A Vulnerable Country, Invaded By Neighbor

February 27, 2014 by  


By Laura Fawaz, TMO

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LCP fighters flash victory signs after defeating occupying Israeli forces in Khaldeh, south of Beirut in the summer of 1982.

The Lebanese Civil war began in 1975, and only escalated in 1978 when Israeli forces invaded across the southern Lebanese border.

Our previous issues in this Lebanon series discussed the creation of the country known as The Paris of the Middle East, the various religions and sects inside the country, each wanting a representation in politics.  All this lead into two initials attacks, unraveling into a civil war.  We left off at the reasons why Israel chose to invade Lebanon. 

This cedar-filled country is packed with natural beauty, from its ideal Mediterranean climate, to its snow-peaked mountains directly overlooking the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean; Lebanon is a great tourist attraction.  Shortly after Israel’s invasion, in accordance with a United Nations mandate, it was to withdraw from Lebanon, but instead withdrew from all but a narrow strip along the border, thus still having access to all of southern Lebanon. 

Few countries have plunged so far, so quickly and suffered such total destruction as Lebanon during the civil wars between 1975 and 1990.  On March 14th, 1978, 25,000 Israeli troops invaded southern Lebanon.  Then, the following June, when Israelis withdrew from all but the southern boarder of Lebanon, they also turned control of the occupied territory over to the South Lebanon Army (SLA).  Major Saad Haddad, a renegade Lebanese Army officer, set up and led this militia.  The SLA served as Israel’s proxy in south Lebanon, often engaging in combat with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  During this time, an estimated 285,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians became refugees, civilian deaths in Lebanon ranged from 1,100 to 2,000.  20 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The best accounts of history are told from people that were living it as it was happening.  One of these people is my mother, Mariam Fawaz, a Lebanese American from the southern village of Tibnine.  Born in 1960, Fawaz moved to America in 1978, after too many years of unrest.  But in 1989, when her mother was sick, she retuned to her home country to visit her.  She took her two-year-old daughter with her who was too young to be away from her mother (me).

This trip that was supposed to last one month turned into six-weeks due to the airport closure.  The Beirut International Airport was closed because of the civil war, causing my mother to have to find an alternate route safe enough for her and me.  Being on the road, however, especially for long periods of time, was a huge risk in itself.  “Any moving vehicle was a target, even the emergency trucks coming to help,” she explains. 

The most accessible route was from Tibine to Jordon.  So we left Tibnine at 4 A.M., and did not make it to Jordan until 7 P.M.  This long route was filled with uncertainty, numerous checkpoints, and massacres.  “I saw a family with six kids trying to pack inside their car trying to leave the war.  I’ll never forget that scene; it was an Israeli tank moving towards them, knowing that they were trying to take their kids to a safety.  The tank drove right over this car, smashing everyone underneath.  Remembering this scene makes me want to cry, looking at those smashed bodies.”  Fawaz said.

Once we made it to Jordan, my mother was told that her tickets were invalid because they were on British Airways and not Jordanian Air.  So she had to re-buy her tickets, spending another $1,300 (remember, this was in 1989).  She didn’t have that much money on her, and was almost going to be stuck, so she called her brother back in Tibnine who had a friend in Jordon.  We stayed with this friend who loaned Fawaz the money to be able to take her and her daughter to safety.  As soon as she made it back into the US, she wired the $1,300 back to that friend.

During this visit to her mother, she tells stories of seeing her sick mother being slapped down to the ground by an Israeli soldier because she raised her hand to try to stop them from rummaging through her dead husband’s belongings that she kept they way he left them since his death almost 20 years before.  “Israeli would fly above the country, then go down on any village that they wanted to.  They would capture any men they wanted, and then ransack the rest of the village.”

The 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre happened just hours after Israeli forces entered West Beirut.  Phalangist (Christian faction in Lebanon) militiamen begin a massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.  Within two days, 1,000 men, women and children were dead.  The Phalangist was closely allied with Israel, who ordered them into the refugee camps.  Israeli later denied any responsibility, though it is widely believed that they orchestrated the whole thing.

Many villages of southern Lebanon were dissolved, with their people either killed, taken as prisoners of war, or forced to flee to another county.  The village of Bint Ja Bail for instance, which was populated with over 15,000 people before the war, drastically went down to less than 50.  Bint Ja Bail was right on the Lebanon-Israel border, and ended up conveniently becoming the base for the occupying Israeli soldiers.  They stayed there from the second invasion in 1982, until Israeli forces were kicked out in the year 2000.  “They [the people of Bint Ja Bail] needed visas to get into their own villages, into their own homes,” my mother said.

In this second invasion, Israeli soldiers occupied even more of southern Lebanon; all while the United States was still on location so-to-speak with their embassy and troops.  The people of Lebanon, along with the Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon could not take this life anymore.  Not knowing when your home would be invaded, or when your child’s school would be bombed, or not being able to leave your home without being kicked and shoved by Israeli soldiers. 

Then in April of 1983, a truck of explosives was driven into a U.S. Marine Corps barracks at the Beirut International Airport, killing 220 marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers.  A few minutes later, another bomb went off at the nearby French barrack, where 58 more people were killed. The Marines were alleged to be in Beirut as apart of a peacekeeping force between the Lebanese Christians and Muslims.  So in 1981, American troops had supervised the withdrawal of the PLO from Beirut and then had withdrawn themselves.  According to The History Channel, “they returned the next year, after Israel’s Lebanese allies slaughtered nearly 1,000 unarmed Palestinian civilian refugees.”

After 15 years of fighting, 150,000 people had been killed, 200,000 were wounded, and roughly 1 million became refugees in the civil war, which brought occupation forces from Israel and Syria, as well as UN peacekeepers.  The Christian military government was overthrown, and it was the Syrian air force that helped put this into place.  The same Syrian government that only came into Lebanon once the Maronites Christians requested by them to do so to assist in their political plans.  In October of 1990, the Syrian air force attacked the Presidential Palace at Baabda, and President Michael Aoun fled.  When the civil war finally and formally ended in 1990, this attack would prove to be more successful to the Lebanese people, and to the region, that anyone had hoped. 

But there were still the invading Israeli forces in the county.  “Your uncles couldn’t sit on their own porch, otherwise snipers would get them,” Fawaz, my mother told me.

So how did the Lebanese people finally come together?  What happened that was so influential to finally kick out the occupying Israeli forces out?  How long did it last?  Next week’s article of this series will explain all this, divulging all from the end of the civil war in 1990, until the removal of Israeli forces, in 2000.

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