BEIRUT: It was September 1998 and the name of Souha Bechara had made the headlines again. The Lebanese activist had been released from the notorious Khiam Prison in south Lebanon, where she had been imprisoned for 10 years, for a failed assassination attempt against the head of the South Lebanon Army, an ally of Israel operating in Lebanon until 2000. Now a mother of two girls and living in Switzerland since 2000, the distance has not led Bechara to become detached from the conflicts in the Middle East.
“We are very active in supporting the Palestinian cause. We keep following up on it from Switzerland,” Bechara told The Daily Star.
Bechara is of the opinion that armed resistance alone will not give Palestinians their rights.
Though she hailed the military operations that armed Palestinian groups have waged in the Gaza Strip against Israel, Bechara said that force alone would not bring the Palestinians a victory like the one won by the Lebanese resistance in May 2000, when Israel withdrew its troops from south Lebanon after mounting attacks.
“Gaza’s geography is different than that of Lebanon. Hezbollah’s back was protected,” Bechara said in reference to the Syrian support Hezbollah enjoyed. “However, Palestine is bordered by Egypt and Jordan and neither back the resistance.”
“Armed resistance cannot achieve total success because Palestinians don’t have protection. It can only make Israel feel unsafe ... and it is very necessary that Israel never feels safe,” Bechara said.
According to Bechara, “the most useful method” Palestinians could resort to in their struggle for freedom was total civil disobedience and mass protests.
“They can say: ‘Okay, we accept to establish a state on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,’ and then huge crowds can march from Gaza to the West Bank,” she said.
She said that Palestinians should not engage in peaceful negotiations with Israel, as they don’t have effective cards to engage with on the negotiating table.
“You only negotiate when you have a strong weapon. I believe that civil disobedience is the strongest weapon,” she said.
Bechara stressed that the success of a mass civil disobedience movement required unity between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Bechara, 47, traveled to Switzerland in 2000 to sign her first book “Resistance: My Life for Lebanon.’’ She met a Swiss national who later became her husband.
She explained that in Switzerland, she lived her life as a Lebanese and a Swiss at the same time.
“I believe that a human being can play and should play a role anywhere,” she said. “I am very much Lebanese and carry my Lebanese identity with me to other places.”
Then a member of the Lebanese Communist Party, Bechara shot SLA head Antoine Lahed at his house in the southern town of Marjayoun in 1988. He survived the assassination attempt and Bechara was arrested shortly afterward.
In her first book she details her life before and during prison, touching on the harsh treatment and torture she endured throughout her detention. She co-authored another autobiography titled “I Dream of a Cell of Cherries.”
Bechara said that Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 was a victory for the cause she had fought for.
“It was a victory par excellence ... it was historic not only because it reflected the will of some Lebanese to resist and liberate their land, but also because it was celebrated in a civilized manner,” Bechara said.
She pointed out that none of the SLA members or their families were subject to acts of revenge by the resistance during the withdrawal, although acts of retribution were considered to be normal on such occasions. “There was a decision to let the state handle the issue,” Bechara said.
Bechara described calls made by some Lebanese factions that Hezbollah hand over its arms to the state as “empty talk.”
“We all know that the Lebanese state cannot engage in battles against any neighboring country. We do not have the capability to do so,” Bechara said.
“Whereas the guerilla warfare has led to victory even before the emergence of Hezbollah,” she continued, in reference to resistance operations carried out against Israel by Lebanese secular groups in the 1980s.
Asked whether she supported Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria alongside the regime of President Bashar Assad, Bechara said that the party’s decision to join the war next door was based on an assessment of events that had turned out to be correct. She said that Hezbollah was fighting in Lebanon’s neighbor in order to prevent sectarian war from reaching the country.
“Hezbollah believed that a sectarian war would have fatal consequences for it and that this very war would erupt in Iraq and would reach Lebanon,” she explained. “This assessment turned out to be right.”
Bechara said that much still needed to be done so that Lebanese women had equal rights.
“I cannot say that Lebanese women have no presence [in society], but more efforts should be made on all levels, particularly to push for the endorsement of laws granting women equal rights to those of men,” Bechara explained. “There is also the need for women to have a role in politics.”
She lamented that Lebanese law prevented her from passing her Lebanese nationality to her two girls.
Bechara hailed Parliament’s recent endorsement of a domestic violence law as an “achievement,” but said that “this was not enough” to protect women.
Bechara explained that the sectarian system in Lebanon actually harmed women.
“Women are discriminated against based on Christianity and Islam ... but a secular system will protect women.”