No Lebanese Reconciliation before the dignified return
of our refugees from Israel
*By: Elias Bejjani

August 22, 2005

None of the other Lebanese people throughout Lebanon has endured the horrible injustice suffered by those Lebanese citizens 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, exodus and impoverishment not only at the hands of terrorists' and fundamentalist' foreign and local militias, among which is the Hezbollah, but most importantly as a result of complete abandonment by all successive Lebanese governments since 1975.

Lebanon's citizens in its Southern security zone have been left to face all kinds of oppression alone.

Should the Lebanese government grant amnesty to the ex-members of the South Lebanon Army (SLA) who sought refuge in neighboring Israel after the unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli troops from South Lebanon in May 2000 in accordance with the UN Resolution? Especially in light of the fact the new Lebanese parliament has recently passed 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?

The Syrian-installed Lebanese government declined to assume its responsibilities in the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal in year 2000. It did not send the army to fill the security vacuum, It did not protect its Southern citizens, nor did it assign the army to patrol the Israeli- Lebanese borders. Furthermore, it did not abide by any of the clauses in both UN Resolutions 425 and 426 that regulate the responsibilities of both Israel and Lebanon during and after the Israeli withdrawal.

Hezbollah, the armed Iranian Shiite militia, took full control of the Southern region, erected its own canton there, and since the year 2000 has been solely running its affairs in the domains of administration, education, social services, religion, security, etcetera.

Should former SLA members be pardoned like the rest of the numerous Lebanese militias' leaders and members? The question has stirred up a vigorous controversy since General Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), courageously raised it during the parliamentary debate of the new cabinet's policy statement.

The MPs of Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party opposed the amnesty. They alleged--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 three years. They argue that such individuals could be tempted to spy for Israel.

This biased and inhumane stance led General Aoun to make explicit his initiative in favor of these Lebanese citizens, who have been forced to flee from their villages 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.

The 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.

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, rulings mostly issued in absentia.

Many of SLA's militia men are still lingering in Lebanon's jails, deprived of all their basic human rights, while their families suffer persecution and poverty. To this day, the Beirut government remains in complete defiance of all the United Nations resolutions, including UN Security Council Resolutions 1559, 425, 426 and the recent one 1641 that was passed on July 29, 2005.

With the Israeli pullout in May 2000, nearly 6,500 Lebanese men, along with members of their families, left the South. Since then about 4,000 of them have returned to Lebanon in successive waves during the last five 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 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.

And as if all the calamities inflicted upon our Southern brethren during the past thirty cursed years were not enough, they are currently facing a campaign of humiliating marginalization, organized national and moral assassination, false and fabricated accusations of collaboration with neighboring Israel and treason. Both the Shiite-armed Hezbollah Party and Amal organizations, the Druze Social Progressive Party and many other Islamic and fundamentalists have been calling for stripping hundreds of these Southerners of their Lebanese nationality in order to sabotage every chance for their dignified return from Israel.

Our Southern brothers and sisters escaped to Israel and other nations in May 2000 and were forced accordingly 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."

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 ugly massacres in many villages and cities, e.g. Ayshiya in the South, Kaa in Bekaa, Beirut, Kehali, Ebadiea, Araya, Bmariem, AlChouf and Damour in the Mount etc.

Addressing the Issue of our refugees in Israel was a taboo imposed by the Syrian occupier, its installed Lebanese governments and fundamentalists. Many thanks to MP General Michel Aoun and his FPM MPs who broke the chains of this taboo in the Lebanese parliament.

General Aoun appealed from within the parliament to all the Lebanese leadership and without exception, to assume their national and moral responsibilities in regard to our refugees in Israel. He called for the formation of a judicial-parliamentary commission to study this bleeding issue and shed light on all its aspects.

General Aoun's courage and the practicality of his call has caused a number of organizations and their leadership to panic. The leaders became infuriated and escalated the issue to a crisis level. They carried out their roles in a continuing, vindictive campaign with despicable attacks and flagrant arrogance, showing a unilateralist logic devoid of morality and values. Their logic is the crime of rejection of the other, it is isolationism, and is far from the essence and spirit of General Aoun's proposal.

We wonder about the standards of patriotism, collaboration and treason by which our Southern refugees are to be judged.  We ask to be informed accurately on the destiny of General Aoun's accusers, individuals and groups 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.

Keep in mind that most of Aoun's accusers are criminals, 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 the tenants of justice presume that one is innocent until proven guilty, we advise those who have appointed themselves as judge, jury 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.

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, in the same manner as General Aoun and his parliamentary bloc have done.

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, "Because you are warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you from my mouth".

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.
*Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)
*Media Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC)