by Rana Harbi, Al-Akhbar English
Thousands of mourners — overwhelmingly youth — poured into the streets of the southern suburbs of Beirut, known as Dahiyeh, on Monday to bid farewell to their friend, classmate and fellow comrade Jihad Mughniyeh. Jihad is one of six Hezbollah fighters killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria on Sunday, opening the door to a retaliation by the resistance party and serious repercussions for the whole region.
Mourners beat their chests in unison and sobbing women on balconies threw rose petals at the casket draped in a Hezbollah flag as it was carried by men in full military garb out of the overflowing hall and into streets thronged with a large mass of people.
To his family and loved ones, Jihad, the 24-year-old son of assassinated senior Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, returned a martyr and a hero, someone who died fighting to protect their right to live in dignity.
Turbaned clerics, black-clad women, children and students with their backpacks and school uniforms marched the streets behind the coffin, pumping their fists in the air, chanting, “Our party is Hezbollah, our leader is Nasrallah.” Loud bursts of celebratory machine-gunfire echoed throughout Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Political figures also attended the funeral amid tight security as hundreds of men were dispersed on crumbling rooftops and balconies of apartment buildings that survived Israel’s brutal 2006 onslaught.
“They will not scare us,” shouted a man over a loudspeaker. “We will never be humiliated.”
“Death to Israel; Death to America,” the crowd roared in response.
Amid the crowd, Jihad’s university friends embraced a bit tighter and longer than usual. Meeting for the first time since Jihad’s death, they buried their faces in each other’s shoulders, unable to look each other in the eyes. Three kisses on the cheek, and with every kiss comforting words were whispered in their ears: “Stay strong … he got what he wished for … he is in a better place …. life is transient … death inevitably follows birth … life is not everlasting.”
The streets of Ghobairy and Chiyah are accustomed to this scene: petals raining from above; tears; women and men flowing in from every direction; the sounds of chanting, sobbing and occasional wailing piercing the air as a casket is held high by mourners.
Since Hezbollah came into existence, thousands of martyrs, including Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated by Israel in 2008 in Damascus, have been held on supporters’ shoulders and buried in this area.
Refusing to live in humiliation
We were playing football when we heard the news,” Mehdi, one of Jihad’s close friends, told Al-Akhbar English. “We are saddened by the parting of a loved one, but we rejoice in his death. He not only yearned for martyrdom, he was serious in seeking it.”
According to his friends, Jihad dropped out of the Lebanese American University (LAU) only one semester before graduation. He was studying business.
“An opportunity presented itself to him at that very moment and he had to take it,” Mehdi explained, his fingers moved rhythmically over a set of prayer beads.
“He could have chosen to wait until graduation, but he didn’t. Today, right now, we are all attending the graduation he has long dreamed of.”
When asked why Jihad had chosen to go to an American university like LAU, one of his friends joked, “Well, because he couldn’t get into AUB [American University of Beirut].”
In a more serious tone, he then added, “To get a decent education like any other young Lebanese man.”
Struggling with conflicting feelings of sadness, anger, pride and happiness — a concoction of emotions that has long fascinated Westerners — Jihad’s friends countered the media’s heightened dehumanization and one-dimensional portrayals of pro-resistance Lebanese youth.
“My heart is grieving for his loss,” said Hussein, Jihad’s friend and classmate. “I was shocked upon hearing the news of his martyrdom. I wasn’t able to sleep last night. Visions and memories kept running through my head.”
Jihad’s friends described him as a young man who loved and enjoyed good company, was faithful to his beliefs, devoted to his work, affectionate, charismatic, and very intelligent. A man who sacrificed his soul long before his body, who disdained injustices and had no interest in clinging to life and its vanities. Someone who was expected to become a leader.
“He would find joy in having a cup of coffee on the Corniche seafront in front the Rock of Raouché or on LAU’s upper gate before class, spending calm nights in southern Lebanon with the guys … any activity that involved us coming together and having a good time,” Hussein said before he took out his phone and went through his photos of Jihad.
“This was taken on his birthday,” Hussein, holding back tears, pointed to his phone. “It is hard, you know, the parting. But our sadness over his departure will not weaken our adherence to his path.”
This path Hussein and his companions spoke of is believed to lead to the eventual end of the Zionist state of Israel.
“[Hezbollah chief] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in 2008 that ‘the blood of Imad Mughniyeh will eliminate Israel,’ and I trust his words,” Hussein said.
As Jihad’s friends recounted happy memories with Jihad, they also expressed their frustration over what they believed to be “a deceitful and untrue portrayal” of Hezbollah’s youth members in the media.
“It is not about desiring death, it is about refusing to live in humiliation,” Ali, Jihad’s friend and fellow Hezbollah combatant told Al-Akhbar English, insisting that this was a celebration for a loved one he deeply admired.
“He [Jihad] had longed for martyrdom, yearned for the moment he would again meet his father. God granted him his long-cherished wish. I do not weep for him. In fact I envy him.”
Blood that won’t be shed in vain
In a somber mood and thick silence, Jihad’s friends waited outside the cemetery, where Jihad was buried in the same grave with his father, to say their goodbyes and pay their respects.
Jihad is but one of the hundreds of fighters who have died in Syria since Hezbollah joined the conflict in the neighboring country.
Hezbollah’s role in Syria has sparked controversy in Lebanon, with some supporting the movement’s preliminary move and others arguing against it, accusing Hezbollah of meddling in Syrian affairs, fighting on the side of an unwanted regime, and dragging the country into the turmoil by attracting retaliatory violence in Lebanon.
Many Lebanese youth affiliated to the March 14 movement have also taken part in the Syria conflict, joining both rebel groups seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamist extremists hoping to establish a cross border “Islamic caliphate.”
For his part, Ali remained resolute in his defense of the resistance group.
“We are neither brainwashed nor suicidal, we are well-aware and have graduated from the best universities,” Ali asserted as he defended Hezbollah’s involvement in war-battered Syria.
“Should we have waited until they [extremist militants] sneaked up on us like they did in [Iraq’s] Mosul? We have every right to defend a land [Lebanon] that has been drenched with the blood of our martyrs.”
The airstrike exposed Hezbollah’s involvement in the Golan area, which was the scene of reported cooperation between Israel and al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, al-Nusra Front, which has been clashing with the Syrian army.
Sunday’s killings place Hezbollah in a tough spot, as it weighs carefully on how to respond. A retaliation could bring severe consequences that could plunge Lebanon into yet another crippling war with the Zionist state.
Israel and Hezbollah have avoided large-scale confrontation since a month-long war in 2006. However, the raid, which Hezbollah-affiliated news channel Al-Manar branded as “a costly adventure that threatens the security of the Middle East,” came days after Nasrallah threatened to retaliate against Israel for its repeated strikes on targets in Syria.
“God willing, the resistance will retaliate but the leadership of the resistance will be the one to decide the nature and timing,” Ali stated. “We can’t react based on our anger and emotions. We must think rationally and wait.”
Speaking to reporters at the funeral, Mahmoud Qumati, a member of Hezbollah’s political bureau, said an all-out war was unlikely, but that “strikes, assassinations, and intermittent confrontation will continue.”
However, another Hezbollah official, MP Bilal Farhat, refused to say what might happen next. “Let’s wait and see,” he said.
“We want retaliation for Hajj Imad [Mughniyeh] first and foremost,” Mehdi said. “I don’t know when and how but I’m sure Hezbollah won’t let the blood of our martyrs go to waste.”
“’With this murder, its timing, location and method — Zionists, if you want this kind of open war, let the whole world listen: Let this war be open,’” Mehdi quoted Nasrallah as saying in 2008 following Mughniyeh’s assassination. “Us being near the Golan is part of this open war.”