It may never be possible to know who killed Bashir Gemayel. No one had more blood on their hands from the last eight years of civil war than the president-elect; his many enemies cut across the range of political and sectarian divisions in Lebanon. The circumstances and scale of the attack suggest that it involved at least the cooperation of some elements within his Phalange Party.
The more pertinent question is not who killed Gemayel, but who stands to benefit. The Israeli conquest of Lebanon was designed in part to install Gemayel finally at the head of the Lebanese state. Over the latter part of the summer, internal Lebanese and regional Arab political considerations had led Gemayel to take some distance from Israel, particularly on the questions of a peace treaty and the future status of Israel’s client, Maj. Saad Haddad. Gemayel’s stance was supported by Washington, which seemed to be defining for him a political orbit that was not identical to the one plotted in Jerusalem. Gemayel’s murder provided Israel with the pretext to occupy west Beirut within 24 hours. Israeli troops attacked the forces of the Lebanese National Movement and surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps. Right-wing Lebanese militia have moved in to “purify” the capital in a manner similar to their treatment of the population in the south. In the context of the US peace plan announced on September 1, Israel will use its expanded occupation of Lebanon to shift attention away from its continued annexation of the West Bank. Lebanon is indeed now a hostage, which Israel will use in its struggle with the United States over the West Bank. For Lebanon, this latest development could well be the decisive blow to its reconstitution as a nation-state.
The onset of winter poses a grave threat to many tens of thousands of displaced persons in Lebanon. In the south, refugees are setting up tents in the rubble of the camps, but the supply of this meager shelter is inadequate. The low state of public health, overcrowding and devastated infrastructure insure that the human suffering caused by Israel’s invasion will be prolonged. Israeli policy has been to “encourage” Palestinian refugees to move east into Syrian-controlled territory. There are already between 65 and 80,000 displaced persons in the Bekaa — mostly Lebanese at this point. The winter is most severe in that region, and facilities even more inadequate. If the Bekaa is a field of fire in the next phase of the war, which at the moment seems all too likely, conditions there could be catastrophic.
Financial and material aid to Lebanon has been sizeable, but has been distributed very selectively. It is important for persons concerned with the fate of the people there to monitor government and private aid programs for patterns of corruption and political manipulation. It is necessary that assistance not only be adequate in amount, but that it not be used to increase existing social inequities. One organization which is making a special effort to channel support to indigenous popular organizations and local initiatives is Oxfam. We also strongly recommend the Arab American University Graduates, the American Friends Service Committee and the National Council of Churches/Church World Service as relief channels which will get the help where it is most needed.
Much of the emergency assistance so far has been concentrated in urban areas. There is a great need for more attention to conditions in the rural south. Another special need is for aid targeted to women, both Palestinian and Lebanese. The war has aggravated the prevailing pattern of men migrating from villages to cities, and from Lebanon to other countries, in search of work. Now thousands of men have been detained for many months. In the case of Palestinians, thousands of others have been expelled. There is a very pressing need for income and work programs for the women who are now responsible for large families under circumstances of extreme deprivation.
The condition and status of prisoners of the Israeli invading forces remains a serious matter. There has been no movement on this issue since early August. Israel continues to deny these men prisoner-of-war status. The most recent Bulletin of the International Committee of the Red Cross reports: “To date [September 7], ICRC delegates have registered and visited approximately 7,900 prisoners in al-Ansar. A total of 525 have been released under ICRC auspices.” The ICRC has no access to the prisoners in Israel except those in hospitals. Again, we urge readers to raise this issue forcefully through local media and public events.