidence" of "terrorist activities by Hizbullah." Both the powerful council of Europe, made up of European heads of state, as well as the governing body known as the Council of the European Union rejected the recommendation. Both argued that European governments held ultimate responsibility in such designations even if the council designated Imad Mughniyyah, a known Hizbullah operative, as a terrorist. Other countries criticized Hizbullah, citing terrorist activities, without labeling it a terrorist organization.
Hizbullah's military success against Israel in 2006 made it one of the most popular political organizations in the Arab world. Even Sunni and Christian Arabs believed that Nasrallah restored their dignity because Hizbullah fighters did what mighty Arab armies have failed to do. Yet, the perceived heroism associated with inflicting a serious blow to the superior Israeli military force was seriously damaged after Nasrallah turned to divisive tactics in internal Lebanese affairs. First, Nasrallah pulled his five ministers from the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, because of various disputes over the implementation of an international tribunal to determine who was responsible for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri and other Lebanese officials. Second, he authorized the Hizbullah television network, al-Manar, to provide extensive coverage of the execution of former Iraqi president saddam hussein, which angered many, as the footage showed Shi'ite witnesses taunting Hussein as he said his final prayers. The channel's tone seemed gloating and triumphalist and dozens of callers to various talk shows cheered the execution and its manner. And finally, because Nasrallah transformed himself from an effective resistance leader to a politician fighting for power, even some Lebanese Shi'ites resented his following instructions issued by the Iranian spiritual leader, ali khamenehi.
Nasrallah's legacy is thus two-pronged at this stage of his short career: a national hero for some and, like other Lebanese politicians, an ally much beholden to foreign powers. While the first guarantees him an undeniably important role in Lebanese affairs, the second may hinder this role. It remains to be determined whether Nasrallah can become a player within a group of players or whether he will continue to act the resistance leader. When Nasrallah addressed a crowd in early 2006 gathered to commemorate Ashura, a Shi'ite religious day of atonement, he declared that Hizbullah would not engage in sectarian warfare and that he would not authorize a renewed civil war. "There are figures within the ruling powers who are working to provoke a conflict between Shi'ites and Sunnis in Lebanon," he announced, and "we reject sectarian conflict, civil war [because] we will not aim our weapons at anyone, we will not work in the service of Israel."
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