June 19, 2024

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Sabra and Shatila, Lebanon – A week after a much-anticipated speech about Israel’s assault on Gaza that did not declare war on Israel, Hezbollah reiterated that message on Saturday.

While it would keep retaliating against Israeli attacks on south Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said, the war with Israel would be long and victory would “take years”.

His message fell short for many Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila, a Palestinian refugee camp that sprawls out across two Beirut neighbourhoods.

“I wanted him to open up the war completely,” said Abdallah*, 25, one of the Palestinians who gathered anxiously at a sidewalk cafe in Sabra and Shatila to watch the speech.

He is one of nearly 250,000 Palestinians languishing in impoverished refugee camps in Lebanon since they were expelled from their homeland during the creation of Israel in 1948.

They have watched, horrified, as Israel systematically and deliberately targeted civilian structures like refugee camps, schools, and hospitals in Gaza.

Palestinian children wounded in Israeli strikes wait to receive treatment at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12
Palestinian children wounded in Israeli air raids wait for treatment at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, November 12, 2023 [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

The attacks have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians – nearly half of them children – and forced hundreds of thousands to flee to the south of Gaza, most of them on foot and often being attacked by Israeli troops even as they fled.

“Hezbollah is fighting and they’re trying, but we want them to make more happen,” said Abdallah.

Not enough pressure

Some Palestinians in Lebanon believe that Hezbollah should take the fight to Israel first.

Since Nasrallah’s earlier speech on November 4, there has been, an uptick in violence between Hezbollah and Israel in south Lebanon. On November 5, an Israeli rocket killed one woman and three children.

According to an Israeli army spokesperson, Hezbollah retaliated by killing an Israeli – with no information about whether the victim was a soldier or civilian.

Just moments before Nasrallah’s speech on November 11, Israel fired a rocket at a Lebanese village roughly 40km (25 miles) from their shared border.

Then, after the speech, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warned that Hezbollah was “close to making a grave mistake”, although it is not clear what he was referring to.

Majdi*, who lives in Shatila, said he is frustrated with Hezbollah.

He expected Hezbollah to assume a more significant role in helping Hamas because the group, he noted, has long posed as a leader of the so-called “axis of resistance”, which includes Iran, Hamas, and other Iran-backed armed groups in the region.

“Nasrallah will escalate against Israel from Lebanon a little bit, but he’s not going to be a partner with Hamas in the big and decisive battle in Palestine. He said that himself,” Majdi told Al Jazeera.

Internal pressure

Nicholas Blanford, an expert on Hezbollah with the Atlantic Council think tank, told Al Jazeera that Nasrallah, who is backed by Iran, is clearly considering his domestic situation.

In his speech, Nasrallah said there were “dissenting voices in Lebanon, but these voices are limited”.

Some Palestinians watching the speech in Sabra and Shatila believe Nasrallah was referring to Samir Geagea, a Christian politician who heads the Lebanese Forces party.

Geagea reportedly told a local television station that Lebanon did not need something “adding to all the miseries of the Lebanese people” shortly after Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7.

“Dragging Lebanon into a destructive war will do Hezbollah no favours,” Blanford said. “But the buck stops with Tehran. If the Iranian calculus changes and they want Hezbollah to go [into Israel] full scale, then Nasrallah will have to obey, irrespective of the backlash.”

A significant escalation between Hezbollah and Israel could lead to civil strife in Lebanon and the scapegoating of Palestinians, said Abdallah. But he still wants Hezbollah to take more pressure off Palestinians in Gaza.

Supporters of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group shout slogans and wave Palestinian and their group flags, as they wait the speech of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, during a rally to commemorate Hezbollah fighters who were killed in South Lebanon last few weeks while fighting against the Israeli forces, in Beirut, Lebanon.
Supporters shout slogans and wave Palestinian and Hezbollah flags, as they await the speech by Hassan Nasrallah, at a rally in Beirut, Lebanon, November 3, 2023 [Hussein Malla/AP Photo]

“The reason I want Hezbollah to escalate is because all I see is Israel killing children. I’m against killing children, regardless if they’re Israeli or Palestinian,” he told Al Jazeera, moments before Nasrallah’s speech was broadcast on television.

Managing expectations

Some Palestinians believe Hezbollah is doing more than enough to help Gaza and blame other Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for being complicit in Israel’s atrocities.

They believe the former has kept the Rafah border crossing with Gaza mostly shut and that the latter has looked to benefit from Israel’s war on Hamas.

“Egypt isn’t letting in enough food into Gaza or opening its crossing to help Palestinians get out,” said Razan*.

Baha*, also from Shatila, said Nasrallah is at least fighting Israel to some degree.

He adds that Abbas is the biggest traitor to Palestinians for continuing his security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank – a product of the 1993 Oslo Accords – and for offering to play a role in administering Gaza if Israel defeats Hamas.

“Hezbollah can’t do it alone,” Baha told Al Jazeera. “But right now, we all like Nasrallah more than our own Palestinian leader [Abbas].”

* The surnames of these Palestinian interviewees have been withheld due to their concerns for their safety.



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