BALATA, West Bank—Last month, in the midst of this Biblical landscape, Murad abu Shadi Marshoud had a revelation.
As he watched the mighty Israeli army held at bay by a small band of Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon, Marshoud said he understood its implications for the Palestinians' own resistance movement. "We've been doing everything wrong," the 26-year-old said. "Hezbollah has shown us the way. After years in the wilderness, Hezbollah has given us hope."
Marshoud and other Palestinians involved in the fight against Israel say they must emulate Hezbollah's guerrilla war tactics and training, its political savvy and its abundant funding from outside sources if it is to challenge Israel with any effectiveness.
Mohammed Salman, 24, says the Palestinian movement needs a top-to-bottom revival. "Our resistance is over. No one wants to admit it, but we've failed," he said. "We have to rebuild our movement, from the ground up, and the obvious model is Hezbollah."
For a resistance movement that has been at odds—and war—with Israel for most of four decades, but with little success, the Palestinians watched Hezbollah's month-long fight with rapt attention. Throughout the territories, people gleaned what they believe is wisdom and the means to move their own liberation struggle forward after decades of stagnation.
For many of them, the intensity of Hezbollah's training and discipline was eye-opening.
"Hezbollah is disciplined, sure of its steps," said Marshoud, twin brother of the late Khalil Marshoud, a leader in the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, which the State Department calls an extremist terrorist group. "For us a brigade is formed when four friends decide they are a brigade. I've never had a day of training. None of us have. Hezbollah fights with anti-tank missiles—that they know how to use. Many of us have nothing more than rocks."
Salman and Marshoud were among a group of Palestinian fighters who agreed to discuss what they learned this summer. At an informal meeting, young men with hard stares dropped in to listen, nod agreement, toss out a point of view and then leave without identifying themselves.
A 25-year-old member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said watching Hezbollah was "like going to school." The man, who would give only his nickname, "Honey," said: "Most obviously, we need a leader like (Hezbollah's Hassan) Nasrallah. Beyond that, we all need to believe that a free Palestine is more important than our personal glory, or riches, just as pushing Israel out of Lebanon was to Hezbollah."
The men sat around a small coffee table, holding juice glasses of hot sweet tea in a cramped room. Outside was Biblical landscape. A mile away: Jacob's well, the spot where a Samaritan woman gave Jesus a drink, and Joseph's tomb, where his bones were buried after being returned from Egypt.
But on the street outside, the gunfire was steady, as if keeping a beat.
The topic of Hezbollah and its exalted status is being talked about in more public places as well.
At a political rally in Ramallah, Qais Abue Laila, a former adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a Palestine Liberation Organization executive board member, extolled the virtues of Hezbollah. Hezbollah, estimated by Israel to have 2,000 to 3,000 fighters, is widely considered to have fought a much larger Israeli ground force to a standstill in July and August.
"They won the war," Laila said. "But they did not insist on having everything done their way during the peace negotiations. They were willing to compromise, in the best interests of the people. We have to learn that lesson."
He called it a realistic world view, and said that is something lacking in the current Palestinian makeup.
To be sure, there are significant differences between the two militant organizations. Hezbollah had spent six years digging into southern Lebanon, where it fought pitched battles with the Israeli Defense Force. The Palestinians, by comparison, live side-by-side with Israeli forces, dealing daily with military checkpoints, patrols and, in this village, security checkpoints for residents who attempt to leave.
Beyond that, Hezbollah is well funded, and by sources outside the control of Israel. Moving money around the West Bank is much more difficult. And Hezbollah trains and supports its fighters, creating what some experts believe is one of the most effective-ever guerrilla organizations. Palestinian fighters work without support, meaning few weapons, and no training.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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