February 2012 -[JA Voiceover] I’m Julian Assange. Editor of Wikileaks. We have exposed the worlds secrets, attacked by the powerful. For 500 days now I have been detained without charge, but that hasn’t stopped us. Today we are on a quest for revoliotunary ideas that can change the world tomorrow.
This week I am joined by a guest from a secret location in Lebanon. He is one of the most extraordinary figures in the Middle East. He has fought many armed battles with Israel and is now caught up in an international struggle over Syria. I want to know: why is he called a freedom fighter by millions and at the same time a terrorist by millions of others. This is his first interview in the west since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. His party, Hezbollah, is a member of the Lebanese government. He is its leader, Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah.
JA: Are you ready? What is your vision for the future of Israel and Palestine? What would Hezbollah consider victory? And if you had that victory , would you disarm?
SHN: The state of Israel is not a… is an illegal state, it’s a state that was established on the basis of occupying the lands of others, or usurping the lands of others, of controlling by force the lands of others, of committing massacres against the Palestinians who were expelled, and these include Muslims and Christians too, so for this reason justice is… justice remains… remains on the side where even if ten years passes the progress of time does not turn justice into… does not negate justice. If it’s my house… if your house… and I go and occupy it by force it doesn’t become mine in 50 or 100 years just because I’m stronger than you and I’ve been able to occupy your house, that doesn’t give me… that doesn’t legalise my ownership of your house. At least, this is our ideological view and our legal view and we believe that Palestine belongs to the Palestinian people. But if we wanted to combine ideology and law, and political realities, and relate it on the ground, we should say that the only solution is we don’t want to kill anyone, we don’t want to treat anyone unjustly, we want justice to be restored to the… and the only solution is the establishment of one state – one state on the land on Palestine in which the Muslims and the Jews and the Christians live in peace in a democratic state. Any other solution will simply not be viable, and it won’t be sustained.
JA: Israel says that Hezbollah has fired rockets into Israel at civilian areas – is that true?
SHN: Throughout the past years, even since 1948 when the state of Israel was created on the land of Palestine, Israeli forces have been shelling civilians, Lebanese civilians and Lebanese towns and Lebanese villages. In the resistance years, that’s between 1982 until… 92. After ten years of resistance we started reacting – but purely and only and strictly to stop Israel shelling our civilians. So then, 1993 there was an understanding, it was indirect between the resistance and Israel and that understanding was reaffirmed in 1996, and that understanding makes clear that both sides avoid shelling civilians and we always used to say ‘if you don’t shell our villages and towns, then we have nothing to do with your villages and your towns’. So, this method Hezbollah resorted to it after long years of aggression against Lebanese civilians and its aim is purely to make a kind of deterrent balance to prevent Israel from killing Lebanese civilians.
JA: According to WikiLeaks cables coming out of the US Embassy in Lebanon , you said that you were shocked about how corrupt Hezbollah members are becoming . They say that you said ‘what have we become’ , because some Hezbollah members were driving around in SUVs , big cars, wearing silk robes , buying takeaway food . Is this a natural consequence of Hezbollah moving into electoral politics within Lebanon?
SHN: First, what they said about this phenomenon is not correct. This is part of the rumours that they wanted to use to discredit Hezbollah and distort its image. This is anyway part of the media war against us. You know they talk about us, they say that we operate, you know, mafia organisations and, er, with drug trafficking organisations around the world, which even though in our religion and in our morality this is absolutely one of the biggest bans – that is something we fight against. They say a lot of things that are baseless and I would want to affirm to you first that this thing is not correct. Secondly, what they said recently, I say it is just a very… it is a limited phenomenon and the reason for it is that there are some, you know, rich families which were not… which in the past were not supporting Hezbollah or supporting its line or its ideology or its programme. You know, after 2000, when the resistance in Lebanon and Hezbollah – and Hezbollah’s the main component of the resistance – but they managed to liberate south Lebanon, that was seen as a kind of miracle, it created a great shock in Lebanese society because how could a small group like this just stand for 33 days facing the biggest, the most powerful army in the region without being defeated? So there are groups in society which started considering themselves pro-Hezbollah or supporters of Hezbollah and they come from, you know, wealthy background that live a life consistent with their financial capabilities so, you know, it’s…it’s, you know, they say this phenomenon moved to Hezbollah but it is not true – I say this really confident and with the information I have available to me – this is not really a phenomenon that is there that needs to be remedied.
JA: Why have you supported the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Yemen… … Egypt and other countries but not in Syria?
SHN: Clear reasons. First, it’s… Originally… first, as in principle we don’t want to interfere in the interiors of Arab States – this has always been our policy. There have been developments in the Arab world… have been very serious and very important to an extent nobody, no movement, no party can just not take a position regarding them. In Syria everybody knows that Bashar al-Assad’s regime has supported the resistance in Lebanon, supported the resistance in Palestine, it has not backed down in the face of Israeli and American pressure so it is a regime which serves the Palestinian cause very well. What we call for in Syria is to negot… is dialogue, is reform, and for the reforms to be carried out, because the alternative to that, because of the diversities inside Syria, because of the sensitivity of the situations in Syria, the alternative is to push Syria into civil war, and this is exactly what America and Israel want for Syria.
JA: Sayyed, over the weekend over 100 people were killed in Homs including a journalist I had dinner with a year ago , Mary Colvin . I can understand your logic in saying that we should not just destroy a country for no purpose and it is much better to reform a country if possible . But does Hezbollah have a red line? If there are 100,000 people killed , one million people killed , when will Hezbollah say that that is enough?
SHN: From the beginning of the events in Syria, we’ve had contacts – constant contacts – with the Syrian leadership, and we have spoken as friends, giving each other advice about the importance of carrying out reforms right from the beginning. I personally found that President Assad was very willing to carry out radical and important reforms and this used to reassure us, er, regarding the positions that we took. On more than one occasion, publicly, I used to give speeches and say this – and say this exactly – and in my… in my meetings with various Lebanese and Arab and other political leaders I used to tell them the same thing. That I am confident that President Assad wants reform and he will carry out reforms – realistic, genuine reforms – but the opposition has to agree to a dialogue. I’ll say more than this – this is the first time I say this – we contacted even elements of the opposition to encourage them and to facilitate the process of dialogue with the regime. But these parties, they rejected dialogue and right from the beginning we have had a regime that is willing to undergo reforms and prepared for dialogue. On the other side, you have an opposition which is not prepared for dialogue and is… it’s not prepared to accept any… the reforms, all it wants is to bring down the regime, so this is a problem… Another thing, what is happening in Syria has to be… we have to look at it with two eyes, not just with one eye. The armed groups in Syria have killed very many civilians.
JA: Where do you see the Syrian situation going? What should we do to stop the killing in Syria? You have spoken about dialogue, and dialogue is very easy to talk about , but are there practical measures to stop… …the bloodshed occurring in Syria?
SHN: In the previous question there is something I didn’t… I didn’t mention, but I’ll add it to this answer. There’s certainly states that offer money, that provide money, that provide weapons, which are encouraging fighting inside Syria, and some of these are Arab… Arab countries, and there are non-Arab countries as well. This is from one side. There is a very serious situ, er, issue as well, which is confirmed, and we all heard Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader, when he… when he called for fighting in Syria… for… for… to arms in Syria, so there are fighters from Al-Qaeda who have arrived in Syria, and others that are… that are following them, from various countries, and they are trying to turn Syria into a battleground. So countries that provide weapons and money would be able to get the opposition groups that they are supporting to sit down at the table and resolve things politically. I said this a few days ago that certain Arab countries are prepared… are prepared to have ten years… to go into a political dialect with Israel for tens of years non-stop – despite everything that Israel did in the region – but they won’t give one year or two years for a political – or even just a few months – for a political solution with Syria, and this just doesn’t make any sense and it’s unfair.
JA: Would you be willing to mediate between these opposition groups and the Assad regime? People trust that you are not an agent of the United States or Saudi or Israel , but will they trust that you are not an agent of the Assad regime? If they can be convinced, will you accept to broker the peace?
SHN: The experience of 30 years of Hezbollah’s life proves that it is a friend of Syria, not an agent of Syria. You know, there have been periods of Lebanon’s political life during which our relationship with Syria was not good. Er, we had problems between us, there were problems between us, and now those used to benefit from the political and influence of Syria and Lebanon, they are now the ones who are… who are… opposing us whereas we used to be under pressure from Syria. Look, we are friends, we are not agents. The very segments of the… of the Syrian opposition know that and all the political forces in the region know that as well. We are friends. That’s the first point. Secondly, when I say we support a political solution then most certainly we’ll be willing to exert any effort or any contribution to achieve that sort of political solution. In the past I said to you that we contacted some parties but they refused to get into a dialogue with the regime. So any group that wants dialogue with the regime and would like us to be… to be go-betweens, we’d be more than happy to mediate but we are asking others to make their efforts to er, to er, to create a political solution.
JA: I believe that these opposition groups… [ interpreter translates] would find Hezbollah’s role more credible… if you said to the Syrian regime of Assad… that we have a red line. Is the Syrian regime free to do what it wants as far as Hezbollah is concerned? Or are there some things that Hezbollah will not accept?
SHN: Yes, for sure, I think that President Bashar al-Assad has red lines, and our brothers in Syria have red lines, and we reaffirmed these red lines that we should all abide by… but the problem is that there is fighting going on and accordingly when one side retreats, the other one advances. So long as the doors to a political solution are slammed closed then there’s going… then this is going to continue because even if one party retreats, the other one will advance.
JA: Tunisia has declared that it will not recognise the Syrian regime anymore. Why has Tunisia taken this strong move to disconnect itself from Syria?
SHN: I believe that the position that was taken in Tunis or elsewhere was based either on incomplete – [inaudible] I won’t say incorrect, I would say incomplete – evidence. Of course, there is even mistaken, incorrect information which was presented to Arab and Western governments when it was told… when they were told that the regime is going to fall just within a matter of weeks, so a lot of them wanted to be partners to this anticipated victory. I don’t conceal also my belief that perhaps the reason for some of these positions taken… because the young new governments have got… face tough tests and they believe that now is not the time to start getting into arguments with the US and the West and things like that and it is better to appease them and go along with them in a lot of these issues.
JA: You have made an international media network. The United States is blocking Al- Manar from broadcasting into the US. At the same time United States declares that it is a bastion of free speech. Why do you think the US government is so scared of Al-Manar? They want to be able to tell people that Hezbollah is a terrorist… is a terrorist organisation, it kills and it murders, but they won’t let people listen to us. For example, if there was a just trial then at the very least the defendant should have an opportunity to defend themselves, but the… but the US administration… We are accused but we don’t even have that very basic right, which is to defend ourselves, and to give our argument to the peoples of the world. So, they are preventing this voice from reaching.
JA: Sayyed, as a leader in war , how did you manage to keep your people together under the face of enemy fire?
SHN: The main thing as far as we’re concerned is that we had an objective, we specified our objective. This objective is a human and a moral and faith-based and patriotic one. There is no debate about it. This objective is to liberate our land from occupation. This is the… this is the original reason, the real reason why Hezbollah was established in the first place and there’s no dispute about this among Lebanese. We, we did not want to be… we did not want to get into government, we did not compete for political power. The first time we entered the government, the Lebanese government, was in 2005 and the aim then was not in order to have a share of power but to protect the… to protect the back of the resistance so that this government, the government that was set up in 2000, wouldn’t make any incorrect mistake against the resistance, we had fears of that kind, and so when you have an objective, a correct objective, and I make it my priority and I avoid all other rivalries for the sake of this objective, then I can keep everyone close together and keep co-operating to achieve this objective, and until this moment we are… we avoid getting involved in internal squabbles as far as we can. You can see there are many, many issues in Lebanon about which there are huge arguments and differences. We… we avoid sometimes even expressing our view or taking a position so as not to get involved in quarrels with people. Our priority is still the liberation of our land, and the protection of Lebanon from the Israeli threat because we believe that Lebanon, it still faces a threat.
JA: I want to go back to when you were a boy . You were a son of a greengrocer . What was your first memory as a boy in this home in Lebanon , and did these early memories affect your political thought?
SHN: Naturally, when I was a child, when I was a little child, I was born and lived… and lived for 15 years since I was born in a neighbourhood in East Beirut. That neighbourhood had certain characteristics and naturally the environment leaves… leaves an effect on one’s personality. One of the characteristics of this neighbourhood was that it was a poor area. It used to have Muslims, Shi’a and there were Sunni Muslims, there were Christians, there were Armenians, there were Kurds, and also there were Lebanese and Palestinians as well, both, so I was born and lived in this very mixed and varied environment. So naturally, this made… this made me sort of alert and concerned about Palestine and the injustice which the Palestinian people had been subjected to, so I had a very early awareness of that because the Palestinians who were in our neighbourhood, they were all expelled from their towns, from Haifa, from Acre, from Jerusalem, from Ramallah. These were… this was the environment that I was born in and brought up in.
JA: I read a rather amusing joke of yours about Israeli encryption and decryption. This is interesting to me because I am an expert in encryption and WikiLeaks is under extensive surveillance – do you remember this joke?
SHN: Yes, I was speaking about… about how simplicity can defeat complexity. For example, the Israeli forces in Lebanon they use very sophisticated technology, they’re in their weapons or in their communications. The resistance on the other hand is a popular resistance and most of the young men in it are just ordinary village boys and they come from farms and small towns and they come from agricultural community. And they… they speak on ordinary walkie-talkies – there’s no… there’s no complication about it, they are very simple devices – but when they… when they use code they simply use the kind of language that… the kind of slang that’s used in their villages and among their families, so anyone listening… anyone listening sort of behind the surveillance devices and having computers trying to… trying to decode this kind of language, they will never be able… they won’t easily be able to find out what this means unless they have lived for years among these villages. So, for example, they use certain words – just the village kind of terms – you know, the cooking pot, the donkey, even village sayings, yeah, sort of ‘the father of the chicken’ or something like this, you know, no Israeli intelligence agent or computer analyst is going to understand who the father of the chicken is and why they call him the father of the chicken… But that’s not going to do you any good in WikiLeaks, by the way! Using this [laughter] dialect!
JA: I’ll just make one very provocative question to you… , but it is not political. You have fought against a hegemony of the United States . Isn’t Allah or the notion of a God the ultimate superpower? And shouldn’t you as a freedom fighter also seek to liberate people from the totalitarian concept… of a monotheistic God? [Interpreter doesn’t quite understand how to translate]
SHN: We believe that God Almighty is the creator of this existence and of human beings and of all creatures. When he created us he gave us capabilities, he gave us these bodies, he gave us psychological and spiritual capabilities – we call it instinct. People in isolation just… in isolation from religious laws, just they have an instinct – but they have an instinct to tell the truth, they have an instinct… their instinct tells them that truth is good, that lying is bad, that justice is good, that injustice is bad, that helping poor people and unjustly treated people and defending them is a good thing, but attacking others and shedding their blood, this is horrible. The issue of resisting American hegemony, or resisting occupation, or resisting any attack against us or against our people, this is a moral issue and an instinctive one and a human one.
SHN: Now God also wanted it like this so, in this sense, moral and human principles are consistent with the law of the heavens because the… the Abrahamic religions did not come up with anything that contradicts the mind or contradicts the human instinct, because the creator of the religion is the same as the creator of the humans, and the two things are totally consistent. Whenever in any country, even if in a house or in a country, if there are two leaders that is recipe for ruin, so how could the universe last for billions of years in such beautiful harmony and have more than one God? If there was more than one God it would have been torn to pieces, so we do have the evidence. We don’t… we don’t… we don’t fight to impose a religious belief on anybody. Abraham, the prophet Abraham, was always in favour of dialogue and showing evidence, and we’re all… we’re all followers of that prophet.
JA: Thank you Sayyed.