When it comes to Lebanon, it invokes in me many mixed feelings. The first time I visited Beirut was as a graduate assistant in the department of political science at Indiana University. I traveled to Lebanon during the summer of 72 with my professor and some 25 undergraduate students part of a 50 days tour of the Middle East.
Beirut in those days was heaven; even for some one coming from great cities like Chicago and beautiful college towns like Bloomington, Indiana. Beirut and its people have lots of class, lots of style. Beautiful buildings, streets and cafés and oh, so many beautiful, good looking, very classy and dressed to kill women, at the AUB campus and around town. We spent 10 days at the AUB and had a chance to meet with some students (most of whom where very arrogant), many professors and toured the city and some towns close by.
In 1975 a bunch of Christian militia attacked a bus in the outskirt of Beirut killing scores of Palestinian and injuring many. That was the spark that ignited Beirut and put Lebanon on fire culminating with the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 82 and the exiles of Arafat and his PLO.
The Civil War in Lebanon was a savage war by all means. Pitting Muslims against Christians, pitting Christians against Christians and pitting Muslims against Muslims. It was a war that destroyed the entire fabric of Lebanon, and it was a war where even the most sophisticated and intellectuals turned into criminals over night. Throats were slits at checkpoint and the pronunciations of the word “tomato” the way Lebanese and Palestinians pronounced it made a difference between life and death.
Over 100,000 Lebanon died and tens of thousands Palestinians died by the many Christian militias, the Syrian army and more than 50,000 remains missing and no one dare to open the files on these people and give a closure to this savage war. I could never imagined the people whom I met back in 72 and was so impressed with their sophistications can turn out to be killers and murderers. For me Lebanon is a country to view from far.
When the late Arafat was in Beirut, no doubt he was the big cheese, the man of the town if not the country. He claimed he was the “boss” in Lebanon. He and his PLO ran Beirut and there was so much abuse on the political and social levels that the Lebanese simply did not forgive Arafat. His PLO ran one of the most corrupt and undisciplined “liberation” organizations that were simply easy target for and easy to penetrate by Israel and its agents. Yes, Lebanon was and is a sectarian country run by warlord and big bosses like some cities in the US with close cooperation and collusions between the Sunnis of Beirut who ran the economy and the Christian Maronites who ran the country. They’re so much collusion between the two disfranchising the rest of the sects and the rest of the country.
Arafat and his PLO added to and contributed to this conflict and while not the only thing that ignited and burned the country, Lebanon by its very nature with well-armed militias and well-armed private armies was ready to explode. Lebanon was nothing more than a country run by different families just like the mafia ran some cities in the US. Arafat was a mafia boss just like all of the others. Arafat ran a very undisciplined militia that did not leave much of a good will in the South. The people where so glad the Palestinians were out. As Arafat departed Beirut forever, he left behind hundreds of thousands of Palestinians at the mercy of both the Lebanese and the Israelis. Though Arafat secured a “safety guarantee” for those left behind from the US Government, few days later the Lebanese Phalange and the Israelis were to commit the massacres of Palestinian in Sabra and Shatilla. Of course neither the Palestinians nor the Lebanese were ever to open let alone from a commission to look into the massacre in Sabra and Shatilla. Arab countries and liberation organizations never open investigations when thousands die. Death by the thousands is considered normal and never to be looked into.
Lebanon, the sectarian country it is, was all about “confessionalism” and the confessional system in Lebanon determined from births the rights and privileges of its citizens. If you are a Christian Maronite you can dream to be a president, but if you are a Muslim Shiite, the best you can hope for is speaker of the house and if you are a Sunni Muslim, well you can become a prime minister. The Shiites were ignored and disfranchised for years. No wonder Nasrallah is now a big boss.
Since the foundation of modern Lebanon and its independence in 46, the political system insuring the Christians will always have an edge in parliament never did change. No census where taken for over 60 years. A new population census will open the door to a new civil war.
The creation of Israel and the exiles of over 300,000 Palestinians to Lebanon, most of who were Muslims did create a big challenge for Lebanon and for the political establishment. It is interesting that the Lebanese government though very reluctant in fact adamant about granting nationality to any one, out of fear for upsetting the sectarian and confessional balance did granted many “Christians” Palestinians nationality while refusing to grant nationality to Muslims lest upsetting the delicate balance.
The recent and tragic events at Nahr Al-Barid are a big reminder of the very uneasy situation of many of the Palestinians living in Lebanon. Fatah Al-Islam not only destroyed the entire camp housing some 30,000 Palestinian refugees, it opened again a “Pandora Box” that is called the presence of Palestinians in Lebanon.
Nowhere else in the world, not in Jordan, not in Syria, not in Egypt where Palestinians simply disfranchised from the very basic rights as they are in Lebanon. The Palestinians are “forbidden” by law from engaging in business, from forming organizations, from joining unions, from medical health and coverage, from social insurance, from education, from joining the labor force, from adding a small room to their homes in refugee camps. Palestinians are forbidden from some 40 different rights and professions. This is part of the price the Palestinians have to pay making sure that they will never ever have permanent residency in Lebanon and making sure they never upset the confessional system in Lebanon.
Many if not all of the Lebanese politicians while ignoring the very cancer that is destroying the country “confessionalism” all make the “tawteen” or permanent residency for Palestinians the issue on the table and the source of ills in the country.
When Arafat was in Beirut and his boys were enjoying the very best Beirut could offer, wine, women and the good life and while he and his boys were living like hogs in Lebanon, he never looked back at those residing under Israeli occupation. When he was exiled to Tunis and later when Israel allowed him and granted him limited rights of residence in Ramallah, he never looked back at those left behind in Lebanon.
The PLO throughout its miserable and failed history never did devise a workable plan and never have in place a policy to help and support Palestinians refugees all over the Middle East. The PLO while collecting tens of billions of dollars never tried to help the Palestinians with some kind of infrastructure within the refugee camps that if nothing else can help alleviate the daily suffering and humiliation and total reliance on UNRWA. The PLO with its tens of billions of dollars in its coffer and treasury decided to distribute the people’s money among its officers and cadres and investing in industries that were nothing but a big fraud and a vehicle to steal and rob and fleece the organization while the very people this organization was to represent were left to the total care of UNRWA. Arafat and the PLO simply did nothing for the Palestinian refugees anywhere. In fact he and his policies always contributed to the killing and murder of Palestinian and the source of their misery.
The PLO with its tens of billions of dollars did not bother to build schools or hospitals or social infrastructures for those it supposed to represent, but chose to steal and rob the people with billions ending up in the pockets of its officers and officials.
The tragic situation in Lebanon is nothing but a tragedy, crime and a conspiracy with the Arab League, Lebanon, the PLO, Israel all conspired and joined forces making sure the Palestinians in Lebanon never see a nice and decent day. The Palestinian in Lebanon are living in hell on earth in Lebanon and with a life that for sure will lead to another civil war unless the Lebanese government gather the courage and address the grievances of the Palestinians in Lebanon. Mahmoud Abbas and Ahamed Qurai and the PLO should be the last people and the last organization to have a right to speak out for and on behalf of the Palestinians in Lebanon. In fact they all should be brought to trial for their crimes.