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Israel making heroes of Hezbollah

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It's a V for victory," a volunteer explained, as if I needed translation for hand gestures as well as for Arabic. Apparently I did, because from where I stood, it looked like 10 little kids were posing for my camera waving peace signs.

I snapped the photo, and those same 10 kids, little V's still wiggling, instantly crowded around demanding to see the digital image.

I was at the art center at the Lebanese University in Beirut, not for a new exhibit but to celebrate the birthday of an 11-year-old girl, Souha. Since the beginning of the Israeli strikes on Lebanon, Souha and 300 other Lebanese have sought shelter here, hanging laundry where paintings once hung and facing the reality of war instead of the imagination of art class.

Souha's party was arranged by volunteers who organize activities for children at eight Beirut schools housing the displaced. The party was an opportunity for children to play and smile. Two acting students who were to arrive as clowns were late, so I became the opening act.

"What's your name?" a girl in a red tunic and white hijab asked me in Arabic. Two boys, one wearing an Italy football jersey, mumbled something in unison I was told was their attempt at "I love you" in German. We laughed. I took more photos.

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"Where are you from?" The boy in the Italy jersey asked. I said I was an American and quickly added that my father is Lebanese. It helps that my name is Iman, an Arabic word meaning faith. I added that I lived in Beirut, that this was now my home.
The boy smiled. "So you're only half-Ijnabi," he declared happily. Half-foreign.

Once my camera was turned off, most of the kids lost interest, and only a few girls remained around me.

"Do you like Israel?" Fatima, age 4, demanded. "No one likes Israel," she said, answering her own question.

Last week, online, I saw a photo of two Israeli girls only a little older than Fatima signing missiles before they were fired into South Lebanon. This week, Fatima and

her three sisters are living in a classroom. Her mother has no private space where she can remove her headscarf, and the family is living off food donations. I cannot see why Fatima would like Israel.

"Do you like the resistance?"Fatima asked again.

The girls all turned to me, smiling, and it was clear that everyone here liked the resistance. Although displaced, these families were not angry at Hezbollah. They were supportive. A victory would allow them to justify the loss of their homes as a sacrifice to the resistance.

These displaced people are mostly Shia Muslims. In a country where political positions are determined by religion, the majority Shia have historically felt disenfranchised and see Hezbollah as their voice in the nation. Hezbollah means empowerment, political voice, education, health care and farm equipment.

The Lebanese consider Hezbollah an indigenous resistance movement. It is rarely acknowledged that support comes from Iran and Syria. Hezbollah fighters are Lebanese fighting for land free of occupation and the release of prisoners. Hezbollah arose as a response to the 1982 Israeli occupation of Lebanon. The longer occupation lasted, the stronger Hezbollah got, even leading to participation in the Lebanese government.

Terrorism is often in the eye of the beholder - or its victims. To the Lebanese, terror comes from Israel, armed with American weapons, directed unequally against innocent civilians and Lebanese infrastructure as well as against Hezbollah outposts. For Israelis and Americans, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that targets Israeli civilians. While there is no doubt that Hezbollah has engaged in terrorist actions, the overwhelming force being used against Lebanon is turning even moderate, non-Shia, Lebanese against Israel.

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Iman Azzi writes for the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon. A native of New Hampshire, she graduated from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service in May with a major in Culture and Politics of the Middle East.

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Israel making heroes of Hezbollah

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Just as Bush has alienated the world by warring on... by ardee D. on Tuesday, Aug 8, 2006 at 7:26:04 AM