Where is the justice for the Lebanese?
After Beirut’s port explosion last month, Lebanon is now experiencing multiple fires, such as Tuesday’s one in a building designed by Zaha Hadid, symbolically indicating that forward-thinking and creativity are dying. At the same time, armed clashes between various groups are gaining in frequency and intensity, which is reminiscent of the beginning of the civil war. Despite some people’s views, the weapons and clashes are nothing compared with the arsenal of Hezbollah and its tentacle-like organization. Do not be mistaken, the only armed and organized group in Lebanon is Hezbollah; with drones, military units and Iranian-trained fighters, it might be even stronger and better-equipped than the Lebanese Army.
The regime that Hezbollah rules in Lebanon is inherited from the Syrians. When looking closely, nothing has changed since the withdrawal of the occupying Syrian troops in the 2000s; they have just been replaced by Hezbollah. This group has kept the occupation intact, but with a bigger and more important Iranian influence. It is more than a simple regime: It is an occupation.
As we investigate the current situation in Lebanon, it seems we forget that Syrian military troops occupied the country and would decide on government formations, as well as important and local political decisions alike. All public officials, from president and prime minister to clerk, were under their command and had to obey. Any critical political voice was eliminated by the occupying force. Every business had to go through them and corruption was a condition for success. Today, nothing much has changed. Hezbollah has replaced the Syrian regime and still delivers on the same agenda, while the ruling political class continues to obey.
However, this occupation and the Syrian one before it never drew as much condemnation or outcry as the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The results for each population are the same and, maybe, the Palestinians might even have been treated better than the Lebanese. The occupation of Lebanon has caused the emigration of many Lebanese who today might never be able to come back, especially as the country is being methodically destroyed.
On a personal note, my late father, Walid Abou Zahr, the owner and publisher of a local newspaper in Lebanon in the 1970s, had to flee to Paris after the offices of the newspaper were attacked with heavy artillery by a Syrian-controlled armed group in 1975. The attacks did not stop there as, even after he moved to Paris, he faced other threats to his life, the largest being the 1982 explosion of a car bomb in front of the offices of Al-Watan Al-Arabi in Rue Marbeuf. This was because he opposed the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon.
Even as he continued his opposition, there was no solidarity toward this struggle against the occupation. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as Lebanese public officials and private Lebanese, afraid of Syrian repercussions, would avoid being associated with his publication. And so, I ask, what is the difference between the Syrian/Hezbollah occupation of Lebanon and the Israeli occupation of Palestine? Are the thousands of Lebanese who disappeared in Syrian jails or those killed recently of lower value?
At least the Palestinians were given opportunities and a path to statehood and sovereignty. International boycott campaigns have been launched in solidarity with the Palestinians, but what has been done for the Lebanese? Beyond a few initiatives for charity, nothing much. The main reason is that the occupation and apartheid in Lebanon is considered acceptable simply because it is was led by an Arab country like Syria and now a self-named group in Hezbollah. Yet, mostly, it is cowardice. People know they can condemn Israel and feel morally superior without any consequences. But, if they condemn Hezbollah, they know what they risk.
Even some cultural and intellectual circles in Lebanon are quick to deflect attention from the occupation of their country to the Israeli occupation. This is because Lebanon’s occupying force has controlled these circles and their thoughts since the 1980s, pushing these voices to justify their actions by referring to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and describing Hezbollah as a resistance group. This is hypocrisy, and it is also fear that is guiding their voice: Fear of the actions of the Iranian-backed militia.
And so why should Lebanese accept this fait accompli with pragmatism and embrace the Iranian occupation of their country, while the Palestinians, whose leadership has thrown away numerous opportunities, benefit from the support of the world and deserve justice, stability and an equal peace settlement? Where is the justice for the Lebanese against Hezbollah? Why shouldn’t the Palestinians, just like the Lebanese, accept the current situation with pragmatism and sign the best available peace deal and move on?
As expressed previously, my own personal experience has made me see the forced emigration or death of any meaningful voice in Lebanon. Even as we talk about Israelis playing on demography to increase its areas of control, hasn’t the Syrian occupation and today Hezbollah done the same? This occupation has forced many to leave Lebanon, and it mostly targets the Maronites and other Christian communities.
People know they can condemn Israel without any consequences. But, if they condemn Hezbollah, they know what they risk.
Khaled Abou Zahr
Lebanon has been losing this community, which made it what it is: Something different to the other countries in the region; a mix of the Orient, the Mediterranean and Europe. Without its Christian population, Lebanon is simply not Lebanon. Yet it is this Christian minority that is today fleeing, and it is not a coincidence. The country is losing these people and losing itself at the same time.
Hezbollah’s occupation aims to destroy diversity and creativity, instead imposing a unique line of thinking and a complete uniformity of the country. Iran and Syria — the real occupying forces — claim that they protect minorities when they hold them hostage. It is, in fact, a religious communist structure that destroys self-initiative and creativity, which are the pillars of what the Lebanese are. Indeed, it is diversity — the mix of Shiite, Sunni, Maronite, Orthodox, Druze and Jewish all together — that creates and builds prosperity and wealth. This is what Lebanon is and should be. And so I ask international leaders: Where is the justice and the Lebanese peace process?
- Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.