The Lebanese civil war had multiple causes
Beirut - To solve a problem one has first to admit it exists. The Lebanese commemorate the 40th anniversary of the official start of the Lebanese civil war in April. The problem here is two-fold: First, the date selected as that of the official start, April 13, 1975, is wrong. In fact, the war started long before. And second, the Lebanese hardly ever acknowledged the fact that the country went through a civil war.
The Lebanese refer to the 17- year civil war, Israeli invasion, car bombings, Syrian occupation and every other calamity that struck this country on and after April 13, 1975, the official debut of the Lebanese civil war, as “The Events”.
The Lebanese tried to pretend their country was simply going through a bad phase. Visitors were often asked if they knew Lebanon before “The Events”.
Yet the civil war, or The Events if you prefer, did not start on April 13, 1975. There was a multitude of issues that led to the outbreak of violence such as the delicate balance between Christians and Muslims and the effect on the country of regional events.
It was a compilation of all these different issues, social, political and religious that was piling up in a pressure cooker with no release valve. At one point it had to explode. But the process that led to that fateful date, when all the ingredients finally fell into place, actually began in the Swiss city of Basel in 1897, when the First Zionist Congress voted to select Palestine as “the historic home of the Jewish people”.
That decision led to Jewish migration to British-mandated Palestine and the founding in 1948 of the state of Israel and the exodus of Palestinians and the subsequent creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis. One can hardly talk of the Middle East issues without noting the impact the different wars had on the countries of the region.
— 1948 saw the birth of a new country in the Middle East and Palestinian refugees fleeing their homeland.
— 1956, the Suez Crisis reaffirmed the lines of support of the former colonial powers towards Israel, perhaps in the hope that this stance would somehow wash away the shame of the manner in which Europeans had treated the Jews during the 1940s.
— 1967 war was a humiliating defeat for the Arabs who lost the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the Israelis. This war also led the Israelis to bathe in their arrogance and to believe they were invincible.
— 1970, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and affiliated Palestinian resistance groups are forcibly expelled from Jordan and relocate to Lebanon. The arrival of tens of thousands of mostly Muslim Palestinians in Lebanon upset the delicate confessional balance in the country.
— 1973, the October War. Of all the conflicts in the Middle East, this one carries special importance as it gave the Arabs the confidence they needed to sit at the negotiating table and to face the Israelis on an equal footing.
But without a doubt, the catalyst that led to the Lebanese war was the Israeli raid led by Ehud Barak on the home of three Palestinian leaders in Beirut — Kamal Adwan, Kamal Nasser and Abu Youssef.
The 1973 raid in Beirut’s fashionable Verdun neighbourhood led the Palestinians to declare the Lebanese state incapable of defending the resistance in the very heart of the capital and stated they would henceforth rely only on themselves for their security. This move worried the Lebanese Christian parties who began arming themselves and set up military training camps in the Christian hinterlands.
It was now only a matter of time before the fuse was lit. Clashes between Christian militias and the guerrillas became more common, as did Israeli raids on Lebanese towns and villages. The final piece to the puzzle that would unravel the Lebanese mosaic came on that bloody Sunday in April.
I was returning home after having taken photographs of Lebanon’s first commercial casualty, a devastated men’s clothing store in Bab Idriss, the heart of Beirut’s business district, when two more explosions echoed off the shuttered buildings. They were immediately followed by long continuous bursts of heavy gun fire.
“It’s the beginning,” lamented Hussein, my driver, slowly shaking his head. “There is no telling what will come of this. It’s only the beginning.” He was interrupted by further bursts of machine gun fire ripping through the night.
“It will be many, many years before we ever go back to normal again,” he continued.
“Lubnan khalas,” — Lebanon is finished — said Hussein, my driver, with tears in his eyes.
“Lubnan khalas,” he repeated slowly to himself. I thought Hussein was overreacting. He was not. It was April 13, 1975.