The Hezbollah is going green with an eco-jihad as a tactic of war against Israel.
On October 9, 2010, Hezbullah‘s Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, briefly came out of hiding to mark the end of Hezbullah’s campaign to plant million trees in Lebanon to restore the country’s forests. This campaign was organized by Jihad al-Binaa, Hezbullah’s reconstruction arm, and sponsored by the Lebanese Minister of Agriculture, Hussein Hajj Hassan.
The trees, he said, would scare Israel.
Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim political party and militant group based in Lebanon, where its extensive security apparatus, political organization, and social services network fostered its reputation as “a state within a state.” Founded in the chaos of the fifteen-year Lebanese Civil War, the Iran-backed group is driven by its opposition to Israel and its resistance to Western influence in the Middle East.
With a shovel on his hand, Hassan Nasrallah was shown on Hezbullah’s al-Manar television station digging a hole, planting and watering a small tree outside his home, which was destroyed by air raids during the July 2006 War. Hassan Nasrallah, who had been last seen in public in July 2008, was accompanied by the Lebanese Minister of Agriculture for the ceremony.
Nasrallah gave a speech at the event in which he praised Jihad al-Binaa for its role in organizing this campaign.
He said that “this is an ancient Jihad for Jihad Al Binaa. However and praise be to Allah Al Mighty it was an ascending jihad. Perhaps the only period of time in which the agricultural and tree-planting side retreated was in 2006 when Jihad Al Binaa was occupied with a greater priority – namely facing the repercussions of July War in 2006. This year the effort was advanced and made greater through the advertisement and the execution of the million tree campaign.”
Nasrallah plants a tree near his home
However, Nasrallah said that planting trees should not be organized and implemented only by Jihad al-Binaa, but “we must deal with it as an important great national issue which needs mustering all efforts. Hence was the cooperation between the Ministry of Agriculture in Lebanon, the various municipalities, the youths’ societies and others.”
He added that “We, Lebanese. Always extol the green Lebanon. Of course this will soon be a thing of the past.”
According to Nasrallah, green Lebanon is not going to last much longer due to desertification, rampant building and environmental neglect.
Another reason for that, according to Nasrallah’s speech, is that the trees have a very significant role as one of Lebanon’s natural defensive characteristic.
In this context, he blamed Israel for setting trees on fire, shelling and destroying trees within the territories occupied by her in south Lebanon and the Biqa’ between the years 1982 – 2000. Also during the July 2006 War, Israel shelled many forests without any reason other than destroying one of Lebanon’s natural defensive characteristics.
Therefore, Nasrallah urged all Lebanese to follow his example and plant trees outside their homes. Nasrallah gave religious justifications to his plea by citing Islamic traditions and hadiths.
He said that “afforestation is part of Lebanese national security”, since “Lebanon Protects the tree so that it will protect Lebanon.”
The Planting Activities of Jihad al-Binaa
This ceremony marked the end of Jihad al-Binaa’s campaign to plant one million trees throughout Lebanon during the year 2010. The campaign would not be possible without the help of Syria. Its Ministry of Agriculture donated more than 800,000 trees for the project. The campaign focused on reforesting green areas burned during the July 2006 War. About 290,000 of the trees were planted in south Lebanon.
Jihad al-Binaa’s General Manager, Architect Muhammad Hajj, said a few days before the end of the campaign that “throughout 18 years, we have planted around 7,300,000 trees. The average increases yearly.”
He stressed that during the past few years, Jihad al-Binaa had been successfully planting one million trees every year and the “one million tree campaign” in 2010 just emphasized this frame of work. According to him, in 2010, the tree plantings involved cooperation with around 4,700 groups throughout Lebanon including community groups, municipalities, organizations, farmers, associations and scout groups. This campaign is expected to continue to be conducted on a yearly basis, while each year a certain region will be prioritized.
Architect Muhammad Hajj further said that the aims of the 2010 one million tree campaign are manifold: “its major aim is to enhance the environment and fight desertification, which has become a phenomenon in Lebanon due to the fires, cutting trees and other reasons. Therefore, this campaign pours into recovering Lebanon’s green cover.”
However, this project had also other aims including education of the people concerning the importance of the land, of reconstruction, of recovering greenery and of resistance. Architect Muhammad Hajj mentioned that “the Holy Qur’an focused on the importance of reconstruction and agricultural works”. But, according to him, the most important thing is the resistance aspect of the trees, since they have served as shelter for thousands of Hezbullah fighters.
Architect Muhammad Hajj added that there have been efforts to make the Dahiyah quarter in Beirut green along with the process of its continued reconstruction following the damages that it suffered during the July 2006 War. These efforts are managed by Jihad al-Binaa in cooperation with the municipalities.
He said that “the municipalities own few lands in the suburbs, and these are rather used for public services like building schools and organizations. Therefore, they work on planting small fields instead, and plant greenery on the sides of the highways, roads, and sidewalks. Due to that, one of the ideas the municipalities consider is to plant green field on the buildings’ roofs as well”.
Jihad al-Binaa’s Environmental Activities
Nasrallah’s speech as well as the interview conducted with Jihad al-Binaa’s General Manager, Architect Muhammad Hajj, shed light on the environmental activities of Jihad al-Binaa, which began already in the late 1980s and have been going on uninterruptedly ever since, except for the July 2006 War.
Jihad al-Binaa (Holy Reconstruction Organ) is an organ within Hezbullah which provides support services to its members, new recruits, and supporters. These services range from medical care to financial aid, housing, and public utilities. It is divided into 8 committees. Three of these committees are engaged in environmental or environmental-related issues.
The Water and Power Resources Committees has fixed over one hundred water and power stations from the Biqa’ to the South. The Environmental Committee has been active in studying and surveying polluted areas, while the Agricultural Committee has established agricultural cooperatives selling insecticides, seeds, and fertilizers to farmers at prices lower than the market price. The work of all committees is supervised by a technical and administrative committee, which is part of Jihad al-Binaa, whose main aim is to study and provide help for impoverished regions of Lebanon.
Jihad al-Binaa’s environmental activity began in the late 1980s, when Hezbullah seized control of the Shi’ite Dahiyah quarter in Beirut after defeating the Amal faction. Then, the Hezbullah leaders found themselves responsible for finding immediate solutions for the social service crisis faced by about half million inhabitants of the quarter which was about to exacerbate even more because many families, who were displaced by the fierce fighting between the Shi’ite factions in the south, continued to find refuge there.
During that period, which overlapped General Michel Aoun’s administration (1988 – 1990), the Dahiyah was almost completely cut off from water and electricity services due to neglect and fighting. As a result, about 40 percent of the water from Ayn al-Dilbin, the Dahiyah’s major source of drinking water, had been lost and its purity had been gravely compromised. In an attempt to supply the ever-growing populace, water authorities dug artesian wells but this ultimately resulted in contamination of the whole water network.
On this background, Hezbollah decided to first deal with the severe public health hazards threatening the Dahiyah, i.e., the piling garbage and the short water and electricity supply, especially in the absence of any other effective local or central authorities. Already in 1988, it started to build daily garbage collection service to remove the mountains of waste that had built up over the years.
This mechanism replaced a basic governmental function in several municipalities. This service operated five years until the Lebanese Sanitation Department started to get back on its feet. Yet, Hezbullah is still operating its daily garbage collection service and treats it with insecticides to supplement the government’s service.
In addition, Jihad al-Binaa was engaged in the installation of drinking fountains and decent toilets at public school in the Dahiyah as well as in supplying its inhabitants with emergency water delivery and electricity. With help from the Iranian government, Jihad al-Binaa constructed public water containers, provided cisterns and employed several drivers to transport water to the suburbs from nearby sources, in addition to extending the water network by some 15,000 meters of water pipes.
It built 4,000-litre water reservoirs in each district of the southern suburbs and filling each of them five times a day from continuously circulating tanker trucks. Generators mounted on trucks also made regular rounds from building to building to provide electricity to pump water from private cisterns. For that aim, Jihad al-Binaa has been purchasing the portable water from the Beirut Water Board on a daily basis and the cistern fills up from the main reservoir of Bourj Abi Haidar in Beirut. To this date, the inhabitants of the Dahiyah are still dependent on Hezbullah to provide them with drinking water.
In order to solve the problem of regular supply of water for the residents of the Dahiyah, Jihad al-Binaa presented at the beginning of the 2000s a construction plan to build the Bisri Dam project on the Awali River, which would have the capacity of collecting 600,000 cubic meters of water, from which it would draw 120,000 cubic meters for the regular water supply of the Dahiyah’s residents.
The construction of the dam has not been finalized yet. On April 24, 2010, the Lebanese cabinet finally tasked the Council for Development and Reconstruction with completing the Bisri Dam Project despite its location near a major seismic fault line.
Jihad al-Binaa has also been engaged in environmental activities in rural areas in south Lebanon and in the Biqa’. In these areas, Jihad al-Binaa has been focused on agricultural projects including training, laboratories and forestation projects. Indeed, already in 1992, Jihad al-Binaa started the “Good Tree” Project, which has been conducted annually since then. The project has involved planting trees in the different Lebanese regions.
As of 2003, Jihad al-Binaa was planting some 40,000 trees annually in each reforestation campaign.
It developed an agricultural project in the Biqa’, which emphasized farming as a religious duty that met the needs of the Muslim people. Between 1998 and 2002, Jihad al-Binaa built or renovated seven agricultural center cooperatives.
As of 2004, Jihad al-Binaa served about 5,000 farmers across Lebanon, offering pesticides and fertilizers at cost as well as a free extension service. Its veterinarians held yearly vaccinations for cows, goats and sheep, and keep tabs on fish as well. Jihad al-Binaa is also engaged with organic farming to reduce environmental stress and help meet a new domestic demand for healthy food. It used to distribute every year about half a million forest and fruit-bearing seedlings in order to help combat desertification and prevent erosion.
From the late 1980s, Hezbullah has shown itself to be really engaged in environmental activities in the Dahiyah, south Lebanon and the Biqa’, regions populated heavily by Shi’ites, and also elsewhere throughout Lebanon. These environmental activities have included public health, agriculture, and organic farming.
In the absence of governmental, regional or local and municipal authorities, Hezbullah had first conducted these environmental activities without any competition and, thus, succeeded to win the Shi’ite Lebanese allegiance and loyalty, which later on would be translated into political power in the Lebanese parliament.
Alongside the above mentioned environmental activities, Hezbullah has also been engaged in planting trees. Indeed, trees are very important to the Lebanese. Trees, and especially cedar trees, have been connected with Lebanon from ancient times.
The cedar tree is the symbol of modern Lebanon and is shown on its flag. Lebanon without trees will not be the same country anymore. Hezbullah, as a Lebanese Islamic organization, has really worked hard on reforestation of the parts of Lebanon which have suffered deforestation and combating desertification is one of the stated goals of Jihad al-Binaa.
Green as a tactic of war
Yet, according to Hezbullah’s ideology, the greening of Lebanon has not been done for the sake of fighting desertification and afforestation of the country alone, but mainly as means of fighting against Israel.
The trees are a main strategic natural element in the struggle of Hezbullah against Israel. The trees have been serving as a place of refuge and hiding for Hezbullah’s fighters. The forests’ canopy used to hide ammunition, rocket launchers and other fighting means of Hezbullah. Thus, the trees have been an inseparable part of the strategy of Hezbullah’s ongoing struggle against Israel.
Therefore, from Hezbullah point of view, planting millions of trees in Lebanon is not only important from an environmental point of view, but it is also important for ensuring its present and future role, as it used to be in the past, as a vital strategic natural asset in the struggle against Israel.
Thus, the current plantation of trees and reforestation of south Lebanon, among other regions, might also serve from Hezbullah point of view as a preparation for the next cycle of fighting against Israel, when, as Nasrallah put it, “Lebanon protects the tree so that it will protect Lebanon.”