A Bitter Encounter: The Shi'i Community under Israeli Occupation in South Lebanon

By Elena Aoun
Submitted to Session P4902 (Reconsidering Israeli-Lebanese Relations, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector without Audio;
About 40 years ago, in 1978, Israel invaded South Lebanon for the first time, in retaliation to repeated attacks by Palestinian Fedayeen, and it did so again in 1982. This second invasion gave way to a long-term occupation that was to last until 2000, when Israeli officials decided to unilaterally pull their forces out of Lebanon in a context that had almost completely changed at the local, regional and international levels. By then, a militarized Lebanese Shi'i “resistance” had replaced the initial Palestinian nationalist and “progressive” front against Israel, as embodied by Hezbollah, the powerful Iran-backed “Party of God”. Though the last direct confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah (2006) is now a decade old, there are clear signs that the antagonism between the two parties (and the societies or communities they claim to represent) is quite vivid, and that both sides are preparing for renewed military confrontation. Drawing on original data gathered as part of a research that focused on UNIFIL, the UN force in South Lebanon, this paper seeks to inquire more deeply into the bitter encounter between Israel and the Lebanese Shi'is in the 1980s and 1990s in order to better understand the mutual construction of the “enemy” that buttresses current enmity between the two sides. Grounded in constructivist and post-colonial approaches, the paper will focus on the early encounter between Israeli forces and the civilian Shi'i population of South Lebanon in an attempt to trace the multiple factors that played into the construction of mutual enmity. Based on UNIFIL reports and interviews with top military officials who served in this force in the 1980s and 1990s, on primary sources (testimonies, movies, reports, etc.) from Israel and South Lebanon, the paper will inquire into the various forms of violence that have been exerted and experienced, as well as the identity frames that allowed for such violence to be projected and how it fed into the construction of a long-term and apparently unsurmountable mutual enmity. Moving beyond this local encounter, the paper will also try to factor in the wider identity interplays in the region (Jews vs. Muslims; Iran as champion of Lebanese Shi'is) and to ask what role might have been played by the weakness, if not absence, of the Lebanese state as both a public service provider (including of security) and a relevant identity framer, in the emergence of non-negotiable primary identities.