Jonathan Randal, Going All the Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon (New York: Viking Press, 1983).

Wars have drenched Lebanon in blood in the past decade. If there is one book that is essential to understand what was happening, it is certainly Jonathan Randal’s Going All the Way. Randal, a roving correspondent of the Washington Post for twenty-five years, is one of the most knowledgeable observers of Lebanon, intimately familiar with its people, its politicians, its customs and its history. He has not written a formal, historian’s history. Nor has he written a bare-bones, antiseptic, completely “factual” account, the kind American journalists usually produce, which tries so hard to be “objective” that it ends up with a false or distorted version of reality.

Appearances, particularly in a country like Lebanon, are often misleading. Jonathan Randal decided to go beyond the events and beyond the rhetoric and the propaganda of the protagonists in the conflict. He had the courage — perhaps the temerity — to “go all the way,” to examine the entire inner workings of the struggle, the causes and motivations which went unstated but which nonetheless wrecked the Lebanese state. The book is all the more effective because it is written in a lively, narrative style, close to the texture of daily life, enriched with striking descriptions, clear observations, and a variety of anecdotes — some serious, some funny, some simply pathetic. The book is also effective because it was written over a number of years, in the best tradition of American investigative journalism, recalling the work of Bernstein and Woodward in the Watergate affair.

Randal does not spare his friends among the Lebanese “warlords” or the Israeli military “adventurers” or even in the American administration, though he occasionally shows indulgence towards his subjects, those who caused a bloodbath among a peaceful people. He has a clear affection for the Lebanese, but this does not prevent him from drawing up an unrelenting and bitter indictment of Lebanese society. He discusses, for instance, the “paranoia” and “suicidal tendencies” which the right-wing Maronite parties cultivate among the Christian population. At the risk of surprising or even shocking many of his Western readers, he does not pander to popular prejudices about Lebanon. He directly confronts the commonly accepted ideas and myths long propagated by the media in favor of the conservatives and their allies — variously Syrian, Arab, Israeli or American.

Randal shows that the Lebanese Christians were never once threatened by “genocide,” a term they borrowed from the Israeli hawks to disguise aggression as self-defense. Most of the massacres in Lebanon were carried out by Maronite militias — the Phalangists in particular. Randal recalls that the Phalange were organized by Pierre Gemayel in 1936, based on the Nazi model that he openly admired.

According to Randal, the Palestinians and their progressive allies were responsible for only one large-scale slaughter, in Damour. This resulted in 200 deaths, not 5,000 as is frequently alleged. It occurred not long after the battle of Karantina, where a carefully drawn Phalangist battle plan cost the lives of more than a thousand people. In such matters Randal is especially convincing: He was right on the scene. Randal is a journalist without any sympathies for the left, in Lebanon or anywhere else, and the power of his testimony cannot be underestimated.

Randal is a severe judge of the Syrians, but he deals with each case judiciously and honestly. He notes, for example, that the Syrian bombardment of east Beirut (deserted by its inhabitants at the time) and of Zahla resulted in few victims. Both gave rise to a justified but politically motivated clamor of indignation in the Western press at the time. Randal concludes that the total number of Christians killed during the past ten years was much less than the number of victims among the Palestinians and the Lebanese Muslims. The Muslim threat to the Maronites, which served as a pretext for the civil war in 1975, was essentially a social and political threat. Though well in the minority, the Christians were represented as the majority in the multi-confessional political system established in Lebanon in 1943. They held key positions in the upper levels of the civil service, the government and the army, with all the economic and financial privileges that such positions signify. When the mass of poor Muslims, both Sunni and Shi‘i, began to make demands — Randal characterizes them as “timid reforms” — the right-wing Maronite parties took fright. That fear turned into panic when the poor Muslims formed an alliance with the Palestinians, who were themselves victims of the Lebanese state.

Contrary to another widely held myth, the “Westernized” Christians are not an isolated “island” in an “Arabo-Islamic ocean.” These new “crusaders” of Lebanon are actually Arabs in origin, in culture and in lifestyle. Furthermore, they received a substantial amount of aid (usually clandestine) from the conservative Arab states, who are likewise hostile or suspicious of the Palestinians and poor Muslims, seeing them as an advance guard of “international communism.” Randal reminds us that the Syrian army initially entered Lebanon to give support to the Maronite militias, participating without a second thought in the massacre of Muslims and Palestinians at Tall al-Za‘tar, to the quiet satisfaction of many Arab countries, Israel and the United States. Syria didn’t change its position until the day it realized that it had been fooled by Jerusalem and Washington: They had arranged to get it bogged down in Lebanon so they could have their hands free to negotiate a separate peace with Egypt.

The major Maronite groups — Pierre Gemayel’s Phalangists and the partisans of Camille Chamoun — developed an alliance with Jerusalem in parallel with their liaison with Damascus. Beginning in 1976, Israel supplied them with arms, instructors, advisers and even logistical support in certain battles. Some of these battles, such as the battle of Zahla, were planned and launched in common.

The main intermediary with Israel became Bashir Gemayel, the youngest son of the founder of the Phalange, whom Randal presents as a man consumed by ambition, as unscrupulous as he was bloodthirsty. Bashir undermined his father’s leadership of the party and disarmed the militia of his brother Amin. He also physically liquidated his rivals including leaders of other Maronite groups such as Tony Franjiyya, the son of former President Sulayman Franjiyya, who was killed in the middle of the night in his own home along with his wife and little daughter. He savagely decimated the militia of his ally, Camille Chamoun. Bashir dominated the Christian “ghetto,” thanks to the Lebanese Forces, the militia that in September 1982 carried out the shocking massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese in Sabra and Shatila.

Jonathan Randal is one of the few journalists to state publicly what many others know: The killers of Sabra and Shatila could not have acted with impunity unless they had received orders from Israeli generals; they also must have had the tacit accord of some of the government in Jerusalem, which must have been aware of the murderous results of unleashing these forces. Randal’s thesis is based both on his personal observations (he was on the outskirts of Shatila during the course of the carnage) and on various testimonies, some of which are recorded in the Kahan Commission report.

Like Amnon Kapeliuk, Randal shows the incompleteness and the contradictions of the Kahan report. Among other things, he is sure that the massacres were visible from the top of the seven-story building where Phalangists and the Israeli military had established an observation post. Randal does not blame the Israeli people, whose morality and humanism he praises, but he reminds us that Sabra and Shatila are only the most recent and spectacular case of killings by the Israeli army’s Lebanese auxiliaries. The militia of Maj. Saad Haddad is the most notable of these, though its evil deeds have gotten relatively little international publicity.

American mediator Philip Habib gave a written guarantee from his government that the Israeli army would not enter Beirut, and that the security of Palestinian civilians would be assured after the retreat of the fedayeen. Randal is surprised that, after Sabra and Shatila, Habib did not feel the need to express even the slightest feeling of regret or to offer his resignation, so as to preserve the honor, or at least the credibility, of the Reagan administration. Worse still, the administration could think of nothing better than to increase its military and economic aid to Israel.

The most unhappy conclusion for Randal, who is not a critic of American strategy in other parts of the world, is that the United States was an accomplice, voluntary or otherwise, in the “destruction” of Lebanon and the “destabilization” of much of the Middle East. He writes that in view of the clandestine American intervention, notably CIA financial aid to Maronite leaders since the 1950s, and Washington’s overall policy since 1974, he is very “ashamed to be an American” — a feeling that he has rarely experienced, he adds, in 25 years of reporting around the world.

Translated by Jim Paul

How to cite this article:

Eric Rouleau "Randal, Going All the Way," Middle East Report 118 (October 1983).

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