Palestinians in Lebanon
June 19,1985. In Beirut, TWA flight 847 stands desolate on the empty tarmac, a huge hulk of white metal shimmering in the heat, a picture off the cover of some bungled tourism brochure. Some 40 Americans are unwilling guests in the southern shantytowns known as the “suburbs” of Beirut. More than a hundred other passengers have been released. One, a young US Navy underwater construction expert, was beaten and executed. The two original hijackers are now said to be adherents of the Hizb Ullah (Party of God).
‘Abd al-Jawad Salih was born in al-Bira, Palestine, in December 1931. He finished high school there and later attended the American University in Cairo, where he received a B.A. in political economy in 1955. He taught briefly in Jerusalem, and then at a teachers’ training college in Tripoli, Libya. After being expelled from al-Bira in 1973 during his second term as mayor there, he served as an independent on the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization until 1981. He now lives and works in Amman, Jordan. Joe Stork spoke with him in Washington in October 1983.
When you were in Cairo, did you get involved in Palestinian political activity?
Since the summer of 1982 everything has changed. The Palestinians’ lives have been transformed in a way which touches all the details of everyday existence and comes to seem almost “normal.” They were refugees then. Now they have become pariahs. Life today remains at ground level. The forces of order impose their strict limits—here the Israeli occupation, there the Lebanese government of Amin Gemayel. There is no more “terrorism,” no fedayin, no PLO—only the civilian population which sought refuge in Lebanon 35 years ago. For these people, the funeral corteges and massive destruction are now things of the past.
The mutiny that broke out in May has shaken Fatah with the most serious crisis of its existence. This crisis not only threatens to split the main organization of the Palestinian resistance (with 80 percent of its members), but also calls into question the very existence of the PLO.
Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian scholar, is associate professor of politics at the American University of Beirut and a research fellow of the Institute for Palestine Studies. He is currently a visiting professor at Georgetown University, and he has written widely on political developments in the Arab world. Joe Stork spoke with him in Washington in October 1983.
How did this rebellion get started?
In a ground-floor apartment this July, near a sprawling refugee camp in northern Lebanon, a new PLO poster was taped roughly to the wall. It made a pointed political statement, at a time when Yasser Arafat’s leadership had been openly challenged from within the military wing of his own Fatah movement. The poster was a large reproduction, printed in Arabic on a vellum-looking background, of the “Military Communique Number One” issued on December 31, 1964, to mark the start of Fatah’s armed operations against Israel. Throughout most of 1964, the Central Committee of Fatah’s far-flung political network had been almost evenly split on whether the time was ripe to start the “armed struggle” to which it was committed.
Abu Arz (“father of the cedar”) is the symbolic name taken by Etienne Saqr, born in Haifa to Lebanese parents, leader and commander-in-chief of the Guardians of the Cedars. The Guardians of the Cedars were born with the Lebanese civil war, out of the Party of Lebanese Renewal, itself established in 1969 as part of the Christian right. At that time, the Phalangists and the National Liberal Party (Ahrar), which were old established parties, did not want to avow openly some of their own orientations. This might have damaged their relations with other Lebanese political forces and hurt their standing with Arab countries. The more extreme elements, such as the poet Sa‘id ‘Aql, founded the Party of Lebanese Renewal.
The final report of the Kahan Commission shows the extent to which the Lebanese Phalangists and Major Sa’ad Haddad’s “Free Lebanon” forces are little more than hired hands in the eyes of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the intelligence agency, Mossad. The Israeli government decides and the Phalangists perform. The Kahan report is quite unambiguous about this hierarchical relationship.
I will begin at the end; I am not satisfied by the report of the commission of inquiry….
I have great respect for the three members of the commission. They did an excellent job. The conclusions were reached according to their conscience and understanding. They added honor to Israeli democracy and to the rule of the law. I say this without reservation.
However, the three could not be and perhaps did not want to be free of certain preconceptions, which guided them. All three are members of the establishment—two supreme court justices and one general in the IDF—and they judged as members of the establishment. When two alternatives lay before them, it appears that more than once they discarded in advance the more severe one.
If politics is the art of the possible, then the impact of the Kahan Commission Report has to be understood as “beyond politics,” Israel’s final victory in the Lebanon war is not the expulsion of the PLO or even the extension of its sovereign reach to challenge Lebanese territorial and political independence. The full measure of Israel’s victory is rather its vindication, despite all, as a moral force in the region—as a superior state, especially as compared to its Arab rivals.
Israel’s invasion of Lebanon on June 6, 1982 brings to an end the phase of Lebanese political history which opened with the 1975-1976 civil war. It is a logical outgrowth of Israel’s policies in Lebanon since 1975. The 1975-1976 war, in turn, marked a culmination of trends which had been developing at least since 1958.