This interview with student activist Hassan Marwany was conducted, transcribed and translated by Marlin Dick of The Daily Star in May 1999.

The initial spark for the liberation of Arnoun was a candlelight vigil and march from St. Joseph’s University to UN House in central Beirut, organized by the Tanios Shahin group at the university. About 250 people participated; they were later joined at UN House by students from the American University of Beirut, Notre Dame University and the Lebanese University. There, we heard the Federation of Democratic Students’ (FDS) invitation to go to Arnoun on Friday. [1] At first, the idea was simply to protest Israel’s occupation of Arnoun, not to liberate the village.

The candlelight vigil marked the first time that students uninformed about the situation in the south, and students from the so-called eastern (i.e., Christian) areas, took part in such a protest. Even students affiliated with the Lebanese Forces and Michel Aoun participated. The biggest accomplishment of the entire experience was the cooperation between students representing both the “right” and the “left” of Lebanon’s civil war.

On Friday morning, two days after the march, we met at the university. Only one of the two buses we reserved arrived, so 75 of us boarded it while another 25 traveled by car. We got to Arnoun by 11 am, and discovered that about 40 other students from AUB and the Lebanese University had already arrived. We walked up to the edge of the village together and began talking across the barbed wire to a group of elderly women, trying to raise their morale, which had been shattered by the Israel Defense Forces’ illegal incorporation of Arnoun into the Israeli security zone a month earlier.

Suddenly, another group of about 700 students approached, mainly from the FDS, increasing our courage and enthusiasm. Altogether, more than 1,200 students had come to Arnoun, most of them pro-left. Of the flags that were brandished, the Lebanese flag was the most prevalent. Some people were wearing FDS shirts or flags; others wore Che Guevara shirts. We quickly reached an agreement that only the Lebanese flag would be carried, since we were not trying to push our ideology on anyone. We sang songs and shouted anthems, but we still hadn’t thought about tearing down the barbed wire.

Some students suddenly started shaking the barbed wire. Shots were fired by Israeli soldiers, and many ran for cover. Despite our concerns about land mines, the momentum of several hundred students moving as one pushed all of us over the wire, which now lay trampled on the ground. We were inside Arnoun before we knew what was happening.

Once inside, we celebrated for a while, then we checked on all the inhabitants. We were surprised to find so few people around. Most of them were elderly, and had been worried before the storming of the wire that they’d pay the price if anything happened. Their fears evaporated when they found a thousand students, happy and unharmed, inside Arnoun.

No Lebanese television correspondents were present during the storming of the wire; only reports from Qatar’s Al Jazeera were there. We started calling various radio and television stations by cell phone to inform them that we had just liberated Arnoun. The Lebanese television crews came later, as did various parties’ flags. We weren’t particularly interested in media publicity, and we realized that the students who usually waste the movement’s time by talking big did not go to Arnoun. The success [of the liberation] was not that it brought out the television cameras, but that students from political affiliations pursued a common goal together. There have been many attempts to bring youth together during and after the war, such as summer camps, sit-ins and awareness campaigns. But since the end of the war until now, there has been a general apathy among the younger generation, whose families pressure them to stay away from politics. Liberating Arnoun brought many young people closer to political action, allowing them to discover their own concerns and the concerns of others.

Even though the Israelis reannexed the village into the occupation zone soon after we liberated it, we were not depressed. We are not idealists; we know the Israelis, and this isn’t the first time they’ve done something like this. During the following weeks, we noticed that some of the same people who took part in the liberation of Arnoun were attending sit-ins in support of public freedoms, and asking us about upcoming events.

Endnote

[1] The Federation of Democratic Students is an umbrella leftist organization that is closest to, but not under the complete control of, the Lebanese Communist Party. Groups like Pablo Neruda, Tanios Shahin and Without Borders, operating at different universities, are leftist groups independent from the party.

How to cite this article:

Marlin Dick "Liberating Arnoun," Middle East Report 211 (Summer 1999).
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