Lebanese left to cope with own Vichy syndrome

Fakhoury, “the Butcher of Khiam,” will escape punishment. His dual US citizenship and his alleged arrangement with Bassil will allow him to safely return to exile.
Saturday 21/09/2019
Reopening old wounds. A former inmate of Khiam prison chants slogans during a sit-in near a military court in Beirut where an arrest warrant was issued for Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury, September 17.  (AP)
Reopening old wounds. A former inmate of Khiam prison chants slogans during a sit-in near a military court in Beirut where an arrest warrant was issued for Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury, September 17. (AP)

The return of Amer Elias Fakhoury, a senior officer of the decommissioned South Lebanon Army, a local militia that collaborated with Israel during its occupation of southern Lebanon, has unleashed a storm of controversy.

Fakhoury, the former warden of the infamous Al Khiam concentration camp, returned to Lebanon from exile in the United States, where he had become a naturalised citizen, after the statute of limitations ran out on the legal charges against him. Factions inside the Lebanese government, including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), assisted Fakhoury and assured him that he was safe to return.

Adding insult to injury, Fakhoury is reported to have been escorted by a high-ranking Lebanese Army officer who helped facilitate his entry. Pictures surfaced appearing to show Fakhoury voting in recent parliamentary elections abroad and attending social functions in the Lebanese Embassy in Washington, hosted by Aoun’s Ambassador to the United States Gabriel Issa.

Fakhoury’s return would have likely gone unnoticed had the media and his former concentration camp victims not taken to the streets demanding he be brought to justice. Now, Fakhoury has been detained by Lebanese authorities and will be questioned by the judiciary.

Fakhoury’s scandal is the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of other alleged collaborators who have had their records expunged and who have returned to Lebanon to visit friends and family or even settle down.

The phenomena can only be understood when looking at a memorandum of understanding signed between the FPM and Hezbollah in February 2006, which allowed the latter to retain its Iran-supplied arsenal.

Article Six of the document tackles the thorny issue of the “Lebanese in Israel” and pledges to find a solution to end their predicament and make it possible for them to return to Lebanon. To avoid calling them collaborators, Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s foreign minister and Aoun’s son-in-law, refers to former Israeli agents as “emigres,” which Hezbollah seems to condone.

By giving the FPM this much-needed win, Hezbollah is empowering its main Christian ally, allowing Bassil to come across as the strong man who, through his alliance with the Shias, has protected his minority community from the hegemony of Sunni Islam.

Interestingly, neither Hezbollah, the FPM nor the Lebanese state has gone on record commenting on the Fakhoury affair, an indication that the issue will likely be resolved the usual Machiavellian way.

Perhaps the most crucial element of the Fakhoury affair is its ability to expose the Lebanese Vichy syndrome. Just as the French at the end of the second world war largely lacked shame over their prior collaboration with the Nazis, most Lebanese Christians seem to feel no burden over their previous collaboration with Israel.

This bleak reality has led some Lebanese to return to war-time political divisions, with proponents of Lebanon’s leftist resistance to Israel accusing the right-wing Christians of collaboration.

Unfortunately, as events have shown, Fakhoury, “the Butcher of Khiam,” will escape punishment. His dual US citizenship and his alleged arrangement with Bassil will allow him to safely return to exile.

Even more tragic is that the Lebanese and their state have, yet again, proven their inability to properly tackle issues such as nationhood collaboration or governance and, while people have been distracted by the Fakhoury affair, Hezbollah has diverted attention from Iran’s efforts to hijack the Lebanese state for its ends.

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