I wish to thank you Mr. Chairman for giving me this opportunity to testify about the persecution of the Lebanese Christians in general and the Christian population in south Lebanon in particular. This historic achievement will allow me to share with you, the representatives of the American people, a truth which was hidden for years by both the oppressors in the Middle East and by their protectors in the Western world.
My name is Sharbel Barakat. I was born and raised in the Christian village of Ain Ebel in south Lebanon. I studied in my village and later in Beirut. I became an officer of the Lebanese army, got married and had four children. I currently live in my village which is under siege by terrorist groups such as Hizbollah, and radical factions. I cannot travel in my country, nor I can go to the capital, Beirut. I cannot leave my country through the airport, nor through seaports. Hizbollah has issued death sentences -sentences which were made public by the leadership of the organization against large numbers of Christians in South Lebanon.
I live with my family and my Christian community under the constant threat of shelling, road side explosions, kidnapping, and torture, in an area , home to 150,000 Christians and other minorities. Our fault: We are Christians surrounded by Islamist fundamentalists. In order to respond to your invitation Mr. Chairman, I had to cross the border into Israel, and leave the Middle East through the only airport that connects us to the free world.
We, the Christians of South Lebanon do not live in a free world.
Throughout my life, my relatives, friends and community have been submitted to various forms of oppression and persecution for the mere reason that we are Christians. Today, I would like to testify about my own experience, the experience of my community, the present state of harassment, and what we expect in the future. I would like also to make few suggestions to the United States and world governments.
I - My experience:
Throughout my young years, I was raised in the fear of massacres, as our village's population was butchered in 1920 by Muslims. At the end of 1958, and before the US Marines intervention to put an end to the Islamic uprising, backed by Abdel Nasser of Egypt, I lost my eldest brother, a young Lebanese officer. When Benoit was killed, I was six years old.. In the seventies, the PLO systematically brutalized the youth and elders of Ain Ebel, and other villages, installing terror check points, arresting, kidnapping, and killing some of the villagers. On many occasions graffiti were written on the walls such as "there is no place for Christians in this land."
Since 1977, our village was encircled by PLO and other radical groups. Our world shrunk to less than three square miles. We were in a collective prison, more like a Christian ghetto surrounded by Jibad forces. On new year's eve of 1979, the day my wife gave birth to my older son her two parents were kidnapped by the elements of Abu Nidal for three months. On Christmas day of 1991, my brother-in-law, a middle school teacher, was kidnapped to the Ain El Helweh Camp and tortured for a whole month by the armed elements of Abul Abbas.
In 1984, a new organization, Hizbollah, took over from the PLO. Manipulated by the Iranians, protected by the Syrians, legitimized after 1990 by the current Lebanese regime, the terrorists of Hizbollah were bolder in their designs. They openly called for the establishment of an Islamic republic. For six years, we had to use fishing boats to exit Ain Ebel's region in order to reach Beirut, before it fell to the Syrians in 1990. Children, women, and the elderly were packed like cattle, under Hizbollah's fire. In 1985 a ship carrying 200 Christians sunk off Beirut's shores. I personally was on many of these horror trips. Life was forbidden to us, so was freedom. During the time we were oppressed by the fundamentalists, other Christians suffered as well: the Western and American hostages, held by the same Hizbollah ia Lebanon.
In the wake of the Syrian invasion of the Christian areas of Beirut and Mount Lebanon in October 1990, three civilians from my village were kidnapped by Hizbollah. Marun Nassff Attach was killed and his body was left in the valley of Wadi el-Sluki for fifteen days. The United Nations soldiers found him defaced and maimed. We were able to recognize him with the help of X-rays taken of his leg few weeks prior. Burros Nassif Atmeh died months after his release as a result of severe beating to his head during his kidnapping. The third Christian who is the nephew of a bishop and still alive, was reduced to a living martyr. I cannot bring his name for safety reasons. This environment of extreme violence against my village and the Christians of this area caused us to live m constant fear. We even considered emigrating, emptying the villages; however, we remained on our land.
Since 1979, under Syrian
pressures, our wages from the Lebanese Army were suspended by Beirut's government.
Furthermore, a great number of us is denied passports. More recently I worked hard to
establish a Christian radio station to broadcast to the local community. As I made the
first broadcast, Hizbollah threatened to shell the station. Later, Hizbollah's rockets
were fired into the area, and we were forced to close it dogma to spare lives.
II - The experience
of my community:
The pattern of suppression is an old one. The Christian community in that area was submitted to number of massacres throughout this century. Since the massacre of 1920 incidents occurred frequently.
Mr Chairman, the present speaker of the house m Lebanon, Mr Nabih Berri, who is considered as a moderate Shiite, publicly threatened by reminding us of this 1920 massacre three times. Targeting Christians is not specific to South Lebanon. The Lebanese Christians has been resisting the tide of Islamism since the seventh century. Our ancestors have paid the price for their faith. Lebanon is the only country ia the Middle East, where Christians from all denominations have been able to form a safe haven for over thirteen centuries.
In modern times, attempts were made to create a co-existence between Lebanon's religious communities. The Christians extended their hands to the Muslim leadership. Successful for a short period of time, this peaceful coexistence fell under the terrorism of the PLO, the Syrian occupation, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
For an insight on this history I recommend the comprehensive book of Professor Walid Phares, "Lebanese Christian Nationalism: The Rise and Fall of an Ethnic Resistance." (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995). In Phares' terms, the "Christians of Lebanon were and are still targeted because of their Christian identity and their determination to remain Christian."
Since 1975, about 150,000 Christians were killed during the war. Thousands of Lebanese Muslims died as well. Entire Christian villages were erased and their populations were ethnically cleansed.
In Damur (south of Beirut), for example, a thousand Christian civilians were killed while the armed bands shouted "Allahu Akbar" and "Jihad" (Holy war slogans) Churches were burned down by dozens. An account of the horrors is too long to include in this testimony.
Here are few examples
1975: Belt Mellat, Deir Eshash Tall Abbas (north Lebanon), Damur (Mount Lebanon)
1976: Chekka (north Lebanon), Qaa, Terbol (Bekaa valley)
1977: Aishye (south Lebanon), Maaser el-Shuf (Shuf Mountain)
1978: Ras Baalbeck, Shleefa (Bekaa valley)
1983: Major massacres in Aley, and the Shuf mountains. Ia addition to the 241 U.S. Marines and 78 French paratroopers savagely assassinated by Hizbollah
1984: Iqlim el-Kharrub (Mourn Lebanon)
1985: East Sidon (South Lebanon)
1990: Matn district
III - The present state of harassment:
Since the so-called national reconciliation agreement of Taef was implemented by the Syrian army in 1990, Lebanon is under occupation and its Christian community under systematic oppression Under this Syrian controlled regime, freedoms were eliminated.
Here are some of the flagrant abuse of human rights against Christians around the country:
Constant and arbitrary arrests of young, men and women. Armed elements break into their homes by night and kidnap them to "security" centers. The last campaign was during December 1996, when 450 young Christians were thrown in jail and beaten for days. They spent Christmas alone in helplessness.
Christians are tried by military courts for "forming Christian associations," "opposing Syria," or allegedly for "contacting Israelis or Jews."
Christians are severely tortured in Lebanese or Syrian jails or in detention centers by Hizbollah. Even the President of Lebanon has recognized the existence of 210 detained in Syrian jails. Our estimate indicates around 600.
(See sketches drawn by a tortured person )
In the so-called "security zone" of south Lebanon Christians live under the fear of Hizbollah's terror. In 1996, Hizbollah issued a public religious fatwah (religious edict) calling for the murder of "all those who have been in contact with Jews." As we all know, there are thousands of Christians who work in the Galilee, inside Israel. All of these civilians will be put to death by the Iranian-backed organization if Israel withdraws. As of today, neither the Lebanese or the Syrian governments have issued a rebuttal to this Fatwah. We therefore, assume that Beirut and Damascus are endorsing the massacre of the Christians in south Lebanon by Hizbollah. Meanwhile, South Lebanon's villages are the target of snipers, bombs, kidnapping, and economic blockades.
IV - What to expect in the future:
Mr. Chairman, it is certain that my community in the security zone and Jezzine is under present and real danger. Christians are presently safe because of the presence of Israeli troops and the local defense force known as South Lebanon Army (SLA). However in the case of an Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the area, and disbanding of the SLA, we expect a generalized massacre of Christians, an ethnic cleansing, and deChristianization of south Lebanon. This potential holocaust of Christians will have a tremendous impact on the region's Christians. For Lebanon has always been the hope for Middle East Christianity.
V - Suggestions:
For the short term, I present the following suggestions aimed at saving the Christians of South Lebanon, as long as Hizbollah and the Syrian occupation forces are present and influential in that
1) That the US government formally asks the Israeli government not to withdraw from the security zone before a solution is found for the protection of the Christian community in south Lebanon.
2) That the US government help the Christians of south Lebanon to form a local authority which will enable them to face the administrative, economic, social, and security challenges.
3) That the US government extend a direct humanitarian support to the encircled Christian community in South Lebanon, and help them establish a safe haven until the regional problem is solved.
4) That the US Senate, and the US Congress extend invitations to the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, and other Christian leaders in south Lebanon and in exile to testify about the fate of their community.
Such a message can bring about the truth of persecution to the American people and allow Christians worldwide to extend their support to their brethren m faith in our tormented country.
Thank you Mr Chairman,
Ain Ebel, South Lebanon.