* Lebanese writer and journalist
The following ought to have happened. But it didn’t. No one has yet confessed to the crimes, the bloodshed and the victims. Between the Lebanese and the Palestinians, what has to be told lies on the surface of memory and has not yet passed into oblivion—its recovery is possible. A history of tragedies and grudges has been displaced, but it is alive and kicking—and still firmly entrenched in memory.
The Lebanese, or some Lebanese, preserve in their cultural memory the era of deadly violence. They hold the Palestinians, or the majority of Palestinians, responsible for the tragedy of deaths, destruction, and massacres. These events can be easily recovered from memory, all that is needed is a misunderstanding or an accident. They hold the Palestinian responsible for the “calvary” of the country and the suffering of the group, and they absolutely cannot see that he confesses to it. Anyone who hasn’t experienced war doesn’t wish to listen to the stories of battles and massacres, or the ways of kidnapping, killing and torture. Yet the hostility is latent and sometimes takes on a racist hue: The finger is pointed at the Palestinian, even if he was born after the Lebanese-Palestinian war.
The finger is also pointed at the Lebanese in the memory and memoirs of Palestinians. Before the outbreak of “armed struggle” the Palestinian was the subject of daily torment in the camps of misery, a refugee treated with humiliation in his combat against “Israel,” especially after the loss of the whole of Palestine in the Six-Day War. At that point, arms could no longer be policed. The coexistence of the state and the resistance moved between the barricades and the battle fronts.
Let us dare take a look in the mirror of memory. It stores two reflections for us: The image of the Palestinian who has become with his rifle the decision-maker and the authority in the many places of his existence, accompanied by his Lebanese allies. And the image of the “pure” Lebanese, who took up arms to stand against the Palestinian creep and expansion, and against the repercussions of the “Israeli” violence on Lebanon. These two images open the tragedy “album”.
Then Israel invaded Beirut and evacuated the Palestinians and their weapons from the city, from their strongholds in the south, and from parts of Mount Lebanon and Bekaa, leaving in its wake the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
The above does not disclose the battles, fronts, invasions, types of fighting, patterns of retaliations, destructive behaviors and even genocide. There are villages that have been wiped out, camps raided, cities destroyed, people killed at crossings without committing any crime.
It was enough to belong to the other side to be a legitimate victim, abductee or a commodity to be exchanged. There are no real figures for the dead: One hundred thousand? A little less? A little more? It makes no difference. There are tens of thousands who were mutilated and had their blood shed. The two sides competed in the number of massacres they offered one another. Each massacre was met with a more atrocious massacre. Lebanon has been transformed into a large graveyard displaying the names of the missing, tortured, and ransomed. How many mothers wept? How many families were displaced? Is it permissible to remain silent about what has happened? Or should this chapter be opened calmly to achieve real reconciliation?
So far, we have not yet come of age. What is required is not to forget, condone, and sprinkle ashes of sweet talk about the two parties. We must confess that failing to recognize what happened is to leave a fire burning under the cinders.
What happened in South Africa between the white colonizers and the indigenous blacks was more terrible and heinous: the violence of a racist power against liberation fronts and movements. After an international siege and a global boycott, the white power was forced to capitulate. There was great change in terms of power between whites and blacks… This would not have worked if not for reconciliation and truth between the parties, the perpetrators of murder, destruction, and violence. It is useful to draw on that approach. It is not helpful to declare reconciliation in a statement full of polite, insignificant political words issued by an official Palestinian body, to be received by the Lebanese political authorities, without being followed by any genuine conciliatory action that opens that dossier, recognizes it, and builds on it.
The South African experience is the model to be followed: What happened must be described accurately, and personal recognition of specific offenses be put forward. A description, then, and a public admission, to be recorded in the “Memory of the Nation” record. Even this is not enough. The person who confesses to an offense must apologize and ask for forgiveness. In return, the victim or his representative can accept the apology: but no amnesty can be granted before confession and before the expression of remorse. This must be followed by the establishment of a national culture free of racial discrimination.
This happened in South Africa: memory was absolved by confession and forgiveness. For us, memory still bleeds with events we are forbidden from speaking about. Not speaking about them does not wipe them out, but rather places them on the suppressed platform. The Palestinian suppresses his tragedies while pinning them on some Lebanese, and the Lebanese keeps his anxious obsessions. Everything that happened did happen, and the return to it is possible, which poisons the possibility of living together in one state.
There was no Palestinian-Lebanese reconciliation. The two groups are wary of opening the dossiers of the past. Perhaps the most important reason is that the memory of the Civil War is still lurking in the darkness. It was not buried. There has been no truth seeking, reconciliation, or agreement on a system that can transcend the rifts separating the Lebanese into opposing camps at every juncture. Those who fought in the war did not express remorse, did not confess, did not compensate the victims, and did not create a system preventing civil wars. Some leaders stopped at a political statement and an apology written in plain ink, nothing like the documents sealed with a confession of killing and sealed with the blood of the martyrs.
Is there a starting point?
The Lebanese and Palestinian communities are eligible to conduct an experiment by selecting two groups, with the aim of talking about the past only as belonging to the past; to describe this past and draw lessons from it; and to address the violent alternative that exists in the absence of peaceful national humanitarian communication.
Indeed, the Palestinians and the Lebanese can coexist without any grudges, with zeal, recognition, and cultural exchange, provided that the Lebanese are willing to apologize to their Lebanese victims first. The first course is possible, the second (the necessity of apologizing) is difficult if not impossible.
Yet, it is important to try, as there is no alternative, other than what we know today—ambushes, lies, blandishment, malice, and so on; a co-existence full of mistrust, scourges, and crises.
Let’s start a youth experience… Maybe…