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Encounter at Silaa

Drinking Tea with Hizbullah

by JOHNNY BARBER

In the village of Silaa in southern Lebanon, on the forty-day memorial of the killing of 8 residents by Israeli aerial bombardment, a lunch in commemoration of the dead was provided to the villagers by the Campaign for Civil Resistance. After we completed our visit to the grieving families, we are invited to the muktar’s home, to share tea, fruit and conversation. The local representative from Hizbullah joins us. Upon learning that I am from America, he smiles and he entreats me to sit next to him. He asks me what I think and how I feel about the destruction I have seen. The nargillah is brought out and we leisurely smoke and drink tea, enjoying the shaded veranda and an afternoon breeze. We discuss the war, and the role of Hizbullah in civil society. I am told that Hizbullah is not a state within a state, but a state where none exists, for the south of Lebanon has been neglected for decades by the Lebanese government. As for the fighters, he says, who won’t fight to protect their families, their homes, and their communities? How, he wonders, are we different from Americans?

This gentleman, his graciousness, kindness, his intellectual curiosity, and his intention of imparting a more compassionate view of Hizbullah to the American public strike me. His young boy sits in his lap, and he convinces him to eat, and ruffles his hair like I do my own boy’s. I recognize him as my brother.

This is the enemy my government has warned me about–the people Dan Gillerman (the Israeli ambassador to the UN) called, "a ruthless, cynical, cruel enemy, one of the most monstrous terror organizations this world has known". I am not naïve and I recognize the loss of life "The party of God" has caused occupation forces in Lebanon, including the US military in the 80’s, but the denunciations, the casting of Hizbullah as representatives of the devil himself, evil personified, just did not make sense to me as I sat smoking with Hajj and sharing fruit with his family. He was not interested in destroying freedom or stealing liberty; his was not the ideological struggle of the 21st century; he was not part of a calling (his or anyone else’s). He was interested in protecting his family and his community from an aggressor who had attacked and occupied his country. He was interested in my views as an American, whom he did not call enemy, terrorist, or evil. He called me friend and welcomed me to his home. He is a human being, and he encounters me as a fellow human being- the result being a discussion and an opportunity to learn of each other- our common hopes, dreams, and desires. We speak of security, and education for our children, we speak of respect and dignity and self-determination. We respect each others opinions, as well as our differences.

Since my return home, I consider my President, (the "compassionate conservative", the "uniter" and the self-claimed, "decider"), his administration, and our Congress. I think back on the myriad speeches about our new crusade. The speech of Sept 20th 2001 where our President vowed revenge in the name of justice- and our Congress stood and cheered. I consider his rhetoric of fighting them over there instead of here (where their children, wives, and elders can be bombed into oblivion, and we need not even change our shopping habits.). Now the President has claimed "the war on terror" is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century- the calling of our generation, and the newest justification for the deaths of 600,000 Iraqis.

How, I ask you, can an ideological struggle be fought by dropping bombs?

I consider his axis of evil speech, his threats to North Korea and Iran and the denunciation of their leaders. From the time he took office, he has denied negotiations and threatened these countries. Inducing fear in other countries cannot lead to peace.

He has provided Israel the means to attack Lebanon and lay siege of Palestine and has encouraged them every step of the way. He refuses to question the state of Israel about its development and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. He continues to advocate that the United States continue to develop new nuclear weapons, while condemning nations not in his favor for doing the very same thing. When other countries refuse to bow to US pressure, the President announces, "All options, including military options, remain on the table". These policies cannot lead to peace.

The concept of America as an "honest broker" has forever been banished to the rhetorical scrap heap, along with the idea that America does not torture, that America respects human rights and America abides by international law. In countless speeches there has been no nuance, no recognition of any possibilities other than defeating the enemy, "winning". (Is this the ideology he speaks of? The one he is so willing to kill for? What ever happened to decency, human rights, equality, and justice? What about compassion, tending the sick and weary, what about Love? In any of the Presidents speeches, does he ever utter the word love, as in "Love your neighbor"?)

What on earth will we win? What is the price we will pay in order to win? As we pay a higher and higher price in blood and treasure doesn’t the possibility of "winning" fall further and further from our grasp?

Haven’t we already lost?

In Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and other countries the United States is viewed as sponsors of state terrorism (yes, the very same accusation our President hurls at Iran and Syria). Each speech by our President, each bomb that drops on Gaza, each checkpoint killing in Iraq, each cluster bomb death in Lebanon, each water-boarding incident at Guantanamo, and each beating death at Abu Ghraib confirm this viewpoint. And we have no moral high ground to fall back on. We are a country that lives by the warped idea that violence leads to peace, a country that lives by the sword. These policies will never ensure our security.

We in America have lost our way; we have surrendered our ideals and lost our freedoms. We have been lied to and misguided. Our president has no use for diplomacy, no idea of the middle way, no idea of reconciliation, no idea of truth, forgiveness, or Love. His sole solution is my way or the highway. I’m ready for the highway. Recently the President has said, "Nobody has accused me of having a real sophisticated vocabulary. And maybe their words are more sophisticated than mine." Perhaps someone could explain to him the difference between truth and lies, freedom and oppression, and peace and fear.

Then we could begin anew. We as Americans must regain our humanity. We must work for justice nonviolently. We must work to reduce poverty. We must work to educate the poor and care for the sick. The greatest obstacle to this is the idea that we must preserve "our way of life". The key to ensuring freedom in this country and around the world is surrender, not winning. We must be willing to give up the luxury we take for granted in order to lift up those who live with nothing. We must be willing to give up our indifference and stand up for justice. We must be willing to surrender our ignorance for truth. There is work to be done, let us begin.

JOHNNY BARBER is a member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. He has travelled to Iraq, Israel, Occupied Palestine and Lebanon to bear witness and document the suffering of people who are affected by war. He advocates for reconciliation and nonviolent strategies in the face of violence and oppression. He can be reached at dodger8mo@hotmail.com.