Palestinians in Lebanon ready to fight if Israel starts war with Hezbollah

Palestinians in Lebanon believe they will be targeted if Israel intensifies its conflict with Hezbollah. But many say they’re prepared.

Members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) march during a parade marking the annual al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day), at Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon
Members of the PFLP-GC march in a parade marking the annual Quds Day at Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut on April 14, 2023 [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Shatila refugee camp, Beirut, Lebanon – Palestinians in Lebanon have watched Israel’s assault on Gaza with simmering anger and are now facing the prospect of a similar fate if Israel wages an all-out war against the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah began engaging Israel almost immediately after the latter began its war on Gaza, which has killed more than 37,000 people and uprooted almost the entire population.

The Lebanese group has repeatedly said it would stop its attacks on Israel once a ceasefire took hold in Gaza and Israel stopped its bombardment on the people living there.

Israel’s assault followed a Hamas-led surprise attack on Israeli communities and military outposts on October 7, in which 1,139 people were killed and 250 taken captive.

Ready to go home

In the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, many people involved in resistance movements told Al Jazeera that they’re not scared, and would fight to support Hezbollah and the wider “axis of resistance” in the region against Israel.

But they fear for their families and civilians, worrying that Israel would deliberately target densely populated residential areas in Lebanon, like the Palestinian camps, where tens of thousands of people live packed tightly together.

“The Israeli army has no ethics. They don’t abide by human rights or consider the rights of children,” said Ahed Mahar, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command [PFLP-GC] in Shatila.

“The Israeli army is just driven by revenge.”

Some 250,000 Palestinians live in 12 refugee camps across Lebanon, fleeing there after Zionist militias expelled them from their homeland to make way for the creation of Israel in 1948 – a day referred to as the Nakba, meaning “catastrophe”.

Since then, Palestinians have longed to return to their homeland, Hassan Abu Ali, a 29-year-old man who grew up in Shatila told Al Jazeera.

If a major war erupted in the country, he said, he and his mother would grab a few belongings and head to the border between Lebanon and Israel.

“I think many Palestinians will try to go back to Palestine at once if there is a war. That’s what people in the camp talk about,” he said.

Abu Ali said he believes Israel could bomb Palestinian camps and then claim they harboured resistance fighters, justifications similar to those it has used when bombing neighbourhoods and displacement camps in Gaza, according to rights groups and legal scholars.

Members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) march during a parade marking the annual al-Quds Day, (Jerusalem Day), at Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon
The PFLP-GC has a presence in Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon. Shown here, PFLP-GC members march in a parade marking Quds Day at Burj al-Barajneh on April 14, 2023 [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Palestinians will have “no other option” but to return to their homeland if the camps in Lebanon are destroyed, said Abu Ali, adding that as stateless refugees, Palestinians face harsh legal discrimination and live in poverty in Lebanon.

“The only places I’d be able to go to are Palestine or Europe,” Abu Ali told Al Jazeera. “But to go to Europe, I need $10,000 or $12,000 for a smuggler to get out of here. That’s impossible.”

Ready to fight?

In Shatila, several Palestinian men said their peers would join the armed struggle against Israel if it launched a wider war against Hezbollah.

They added that Hamas has attracted thousands of recruits among its traditional supporters and from communities that are historically aligned with Fatah, a rival faction led by Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.

“First of all, there are lots of resistance fighters in all of the camps in Lebanon. Secondly … if a big war starts, then we are not scared. We have thousands and thousands of fighters that are ready to be martyred to free Palestine,” said a man who goes by Fadi Abu Ahmad, a member of Hamas in the camp.

Abu Ahmad acknowledged that civilians – especially children, women and the elderly – could be disproportionately harmed if Israel targets Palestinians in Lebanon. But he claimed that most Palestinian refugees believe “their blood is the price they must pay to free Palestine”.

He drew a comparison with Algeria’s war of independence from France, which lasted from 1954 to 1962 and led to the deaths of one million Algerians. However, other Palestinians said they feared for their families and loved ones if a war in Lebanon erupted.

“I’m not scared of the Israelis or what might happen to me,” said Ahmad, 20, a Palestinian in Shatila who declined to tell Al Jazeera his last name.

“But I am afraid of what they might try to do to my little brother and sister. They’re just 14 and nine years old. I don’t want anything to happen to them.”

Palestinian scouts carry their national flag, as the march during the 40th anniversary commemoration of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. During the Israeli's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Palestinian men, women and children were massacred by forces identified as Lebanese Christian militiamen in west Beirut's Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The official toll is 328 confirmed killed, 991 missing. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Palestinian scouts carry their national flag, at the 40th commemoration of the Sabra and Shatila massacre – in Beirut on September 16, 2022. During Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Palestinian men, women and children were massacred by forces identified as Lebanese Christian militiamen in Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The official toll is 328 killed, and 991 missing [Bilal Hussein/AP Photo]

What to expect?

Despite Israel’s threats, many Palestinians don’t expect a larger war on Lebanon due to the strength of Hezbollah.

They believe the group’s arsenal, which reportedly includes Iran-made guided missiles and sophisticated drones, is deterring Israel from seriously escalating the conflict.

But Abu Ahmad from Hamas notes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could still start a war on Lebanon to appease his far-right coalition partners and maintain power.

“Netanyahu is a criminal,” he told Al Jazeera. “And we know that if there is a war in Lebanon, then there will be lots of killing of civilians here, including Palestinians. It could be like Gaza.”

Mahar, from PFLP-GC, said a war between Hezbollah and Lebanon would be different from the last major war.

In 2006, Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others in a surprise ground attack. In response, Israel targeted civilian infrastructure and power stations in Lebanon.

The fighting lasted for 34 days and led to the death of 1,200 Lebanese – mostly civilians – and 158 Israelis, mostly soldiers. However, the Palestinian camps were largely spared.

“We all expect the camps to be targeted this time around,” Mahar told Al Jazeera. “Israel doesn’t have any red lines any more.”

“Israel exists to commit crimes against Palestinians.”

Source: Al Jazeera