Tuesday, April 12, 2005
The Anniversary of the Lebanese Civil War: The Wars that Never End. When did the Lebanese civil war (the major one) start? Did it start in February of 1975 when Sidon-based leader, Ma`ruf Sa`d, was assassinated by a Lebanese Army intelligence sniper? Or was it the widely accepted "Sarajevo" (of the civil war) of 13th of April, 1975? I think that the civil war started in 1973, in April, when 3 Palestinian leaders (one of them a poet, Kamal Nasir) were shot in their sleep by an Israeli terrorist team headed by Ehud Barak (later prime minister of Israel). It brought the Lebanese internal divisions into the fore. I was 15 years old, 30 years ago when the civil war started on April 13th, 1975. It was a Sunday that I still remember. My parents were out, and I was home in our middle class neighborhood in Beirut. We did not hear shots fired. We were not close to the scene of the crime. On that day, a bus carrying Palestinians who were earlier attending a rally for the PFLP-GC was ambushed by armed gunmen of the Lebanese fascistic Phalanges Party. My enmity to that party started earlier, much earlier. When I read about the civil war in Spain, I always felt that I could recognize the fascist side. When I read about the communist struggle against the Nazis in Germany, I recognized the Nazi side. I saw them in Lebanon. Those European fascists all were the inspiration for the founder of the Phalanges Party in Lebanon. A man of limited talents and abilities who was inspired during his visit to the Berlin Olympic Games and went on to start his own youth organization, and later developed it into a political party/militia, and benefited from years of Israeli/US financial and military support. From that party, or in imitation of it, came all the other right-wing factions (Guardians of the Cedar, Lebanese Forces, General `Awn forces, etc). I never doubted my opposition to that side. They thought, with the apparatus of the Lebanese state at their disposal, that they could crush the Palestinian resistance movement in Lebanon. They wanted to do what King Husayn did in 1970. Fat chance. Even when the Syrian regime helped them and armed them in 1976, they did not have a chance. The coalition of the Lebanese left (and the unsavory sectarian and vulgar Arab nationalist groups that Yasir `Arafat along with Iraq, Syria, and Libya set up) and the Palestinian resistance in Lebanon gave them successive good beatings. Innocent people on both (or all) sides suffered as usual. There are no clean civil wars. Israel increased its aid to the right-wing groups. And they were still beaten. But they were good in propaganda; they wanted to convince the Lebanese that all of Lebanon's ills were the work of Arab outsiders. They denigrated and blamed the Palestinians, just as they now denigrate and blame the Syrian people. They--those who triggered the civil war--wanted to convince the Lebanese that their civil war is not a civil war, but a war of outsiders, or, as right-wing An-Nahar publisher Ghassan Tueni called it, Une Guerre pour les autres. They believed it. Many Lebanese still believe it to this very day. In reality, the history of Lebanon is a history of civil wars between the various groups. What Fernand Braudel said about the people in France through history in volume 1 of his L'Identite de la France: Les Hommes et les Choses applies to the Lebanese people, that they excelled in the art of civil wars. Those people were never united, and will never be united. A country that was not meant to be, except to create a sectarian enclave aligned with Israel. Was that not the dream of early Zionist founders? They had right-wing ideologues and the Rahbani Brothers to instill the silly myth of a "great" Lebanese history. Some are not even embarrassed to speak about a "Lebanese civilization." I kid you not. They had to distort the history of the Phoenician cities, and think that Lebanon is a 5-thousand year old "nation." It would be funny and hilarious had people not been killed, and Palestinian massacred in Lebanon in order to impose that fictitious vision of Lebanese past and present. They did not know that Phoenician cities were at war with one another (just as the Lebanese groups and sects have always been at war with one another) and were never holding hands singing x-mass jingles. But the myth had to continue; the survival of the Hummus homeland required it. Lebanese culture industry made fortunes out of it. I remember the civil war starting, and I do not have recollection of its end. But did it end? How come nobody told me that it ended? I would have celebrated. I would have brought closure to my memory. I always believed that the civil war never ended, but merely went through an extended truce. I fiercely opposed the 1976 Syrian military intervention because the Lebanese were not allowed to settle their own conflicts and disputes once and for all. It was an opportunity to defeat the militias and agendas of right-wing militias and groups that triggered and prolonged the civil war. Not that the other side was led and populated by angels. Militias and groups supported by Syria, Libya, `Arafat, and Iraq were particularly thuggish and engaged in typical civil war brutality. But the trend of brutality was always initiated by the Phalanges. Do you know that once they found in downtown Beirut a barrel, yes, a barrel, of severed penises. Militia men of the right would order men to strip at their checkpoints, and those who were circumcised and Muslim, were killed on the spot and their penises severed. They started the killing according to the identity card (which in Lebanon identify your sect in case you passed by a check point of the "other" sect.) A Jewish Lebanese once told me that he only carried his passport during the war because he did not want ANY side to see his sect on the identity card. He did not want to take any chances. (He also opposed Israel and Zionism, and was offended in 1982 when Israeli invaded Lebanon, and visited all the remaining Jews inviting them to go Israel. He protested, he told me. He was not Israeli, and did not want to become one. They could not understand, and left him bewildered). When the war started, especially if you were a youngster, you think that you were a mere spectator. Only now I realize that I lived through a civil war. We would watch the skies flare up with gun fire, and listen intently to gun sounds trying to identify the weapons used. You quickly become an expert. And in a tiny city like Beirut, you could hear the shell launched, and then hear it landing on you, or near you if you are lucky. We did not have a shelter in our building. So we just adjusted in our apartment, and hoped that we would not be hit. We only left our home in 1982 when Israeli planes smashed, LITERALLY smashed, the apartment building next to our home. It was leveled to the ground. My mother lost consciousness, and I remember--those who know me heard me tell the story--wondering for a few seconds--but they felt like a long time--whether I was dead or alive. Imagine. I really remember wondering whether I was alive or dead. I froze on my chair while trying to figure that one out. A thick ray of dust and fire crossed the living room. Only a few minutes earlier I was kidding my mother (who had guests) that the bombing is getting closer, and that they may have hit her hairdresser's shop. Little did I know. All glass in the building was broken. I remember a few minutes later, having heard of the bombing of the building (which only housed women, children, and an a disabled old man) my father coming with a look of terror on his face. He did not know whether we survived or not. My mother could not stay there any longer. We moved to a hotel in the Hamra district. Later, the son of the aforementioned Phalanges Party founder (what a small country Lebanon is) and later president of Lebanon, Amin Gemayyel, invited my father and his family to move to the "safety" of East Beirut, where Israeli occupation army ran the place. My sister and I did not want to go there. We moved to South Lebanon and stayed in the village of Qulaylah where the AbuKhalil family hailed from, and experienced Israeli occupation first hand. And my friend Amthal and I would walk through empty streets with bombs falling around. We used to go the beach and watch shells falling into the water. That was not bravery, but insanity if you ask me. After I came to the US in 1983, I remember when I would visit Lebanon I would experience something I never experienced while in Lebanon: fear. Extreme fear. I never felt fear while living through the war, until I came to the US. I cannot explain that. On the day of the bomb that devastated our neighboring building, I remember my sister called to be picked up from her friend's house. When I drove to pick her up, I remember the car shaking as Israeli bombs were falling all around. What a horrific day, year, decade that was. You also see in a civil war how men feel free to act out their aggression, machismo, and violent urges once they carry a weapon. I remember once getting into a fight with armed men who were harassing young girls in a village. They felt that because they were armed that they should do what they wish. Once in 1977, when I was in high school, I was with a friend of mine spraying graffiti and posting signs against the Syrian regime. This was when the Syrian regime was the close ally of the Phalanges militia. After doing our job (and doing it well despite the glue stuck on our hands), we were stopped at a Syrian army checkpoint near the Central Bank building in Beirut. The Syrian soldiers interrogated us, and then very calmly told me to go, and that they wanted my friend. One of the soldiers took me aside, and said: "Go now if you want to live, my friend here wants to fuck your friend. He will kill you if you stay." I remember looking at her (and she was not my girlfriend and will not name her as some readers know her) and seeing a look of freight that I never saw on a human being. She did not say a word, and did not have to. She did not plead; not to me, and not to them. She just looked, I remember her. Just by looking at her, I knew that no matter what, I could not leave her behind. I stayed, and used whatever powers of persuasion that a high school student had, and they released us. We never talked about it afterwards. I saw her last summer, and she as usual did not mention it. I know that in addition to my book on the clash of identities in Lebanon that I plan to complete next fall when I take my sabbatical (semi sabbatical as I will teach my Gender and Sexuality in ME course at UC, Berkeley) I will one day write a personal account of living through a civil war, of growing up in a civil war--not that you are necessarily interested. Odd experience. You meet people with those code names, many code names (like Abu Al-Jamajim, or Father of Skulls). The one that really made an impression on me was a senior revolutionary by the name of Abu `Adhab (Father of Suffering). He was given that name for undergoing unspeakable torture at the hands of Jordanian mukhabarat during Black September). The bad taste award should go to the Hariri political apparatus in Lebanon. They are planning to commemorate the anniversary of the civil war today with drums, music, dance, folkloric carnivals, and, of course, Hummus. They do not think that the mostly poor 120,000 victims of the Lebanese civil war deserve the kind of solemn mourning that billionaire Hariri received. After all, those poor victims of the civil war did not make their contributions to Lebanon like him. They did not arm the militias of the right, left, and center, and they did not expand the foreign debt of Lebanon from $2 billion to $40 billion. They did not fly in private jets, and they were not on first-name basis with the corrupt president of France. I will think of the dead, and of the ones that I knew. I will think of Iyad who died before reaching his target, literally and figuratively, in 1978. He was shot in South Lebanon. During his funeral, a Muslim Sunni cleric said some words about martyrs in Islam. We his friend suspected that he was insinuating something because our friend Iyad was a communist. We yelled at the cleric, and practically kicked him out of the house. We were so mad at him that he was frightened. Those were the good old days when you could frighten clerics. Now they run the place, and Bush is installing them as leaders in Iraq. That is Bush's version of freedom. That is why leftists should have at least two (not one) reasons to oppose Bush's wars. I had to identify a dead body in the morgue of AUH in Beirut when I was 16. That was the first dead body that I saw. I remembered looking at the seemingly tens of shrapnels that penetrated his body. I remember thinking afterwards: should I react in a particular way? Should I do something? I did not cry, but I felt frozen that day. And when Bush act giddy in reacting to developments in Lebanon, I will think of the many outside parties that sought to change Lebanon and shape it for their own ends. What will become of Lebanon and the Lebanese? Some Lebanese are now sincerely under the false impression that there is unity, and they would add "except of course for the Shi`ites" and others. I am going to Lebanon in June, and do not know what to expect. I do not know who will be in charge. I want it to be quiet and peaceful. And I want this personality cult for Hariri (funded by the Hariri political/financial apparatus) to end. Or at least they can suspend their silly activities and carnivals during my stay. Is that too much to ask?
Posted by As'ad AbuKhalil at 6:15 PM