The Lebanese part of the Global March to Jerusalem turned out to be quite an exotic public event – firstly, there was no march, and secondly, there were very few Palestinians. And all due to the Lebanese army that kept Palestinians inside the refugee camps and well away from the protests. The Lebanese authorities also restricted any marchers from going to the ruins of an uphill Crusader castle, which is incidentally nowhere near the border.
Many foreign nationals who were present at the event say it would have been much wiser to conduct the march on the streets of the Lebanese capital, Beirut. In that case, foreigners would not have had to spend hours to reach the fortress located in the south of the country. Also, thousands of elderly Palestinian women and children would not have had to wait several hours for them on the rocky hilltop.
On any other day, the trip from Beirut to Nabatieh would not have taken more than two hours. However, on March day, the Lebanese army set up impromptu roadblocks along the road, causing traffic jams. And while the army usually has been quite inconspicuous, this time officers were seen on the streets enthusiastically directing traffic, blocking thoroughfares and letting through anyone except for the buses carrying foreign activists who had come to take part in the global march from all over the world. It took them almost five hours to reach the designated spot. Checkpoints at the roadblocks seemed ridiculous – all you needed was to show the officers inspecting the bus any paper you had on you. And of course, the officers showed the least interest in a bus whose passengers were waving the flags of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
When the buses finally arrived at the site, they were met by weary, elderly Palestinian women and the ever-peppy Palestinian teenagers and children, all staring in amazement at the motley crowd of foreigners. The activists that grabbed most of the attention were delegates from India carrying posters of Mahatma Gandhi, as well as a group of rabbis. The Indians stood around the stage with pictures of the non-violence movement leader, while the rabbis sat right under the stage with banners denying any link between Judaism and Israel.
RT photo / Nadezhda Kevorkova
The organizers provided chairs for everyone so that people wouldn’t have to stand on the rocky hilltop for hours on end. It would have been daunting even for Palestinians inured to decade-long hardships, not least for those who experienced first-hand the 1948 expulsion.
“Never ask anyone in Lebanon about numbers. Anyone who gives you an exact figure doesn’t know anything,” a Lebanese journalism student who helped organize the march told me when asked about the number of participants.
Journalists reckoned that there was simply no room on the hill for more than 5,000 people. But with the people sitting down, the total number was hardly more than 3,000, according to experienced foreign activists.
Sheikh Nabil Kaouk, the second most influential official in Hezbollah’s military wing, kicked off the rally. He left immediately after the opening, accompanied by a sizable force of guards.
Foreigners were given a chance to speak at the end of the rally when most Palestinians had already left. Anyway, there was no translation into Arabic. The Palestinians were obviously happy to see a group of rabbis with anti-Zionist banners sitting in protest. After a round of their traditional Dabke dance, young Palestinians led the rabbis towards the buses in two chains, fencing them off from the countless people who wanted a photo op with them.
Then, without warning, the foreigners were taken to the mountain stronghold of Mleeta that Hezbollah famously held from1985 to 2000 during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. In 2010, the mountain’s reinforcements, tunnels and bunkers were de-classified and turned into a museum. Foreign activists were shown Katyusha rocket launchers, machine guns and catacombs, abandoned Israeli tanks, mines and shells. That was Hezbollah’s subtle way of reminding foreigners that the Lebanese know how to put up genuine resistance rather than simulating it.So the March to Jerusalem from Lebanon ended without incident, or a single step for that matter.