News | War / Peace - Lebanon / Syria / Iraq - Palestine / Jordan - War in Israel/Palestine A View of the War from Lebanon

The war in Gaza has reinforced Hezbollah’s importance in Lebanon, while locals are highly critical of the role played by Germany



Tanja Tabbara,

[Translate to en:] Solidarität mit Gaza im Libanon: Wandbild mit einem «Gaza»-Grafitti und einem Bild des bekannten palästinensischen Aktivisten und Autoren Bassel al-Araj, aufgenommen in Beirut/Hamra.
Solidarity with Gaza in Lebanon: a mural with graffiti that reads “Gaza” and a picture of the well-known Palestinian activist and author Bassel al-Araj, an icon of Palestinian resistance taken in Hamra, Beirut.



Photo: Tanja Tabbara

“You need a breather”, a chance to get out of the country and catch your breath, a Lebanese acquaintance in Berlin told me two years ago on the eve of my departure for Beirut, where I would be taking over the role of director of the regional office of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

Tanja Tabbara is a lawyer and a scholar in Islamic studies. She has been the director of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s regional office in Beirut since February 2022.

In terms of Lebanon’s ongoing crisis, nothing has changed in the meantime. The elites are fighting off political reforms with all their might, despite the rampant economic devastation in the country. More than three quarters of the population live below the poverty line and yearly inflation has spiked to around 200 percent, meaning an average of around 17 percent per month.

Hezbollah: War Profiteers

The war in Gaza has exacerbated the already critical situation in Lebanon, sparking a series of military skirmishes between Israel and the Shiite Hezbollah at the border between the two countries. People in Lebanon are currently mourning the (presumably deliberate) killing of three journalists who died while reporting on the war from the border.

Israel’s attacks have caused extensive destruction in the south of Lebanon, with some 80,000 people having been forced to flee to the north. Phosphorus bombs dropped by Israeli forces have razed more than 40,000 olive trees, destroying the livelihoods of much of that region’s rural population. An escalation of the armed conflict would have a devastating effect on the already crisis-ridden country, something that Hezbollah is well aware of. To avoid any pretext for escalation, the group has meticulously calculated every one of its moves.

When Hezbollah entered into the Syrian civil war alongside Bashar al-Assad in 2013, it relinquished its status as a “pure” resistance force fighting against the occupying power Israel, and subsequently lost the support of large swathes of the population. Up until that point, even those who were opposed to Hezbollah’s policies had tolerated the group’s role as a protector of the southern border. Now, even its own voter base — particularly the country’s Shiite youth, who themselves did not experience the most recent wars — are distancing themselves from Hezbollah and are instead travelling abroad to secure their futures. When the organisation prevented an investigation into the port explosion on 4 August 2020 (fuelling speculation about its involvement), this resulted in increased disapprobation from the Lebanese population. The elections in May 2022 revealed that Hezbollah no longer enjoyed majority support.

Fear and tension are palpable everywhere in Lebanon, especially among those who experienced the 2006 war or the Israeli invasions of 1978 and 1982.

The war in Gaza has presented Hezbollah with a major opportunity to revamp its image as a resistance group and restore its reputation, something that all three wings of the organization — military, political, and social — are equally committed to. Hezbollah has seized this opportunity and is currently on the campaign trail in the south of the country.

The Lebanese state is propped up by a patronage system in which political leaders of the different confessional communities pick up the slack where the state has failed the population: mostly in regards to the country’s social welfare system. Decades of mismanagement and corruption have contributed to the ongoing crisis, which culminated in the near-collapse of the country’s economic and financial system at the end of 2019, causing many people to lose all their savings.

Hezbollah’s promise is simple: it provides social services in exchange for votes. The organization has control over a broad network of hospitals and schools; members receive a card with which they can buy Iranian food and medicines at reduced prices in Hezbollah supermarkets. In Lebanon, “exchanging” your vote in order to guarantee access to basic social services is an extremely tempting offer, even for Christian and Druze families. Even the aid packages sent by international donor organizations only reach the beleaguered families in the south via Hezbollah channels. According to a correspondent from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah distributes the aid selectively and mainly to its own supporters.

Where Does the Lebanese Left Stand?

The Lebanese Left is horrified by the war and by the support most Western countries have given to Israel. The more than 28,000 deaths have provoked a great deal of anger in the country. Our work at the RLS office has become extremely difficult, since it is nigh impossible to justify the positions coming out of Germany regarding the war. The critical segment of civil society in Lebanon has a strong moral compass with regard to the violence in Gaza. From their point of view, many Germans have lost this compass; how else could the silence in the face of such horrific violence be interpreted?

Germany has made almost no clear statements against the war, despite the fact that the country could have played a constructive role as a mediator. Instead, the Lebanese public perceives Germany to be arrogant, self-righteous, and cold. Here, the empathy directed only towards one side, demonstrated by German coverage of the war, is largely to blame: indeed, German media has generally avoided showing images of the war, and rather than being informative, a majority of the reporting seems oddly manipulative, or the tone characterized by an almost missionary zeal. Our office in Beirut has received angry comments accusing Germany of double standards given its stance of defending human rights.

Fear and tension are palpable everywhere in Lebanon, especially among those who experienced the 2006 war or the Israeli invasions of 1978 and 1982. The murder of thousands of Gazans is being broadcast live on Lebanese TV. People are asking themselves why no one is putting a stop to these atrocities. It seems humanity itself has been buried beneath the rubble. What will happen when the Israeli army attacks Lebanon? Will everyone remain silent then, will no one come to help? It is therefore not surprising that — as happened in the 2006 war — there are some on the left who share the stance of my correspondent, saying: “in peacetime, Hezbollah is an enemy like any other right-wing group, but in times of war we must support it, albeit critically, since it protects the Lebanese border”. Others on the left stress that the war is making the discourse more polarized and as a result there is less space for critical perspectives.

Before the war, Berlin was considered the cultural capital for Arabs, and many immigrants felt they belonged to a diverse community in Germany. Since then, however, many people’s perspectives have undergone a dramatic shift.

To be sure, the war in Gaza has been a major boon for organizations such as Hezbollah. Meanwhile, it seems like left-wing groups and viable political alternatives have all but disappeared, only a few years after their election seemed possible. The attitude of the West has served as fodder for Islamist preachers, who already consider the Western institutions within the country to be an anathema.

At this time, tensions have eased around those who are normally made scapegoats of Lebanon’s political failures, namely the marginalized in society, Syrian refugees, and queer groups. Many people blame them for all the crises in society, and before the war, they were subject to hate speech from politicians and physical attacks by right-wing groups.

Even though attention has mostly shifted to the war, it seems clear to my interviewee that right-wing forces, bolstered by the war, will focus renewed aggression on the critical segments of civil society and marginalized groups once this is over. In any case, the right-wing groups have not disbanded. For example the “Soldiers of God”, a right-wing Christian group, continues to push left-wing protesters out of neighbourhoods where in recent decades queer communities have found a home.

Germany Provokes Anxieties

This development has provoked a great deal of uncertainty in Lebanon. Nevertheless, as I was recently told in an interview by a representative of one of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Lebanese partner organizations, “the intimidation of Arab migrant communities currently underway in Germany is more frightening”.

Before the war, Berlin was considered the cultural capital for Arabs, and many immigrants felt they belonged to a diverse community in Germany. Since then, however, many people’s perspectives have undergone a dramatic shift. This is also due to the way in which the scope of discourse has been restricted: opinions that do not align with (a narrow interpretation of) the German Staatsräson, or “reason of state”, are increasingly pushed to the margins of public discourse. Rather than constructive engagement with school pupils, Germans are quick to finger-wag and implement bans on Palestinian keffiyehs in schools. Many Lebanese people have begun to notice that the marginalization of “the other” is back in fashion in Germany and that their place within German society is being called into question. Artists and academics from West Asia and North Africa are suffering from the situation in which the war in Gaza is used as a pretext for a shift to the right.

The feeling of exclusion is particularly distressing for those who have for years been working creatively on creating a diverse, inclusive society. New clauses purporting to be anti-discrimination and there to protect different religious denominations end up resembling discrimination clauses instead, since they exclude many people who have a different opinion on the war or the Israeli state. Many of my interlocutors have remarked that this feels like a culture war. It ultimately enables the very thing it was said to prevent. Artists have therefore called for a boycott of German state-funded institutions, protesting against Germany’s stance on the war in Gaza, structural racism, and the restriction of their artistic freedom in Germany. The lead singer of the popular (but now defunct) Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila is among those taking part in the boycott.

Because of the war, I’ve been travelling back and forth between Germany and Lebanon a lot. The situation in Lebanon is uncertain and tense, and people are wondering if there will be a larger regional war. Nevertheless, Germany feels constrained and oppressive, as if it has abandoned all sense of reason. Because of this, I am always happy when I can travel to Lebanon.

Hundreds of thousands of people are currently taking to the streets in German cities to demonstrate against the far right. That gives cause for hope. Perhaps in Germany it is considered more politically acceptable to demonstrate against the far right than it is to demonstrate for Palestinian lives; but perhaps this also expresses a certain unease with the political situation in Germany, which also relates to Germany’s attitude towards the war and its treatment of the Arab communities living in the country.

Translated by Hunter Bolin and Rowan Coupland for Gegensatz Translation Collective.