*Information is accurate at the time of writing. The escalation of the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel along the Lebanon-Israel border continues to develop, and therefore assessment is subject to change.

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has precipitated responses from across the region. In Lebanon, a marked escalation in fighting between Israel and the Shi’a militant group and political party Hezbollah is raising fears of a conflict spillover into regional war.[i] For the over 100 dead thus far, and approximately 75,000 civilians in south Lebanon forced to flee the crossfire, the conflict is having a significant impact.[ii] The effect of the violence, however, extend throughout the country, igniting memories which expand far beyond the south. Amongst the population, the conflict is exacerbating anxieties of an ever-present state of war in Lebanon, as well as threatening to re-open schisms between the country’s already disparate communities. Contextualising the current escalation in the context of Lebanon’s legacy of war memory, it is possible to understand how inherited and first-hand traumatic recollections of violence trigger and inform reactions and fissures amongst the country’s diverse populations.

No War, No Peace

Following Hamas’ attacks of 7 October 2023, Hezbollah and Israel have been engaged in a significant military escalation along Lebanon’s southern borders: Hezbollah, alleging it is acting in ‘solidarity’ with the Palestinian people (and its allies, Hamas), and Israel, in defence against its most powerful regional enemy.[iii]  Whilst the geographically localised conflict has not yet led to the formation of a second front against Israel, it marks the most significant escalation since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon War, and this escalation has shown little sign of abating.

At the time of writing, both the range and intensity of the fighting are gradually increasing, well beyond zones previously marked as red lines, and both Hezbollah and Israel are continuing to employ increasingly heavier weaponry. On 2 January 2024, an Israeli drone strike killed a top Hamas official in the Dahiyeh neighbourhood of Beirut.[iv] It has become difficult to discern which military actions constitute a response, and which are intended as a provocation. It has also become difficult to establish at what point the situation becomes not merely an escalation, but a war between two neighbouring countries. For Lebanon, after four years of economic crisis, successive bouts of ’sporadic violence‘, and traumatic conflict, the current escalation threatens the stability of the already weakened state, and risks widening gulfs between communities, where memories of violence are not unifying but polarising.[v]

Conflict memory in Lebanon

Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-90) constitutes the largest scale conflict the country has experienced within recent years, but a significant proportion of the population do not have first-hand experience of the war’s traumatic events. Rather, they have an experience of what Marianne Hirsch has referred to as ‘postmemory’, and what, in the context of Lebanon, Craig Larkin has described as ‘an inherited form of memory, which carries and connects with the ‘pain of others’, suffusing temporal frames and liminal positions.’[vi] The political amnesty agreement which ended the Civil War has had a further impact on the collective memory of the conflict, with the principle of ‘no victor, no vanquished’ facilitating a top-down driven culture of what has been termed ‘collective amnesia’.

For many of the Lebanese population, recent experiences of war with Israel occupy a position of greater proximity in their memory. The current escalation is not isolated; Lebanon has technically been at war with the state of Israel since its formation in 1948 and the formation of the Palestinian militant group Fatah, who conducted operations from rural areas in south Lebanon in the 1970s.[vii] The subsequent period has been punctuated by some of the most violent episodes in Lebanese living memory, including the 1982 invasion of Beirut by Israeli armed forces, and waves of occupation, skirmishes, and post-Civil War interventions.

In 2006, a Hezbollah operation which killed three Israeli soldiers, and saw the capture of two others, led to an exchange of aerial bombardment and a full-scale war which, over the course of 34 days, devastated the south of the country, as well as the capital, Beirut. During the war, 1,200 Lebanese civilians were killed, 4,400 were wounded, and approximately one million were displaced. The extensive damage inflicted on the Lebanese infrastructure was estimated at USD 2.8 billion, triggering a five percent contraction in the country’s economy.[viii]

Military strategists refer to the 2006 war as the ‘Unfinished War’.[ix] Despite the destruction, Lebanon maintained its territorial integrity, while Israel did not achieve its military objective to disarm all militias in Lebanon – explicitly Hezbollah. The UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which marked a ceasefire between the two parties, did not signal a formalised end to hostilities.[x] Within one year, Hezbollah was able to replenish its military capacity, and the bolstered presence of UN forces along the Lebanese southern border has not prevented exchanges of fire between the two parties, which occur every few years. Prior to the current conflict, the most recent exchange occurred in April 2023, when more than 30 rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israeli territories, following attacks by Israeli police on Palestinians in al-Aqsa Mosque.[xi]

The legacy of an ‘Unfinished War’ is a conflict suspended in the present. Writing in 2017, Lebanese author Sami Hermez remarked that ’this lack of resolution practically guarantees that past political violence remains a central concern in the present and facilitates the feeling of its reemergence in the future.’[xii] This state of uncertainty – of no war, no peace – has been compounded in recent years by successive episodes of traumatic violence and political instability. Since 2019, Lebanon has been suffering from an economic crisis which has devastated the country, with over 80 percent of the population now living below the poverty line, and a reduction in 98 percent of the value of the national currency.[xiii] This is in addition to the 2019 thawra uprising, which was accompanied by widespread violence, and the explosion at the Beirut port in 2020. Although few Lebanese leaders have yet attempted to reckon with the lasting impact on the civilian population, the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the centre of Beirut’s port constituted the largest non-nuclear blast in history, killing over 200 and wounding more than 6,000.[xiv]

As with the Civil War, there has been little attempt to constitute a centralised, collective memory of such violent episodes which may be unifying for the country.[xv] At the time of writing, Lebanon has been without a president for one year, and its confessional political system is dominated by competing hybrid sovereignties in the form of sectarian political groups and militias.[xvi] Memory in Lebanon experiences a similar stratification: ‘[t]he past [now] seeps into the present‘,and memorialisation proliferates on a predominantly sectarian basis, driving particular narratives of history and political agendas.[xvii] For Hermez, the combination of past conflict, future threat, and diverging memories imbed a continuous state of uncertainty: ‘[w]hile actual war might not currently afflict any of the interlocutors, they live with the daily expectation of possible future violence, and the recognition of an unsettled past.’[xviii]

‘Is it war?’ Recurring fears and normalising violence

The current escalation of violence at the border is reigniting traumatic memories of conflict with Israel, and raising fears that continued escalation will lead to a repeat of previous military occupation and destruction. For those living within the vicinity of the border, the practical realities of memory are impossible to ignore. Villages, which were considered in 2006 to be populated by part-time ’village guards‘ mobilised by Hezbollah, are today experiencing similar levels of aerial bombardment.[xix] Many locals recall this memory in anticipating a repetition of 2006. In a recent interview with Reuters, one resident of the southern town of Rmeish commented, ’I was here in 2006 – those were terrifying scenes. And the shelling yesterday was very heavy.’[xx]

Some even perceive Israel’s ability to stoke traumatic memory to be a deliberate strategy. One Lebanese social media user shared Israeli Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant’s warning that, ’what we are doing in Gaza we can do in Beirut,’ and stated in response, ‘for anyone still not understanding the PTSD provoked by such cyclical threats, wake up,’ claiming that the Gallant was ‘instilling fear amongst the Lebanese population, a fear rooted in recent collective memory.’[xxi]

Although it is difficult to assess the conflict’s impact on collective memories whilst it continues, anxieties around the escalation are already beginning to undergo a process of normalisation. One month after the initial attacks, the resulting tension was becoming incorporated into an ongoing narrative of violence: ‘we are used to it’, or ‘heyk hayetnā’ (this is our life) is the phrase often used by those in Beirut to describe how they are reckoning with the latest development in Lebanon’s climate of no war, no peace.

According to one resident of a village close to the border, ’it has become a normal matter as we have been through many wars.’[xxii] Life continues, but one bank employee revealed that they ‘go into work, but no one’s working.’[xxiii] This process of normalisation is punctuated by events signalling peaks of violence in Gaza and at the border (such as the killing of journalists in shelling in the south, the explosion at the Baptist hospital and the regular speeches of Secretary-General of Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah). Such events cause the closure of schools, universities, bars, restaurants, and the cancellation of events both at the borders and in Beirut, as many prefer to stay at home. Yet, as Hermez comments, ‘in contexts of protracted conflict, as in Lebanon, we are always already embedded in political violences in such a way that neither the ordinary/normal nor political violence has any meaning without the other’.[xxiv] The current conflict is an actualisation of fears already anticipated through the continuous presence of traumatic memory. In the words of one young Beirut resident, ‘it’s the uncertainty which is hard. Is it war? Or is this just the situation now?’[xxv]

Whose war is it?

Whilst populations in Lebanon, regardless of ‘their political or sectarian persuasion, will often feel the violence and uncertainty of the future’, reactions to the escalation on the border are both polarised and polarising.[xxvi] This is driven by different experiences of the present situation and by past violence: ‘what is feared, how change will proceed, who will be at most risk, these questions are determined differently across groups and become contested sites for political debate.’[xxvii]

Marches for Hezbollah in support of Palestine continue to attract thousands, and Nasrallah continues to invoke historic as well as present aggressions of Israel, but a petition against Lebanon being ’dragged into another cycle of destruction and bloodshed’ has also gained thousands of signatures.[xxviii] Such stark schisms in conflict memory threaten to exacerbate the already strained relations between sectarian groups in Lebanon.

A significant factor contributing to the polarities of conflict memories triggered by the current escalation is the political and geographic proximity to past and present violence. The south of Lebanon, referred to as al-jnūb (the South), has a particular political and cultural identity. It is mostly controlled by Shi’a militia and political groups Hezbollah and Amal, and has been, as a result, disenfranchised and neglected by any centralised statehood. Poverty levels in south Lebanon are now much higher than the national average. According to one resident from the South, ’people with kids left because in 2006, there was no bread, no milk, no medicine. Lebanon is already like that now, so imagine what it would be like if things escalate.’[xxix] This has led to resentment and further distancing of residents of the South from the political centre. ’Okay, you want to start a war. The least you can do is secure the citizens you have, give them protection or food’, remarked another resident from the South.[xxx]

The defining feature of the construction of the South’s identity and its ostracisation from the centre has been its history of violence, which is distinct from other areas of Lebanon, having been under military occupation by Israel between 1985 and 2000 – for most of this time, travel into and out of the South was not possible – and having experienced first-hand the impact of cross-border violence. This collective memory of violence is enshrined even in popular place names, such as the Hojeir Valley, also known as the Martyrs Valley, Leaders Valley, Death Valley, Resistance Valley, Mirkava Cemetery: all references to sites of conflict with Israel.[xxxi] Such physical locations of memory are what Pierre Nora has called lieux de mémoires – their physical proximity means conflict memories are more immediately accessible to the people of the South than to those in other parts of the country, to whom the South was viewed as ‘an ‘other space’, outside state sovereignty.[xxxii]

For those not close to the border, and without ties to the South or militia groups involved in confrontations with Israel, it is possible to marginalise the current situation as an isolated conflict limited only to the South as a site of exception. As Volk described in 2007, ‘[d]espite being officially liberated, al-jnūb continues to loom large in the popular imagination as Lebanon’s inaccessible and embattled borderland.’[xxxiii] In response to the current escalation, memories of past and present conflict are vastly different according to geography and social ties. In an interview with Le Orient, a resident of a southern village commented, ‘[t]he country is at war, but it’s only in the South that we can see this … it’s as if we were a different country.’[xxxiv] The escalation is also articulated by many as ‘someone else’s war’; whether that is between Hezbollah and Israel, Israel and Hamas, or the US and Iran. A resident of the predominantly Sunni town of Dhayra which was hit with Israeli white phosphorus shells, claimed that Palestinians had ‘infiltrated’ the village in order to attack Israel: ‘we’re used to paying the price for the wars that don’t concern us.’[xxxv] In an interview with The Washington Post, another resident of a village attacked by Israel said, ‘I blame Hezbollah,’ cursing the fighters as ‘terrorists.’[xxxvi]

Memory and mobilisation

Yet it is also likely that the current conflict, and its subsequent, but ongoing, memorialisation has the potential to reinvigorate and mobilise popular support for the axis of resistance (known as al-muqwāma, which refers to resistance against Israel as well as against a US-led ‘Western’ front), and for Hezbollah narratives positioning itself as the defender of the resistance, if not the defender of Lebanon, in the absence of a capable centralised Lebanese state. Following the announcement of the 2006 ceasefire, despite a significant asymmetry in material losses between the two sides, Nasrallah announced a ‘divine, historic and strategic victory’ over Israel, which demonstrated that ’no army in the world [was] strong enough to disarm [them]’.[xxxvii] The Hezbollah museum in Mleeta, south Lebanon, is an example of Hezbollah’s utilisation of 2006 conflict memory to establish legitimacy as national protector of the country against Israel.[xxxviii] This was largely successful: the group’s subsequent memorialisation of their 2006 ‘victory’ against Israel earnt them, to an extent, ‘rare cross-sectarian support’.[xxxix] In a recent interview with The Guardian, a Beirut resident whose home was destroyed in 2006 recollected, ‘before 2006, Israel had a free hand in the south … it’s because of that war and the resistance that we can now stand tall in our villages … the war established a rule: you kill one of us, we kill one of you.’[xl]

Since 2006, Hezbollah’s involvement in a series of external conflicts and controversies – the group’s takeover of West Beirut in 2008, their intervention in the Syrian Civil War, and even their suspected negligent contribution to the 2020 Beirut port explosion – has marginalised them amongst Shi’a communities, as well as the general population of Lebanon.[xli] Yet the current escalation, and Israeli military activity in Lebanese territory, is revitalising memories of 2006 resistance, and the pivotal role of Hezbollah. For some, these memories are mobilising. In a recent interview with The National, one 22-year-old resident of Qana, a village in south Lebanon which experienced significant conflict in the 2006 war, affirmed his commitment to military resistance: ‘we will retaliate … My mother is the first to encourage me. She lost her sister in 2006.’ Regarding those who did not support the southern factions’ involvement in the conflict, the interviewee responded: ‘they have not experienced what we have, that’s why.’[xlii]


Although the current escalation between Hezbollah and Israel is situated within a context of cycles of violence, it is difficult to predict at the present moment how it will be memorialised. As Lara Deeb has commented, ‘representations of the past are frequently about the present and hold implications for the future’.[xliii] For some in Lebanon, these implications are already a cause for concern: as a southern resident told journalists, as a missile exploded overhead, ’don’t film those who are fleeing … It’s a bad image of al-janūb.’[xliv]

Today, the appetite for a full-scale confrontation with Israel seems limited. Hezbollah has grown in size and strength since the war with Israel,but in 2024, they are now operating in a very different environment.[xlv] In 2006, following the Israeli Operation Grapes of Wrath and an attack on the village of Qana on a previously unprecedented scale, cross-sectarian groups of Beirut residents joined relief efforts to provide refugees from the south with shelter, food and medical supplies in a show of ’unified national grief and outrage‘, where ’Qana became an important symbol of post-civil war Lebanese unity‘.[xlvi]

In the current context, living in a landscape of memories of the damage inflicted in 2006, combined with the state of the Lebanese economy, such a homogenous response is unlikely. One resident of Hamra district in Beirut said that, due to the economic situation, they were ‘not sure the Sunni of Beirut will take in people [predominantly Shia] from the South, as they did last time’.[xlvii] In response to high-level threats from military officials in Israel to ‘bring Lebanon back to the Stone Age,’ one southern resident commented, ‘[y]ou’re in Lebanon, right? Are we not in the stone age already?’[xlviii]

Whether or not fears of a full-scale war with Israel are realised, it seems likely that the ongoing conflict will further drive the diverging of narratives amongst the Lebanese population. The conflicting memory culture in Lebanon, international and local discourse surrounding the escalation, as well as and developments on the ground, will all shape the way in which the current escalation is experienced by Lebanon’s diverse communities in the present, and the way in which it is understood in the future.

Visit the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), where this blog was originally published.

[i] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/30/lebanon-fears-regional-war-as-hezbollah-israel-fighting-icntensifies; https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20231123-israel-fm-threatens-regional-war-over-tensions-in-lebanon/

[ii] https://reliefweb.int/report/lebanon/lebanon-glance-escalation-hostilities-south-lebanon-27-december-2023

[iii] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/8/israel-hezbollah-exchange-fire-raising-regional-tensions

[iv] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/explosion-southern-beirut-suburb-dahiyeh-two-security-sources-2024-01-02/

[v] Larkin, C. (2010). ‘Beyond the war? The Lebanese postmemory experience’. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 42(4), 615-635. 415.

[vi] Hirsch, M. (2008). ‘The Generation of Postmemory’. Poetics today, 29(1), 103-128; Larkin, C. (2010).

[vii]  https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/17/beyond-hezbollah-the-history-of-tensions-between-lebanon-and-israel

[viii] https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/palestine-israel/2023/10/26/is-lebanon-on-the-brink-of-a-2006-war-scenario/

[ix] Spyer, J. (2009). ‘Lebanon 2006: Unfinished War’. In Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (pp. 157-172). 153

[x] https://peacemaker.un.org/israellebanon-resolution1701

[xi] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/6/israel-intercepts-rocket-fired-from-southern-lebanon-military

[xii] Hermez, S. (2017). War is coming: between past and future violence in Lebanon. 5.

[xiii] https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/lebanon/overview; https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2023/06/28/Lebanon-2023-Article-IV-Consultation-Press-Release-Staff-Report-and-Statement-by-the-535372

[xiv] Helou, M., El-Hussein, M., Aciksari, K., Salio, F., Della Corte, F., Von Schreeb, J., & Ragazzoni, L. (2022). ‘Beirut Explosion: The Largest Non-Nuclear Blast in History.’ Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 16(5), 2200-2201.

[xv] https://www.xcept-research.org/martyrdom-in-lebanon-an-evolution-of-memory-making/; As Hermez and others have commented, ““Rather than any state-enforced amnesia or remembering, there was an abrogation of responsibility on the part of the state, which left a narrative of the war open to interpretation. In fact, if the state enforced anything, it was to lead the way to multivocal expressions of memory.” Hermez, S. (2017). War is coming: between past and future violence in Lebanon. 5. 148

[xvi] Fregonese, S. (2012). ‘Beyond the ‘Weak State’: Hybrid Sovereignties in Beirut.’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30(4), 655-674.

[xvii] Schudson, M. (1997). Lives, laws and language: Commemorative versus non-commemorative forms of effective public memory. The Communication Review,2(1), 3-17. 15.

[xviii] Hermez, S. (2017). War is coming: between past and future violence in Lebanon. 294.

[xix] Beirut Urban Lab has provided a comprehensive map of ongoing cross-border conflict events during the current escalation: https://aub.maps.arcgis.com/apps/dashboards/2a3cd18fa4f4400ba5ee330273117f95; Spyer, J. (2009). 147.

[xx] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/lebanon-edge-after-deadliest-border-clashes-since-2006-2023-10-10/

[xxi] https://www.instagram.com/p/Czlbyi3Mrsb/?igshid=ODhhZWM5NmIwOQ==

[xxii] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/south-lebanon-town-border-conflict-brings-fear-resignation-2023-10-25/

[xxiii] Researcher’s own fieldwork interviews, November 2023.

[xxiv] Hermez, S. (2017). War is coming: between past and future violence in Lebanon. 15.

[xxv] Researcher’s own fieldwork interviews, November 2023.

[xxvi] Hermez, S. (2017). 87.

[xxvii] Hermez, S. (2017). Ibid.

[xxviii] https://www.change.org/p/lebanon-against-war-sign-the-petition-now

[xxix] https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/lebanon-edge-after-deadliest-border-clashes-since-2006-2023-10-10/

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] https://aoav.org.uk/2018/the-reverberating-cultural-impacts-from-the-use-of-explosive-weapons-in-lebanon/

[xxxii] Nora, Pierre. ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.’ Representations, no. 26, 1989, pp. 7–24; Volk, L. (2007). ‘Re-remembering the dead: A genealogy of a martyrs memorial in South Lebanon.’ The Arab Studies Journal, 15(1), 44-69. 47.

[xxxiii] Volk, L. (2007). 50.

[xxxiv] https://today.lorientlejour.com/article/1359221/in-south-lebanon-2023-war-scars-evoke-2006-memories.html

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/11/19/lebanon-israel-border-hezbollah-gaza/

[xxxvii] https://www.muslimobserver.com/victory-rally-speech-transcript-hasan-nasrallah/

[xxxviii] https://lobelog.com/what-does-hezbollah-want/; On Mleeta, Hezbollah’s Landmark to the Resistance, see: Harb, Mona, and Lara Deeb. ‘Culture as history and landscape: Hizballah’s efforts to shape an islamic milieu in Lebanon.’ Arab Studies Journal 19.1 (2011): 12-45; Meier, Daniel. ‘From Frontline to Borderscape: The Hizbullah Memorial Museum in South Lebanon.’ Borderscaping: Imaginations and Practices of Border Making. Routledge, 2016. 77-86; and Larkin, Craig, and Ella Parry-Davies. ‘War Museums in postwar Lebanon: Memory, violence, and performance.’ Power-Sharing after Civil War. Routledge, 2021. 78-96.

[xxxix] https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/palestine-israel/2023/10/26/is-lebanon-on-the-brink-of-a-2006-war-scenario/

[xl] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/27/fear-and-defiance-in-lebanon-as-the-threat-of-new-war-opens-old-wounds

[xli] https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/palestine-israel/2023/10/26/is-lebanon-on-the-brink-of-a-2006-war-scenario/

[xlii] https://www.thenationalnews.com/mena/palestine-israel/2023/10/17/survivors-of-lebanons-qana-massacre-defiant-as-israel-fight-looms/

[xliii] Deeb, Lara. ‘Exhibiting the “Just-Lived Past”: Hizbullah’s Nationalist Narratives in Transnational Political Context.’ Comparative Studies in Society and History 50.2 (2008): 369-399. 370.

[xliv] https://today.lorientlejour.com/article/1359221/in-south-lebanon-2023-war-scars-evoke-2006-memories.html

[xlv] https://aoav.org.uk/2018/the-reverberating-cultural-impacts-from-the-use-of-explosive-weapons-in-lebanon/#_edn3

[xlvi] Laurie King-Irani, ‘Commemorating Lebanon’s War Amid Continued Crisis,’ Middle East Report Online, 14 April 2005; Volk, L. (2007). 49.

[xlvii] Researcher’s own fieldwork interviews, November 2023.

[xlviii] https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2023/10/13/israel-hamas-war-sparks-south-lebanon-exodus-as-people-flee-border-areas