NABLUS - The narrow streets amid the breeze-block shacks of the Balata refugee
camp on the edge of the large West Bank City of Nablus have been a focus of
Palestinian militancy throughout the current Intifada (uprising) that was triggered
four years ago.
Balata is the birth place of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the group that is
allied to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement and is held responsible for countless
suicide attacks inside Israel.
Now Balata and the nearby Casbah of Nablus are, by the accounts of local leaders,
among the centers of a new phenomenon: they provide a fertile ground for the
growing involvement of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement with the Palestinian
Israel has been making this claim for some time and has recently upped the
rhetoric. Hezbollah has been accused of being involved in one way or another
in some 75 percent of attacks and attempted attacks over the last couple of
A Palestinian security source in Ramallah who wants to remain unnamed confirmed
to IPS that the Palestine Authority (PA) is aware of the level of Hezbollah
"support" to militant groups. As with all forms of militancy, the
PA is unwilling to act "as long as the Israeli aggression continues."
The suspected involvement of Hezbollah is potentially very dangerous for the
region. The group is supported by Syria and Iran and Israel has repeatedly made
clear that anyone who aids the attacks against it is a potential target. Hezbollah
is on the U.S. State Department's list of terror organizations but not on the
Leaders of both the Fatah movement as well as the Islamic opposition in Nablus
agree that Hezbollah is indeed involved in "some practical ways" with some
armed groups. Nobody is willing to admit being the recipient of such a support,
which is not very well defined either.
The main avenue for Hezbollah backing is said to be financial aid to groups
through banks based in Jordan that also operate in the Palestinian territories.
Hezbollah is also said to be involved in trying to supply arms.
It is also alleged that it trains Palestinians in Iran and that it is providing
intelligence and information via the Internet on how to carry out attacks and
making explosives and missiles. The Lebanon-based Hezbollah TV-station Al-Manar
is also a potent influence among Palestinians.
Hezbollah itself recently said that it is supporting the Palestinians with
deeds, not only words. After a chief operative of the organization was killed
in Beirut in July, Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the victim
was the movement's coordinator for the Palestinian areas.
The group is popular among the Palestinians who admire it for its struggle
against the Israeli occupation of the South of Lebanon for almost 20 years.
They see the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000 as the first real Arab victory over
the Jewish state.
IPS investigations revealed that the much talked-about increase in Hezbollah's
involvement in Gaza and the West Bank is causing divisions within the Palestinian
camp. Large sections of the PA and the ruling Fatah movement said they were
unhappy with this "foreign meddling."
"Hezbollah's support is not innocent. They want to block all prospects of
a peace process," said Nasser Badawi, a senior Fatah leader from Balata who
is very close to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. He spent 17 months in an Israeli
jail until earlier this year.
In Balata and other centers of Palestinian militancy, such as Jenin and Gaza,
many of the cells that profess to be part of Arafat's Fatah faction actually
have only a very loose connection with the Brigades.
But many of the groups that number no more than four to ten people have no
qualms about accepting money from the Hezbollah.
Badawi is aware of the problem, which he has encountered in Balata. "It is
true that many of the small groups look for support to people like Hezbollah.
That is not good, we don't want our people to be influenced by outsiders and
we try to act against it."
Another Fatah leader in Nablus, Luai Abdo, is even more vehement about the
Hezbollah involvement. "If Israel and Syria have a problem it is not fought
out on the Golan heights but here in the West Bank or in Gaza."
He too points at the financial and institutional weakness of the PA and Fatah.
"We are divided and weak. That is why everybody else is poking their nose in
Yet not all Fatah leaders are averse to accepting money from the Hezbollah.
"If groups like Hezbollah want to support our cause it should be done through
national organizations such as the Fatah," says Amin Maqbul.
He is one of the highest ranking Fatah leaders in the West Bank, having taken
over the "executive committee" after the arrest of Marwan Barghouti,
a major Intifada leader.
He is aware of reports that money is being sluiced to Fatah through banks in
Jordan and in other ways, and he believes that those reports are correct.
"The problem arises when individual groups receive support form abroad –
and go against our national policy," says Maqbul. He has no doubt that this
is the case and he says it has led to tensions with Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
Fatah accuses these groups of having torpedoed a cease-fire "on orders from
abroad." Maqbul says that in discussions with these groups Fatah has protested
strongly against these "foreign influences."
Youssef Aaref, a senior leader of the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, rejects
such criticism. "Our struggle is legitimate so it is also legitimate to get
support from outside for it."
He confirms that Hezbollah is in some ways involved with Palestinian groups,
but he says Jihad does not receive money from the Lebanese movement or from
Iran. "Logistically it is very difficult," he says without elaborating.
Apart from a part of Fatah that feels threatened by foreign support to other
groups, Hezbollah's aid seems to be welcomed. Abdel Sater Kassem, a lecturer
at Al-Najjah university in Nablus – who is close to the Islamic opposition
and plans to run against Arafat if elections are held next year – says
it is Hezbollah's duty to help the Palestinians. "It is in their program."
He too is convinced Hezbollah is directly involved, but he cannot say how.
Kassem says that the Palestinians need Hezbollah's aid because they themselves
are not well-organized and are not "true revolutionaries."
Also, Palestinians are too willing to compromise. "Even if all Arabs have
made peace with Israel, Hezbollah will fight on."