I have a lease on an orange orchard in southern Lebanon, about 25km from the Golan Heights. The lease is held in partnership with a Palestinian refugee who is one of Ramallah’s representatives for Palestinians to the Lebanese government. He describes himself as “un-factioned”. In fact he has a long time association with US approved Fatah. I think the US approval really only springs from a favourable comparison to Hamas.
People here often seem to be confused about Hamas and Hizbollah. Hamas controls the Palestinian Parliament and governs the Gaza Strip from behind a wall that Israel built. The US and Israel classify Hamas as a terrorist organisation, the UN does not. Unsurprisingly, Palestinians are a bit upset about the wall. It reduces Gaza to a ghetto comparable to the Warsaw ghetto. The Warsaw ghetto existed behind a wall that the Nazis built. Palestinians aligned with Hamas fire primitive rockets and homemade bombs at Israel from behind the wall. Israel strikes Gaza with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in existence today. Israel’s military is US backed and funded. Surgical strike technology notwithstanding, Palestinian casualties vastly outnumber Isreal's. It’s an entirely unsatisfactory situation, given that dead is dead regardless of your ethnicity, political loyalties or religion.
The Sunni and Shia branches of Islam are analogous to Roman Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity. Sunni and Shia have been known to get a bit fractious with one another through history, as have Catholics and Protestants. Most Palestinians are Sunni. Hizbollah is Shia. It finds its support from Iran and Syria. Iran is predominantly Shia. Syria's government is Shia dominated. The Sunni - Shia juxtaposition is not a specific problem in Lebanon, but it all adds to the tapestry and tension in the region.
Hizbollah is classified as a terrorist organisation by the US and Israel. That is not an opinion universally held. They hold democratic elections in Lebanon. Hezbollah and its allies hold 57 seats in Lebanon's 128 seat parliament. But, Hizbollah’s existence in Lebanon was Israel’s excuse for its invasion and veritable flattening of Lebanon in 2006. I say flattening because they took out most major infrastructure: roads, bridges, telecommunications - and the irrigation to my oranges. The Refugee and me lost 127 young trees. Remarkably in the circumstances, he managed to pay back most of the capital in the years since then. The lease will be sold later this year and I expect the small remaining amount will be paid back along with some capital gain. It was a business deal done on a handshake. It’s turned out quite well, especially when compared to some of my friend’s investments during that period, in Bridgecorp and the like.
The popular protests that have spread across the Middle East have reached Syria. At the moment, the Refugee can’t get our oranges across the Syrian border and through to Dubai where they are supposed to be sold. It’s a problem but he’ll find a way or another market. He always does. Resourceful people, Palestinians. I saw the Queen on TV visiting Ireland. Isn’t it amazing how things can turn around? Catholic France and protestant England were at war for most of the period between 1688 and 1815. They seem to get on pretty well now. They tunnelled through. I hope the Refugee and my oranges make it.