It’s difficult to know where to start when picking apart Michael Totten’s most recent article on Hezbollah. A good place to start, however, is this sentence: “We ventured deeper into the south, into the steep rolling hills that make up the region known as Upper Galilee.” Known by whom as Upper Galilee, one might ask. The south of Lebanon is called “Upper Galilee” mostly by those who also talk of Eretz Ysrael. It reminds me of how Iraq’s former prime minister Abdel Karim Qasim used to use the Turkish title qaimaqam to designate the ruling Sheikh of Kuwait as “district governor” of “that part of the Iraqi province of Basra known as Kuwait.” In any case, this naming gives us an idea of where Totten is coming from.
Even if he’s physically lived in Beirut, ideologically, Totten is without a doubt coming from the United States, via Israel. He and an American who writes for a magazine in Israel were shown around the south by a certain Said and Henry from an anti-Hezbollah organization made up mostly of Lebanese expatriates, whom Totten calls “professional enemies of Hizbullah.” One of them tells Totten, “Since 1975 we have been fighting for the free world. … We are on the front lines.”
During his trip, he doesn’t talk to any UNIFIL soldiers, presumably because he didn’t bother to get UN permission to do so, and the only Lebanese civilians whom he talks to are a couple of people from the Christian village of Ein Ebel who provide Totten with the quotes he needs to “verify” the talking points that he’d already decided on — Hezbollah uses civilians as “human shields”:
He then said that 18 days after the start of the war a large group of civilians decided it was time to leave Ein Ebel and flee to the north. They were no longer willing to stay while Israel fired back at Hizbullah’s rocket launchers. It was too dangerous, and Hizbullah insisted on staying and endangering those who lived there.
So they fled the area in a convoy of civilian vehicles. It was safer, they figured, to travel in a group than alone.
On their way out of the village, Hizbullah fighters stood on the side of the road and opened fire with machine guns on the fleeing civilians.
I was shocked, and I asked Alan to confirm this. Was it really true? Hizbullah opened fire on Lebanese civilians with machine guns? Alan confirmed this was true.
“Why?” I had an idea, but I wanted a local person to say it.
Because, Alan said, Hizbullah wanted to use the civilians of Ein Ebel as “human shields.” I did not use the phrase “human shields.” These were Alan’s own words.
So according to Totten, Hezbollah opened fire on Lebanese civilians, because they were Christians, and Hezbollah wanted to use them as human shields. You see, he already knew what he wanted to write in the Jerusalem Post, but he “wanted a local person to say it.”
If this were true, then Totten would have uncovered a huge story. Imagine the headlines in L’Orient le Jour! Imagine Michael Young’s fiery indignation of Hezbollah’s attack on helpless civilians fleeing the war last summer.
Color me skeptical. For some reason, I can’t imagine that the same party that gave up defeated SLA militia members (who had been fighting with Israel during the latter’s occupation of the south) to the government in Beirut for trial instead of dealing with them themselves would open fire on a convoy of Lebanese civilians. And I believe even less that no one would have heard about it until the intrepid American gumshoe Michael Totten uncovered the scoop during his travels in “Upper Galilee.” Give me a break.
Earlier in his trip, he decided against talking to people in Shi’a areas. His escort did not “recommend” it, so Totten doesn’t force the issue. After all, what good would talking to the Shi’a in the south be (or Hezbollah, or Amal or the UN for that matter), when you can be given the grand tour by “professional enemies of Hizbullah”?
Totten is the embodiment of a partisan hack who travels for rhetorical flair. His pieces usually have all the nuance of an IDF press release, and it’s no wonder that the Jerusalem Post publishes his obtuse pap. To borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, Michael Totten doesn’t know Shi’ite from shinola.
UPDATE: According to Totten’s buddy Noah over at Azure: Ideas for the Jewish Nation, the two Lebanese guides who took them on a tour of the south were “Lebanese Christians, veterans of the Lebanese Forces army (sic).”
For those who aren’t familiar with Lebanese politics, the Lebanese Forces are a Christian umbrella militia force cum political party that included the Phalange militia, which has its roots in a visit Pierre Gemayal took to Nazi Germany for the Olympic games in Berlin. The Lebanese Forces are now run by Samir Geagea, who was released from prison after serving 10 years for war crimes including political assassinations. According to Pollak, Totten’s buddies from the Lebanese Forces had this to say (with a laugh) about Shi’a martyrdom: “The best way is to change them into real victims. This way they won’t be liars.”
So Totten went on his trip with two (ex?) militia members and an American who enjoys feting the Lebanon that he would like to see come out on top:
…the Lebanon of the Christians, the moderate Sunnis, and the Druze, the Lebanon that earned Beirut the moniker of the Paris of the Middle East. This Lebanon looks West for inspiration and support, not East, and sustains a loathing for Hezbollah (and the Palestinians) that rivals Israel’s.
So hats off to Micheal Totten, the self-styled “independent journalist” who gives us the real scoop in the Middle East — as opposed to the obviously biased reporting done by the mainstream media. If you enjoy his evenhanded traipsing around in “Upper Galilee” with Christian militiamen, you should probably go to his site and donate some money via Paypal so he can keep fighting the good fight.