The following is my translation of an opinion piece published by Prof. As’ad Abu-Khalil in the independent (leftist) Lebanese newspaper ‘al Akhbar’ – you can find the original here. As’ad kindly permitted me to publish my translation on ‘In the Middle of the East’. I took some stylistic and other liberties in the translation, as the flowery and oratory nature characteristic of Arabic polemic texts doesn’t sound as natural in our matter-of-fact Germanic languages as it does in the original. And the piece is very polemic indeed, with Abu-Khalil describing his countrymen as incurably sectarian, treacherous and racist towards the Palestinians, and the Palestinians as eternal victims of Lebanese and Israeli power plays. It is a refreshing and badly needed point of view in the context of the self-celebratory, army-lauding atmosphere that reigns in the Lebanese press (and the country) in general and should be read in this context. The obvious refutations that can be made to this were duly made in a reply published in the same paper on 10 september by Iskandar Mansur (and mentioned and linked to by As’ad on his blog). I will resume its main points (in English) in a later post.
I have added some notes for people not familiar with the history of Lebanese-Palestinian relations and the civil war, and I have also, to avoid an overabundance of notes, linked to the relevant pages in (the English-language) Wikipedia.
To my people in Nahr al-Bared… refugees for a second time…
Copyright English translation Bart Peeters 2007
Liars, that’s what we are1. Don’t rely on us. We are sweet-talkers. Don’t trust us. Mean-spirited, that’s what we are. We bow before the mighty and armed while we brutalize the poor and defenseless. Did you see them, those who applauded the intelligence services of the Syrian regime while the Syrian army was in Lebanon, suddenly discovering the Syrian lack of democracy only after its army left Lebanon? This is Lebanon – the Lebanon which you won’t see on LBC. We obey our oppressors and dream of heroism in those boring and vacuous plays Mansur Rahbani excels in. We shower our enemy with praise in his face, only to draw cardboard swords as soon as he turns his back. As for our resistance fighters, we slander their names and bury them in our hypocrisy. The leading role of the freedom fighters in Lebanon is reduced to that of cake sellers for the Syrians, to clueless subcontractors of Syrian works. Our past is ugly, and our present is even uglier. When we were shouting “We’re all fedayyeen” in demonstrations during the sixties and the early seventies (the gentleman director Gary Garbatian – does Amin Gemayyel count him among the ‘intruders’?2 – died while recording his film “We’re all fedayyeen” in the sixties) we didn’t mean what we were shouting. We didn’t mean a word. What we meant was: “We’re all phalangists”. “We’re all sectarian”. “We’re all racists”. When we were defending Palestine – or pretending to do so – in loud demonstrations, we were actually trying to improve the positions of our respective sects. Some of us entered the ranks of Palestinian organisations, some of us even died for the sake of Palestine, but most of us entered the game for purposes unrelated to the liberation of Palestine. Some made fortunes out of your cause and some built their grand palaces on it, while others took money from Israel for what they did to you. Yet others joined your organisations only to eavesdrop on your discussions and submit detailed reports to intelligence services of the oily variety3. Some of these are now prominent politicians, and they speak about their past without shame. And some who flocked to the ranks of the Palestinian organisations and rode on their backs, today consider the phrase “the liberation of Palestine” a worm-eaten slogan whose time has long passed.
What can we say to you: we deceived you and you believed us. We abandoned you and you forgave us, for no other reason than because you actually meant4 the words ‘friendship’ and ‘brotherhood’, while we were doing what we’re good at: lies, trickery and deceit. We didn’t believe a word of all these things we said about Palestine. We were only joking: we were really trying to improve the position of our sects, each of us from a different angle, because it is in sectarianism that we Lebanese, who differ about everything else, are united. Only in sectarianism and in the slogans of our sectarian leaders are we united… isolated and withdrawn into our own community.
My people in Nahr al-Bared, refugees for a second time, what can we say to you while we are approaching that other anniversary5, that of the massacre of Sabra and Shatila. You will not see its memory observed in the media. Don’t bother switching channels. You won’t see anything about it. They broadcast only soap series, and worse. We will cry over the victims of the massacre in silence. We will sit in a corner of the room and remember those men and women who were killed in their nightgowns and pyjamas. Last year, I met a woman from the camp who had survived the massacre. She was a little girl at the time. They found her days after the massacre, hidden under a bed. They thought she was dead. She was suffering of course, psychologically and physically. She had seen them. She had witnessed them, one after the other, raping her mother, taking turns raping her before they cut her up, limb by limb, before the eyes of the little girl hidden under the bed. She remembered. I didn’t ask her whether she recognized any of the gang among the Lebanese MPs. I didn’t ask her to point them out to Lebanon. We have forgotten. We do not want to remember. We have transformed the chief of this very militia of rapists into a national leader whose name is put forward in the bazaar of presidential nominations. I am warning you. Don’t watch television (or ‘the starebox’, as Sheikh Abdullah al-‘Alili preferred to call it6) in memory of the massacre. Boycott the television on that day. It will only hurt you more. It will reopen your wounds and your scars. They will pour acid and vinegar into your deep wounds and laugh while smoking cigars (the Lebanese have invented a lie which is meant to increase the affinity with smoking cigars in Lebanon – they consider smoking cigars as the ultimate in civilization). They will search the remains of your bones to spray them with vitriolic acid.
In the latest remembrance of the bus massacre of Ain al-Rumanneh, they falsified history. They blamed the victims. They called them, civilians all, terrorists. They said that he innocent passengers on the bus started the civil war. They transformed the murdered passengers into the protagonists. Which is exactly what Israel does with its victims: civilians, Palestinian men and women. The anniversary of Sabra and Chatila will be obscured this year by the anniversary of the assassination of Israel’s candidate for the position of president in Lebanon. This man, who was appointed president in Israel’s interest, openly said to foreign reporters that the refugee camps should either be turned into zoos or into tennis stadiums. This is the man who used to boast that he kept the skulls of your victims in the trunk of his car. The skulls of your victims, people of the refugee camps. Your victims, people of the refugee camps in Lebanon, died in silence, were buried in silence. No monuments were erected for them, their pictures were not displayed on posters hung on the walls. Your victims, Palestinian people in Lebanon, were not billionaires, and so no minister of communications will immortalize them on memorial postage stamps. Your innocent victims, men and women, civilians of Nahr al-Bared, who had never in their difficult lives even met Shakir al-Abssi, were dying while Ahmed Fatfat – what else – insisted only one civilian had died in the refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
My people of Nahr al-Bared… while you are covering yourself with Saudi- and Hariri-donated blankets in the refugee camp of Beddawi, do you feel an intense longing to throw up?7 Do you experience recurring attacks of intense hatred? And when the Future Movement brings you emergency food relief, does this food remind you of your nausea? Do you eat the nausea when you wake up in the Beddawi morning? And did you assuage your remaining hunger by nourishing yourselves with the memory of the support of the Lebanese people for the Palestinian revolution? Your victims were dying in Nahr al-Bared at a time when the Lebanese people were reproaching the Lebanese army for showing mercy towards you. It wasn’t destroying enough of the refugee camp, they said. If it had been in the hands of the Lebanese sects, they would have deported the bodies of your victims, under the motto ‘prevention of permanent settlement’. If it had been in their hands, even though you have made it easier for them to disarm you, they would dumped you on the Normandy waste diposal site8 without remorse. They believe they are genetically superior to you.
My people of Nahr al-Bared… what can I say to you while you see with your own eyes the destruction of he entire refugee camp, while you hear the shouting of the Lebanese in the opposition and in the government alike demanding blood. Can you feel the helplessness or the anger while you are paying the price for the gang which was planted in your refugee camp against your will? It was their cause, not yours to live and die for. You are twice victims, a first time because of the occupation of Palestine (the whole of Palestine, since your Palestine extends beyond the West Bank and the Gaza strip that we know from the maps and the lines of peace)9, and a second time because of the pain, the death and the torture you are suffering in Lebanon.
I know that they blame you for everything, just like they blame “the Syrians” today. Can you sense them worrying, through their empty discourse, about Israel criticizing them? Are you nauseated when you hear the Lebanese leaders speak with intense hatred about “the Syrians and the Palestinians”? Whereas they refer to the Israelis as “neighbours”… Do you feel frustration when they are torturing you and killing you, and subsequently state their desire for the wellbeing of the Palestinian people in Lebanon? They will also blame you for the loss incurred by the sex tourism in their country this summer, as they consider this of greater interest than the defense of the Lebanese territory against the recurring Israeli assaults. Notice that “the Saudis” do not worry them, despite the involvement of a number of Saudis in Fatah al-Islam. Of course they are racist towards “the Saudis” too, but they don’t have the guts to say so. The dollar rules here.
My people of the refugee camp Nahr al-Bared… learn the lesson. All Palestinian men and women in Lebanon should learn the lesson. Heed the warnings from the history of the civil war and of its neverending twists and turns. Don’t feel safe at our side, and don’t trust our promises. Don’t ever expose your backs to us. We will stab you in the back, and we are experts in the art of backstabbing, especially backstabbing the poor. Haven’t you seen the cedar “revolutionaries” hit and stab the (Syrian) cake sellers in Lebanon? We want you disarmed to make it easier for us to weed you out, subjugate you and kill you as much as we deem necessary. We remember how you were treated before the ceasefire and before the Palestinian revolution broke out, and before the “excesses” of Abu Za’im and the gangs that were nurtured by Arafat and by a number of Arabic regimes, both among us and among you, and although the Lebanese were among the perpetrators of the excesses at that time too, we only remember your excesses.
My people of the refugee camps… don’t believe the reassurances you are offered. They don’t do things for your sake – they lied about that. They work against you to further a project which they didn’t conceive of themselves, but which was conceived by your enemies. They are merely its executors. My people of the refugee camps, we remember how you were treated while you were unarmed. We remember how you were treated in the days of the “reformer” Fuad Chehab when in the days of the shadow government (Niqula Nasif didn’t devote a single word to your sufferings in his voluminous book on the shadow government) the soldiers entered the refugee camp during the curfews, and ogled the women in night gowns. They would shove their weapons in your faces when you objected. Ask your elders – they have stories about the situation they were in. And today these same (Lebanese) – made of the same clay – want you to hand over your weapons both inside and outside the refugee camps. Do you feel schizophrenic when you hear the promises and the reassurances made by persons (from different sects) keen to kill you in your refugee camps?
My people of the refugee camps in Lebanon… if it was in their hands, even though you have made it easy for them to disarm you, they would do to you what Amin Gemayyel has done to you during his rule, when they were kidnapping your young men and raping the girls left behind in the refugee camps. Woe to you if you leave it in their hands. They will only give you grief. Those who were shouting your slogans louder than yourselves back then, are today demanding surrender to Israeli requests unrelated to the liberation of your parts of the Palestine land. They flattered you to preserve their own sectarian separations, and you came to their help at the cost of your own lives. Today, they say you are terrorists.
My people of the refugee camps in Lebanon… why did you trust us? Don’t you know us by now? Didn’t you hear us heaping insults on you and on your cause over the years? Didn’t you see how the Lebanese have been treating you like trash? Don’t you hear them today in the opposition and in the government alike speaking about the Palestinian “abyss”? You are the vermin of today. Those who think they are civilised, those who enjoy torturing their Sri Lankan housemaids in the morning and go shouting for freedom in the afternoon.10 You know them, or you should know them. With their hypocrisy and their power.
My people of Nahr al-Bared… what can you say when you see with your own eyes how they are buying off your leadership with money. They are bought as easily as a pair of shoes. First, your leaders were silent, then they outdid the calls to increase the bombardment and the destruction of Nahr al-Bared (before the evacuation of the civilians, men and women). One of them was so enthusiastic that he put together a team of volunteers to aid in the storming of the refugee camp (before the evacuation of the civilians, men and women). What can you say when you see even the leadership of the leftist Palestinian organisations remain silent before the sight of the destruction of the refugee camp (while you were still in it, at first)?
My people of Nahr al-Bared… don’t trust them and don’t trust the leadership that speaks in your name. My people of the refugee camps, you are alone. You are alone. As for who to trust: what goes through your mind when you have seen less than a dozen Lebanese demonstrate for your sake? Study the faces of those few men and women who felt your pain. Study their faces until you don’t hate us anymore. It is understandable that you hate us, but remember there are those among the Lebanese whom you are indebted to. Some teach the world about Palestine and about the poor. Some teach about the contempt of the Arab regimes (for you) – all of them without exception. Study their faces. They impregnate the Palestinian cause with your suffering. Truly, those comrades (M/F) have died for the Palestinian cause. Some of them threw out their schoolbooks when they were young to embrace the Palestinian guns. No, they are not all like the clique of spiteful sectarians. They have stayed by your side, though some of them remain silent. The country has changed. Don’t hate them, people of the refugee camps.
Even the revolution, look what they’ve done in it. Look what they’ve done to it, those who were naming the “symbol of Palestine”. The whole of Palestine was on the verge of being sold in your lifetimes to satisfy Clinton and the oil sheikhs. This is what the Arab regimes ordered the leaderhip of the Palestinian revolution to do, in order to eliminate it (i.e. the leadership). It didn’t eliminate it, but it pushed us back. It left (Muhammad) Dahlan and Abu Mazen (Mahmud Abbas) as its legacy. This is what they planted. They skillfully removed the uncorrupted militants and installed the corrupt. Control is facilitated by the corrupt, as he said sarcastically.
What can I say to you, refugees of Nahr al-Bared, refugees for a second time? I bow before you and apologize. I ask for forgiveness. I see pictures of the destruction of Nahr al-Bared and I now know with certainty that zionism has found recruits in more than one Arab country. Zionism has leaked into the Charter of the Arab League. Why don’t you ask why the Lebanese artillery was silent when Israel attacked Lebanon about a year ago? Where were its bombs then, people of the refugee camp in Nahr al-Bared? We are approaching the anniversary of Sabra and Chatila, and we are struck by paralysis while we hear Siniora – he who built his glory in government by his policies directed against the poor of all the sects – talking with a smile about “the reconstruction of the refugee camp”. Doesn’t he remind you of the enemy government speaking of the reconstruction of the refugee camp of Jenin after its destruction? Avoid the conspiracy theory, people of al-Bared. Best to disregard it. They ridicule conspiracy theory so as to facilitate its application. Notice it and you will become aware.
They destroyed your refugee camp, people of al-Bared, and danced on the ruins. They beat the drums to celebrate the invasion of your destroyed refugee camp. They felt it was the occasion to open bottles of champagne, just like the Phalangist and Tiger militias (and the Tanzim militia, lest we forget Georges Adwan) did during the war. The Lebanese celebrated the destruction of your refugee camp, people of Nahr al-Bared, what can you say to them?
My people of Nahr al-Bared, when you come across us in the street, I have one request. Slap us in the face, or if a slap is not possible, spit on us. I beg you.
1Abu-Khalil is addressing the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as a Lebanese.
2Referring to Gemayyel’s sneer, after he lost the Metn by-election last month, to the well-established Armenian community in Lebanon, blaming his loss on their votes and calling them ‘alien intruders’.
3i.e. of the Gulf countries.
4All italics are the translator’s – whether as emphasis or as explanatory notes
510 september 1982 – 25 years ago today
6 Some conservative mufti somewhere… (sorry, I didn’t check)
7Abu-Khalil is hinting here at the theory put forward by Seymour Hersh and others, that Fatah al-Islam and other Sunni jihadist groups were armed and financed by Saad Hariri (Future Movement) and his Saudi allies so as to create a counterweight against the (Shiite) power of Hizbullah.
8A notoriously toxic waste disposal site in a densely populated area near Beirut, emblematic of Lebanon’s total disregard for environmental and public health issues.
9Most of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon arrived here in 1948 and come from ‘Israel’ proper. Consequently, they want to return there and not to Gaza or the West Bank, which they do not consider their home.
10Referring to the ‘BMW revolution, as Abu-Khalil calls the Cedar revolution, when the upper classes took their Asian servants along to the demonstrations to carry their ‘Syria out – we want freedom for the Lebanese’ placards.