Denis MacEoin- Has the Firing Really Ceased

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Dr. Denis MacEoin is a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies and a specialist in Iranian Shi’ism.

Ceasefires are like rites of passage: you hope to go in one end as one thing and to come out the other deeply changed. So the unmarried maiden becomes a bride for a short time, after which she is transformed into a married woman. Undergraduates wear gowns and mortarboards and are addressed in Latin for a brief time, and emerge graduates, ready to begin proper adult life. As for ceasefires…. The plan is to go in as combatants and to emerge after months or years as political partners.

In spite of recent upsets, the Northern Irish ceasefire shows what can be done when a political party forces a terrorist organization to hold its hand. And hard though it may still prove, there are serious reasons for thinking a political agreement may come from it all.

What will happen now the UN has succeeded in forging a ceasefire between Israel and Hizbullah? As Israel pulls out of Lebanon, are there signs that this will lead to a permanent cessation of hostilities… or will it go the way of other ceasefires in the region, and end in further bloodshed? Already, Hizbullah has made it clear that it has no intention to disarm, the Lebanese government has said it has no intention of disarming it, and the French commander of the proposed UN force has insisted that it will not be in the new UNIFIL remit to take a single weapon away from Hizbullah. So what will hjappen in the next year or five years? A crystal ball might help here, but, in its absence, we might rely on what we already know of ceasefires involving Muslim forces

Beneath the surface of the whole Middle East struggle, lies, not a simple political dispute over power or land or the right to self-determination, but a much deeper religious quarrel. Hizbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and similar groupings – together with entire countries like Iran – put forward revanchist claims to the whole of Israel/Palestine. This is not because of the impossible claim that Palestinian Arabs have lived there for thousands of years (which they have not), or that there was a Palestinian state there before Israel (there was not), but because it is a fixed matter of Islamic law that, once a territory has been conquered for Islam, unbelievers can never be allowed to take it back again.

It is also a fixed principle that holy war (jihad) is not a matter limited to the era of the Arab conquests, or the centuries of struggle on the borders of Islam, but an ongoing duty incumbent on the Muslim community at large. It has to be suspended if the enemy is considered too strong, and for that reason there have only been localized jihads over the past two to three centuries.

However, several modern thinkers have argued that, even where Muslim states are weak, individuals have a duty to take up arms, even if that means engaging in terrorist activities.

But surely a ceasefire should work even then? Yes and no. The jihad can be suspended by the enaction of a formal ceasefire or hudna between the Muslims and their opponents. But jurisprudents have said this should go on for no more than ten years. Others say jihad should be fought once a year to show that the duty is being upheld. And it is widely held that the purpose of a ceasefire with unbelievers is to gain time to regroup, re-arm, and work on enemy weaknesses. Hamas has accepted and broken ten hudnas in as many years. Despite Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the 2005 ceasefire was followed by the firing of Qassam rockets into Israeli towns like Sderot. And now Hizbullah, with the backing of Iran and Syria, has made it clear that they intend to use this hiatus in the fighting to bathe their wounds and import more missiles.

In its 1988 charter, Hamas stated that ‘There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by jihad’. In article 13, it says ‘Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion.’

On this, Beverley Milton-Edwards and Alistair Crooke of Queen’s University comment: ‘This position suggested that there was a wholesale rejection of any mediated, peaceful resolution of the conflict. The Hamas leadership had an obsessive distrust of any externally and Western-inspired mediation centred on recognition of the state of Israel as a precondition for resolution. This meant that, in principle, Hamas was never comfortable with the notion of a ceasefire, because that clashed with the central concept of a historical struggle in which Islam and its forces were pitched against a political entity constructed as a Jewish state. The early covenant epitomized a hatred of the Jewish presence in historic and distinguished Hamas from other Palestinian groups by addressing the strategic presence of Israel as an entirely religious issue.’’ [1]

And just in case you were thinking that Hizbullah might be a little different, here’s a statement from the ‘Risala Maftuha’, an open letter written by Hizbullah’s founder Muhammad Hussein Fadl Allah, in 1988: ‘We see in Israel the vanguard of the United States in our Islamic world. It is the hated enemy that must be fought until the hated ones get what they deserve… Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.’

No UN ceasefire can eliminate this kind of triumphalist religious thinking, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. For Israel, this means on ongoing struggle against opponents who literally and seriously wish to kill every Jew in the country, to wipe the tiny Jewish state off the face of the map. If a ceasefire is to have any benefit, it has to be in a context where Hizbullah is acknowledged to be a terrorist army with no legitimacy in international law. The Lebanese government, assisted by the UN, has to retake possession of its country. That means expelling Hizbullah from parliament and using force to disarm and disband a group bent on bringing death and mayhem to the region. If that isn’t done, when this hudna is over – which will be when it suits Hizbullah and Iran – the war that has just ended will seem trivial in comparison to the one that will follow.


[1] Security Dialogue 35:3, 20/7/04, pp.298-9

Denis MacEoin- Has the Firing Really Ceased

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