Sunday, March 16, 2008
Stalled peace process fuels support for Hizbollah
Toni O'Loughlin in Bethlehem
The Observer, Sunday March 16 2008
"Outside Betlehem's Nativity Church, Christians yesterday queued not to celebrate the birth they believe happened here but to mourn a death - that of a Palestinian militant with close links to neighbouring Lebanon's Islamic militia, Hizbollah.
Mohammed Shehadeh was one of four Palestinians shot in an Israeli undercover ambush here last week, killings that have fuelled support for Hizbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, among Christians and Muslims alike.
School principals, teachers and students from the Bethlehem School, the Catholic School and the Greek Orthodox School paraded to the mourning tent outside the church chanting and waving placards praising the Palestinian 'martyr'.
'People admired Shehadeh's ability to stand up to the Israelis,' said Sami Awad, Christian executive director of the Holy Land Trust, dedicated to promoting non-violent action against Israel's occupation. 'There's a lot of admiration for the charisma that Nasrallah has and the way he speaks and presents his views in public.' ........
Shehadeh, 45, met Nasrallah and his Shia brand of Islam in 1992 in southern Lebanon, where he fled after Israel exiled him for his militant activities in the West Bank.
It is unclear whether Shehadeh converted from Sunni Islam, the main form of Islamic belief in the West Bank and Gaza, to Shia. But he was open to rival theological thought as he always carried a card with a Koranic verse on one side and a picture of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the other.
Yet it was mostly his crusading against corruption in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah as well as his support for locals that won Christian support. Shehadeh was the leader of Islamic Jihad, a militant group funded by Iran and perceived as being aligned with Hizbollah.
'The reason he was popular was because he presented a symbol of those individuals who were engaging in resistance,' Awad said. 'People are seeing that Hizbollah has done what others have failed to do either by military operations or negotiations. If Fatah had been able to achieve real steps through negotiations, people would be following that [process] and be feeling more proud of it and more supportive of it,' he added.......
On Friday, 40,000 to 50,000 mourners attended the militants' funerals. 'The killings mean killing the peace process. Blood bleeds blood,' said the town's former mayor, Hanna Nasser."