Following are excerpts from an interview conducted with Palestinian resistance leader Leila Khaled by Samia Halaby of the Defend Palestine Coalition, LeiLani Dowell of Workers World newspaper, and Sara Flounders of the International Action Center during a fact-finding delegation to Lebanon Sept. 11-17.
Q: In Gaza during the time [of the war on Lebanon], the offensive was very heavy.
Leila Khaled: It was more intense in Gaza because all the focus was on Lebanon. Israel has done three massacres, big massacres, in the north of Gaza, where they destroyed everything and it’s now an isolated area.
They call the people in their houses and tell them: "We’re going to bombard the house, leave it. You have half an hour to leave." So people leave. They wait and wait, but no bombardment. They go back to the house and stay there for one week, and then it is bombarded, and they are killed.
So whenever people receive such a call, they leave, but when they see that the house is still there, they go back. Again, they call them: "We told you to leave, why are you still here? You have five minutes to leave now. We gave you half an hour last time, now it’s five minutes." Some did not believe that they wanted to bombard the houses, and they stayed there, and they were killed.
This is the way they deal with the Palestinians in Gaza. It’s terrible. Anytime I call our comrades there, they say, "They are turning our lives into hell." Gaza is a very small area, densely populated, wherever they hit they will kill, and destroying the houses means that the people cannot find anywhere else to live. There are tents there now; this is during the last three years. The borders are closed, people cannot receive any kind of aid, even the money; if you want to send money for them, there are new laws at the banks.
In Gaza, they want the people to starve, and to be killed, and to reach to the extent that they would say, "Any solution, we accept it."
In Lebanon they distributed the pamphlets from the airplanes, saying that Hezbollah is not for you, Hezbollah is working for Iran and not for you. This is the psychological war also. But the people were not responding to them.
Why do you think the Israelis stopped bombing Lebanon?
This time they lost, because this is the first time they witnessed rockets going into the cities in Israel. From the first week, they were bombarding Lebanon and Hezbollah was retaliating by bombarding the cities and the villages. One and a half million Israelis left the Galilee. I called my relatives and they said this is the first time in 58 years that they are going and leaving.
What are the dangers now? What’s likely to happen next?
This war I think is a turning point in the area, because Israel cannot again launch another war. Yesterday there were demonstrations in Tel Aviv for an investigation committee. This is the sixth war with the Arabs, but this is the first time that they felt they could be hurt.
I think that although we know very well that Hezbollah is supported by Syria and Iran, I think that this is legitimate also. Why not have allies in the area? Israel has the most powerful country supporting it.
I think politically they will try to make big contradictions in Lebanon itself, on the governmental level, on the parliamentarian level, but they cannot do that on the mass level, because people—even those who lost their sons or husbands—they say it’s for our land, and they have this ideology that they are fighting for their land. We have seen many people on the ruins of these houses, and they say, "Okay, we can rebuild them, it’s not the first time." They say, "We know the enemy, it’s not the first time."
I did not mention that all the Lebanese people showed high solidarity with the displaced, in different parts of Lebanon, where there are Christians, the Druze. The majority Shia cities were all bombarded, so people fled to the other neighborhoods, and this was the first time that we have witnessed this unity among the people. There was not criticism against Hezbollah or the Shia sect during the war.
But during the war, the Palestinians came out from the camps and were asking the Lebanese to come and live with them in their houses in the camps. And Lebanese people were telling the media, this time we knew that we have brothers and sisters there. The Palestinians say this is our duty, all the time the Lebanese protected us, and it’s time for us to do our duty towards them when they are in danger.
They bombarded around the camps but not in the camps. They don’t want anything to unite the Lebanese and the Palestinians. They selected targets outside the camps, and not inside the camps.
Some people have said that this was a test by the U.S. to see how the reaction would be on the ground from an attack on Syria and Iran.
I myself don’t expect that the U.S. administration could attack Iran. In Iraq, America failed to establish what they wanted from the war. They are taking the oil, but not in an easy way.
At least in the near future, I don’t see that Israel is going to do the work again. But of course, such an administration, they are crazy enough to do anything. Now what they are trying to do is to catch the Middle East from both sides, from Iraq and Sudan. They tried to hit in Lebanon, not as a test, but as a weak point in the area, but they failed.
Now in Israel there’s discussion and criticism of the political level and the military institution. We know always that the military institution is the real government of Israel, and not the political level, although historically speaking the generals were always the prime ministers of Israel. This time Olmert or Peretz wanted to prove themselves as generals, but they did not, and so there’s big discussion and a big split in Israel.
Some observers said that Israel played this war on the expense of the Americans, played it, but they failed. Now, these two failures, in Iraq and in Lebanon, I think won’t let them think of another war. And now in Afghanistan it’s coming up again.
As a Marxist, how do you view Hezbollah?
Hezbollah came out from the Amal movement, which was established in the 1980s. The Shia in Lebanon were always dealt with as a minority, very oppressed and the poorest people. Hezbollah came out in 1987 because they had many contradictions with the leadership of Amal. They had a new vision towards how to deal with Lebanon and with Israel. And they have this principle: that we have to resist on the popular level.
They learned the lessons from mistakes that we, as Palestinians in Lebanon, made. They didn’t show their weapons, as we used to do. We had open bases in the South; they didn’t do that. They did not have training camps; nobody knows where they were trained. They’re very well organized people. We had people with their arms and uniforms in the South and the cities, anyone could tell that they were fighters. Now nobody knows who is a fighter.
After the cease-fire, when Nasrallah called the people to go back to the South, we were that morning in one of the schools with the displaced people. That afternoon they were carrying their things and going. We asked them, "Where are you going?" and they said, "We are going to our villages, although the roads are very dangerous, cluster bombs are still there, some of these unexploded rockets." The people—I’m talking about the people— are very well disciplined. They went directly, and they said, "Our leadership asked us to go."
This shows that the relation between Hezbollah and the people is very strong, and people feel that it is for their benefit and for their interest, although there are some villages totally leveled, and some where even the houses that remain are not useful for living.
Hezbollah considers itself a part of the resistance in the area against the common enemy, against Israel, against America. This they declare every time, and they called for talks with different groups, and they went for the talks. There were many, many sessions before the war.
The party is very well organized and trained and to the masses they have a strong relation. Every house in the South feels that this party is as their sons, as their daughters. They have schools, medical centers, training centers. Now many of the schools are destroyed, but they’re going to rebuild.
Just after the war, Nasrallah declared that they are going to compensate the people, so that they can live in dignity. I think it’s a culture, for all human beings to live with dignity. And he stresses that—now we have won the war, although the country was destroyed, but we kept our dignity, we are free people. He speaks to the people, to their minds and their hearts at the same time.
There are political parties in the area, especially in Lebanon, who said why can’t we live in peace with Israel? Now this war showed that it’s very difficult to coexist with them, and this is very dangerous, because we, as Palestinians, from the very beginning called for a one-state solution, that Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians can live all together peacefully on the same land and on a democratic basis. This is our vision to the end of this conflict, but we have seen that still the Israeli society is not ready for that.
Iran has a religious ideology, which I feel is dangerous. But when it comes to resisting the imperialist projects in the area, you don’t speak about ideology, you speak about resistance. Resistance is the concept, whether the origin of it is religious or not. That’s why they targeted Hezbollah, because it’s a resisting group.