Thursday, August 24, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank — “The Hawk of Lebanon,” a song paying homage to Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has transformed an obscure Palestinian band into rock stars in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At a wedding party in Ramallah this week, Alaa Abul Heijah’s chants of “Yallah, Nasrallah” sent the male-only dance circle into a relentless spin, with arms flailing and hands clapping.

“The song has brought us fame,” said Mr. Abul Heijah, the songwriter and leader of the Firkat Ishaman band. “Palestinian people are interested in talking about people that fight for their cause. Hassan Nasrallah is that person.”

Just one month ago, the band would have been lucky to find gigs for two weeks a month, but now it is performing almost every day.

The band’s popularity highlights how Hezbollah and Sheik Nasrallah burnished their prominence in the Arab world after a monthlong war with Israel that ended in a cease-fire. Palestinians see Sheik Nasrallah as the one Arab leader capable of facing down Israel.

According to a survey by the Ramallah-based Near East Consulting Group, 97 percent of Palestinians support Sheik Nasrallah. There are newspaper reports about young couples naming children Hassan or Nasrallah. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly bestowed words of praise on the Lebanese leader.

Before going on stage, Mr. Abul Heijah explained that he wrote the song after watching news coverage of Israel’s attack on the southern Lebanon village of Qana, where dozens of Lebanese civilians were killed, many of them children. Mr. Abul Heijah said the war drove home the similarities between Palestinian and Lebanese hardship.

It took him 10 days to compose the song and write lyrics that are mostly about Arab nationalism with a dash of Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Semitism:

“I hail thee, O Hawk of Lebanon/ Welcome Nasrallah/ Here you come, one who has become victorious with the help of God/ Nasrallah, you brave man/ You have responded to our call for revenge/ as the Arab blood became hotter and hotter.”

The fervor of Sheik Nasrallah’s battle, according to the song, is an Islamic fervor. And Zionism is a “big poison on Arab land.”

The song has been played on Hezbollah’s Al Manar television station, but mainstream Arab satellite channels have shied away from it.

Music producer Abdel Hakim Muhammad said he paid the band for rights to distribute the song — even though there are no copyright laws in the West Bank.

“It has potential. The whole mood is in support of Nasrallah,” he said. “As long as we don’t have a state, we are going to find heroes to sing and to cheer about.”

Israelis have feared that Palestinian militants will try to copy Hezbollah’s battle tactics on the West Bank, a possibility also suggested by Palestinian commentators. Hezbollah’s relative success against Israel’s army could embolden Palestinian militants’ argument that the use of force is the most effective means of fighting Israel.

“The military capacity of Hezbollah, namely the rockets, is not only capable of destroying tanks, but also remained intact in the 33 days of fighting,” commentator Abdallah Awwad wrote in the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper. “The Palestinian resistance groups should learn from the way Hezbollah operates as a resistance movement.”

However, others caution that the Palestinians cannot use the methods with the same level of efficiency — especially when they lack the material and financial support of a regional power like Iran’s backing for Hezbollah.

What’s more, the topographical advantages of southern Lebanon don’t exist in Gaza. Most important, the Palestinians aren’t necessarily comfortable in the radical Shi’ite alliance of Iran and Hezbollah.

“From an ideological point of view, Palestinians seek a practical policy,” said Abdel Majid Sweilem, a political science professor at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. “Iran doesn’t look at the Middle East as an issue of principle. They use it as a card against the U.S.”

As the wedding party continued into the summer night amid the deafeningly loud music from the Firkat Ishaman band, Mohammed Khalil took refuge in a nearby house.

Palestinians admire Sheik Nasrallah for being “truthful” and “speaking to the Lebanese people” — traits Palestinian leaders could use more of, Mr. Khalil said.

“The Palestinian leadership negotiates from a weak base. Nasrallah negotiates from a strong base,” he said.

Link to audio of “The Hawk of Lebanon” here.

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