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Lebanon: Civil War Missing Revisited

Courtesy of Le Liban

Twenty years have passed since Lebanon's warring factions called it quits. Not soon after, all grievances and memories of the bloody Lebanese Civil War were swept under the carpet.

Amnesty was quickly (self-)granted to the country's warlords, hands were shaken, and the approximately 150,000 war dead were in turn forgotten.

Lebanese families were left to quietly mourn their dead and missing. The problem here is, of course, we do not truly know exactly how many Lebanese died or are currently missing from the civil war, because no credible official investigation has ever taken place. NGO estimates place the number of missing at roughly 17,000.

Lebanon's political elites have continually refused the post-war reconciliation commissions or investigations into war crimes that have, in recent years, become a trademark of United Nations operations in the Balkans and Rwanda. Among the myriad of public and religious holidays in Lebanon, not a single day is put aside to commemorate the war dead.

Indeed, Beirut's political heavyweights and the media have opted to forget the country's brutal civil war, and force grieving families to do the same. Unfortunately for many, the pain of war is not so easily swept aside.

That explains why a small demonstration held in Beirut on September 3rd and 4th this year for the war's missing went completely unnoticed in the media, amidst the daily squabbling between Lebanon's bickering factions.

It was only until one blogger accidentally stumbled on a poster for the demonstration some weeks later that any news of the event saw light.

Franco-Lebanese blogger, Frenchy, explains on his blog, Le Liban, why the media avoids stories concerning civil war grievances:

Le visuel rappelle également le nombre de disparus de la guerre, 17 514, il ne s’agit pas seulement des libanais disparus en Syrie mais aussi en Israël et d’un point de vue interne, par l’intermédiaire de nos milices bien libanaises. Ainsi, on pourrait mieux comprendre le boycott médiatique et notamment de la presse locale, il ne s’agit pas d’accuser seulement la Syrie comme d’habitude mais tout le monde, chose inacceptable.

Qu’on mette actuellement sur les bans des accusés, Israël, les Palestiniens dans la première partie guerre civile libanaise, que certains tentent aujourd’hui d’implanter et que cela soit nos dirigeants actuels, nos « saigneurs » de guerre ayant racheté leur virginité sans même nous demander grâce à nos lois d’amnésie… non, en plus il faut boycotter, ne pas en parler dans les colonnes d’une certaine presse libanaise.

The poster equally recalls that the number of missing persons from the war, 17514, is not only about Lebanese missing in Syria, but also in Israel and from an internal point of view, those disappearances are linked to our Lebanese militias. Indeed, we can understand the media boycott and notably the local press, it is not simply a matter of accusing Syria only anymore, as usual, but also everyone else, and that is something that is still unacceptable for many.

So not only do some people want to accuse Israel or some Palestinians as many are trying to do now regardless of who is in power, for the first part of the Lebanese civil war, the same people who are the warlords who have purchased a brand new clean slate without having the courtesy to ask us for forgiveness, courtesy of our amnesia laws … but we also have to observe a boycott, a censorship to not mention in the columns of the Lebanese press.

Mentions of Lebanon's civil war dead and missing on the blogosphere remain sporadic, reflecting social attitudes in general to the forgotten past. But failure to address open wounds risks an unstable future, and unsurprisingly, Lebanon has endured anything but stability since the civil war ended in 1990.

Blogger, Sietske in Beiroet, commented on the matter in April:

April 13 has come (and gone); it marks the official beginning of the Lebanese civil war.

It was a regular working day. It’s not that I am advocating for yet another public holiday. We’ve got lots of public holidays in this place. And we just gotanother one added to this plethora of celebrations & commemoration. We celebrate(d) the Liberation of the South (for a while). We even celebrated/ commemorated (depending on what side you’re on) the Hariri assassination of February 14, 2005 (for a while).

Courtesy of This Is Beirut

But if there’s one day that should be remembered, then this is April the 13th. I asked my son if he knew what was special about that day. He didn’t know. “An unlucky day or so, because it’s the 13th?” Well, unlucky it was.

My son can tell you when the WWI was, and  WWI. He may give you some estimate on the Vietnam war. But he cannot tell you about the Lebanese Civil War. And it is not like we do not discuss the matter ever in our household. But does anyone really ever talk about it?

It’s a day when we should commemorate all the victims/vanished of the (civil) war. Yet we don’t.

In Holland we remember the victims of WWII on May 4 (dodenherdenking); that’s some 65 years ago! In France and England they still remember the casualties of the First World War on November 11 (Armistice Day ); almost 100 years ago!

I went to an exposition, MISSING & IN A SEA OF OBLIVION, which commemorates the 35th anniversary of the beginning of the civil war in Lebanon with the pictures of people that went missing during the civil war.

I was surprised though that there were not more than that. And you know the funny part? Even at the exhibition, they do not tell you how many are hanging there. ‘Many hundreds of individuals,’ the brochure reads. Well, how many is ‘many hundreds’? Two hundred? Nine hundred. And from stories I’ve done in the past, I know there’s some 2,000 that disappeared in 1982 on empty arrest warrants signed by certain judges. And does that include Palestinians, like the ones in Karanthina? We have a friend who lost his brother there; and he was Lebanese. I don’t think he was hanging there.

So how many exactly are missing. Can’t the population register answer that?

Quite a few disappeared while in Syrian hands, but a huge numbers just ‘disappeared’. They fell into the hands of the wrong militia at the wrong time. Some were taken for ransom, others for revenge, a number was ‘arrested’ by those that were in power at that time, and some just happened to get caught in the crossfire, and were never claimed, because nobody could keep track anymore.

And tragically, in May this year, a mother who had been living in a protest tent in Beirut for the last four years, in search for answers on her lost children in the war, was killed in a car accident. Nihil Declaro noted:

For people like Audette, any truth which is uncovered about the war will have come too late.
She lived in her protest tent for 1,495 days, giving up the comforts of a real home to brave hot summers and blustery winters in the company of others who had lost relatives.
But last May she was killed by a speeding car as she crossed the road near her tent.
At her funeral, held at the tent, more than 100 friends gathered to pay their last respects.
They also came to deliver a message to the government: Audette spent the last 25 years searching for news of her children and died no closer to finding it.

Despite wishes to the contrary, the Lebanese Civil War still remains a case unresolved. For the majority of Lebanese who lost loved ones, their bitterness continues to fester beneath the surface.

For more information on the campaign for Lebanon's war dead and missing, please visit UMAM D&R's website.

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