Lebanon's refugees in Israel & the Lebanese Leaders' Questionable Credibility
By: Elias Bejjani*

October 22/08

We call on the Lebanese government and parliament to grant unconditional amnesty to the ex-members of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) who sought refuge in neighboring Israel with their families after the unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli troops from South Lebanon in May 2000 in accordance with the UN Resolution 425. A grant of amnesty is justified especially in light of the fact that (after Syrian troops were forced to withdraw from Lebanon in accordance with the UN Resolution 1559) the Lebanese parliament passed in 2005 an amnesty law that pardoned numerous leaders and individuals in a bid to pave the way for a comprehensive national milieu of reconciliation among the country's mosaic, multicultural communities that compose Lebanese society?

In reality, the other Lebanese people throughout Lebanon have not endured the horrible injustice suffered by those Southern Lebanese citizens (Especially those living in the Southern security zone and Jezzine city).

For the last thirty years Lebanon's Southern citizens were and still are victims of alienation, assaults, persecution, expulsion and impoverishment, not only at the hands of terrorists and fundamentalist foreign and local militias, including the Iranian Army of Hezbollah, but most importantly as a result of complete abandonment by all successive Lebanese governments since 1975.

Lebanon's Southern citizens have been left to face all kinds of oppression alone since 1975. One wonders why the successive Lebanese governments and parliamentarians (since 2005) have declined to assume their national responsibilities regarding our refugees in Israel?

The Israeli government disarmed and forced the SLA militia to dismantle in 2000, just a few days before the withdrawal of its army from South Lebanon. Those SLA members who risked their lives and stayed in Lebanon were subjected to vigilantism and unfair trials, which resulted in harsh sentences and death penalties against more than 70 individuals. Others, who left Lebanon were sentenced in absentia and once they return to Lebanon will be arrested. Many of SLA's militia men are still deprived of their civil rights, while suffering persecution and poverty.

With the Israeli pullout in May 2000, nearly 6,500 Lebanese men, along with members of their families, left the South and escaped to Israel and other countries (USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, etc.), forced to leave their homes, villages, and all their properties in fear for their lives.

Before the Israeli withdrawal, Hezbollah waged a merciless and savage media campaign against them. The campaign was aired publicly on all local and international TV and radio stations. The most frightening threats were uttered by Hezbollah's General Secretary Sheik Nasrallah who savagely said, "We will enter their bedrooms, pierce their stomachs, slaughter them and slice their throats."

Since then about 4,000 of them have returned to Lebanon in successive waves during the last eight years. The Lebanese Army arrested the men who returned but let the women and children go. The men were interrogated, humiliated and the majority of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment on charges of treason, collaboration, contacting an enemy and living in an enemy country. Their trials were a farce, biased and hasty. Many of those sentenced were stripped of their civil rights and forced to abandon their villages and cities. At the present time more than 2,500 remain in Israel, 500 of them have been granted Israeli citizenship and now run the risk of being imprisoned and charged with treason on returning home to Lebanon.

Numerous Lebanese MPs oppose amnesty. They allege, based on their sickening, selfish, psychotic and bizarre criteria--that the ex-SLA members have blood on their hands and should not be involved in any reconciliation process because they have been living in Israel for more than 8 years. They argue that such individuals could be tempted to spy for Israel. Those MPs who are patriotically alienated, hypocrites and Pharisees are sadly members in both, the pro-Lebanon and pro Syria-Iran political blocks (The 8th and the 14th March blocks).

Should former SLA members be pardoned like the rest of the numerous Lebanese militia leaders and members?

Yes, for sure. Not only that, but they should be decorated with medals of honor and welcomed back in their country as heroes. They did not betray Lebanon; they did not abandon their beloved land; they did not succumb to terrorists and terrorism and, in fact, they were the only organized Lebanese Militia that fought terrorists and terrorism since 1975, against the PLO, all the leftists, and Arabists in the early years and afterwards Hezbollah. Their fight was for peace, dignity, human rights and national identity.

The biased and inhumane stance of those against amnesty does not take in consideration that these people, our people of the South, have been forced to flee from their villages in 2000, out of fear that they might be subjected to reprisals on the part of those who accused them of having played the enemy's game.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and others deny the fact that SLA was composed of Lebanese citizens from all walks of life, religions and denominations. The Lebanese army helped in its formation in the mid seventies in a bid to defend the southern villages, cities and towns against terrorists and fundamentalists: the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), leftists and Arabists in the seventies and eighties, and Hezbollah since 1982. The aim of all these organizations was--and continues to be--the destruction of Lebanon's freedoms, democracy and independence and the waging of a terrorist guerrilla war against Israel.

These criminal threats against Lebanon's own were real, clear, unequivocal and are well documented. Those who are now justifying the threats as legitimate war tactics should not dismiss the fact that during the last thirty years the Lebanese people suffered on the hands of Syria, PLO, Hezbollah and Arabists ugly massacres in many villages and cities, e.g. Ayshiya in the South, Kaa in Bekaa, in the capital Beirut, in Kehali, Ebadiea, Araya, Bmariem, in the Mount, and Damour in AlChouf  etc.

Addressing the Issue of our refugees in Israel was a taboo imposed by the Syrian occupier, and the fundamentalists before 2005. But now that Syria does not occupy Lebanon any more, this taboo must and should be washed out and the case re-opened.

We appeal to the Lebanese parliament and to all the Lebanese leadership, without exception, especially to the Christian parties to assume their national and moral responsibilities in regard to our refugees in Israel. We call for the formation of a judicial-parliamentary commission to study this bleeding issue and shed light on all its aspects.

We wonder about the standards of patriotism, collaboration and treason by which our Southern refugees are judged. We ask to be informed accurately on the destiny of those leaders, clergy men, politicians, officials, individuals and groups, especially Hezbollah, if we are to apply these same standards to them after we dissect their actions and their regional relationships and objectives along with all the atrocities their hands have committed, and they are plenty.

Most of those who tag SLA members as traitors are in fact criminals, kidnappers, terrorists and have committed notorious terrorist, anti-human acts of killing, persecution, kidnapping, thievery, bribery, collaboration with foreign powers, beheading and hanging of our fellow citizens.

Because a human must take a stand, the national and human duty requires that all Lebanese leaders and groups publicly declare their clear positions on the issues of our refugees in Israel and the Diaspora. Hidden ruses, internalizations, and clever wordings will not fool the Lebanese anymore; as it was stated in the Bible about halfhearted, Laodicean followers of God in the last days of earth's history: "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16)

Because the tenants of justice presume that one is innocent until proven guilty, we advise those who have appointed themselves as judges, juries and hangmen, and who have started issuing judgments and verdicts according to their standards and beliefs to fear God and repent, because God is patient but not negligent, and with the Nazarene we tell them loudly; "Who amongst you has no sin, throw the first stone".

Lord, save our homeland, Lebanon, from evil and calamities.
Lord, return all our people to the land of the Cedars, proud and welcomed.
Lord, keep away the diseases of blindness and arrogance from our people.

*Elias Bejjani
Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
E.Mail phoenicia@hotmail.com

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