Activist for Peace and Change, Vice President of Combatants for Peace
I will not be understood today if, despite the difficulty of the situation, I do not express my opinion on the Palestinians in my youth, that is, before and during the Civil War. In those days, I did not see any Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as I never viewed them as refugees. The first picture I remember about them is their military presence and that they openly carried firearms, as well as news of clashes between Palestinian militants – the legitimate weapon – and the Christian militia weapon. I remember how my community felt insulted, scared and angry at the time. The final blow was the Cairo agreement that Lebanon, coerced and humiliated, signed.
I do not remember the Palestinians as individuals and human beings, but as an armed group that put my nation and my security as well as “my group’s” security at risk. It worked to change Lebanon’s identity, its “Islamism” and “Arabism”. My view of them evolved after the events of 1973, when they represented a serious threat and tried to turn Lebanon into their alternative nation with the consent and compliance of the Muslim partner.
Defending my home and self became a duty that led to my involvement in the long war that began as a Lebanese war against the Palestinian occupier, then turned into a civil war among the Lebanese, and finally branched out into many local or regional wars. I hated the armed Palestinians, and I hated the Palestinian people, who approved of the former’s actions and considered them their army even though they were not complicit.
Perhaps, as part of my security job during the war, I did not face Palestinian civilians, so I did not have to choose life or death for them, as some did; I did, however, deal with their military and political bodies. Besides espionage, my task was to destroy them on the political, military and security levels, and to get rid of their leaderships. I have done, with great determination, what I considered my duty in this regard, from killing and destruction to assassination.
The day we were forced to leave Zahle after the bloody coup on the tripartite agreement, in which I was one of the negotiators, we suddenly became refugees rejected by our families because we were considered traitors. We were also rejected by the people of Zahle. Moreover, we were initially rejected by the new national-Islamic-Palestinian entourage, being pursued for this and that assassination. My wife came across a strange group once, and at that point she and I understood the position of the Palestinian whose return to his homeland was rejected. He was rejected even by his Arab brethren and the entire world and was always threatened with death and extermination.
A spiritual and humanitarian change placed my wife and I in a new world where we met “the others”. Some of the others were the Palestinians in Lebanon who in time became human beings with names like Oussama, Assem, Ahmad, Mohammad and Gabi. I listened to them, and they listened to me. They listened to all that was in my heart, and they told me what was in theirs.
Dialogue with them changed me, and then I met certain figures of the Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon. Some of them have since become dear friends, and some of them were unfortunately martyred. Several visits to the camps and many dialogues made me feel completely ignorant about the situation of this oppressed group of people, as if it were not enough to uproot them from their country. I felt ashamed and sad too. They seemed to me like a pointed finger extended toward us, accusing us of permanent negligence and lack of humanity. How can we accuse them of violence, anger and spying for some authorities, while they are struggling every single day? Why do we not know enough about their situation, their distress and the difficulties of their lives? Why do we only hear negative things about them? Of course, I have never tried to learn before, and that’s what made me responsible in some measure for their suffering.
Many Lebanese, including Christians, still hate the Palestinians, and vice versa. This is normal after a war in which tens of thousands of civilians and military were killed on both sides, and massacres were committed here and there.
Were it not for the “Palestine Declaration to Lebanon” initiative in January 2007, the situation would have remained the same. Regrettably, this declaration did not work sufficiently toward transitional justice that would have paved the way for a genuine reconciliation of its five conditions: the truth, the actors, the request for forgiveness, reconciliation and compensation, and the establishment of institutions and relations that would prevent the recurrence of future events or wars between the Lebanese and the Palestinians.
The emigration of most armed Palestinian factions from Lebanon and the decision of the Palestinian political leadership not to intervene in Lebanese affairs are both very good steps, but they are incomplete and insufficient to bridge the gap between the two peoples.
I call on the Palestinian leadership, as well as the Lebanese authorities and the political and civil society in Lebanon, to initiate a genuine dialogue platform that will lead us to actual reconciliation. Enough ceremonial dialogues; let us move on to the field work, at the level of the people, the victims, the missing and the internally or externally displaced, especially in the areas where there have been direct confrontations between the Lebanese and the Palestinians whom I have started to call brothers and fellow human beings. Let us organize visits to the camps so that we all understand what the Palestinians are struggling with, or rather to discover the harm we are causing them because of our fears of settling them or using them as political and security leverage.