BEIRUT â€” A sister of Hizbollah fighter Mustafa Zalzali wears mourning black for her brother, but his death in battle with Israel elicits more pride than grief.
“We thank God almighty for making us the family of a martyr,” she said. “We received the news of his martyrdom with pride,” she told Hizbollah’s Manar television. Hizbollah fighters are well armed and trained. But one of the group’s greatest assets in its war with Israel is the willingness of its fighters to die for their cause.
Hizbollah has killed 33 Israeli soldiers, including some of the army’s best, in the war triggered when the fighters captured two soldiers in a raid into Israel on July 12.
“Hizbollah’s strength really lies in its fighters â€” that they are ready for death,” Hizbollah expert Amal Saad-Ghorayeb said. “The edge they have is their steadfastness and resolve, which is derived from their religious ideology.” The fighters killed eight Israeli soldiers in one battle alone in the southern town of Bint Jbeil on Wednesday. They also put up a stiff fight at the border village of Maroun Ras.
Israel says it has killed more than 200 Hizbollah fighters, but the group says it has lost only 31.
“We do not hide our martyrs,” Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told Al Jazeera television. “On the contrary, we always take pride in our martyrs.” Fighters killed in combat are celebrated as heroes by Hizbollah, which emerged in the early 1980s to fight Israeli occupation and enjoys strong support among Lebanese Shiites.
Ready for sacrifice
Families of slain fighters are held in high esteem by Hizbollah followers. Nasrallah himself draws his popularity and legitimacy partly from the death of his eldest son at the age of 18 in combat with Israel.
“For 23 years, we have been speaking and mobilising the people,” Nasrallah said. “Speaking about martyrdom, the honour of martyrdom and the stature of martyrs.” For Hizbollah’s supporters, martyrdom is a sublime goal rooted in their Shiite Muslim traditions.
Shiites annually mark the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein in battle at Kerbala in 680.
Hizbollah fighters killed in battle are also remembered in the Ashura ceremonies which mark the death of Imam Hussein.
Shiites differ from Sunnis in seeing Hussein’s father, Ali, as the rightful successor to the Prophet Mohammad.
“The desire for martyrdom among Hizbollah followers and the willingness to be martyred is absolutely essential,” said Samer Karanshawy, a researcher on Lebanese Shiites.
“This cannot be separated from the tenacity of their fighting in Maroun Ras and Bint Jbeil.” Willingness to sacrifice is a key qualification for joining Hizbollah’s military ranks. “Hizbollah would not open its doors to secular Shiites because they lack this commitment which is crucial in terms of military power,” Saad-Ghorayeb said.
The family of Zalzali, killed in a recent battle, say they are ready for more sacrifices.
“His martyrdom has lifted our heads high,” said another of his sisters. “Whatever more we can offer, we will. Our men, our children, our siblings.”