A little fresh insight from someone who has been on the inside. What has happened in Lebanon in the last 40 years is nothing short of a tragedy. The once glorious region of Phoenicia, the home of proud sea faring navigators and merchants, home of King Hiram of Tyre, friend and ally to King David and Solomon, has now been reduced to literal ashes and ruins. But that’s ancient history, Lebanon was doing great in the 1950s and 60s, her capital Beirut was often referred to as the Paris of the Middle East. It was all once a much more pluralistic and open democratic society shared among the former Christian majority, the rapidly rising Muslim minority (today the majority), Druze and even a small but once flourishing Jewish community. My father recalls his childhood fondly with friends and neighbors from different walks of life growing up together. That was Lebanon, home of the ancient cedars, also known as the tree of the Lord, because its wood was used to build the Temple in Jerusalem. Today those mountains are bare and naked, few small patches of cedar forests remain from millennia of overuse. It is perhaps a reflection of Lebanon’s battered and war torn soul.
The signs of her downfall began to show when the old Mufti Amin al Husseini was allowed into the country, and it was his radical interpretation of jihadism that fueled Arafat’s later PLO revolution, which became Lebanon’s fatal blow. Ever since Arafat invaded an armyless Lebanon in the 1970s, and used it as a staging ground for his war against Israel, Lebanon has never been the same. My own uncle was killed during this conflict, and my father fled the country to begin a new life in the United States as a result. The First Lebanon War in 1982, also known as Operation Peace Over Galilee, was an attempt to create a protective buffer zone between PLO forces and Israel’s borders, but it turned into a nightmare from which Lebanon never truly recovered. The rise of Hezbollah was simply another offshoot of the same extremist hate, the same hate which has been Lebanon’s biggest burden, more than all the wars, more than all the depressions, more than all the pandemic, hate has plunged Lebanese society from a once open minded society into a suffering economy pressed under the thumb of Hezbollah backed by Syrian and Iranian muscle. Lebanon has an army, but it doesn’t stand a chance against Hezbollah. The Taif Agreement led to some recovery in the 1990s and early 2000s, but that peace was sadly short-lived. It was rocked by yet another war in 2006, this time sparked by Hezbollah using Arafat’s same old tactics. And I remember this one clearly because I was in high school when they started kidnapping soldiers and launching rockets on Israeli cities and towns. And ever since that war, most, if not all of Lebanon’s economy has been funneled by Hezbollah into stockpiling more weapons, and building more explosive material, materials like the ones that exploded in Beirut in August of 2020.
Today Lebanon is being labeled a failed state, and its people languish under the heavily armed clutches of Hezbollah and Iran. My heart breaks every time I see the bread lines my cousins show me in their towns, every time my friends tell me they feel they have nothing left to lose, a sentiment which most Lebanese people now share in common, regardless of religion or ethnicity. But in the midst of all the darkness there is still some hope, still one source of light that my friends in Lebanon hold onto, together we have formed a kind-of underground peace movement, between young Lebanese people and young Israelis, Americans, and many other young people from across the Middle East and Europe representing all their cultures, calling for peace and real solutions for the 21st century and an end to all the drama of the 20th.
We are Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Americans, Cubans and still many others from all walks of life who are calling for change, for freedom, for real peace in our generation. As one good friend of mine told me, she remembers when Israel entered Lebanon in 2006, and noted the difference between Syrian and Israeli soldiers. She said the Syrian soldiers at one point barged into her family’s home and kicked them out to use it as a base, but when the Israelis got there, she remembers how they asked her family’s permission to set up camp next to the building and even protected them from danger. She tells me how she never forgot that, and it’s exactly stories like these that never make it to the news, but need to be told to show the humanity on both sides of the conflict. There is light at the end of the tunnel, if you just know where to look, forward, not back, with our eyes on the prize, insha’Allah, b’ezrat Hashem, true and lasting peace in our days. May our eyes live to see it!
- Written by Ossman (AKA: Uzi) Darwiche