ATbar PLO Policy towards the Christian Community during the Civil War in Lebanon

PLO Policy towards the Christian Community during the Civil War in Lebanon

05/07/2008 | by Fine, Jonathan (Dr.) Z"L  
Since the early beginnings of the third Lebanese civil war in 1975, all sides involved in the conflict (Palestinians, Syrians, Druze, and Christians) have taken part in an endless cycle of violence. Although relatively new to the Lebanese scene during the late 60's, it was the PLO more than any other factor who contributed to the destruction of Lebanon's fragile infrastructure from within. While many in the west remember Sabra & Shatila (September 1982) and tend to blame Israel and the Christians for all the wrongs in Lebanon, very few are aware of the many Palestinian-led massacres against Christian villages and towns.

In order to understand the source of Lebanon's endless blood feud, one must not only analyze the complex origins of Lebanese politics, but also examine the major role the Palestinians played in destroying the country. After Israel evacuated its narrow security zone in Southern Lebanon in May 2000, Muslim groups such as Hezbollah and Fath' al-Islam have been increasingly involved in a series of political assassinations and terrorist attacks, especially against the Christians and Druze, who are endeavoring to preserve Lebanese sovereignty and maintain a pro-western orientation[1].

The Origins of Christian Nationalism in Lebanon

The motivation for the Christian and Druze communities to acquire political autonomy is rooted in their early history beginning a long time before the first Palestinian ever set foot on Lebanese soil. While the Druze broke off from Shiite Islam in the 11th century and created their own religious philosophy, the Maronite Christians, named after a fourth century Syrian monk, Maron, are part of an Eastern Christian community that received King Louis XIV’s custody in 1649 and accepted Papal Authority in 1736[2].

The establishment of the "Mount Lebanon Emirate" by Fhar al-Din II in 1590 served as the preliminary step towards an autonomous Christian-Druze entity. It lasted until the outbreak of civil war in 1841[3]. The war lasted until 1860, with more than 10,000 Christian deaths and over 100,000 refugees[4]. This trauma gave birth to the conviction that the only guarantee for Christian survival in a Muslim Levant was an independent entity. A French-led international committee then initiated a new political order, called Reglement-Organique (The Organic Law)[5] or Petit LibanMutassarifiyya that lasted until 1915[6]. The French intervention brought about the creation of an autonomous Lebanese province within the Ottoman Empire, thereby creating a vibrant political system for the Christian majority. which laid the legal base for the

The gradual disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Arab Nationalism encouraged the Christians to strive for an independent state. The final drive came after the Ottoman takeover of Mount Lebanon in 1915. Subsequent to the abolition of '1861 Order' over one fifth of the Christian population in Lebanon died as a result of famine and plague[7].

Modern Lebanon (Grand Liban) was established in September 1920, following the overthrow of King Fisal's Arab government in Damascus in July, a step that allowed for the British-French takeover of the Middle East and its division into separate mandatory territories[8]. While for the Christian community the creation of an expanded Lebanon was the fulfillment of long standing dream, the expulsion of Fisal from Syria and the French takeover of the Levant became a nightmare for the Muslims. This led to Arab violence against the French in Syria, the British in Iraq and violence against Christians in Lebanon. The latter resulted in the massacre of fifty Christians in the village of Ein-Abel in May 1920. During the Nabi Mussa procession in Jerusalem on April 5, 1920, a mob led by Kamal al Husseini killed five Jews and wounded 213[9].

Tel Aviv University Middle East expert Professor Itamar Rabinovich stresses that during most of the interwar period, Lebanese politics were dominated by the ongoing conflict between Catholic and Sunni communities. The latter rejected the legitimacy of the Lebanese state and Maronite political supremacy, and demanded that Lebanon be incorporated into a larger Arab state[10].

The decline of French influence in the region during World War II and the strengthening of Arab nationalism convinced Maronite leader Bashira al-Khuri that it was time to abandon the aspiration for an independent Christian Lebanon, and replace it with a political compromise with the local Muslim communities. This eventually led to the initiation of the National Pact in 1943 which advocated the distribution of power among the various Lebanese communities according to their numerical strength. With confessionalism as a cornerstone of the new political system, religious leaders could keep their prominence within their respective communities[11].

Rabinovich emphasizes that three major causes undermined the Lebanese political status quo, leading to the 1958 Civil War. Firstly, some Muslims rejected the pact and its political system claiming it was unrepresentative of its population. Secondly, ideological groups saw the existing system as a barrier to achieving their political goals. Thirdly, powers such as the USSR, Syria and Egypt, wanted to expand their influence and weaken western presence[12].

The 1952 political crisis ended relatively peacefully with the forced resignation of President Bishar al-Khuri who was replaced by Camille Chamoun. However the impact of both domestic and external factors took its toll. Tensions reached their peak after the formation of the United Arab Republic in February 1958, and civil war broke out between President Chamoun's supporters and his opponents, mostly Muslims[13].

While the Lebanese army led by Fu'ad Shihab remained neutral, it was the landing of the United States’ Marines in Beirut on July 15, 1958 that put an end to the war. The crisis was resolved when re-election led to the replacement of Chamoun by Shihab, with Muslims having a wider representation in the Cabinet.

One of the major lessons of the 1958 crisis for both Christians and Muslims was the awareness that any attempt to achieve far-reaching political gains in Lebanon's fragile political system could easily lead to violence. During his presidency, Shihab tried to initiate a moderate Christian line that advocated adaptation and reform, but he could not resolve the problems arising from Christian-Muslim antagonism. During Shihab's presidency, there was no stable majority in the Lebanese parliament, which made ruling very difficult for the next president, Charles Helou. Due to the rivalries among the Arab states during 1964-1967, concomitant with the intensification of the Israeli-Arab conflict after the Six Day War, it is easy to understand why Lebanon found itself on the brink of a new crisis. This time, however, there was an added factor to the crisis: the Palestinians.

The Arrival of Palestinians in Lebanon

Following Israel's independence on May 14, 1948, the Lebanese army invaded the northern Galilee, along with the Egyptians in the south, the Jordanians and Iraqis in the east, and the Syrians in the northeast. The Lebanese attack was rebuffed after the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) launched operation Hiram (October 29-November 3, 1948).

The estimated number of Palestinian refugees who fled to Lebanon since the beginning of the war[14] ranges between 100,000–140,000, although the exact numbers are hard to determine. Many of those who fled to Lebanon infiltrated back into Israel, so different scholars provide different numbers[15].

Following increased attempts by Palestinian refugees to infiltrate Israel's northern border, the Lebanese government deployed a police force to prevent these infiltrations. It also relocated refugees into several camps, both around Beirut and Tripoli and in the Beqa valley. In 1950 the UN established UNRWA (United Nations Relief & Work Agency) which still remains the major international agency that provides for the Palestinian refugees. Although supervised by the UN, many future Palestinian guerrillas and terrorists were recruited from these camps. Aware of this, the US protested and threatened to withdraw any future financial aid to UNRWA. To this, the first PLO chairman, Ahmed Shukairi, responded that if they did so, Palestinians would destroy all American property in Arab states[16].

Egyptian intelligence and military officers also started organizing Palestinian Fedayeen terrorist raids from the West Bank and Gaza and Lebanon's southern border. Lebanese authorities were not so eager to stop these raids. Israel did not retaliate against Lebanon as it did against Egypt and Jordan, because of the relatively low number of these attacks compared to those on their other borders. Although during this period Palestinians did not play a major role in the internal political scene, some succeeded in integrating in Lebanon's economic and cultural circles.

The PLO's Deployment in Jordan: 1967–1970

The scope of hostilities initiated by Palestinians from Lebanon was limited until after the Six Day War. Lebanon's refusal to participate in that war brought about much anger and criticism from Muslim circles. On December 24, 1967 Yassir Arafat replaced Ahmed Shukairi as PLO chairman, and in doing so transformed the PLO into a strong terrorist organization. and relocated the headquarters to Amman. Besides initiating terror raids against Israel from Jordan, the PLO started challenging King Hussein's authority by establishing a terrorist state-within-a-state.

According to King’s College London Middle East expert Professor Efraim Karsh, the PLO's disdain towards Jordanian sovereignty began soon after the battle of Karame (March 24, 1968). This despite the fact that it was the Jordanian Army who came to the PLO's rescue during an Israeli retaliatory attack against their strongholds[17]. Karsh says that between the middle of 1968 and the end of 1969, the PLO initiated more than 500 raids against the Jordanians. The kidnapping of journalists, attacks on government buildings, and abuse of women became a daily routine. Ziad Refai, one of Jordan's most prominent politicians, witnessed Palestinian guerrillas grabbing a Jordanian soldier, decapitating him and playing soccer with his head[18]. By 1970, more than fifty-two terrorist organizations had offices in Amman[19].

An attempted assassination of King Hussein and the PFLP’s (Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine) hijacking of four western airplanes prompted the king, in September 1970, to expel the Palestinians from his country[20]. This sequence of violent events was later known by the Palestinians as Black September[21].

The Relocation of the PLO in Lebanon

Palestinian guerrillas began moving into southern Lebanon after the Six Day War along with the pro-Syrian Palestinian Sai'qa ('lightning') and Arafat's Fatah [22]. Following a series of armed clashes with the Lebanese army referred to as "The Nine Day War", the Lebanese government unwillingly signed the secret Cairo Agreement, with PLO chairman Yassir Arafat. This was the first of many to be violated by the Palestinians, the most prominent being the Malkert agreement signed by Arafat in 1973[23]. The historical importance of the Cairo Agreement is that for the first time since the PLO's establishment in 1964, Lebanon agreed to grant it a free hand in running the refugee camps. Now the Palestinians had carte blancheIsrael. The Palestinians were now able to open the Arafat-Route, a supply line of arms, originating in Damascus and ending north of the Hermon mountain ridge, a region named by the Israelis Fatah Land. By doing so, Lebanon dragged itself into the Israeli-Arab conflict, exposing itself to Israeli retaliatory raids. By the Palestinians having been granted free movement all over Lebanon, Christian leaders knew that hard times were ahead[24]. to take action against

The Muslims took a different view. The steady arrival of young highly motivated Palestinian guerrillas into Lebanon, helped local leftist Muslim organizations who were mobilizing Palestinian fighters. During their deployment, the Palestinians took over and destroyed private property. They positioned heavy weapons inside villages, thereby exposing them to a potential Israeli response.

On May 22, 1970, members of The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) led by Ahmed Jebril, ambushed an Israeli school bus that was driving along the road between Avivim to Dovev in Israel[25]. Twelve civlians were killed, among them eight children. Israel retaliated against the Palestinian strongholds along the border. Thus began a long period of terror raids against Israel in the western and northeastern Galilee that lasted until Israel initiated Operation Peace for Galilee in June 1982

Some of the more well known attacks against Israeli civilian targets include those on an apartment building in Kiryat Shemona that resulted in the deaths of eighteen civilians, the PDFLP massacre of twenty-four Israeli high school students in Maalaot, and the murder of the Haran family in Nahariya[26]. Parallel to these attacks on Israel's northern border, Fatah's Black September launched a series of attacks against Israeli targets. Among them were three attempts to attack or plant bombs on El Al airplanes in Europe and the PFLP’s cooperation with the Japanese Red Army that resulted in the May 1972 Lod airport massacre and the Munich Olympic massacre in September 1972. All these attacks were planned in PLO headquarters in Beirut [27].

Following their expulsion from Jordan, thousands of Palestinian guerrillas entered Lebanon, most of them assisted by Syria. Picard says that nearly 100,000 Palestinians joined the 240,000 already in Lebanon[28]. In the manner that the Palestinian organizations had caused havoc and anarchy in Jordan, they were now doing in Lebanon.

The Palestinians took over the refugee camps and an entire section of Beirut, named by the Christians as The Phakani Republic after the Beirut district where Arafat had set up his headquarters[29]. The Palestinians set up road blocks, took over entire residential areas by expelling their owners, collected protection taxes, confiscated private cars, and gave shelter to outlaws. By April 1975 the scene was set for a new cycle of deadly violence: the 1975–76 Civil War.

The Rival Factions during the War

At this point, it is incumbent to describe the major fighting groups involved. The war was waged between right wing Christians and left wing Muslims. The Christians were interested in preserving Maronite dominance with special emphasis on Lebanon's pro-western 'right wing’ Christian identity. They called themselves The Lebanese Front. Their strategic objectives were to remove the PLO presence from Lebanon and confront the other Muslim organizations. This group included many factions. The largest was "The Phalange" (Al Kataib) under the command of Pierre Gemayel numbering 10,000 men. The next was the Christian militia affiliated with Camille Chamoun's National Liberal Party (NLP) called "The Tigers", numbering 2,000. Both groups were backed by large political organizations[30]. The third group was "The Zaghorta-Liberation Army" (ZLA) under the command of Tony Faranjieh, and numbering 700 men, which provided the guards for the presidential palace in Beirut[31]. They were assisted by other smaller groups led by Christian commanders. The estimated number of Christian militants was 30,000 men and women[32].

The Muslim left wing ideology that advocated Arab Nationalism and strived to change the Lebanese regime, was called The National Struggle Front[33], "The Syrian Nationalist Socialist Party" (SNSP), who supported the idea of "Magna-Syria"[34], pro-Iraqi and pro-Syrian "Al–Baath" ('Revival') parties, "The Movement of the 24th of October" and several pro-Nasserite groups. Finally there was the Amal ('hope') Shiite group, founded in 1975 by Imam Mussa Sader and led by Nabih Berri. Although smaller in numbers in the beginning of the war, they were later significantly reinforced by other Palestinian groups[35]. (NSF). Their objective was to reach political equality with the Christians and limit Maronite control over the Lebanese army. They were led by the Druze leader Kamal Jumbllat and included left wing militias such as "The Progressive Social Party" (PSP) with 3,000 Druze from the Chouf region

The Palestinians were the major fighting force on the Muslim side throughout the war, and in 1975 they numbered about 8,000 men[36]. The largest militia was the pro-Arafat Fatah group. While they remained out of the fighting until 1976, a group of Palestinian terrorist organizations known as the "Refusal Front", participated fully from the outset of the war[37]. They included the PFLP (led by Dr. George Habash) that was supported by Syria, the ALF (Arab Liberation Front) supported by Iraq, the Sai'qa ('lightning') pro-Syrian Palestinian group along with smaller splinter groups. The estimated number of Palestinians that participated in the war varied between 25,000-30,000 men[38]. While the Christians received arms from Western European states and Israel through Cyprus and the harbors of Beirut and Jouniyeh, the Muslims received their weapons from the Soviet bloc through the Syrian harbor of Latakia, and Lebanese harbors of Tripoli, Sidon, and Tyre, and via the Arafat-Route from Damascus.

The First Stage of the War: April–October 1975

Lebanon's third civil war is still considered its worst. The war is divided into four time frames, April-October 1975, October-December 1975, January-June 1976, June-October 1976.

On the February 26, 1975, several left wing Lebanese parties organized local fishermen to demonstrate against the government owned fishing company. As the demonstrators blocked the Beirut-Sidon highway, the Lebanese Army was called in. They clashed with left wing Muslims and members of the Palestinian Refusal Front. After five days of fighting, six soldiers and eighteen civilians were dead, including the leader of the NLP (National Liberal Party) movement Maruf Saada[39]. Although most scholars blame the Christians for the death of Saada, the former head of the Mossad dispatch in Beirut, Eliezer (Geizi) Tsafrir, says that Saada's killing was a deliberate provocation initiated by the pro-Syrian Palestinian terrorist organization Sai'qa, to place the blame on the Christians, thus leading to violence[40].

The fishermen's demonstration is considered the prelude to the war. On April 13th four Palestinian gunmen of Ahmed Jebril's PFLP-GC opened fire on Christians who were going to attend services at the Church of Notre Dame de la Deliverance in Beirut[41]. Among the Christians was Phalange leader Pierre Gemayel[42]. It resulted in the death of four Christian Phalanges. In retaliation, the Christians ambushed a Palestinian bus and shot fourteen passengers dead. Although PLO spokesmen claimed that those on the bus were civilians, Abdurchim Ahmad, a member of the ALF (Arab Liberation Front) in Amman, approved the original Christian version stating that all passengers aboard were armed ALF gunmen[43].

As a result of this incident, sporadic clashes occurred between Christian neighborhoods and Palestinian refugee camps. By mid-April more than ninety people were dead and over three hundred wounded. This type of clashing continued sporadically until the end of October 1975.

One of the first indicators of foreign intervention was when a group of local criminals called "The Third Force", set out to kidnap Christians. They were paid sixty Lebanese pounds per dead body by the Libyan and the Iraqi governments. This was done in order to increase the tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities in Beirut. It is believed that a sum of US $50 million was deposited by Libyan ruler Mouamar Kaddafi in local banks in order to encourage these anti-Christian activities[44]. During September 1975 Beirut's commercial zone was devastated. This laid the foundation for what would be later be known as the “Green Line”. Beirut became a battle torn city, divided by road blocks creating forbidden zones of entry.

The Lebanese Army originally had 18,000 men including a small majority of Muslim soldiers, with two thirds of the officers and most of the battalion commanders Christians[45]. During the first stage of the fighting, Lebanese President Sulieman Farnjieh refused to involve the Lebanese army. On May 23rd he established martial rule in Lebanon that lasted only two days. On June 30th Muslim Prime Minister Rashid Karami managed to form a new government which achieved a short-lived cease fire. The fighting resumed towards the end of July 1975.

The First PLO-led Massacres against the Christians: May–September 1975

On May 20, 1975, dozens of Christians were killed by PLO gunmen from the Tel Zaatar refugee camp[46]. Muslim militants from Bashura pulled ten Christians out of their cars, dragged them to a nearby Muslim cemetery and executed them. Later that summer, the Carmelite monastery in Tripoli was looted and destroyed, while the Maronite Cathedral was damaged and many Christian stores were destroyed and burnt[47]. On September 1st, Palestinian guerrillas raided the Christian village of Beit Mellat killing many of its inhabitants and destroying most of the village[48]. On September 9thvillage of Deir-Ashash. Although most of Deir-Ashash villagers had fled, three priests who remained in the local monastery were brutally murdered[49]. Ironically, in the monastery was a school of 960 students, 660 of which were Muslims who attended at no cost[50]. On September 8th the Christian neighborhood of Zarata in Tripoli was destroyed. On September 11th Sai'qa returned to Beit Mellat and killed eight Christians and kidnapped dozens. On October 9th Sai’qa attacked the Christian village of Tall Abbas-Akkar killing twenty Christians and razing the local church[51]. On October 30th Palestinians and Syrians attacked and killed about fifteen people in the convent of Naameh, which in 1948 had given refuge to Palestinian refugees[52]. At the same time, Palestinians besieged the Christian village of Koubeyat killing and causing much destruction. In the Muslim village of Saed Neil local Muslim militants attacked and killed twenty Christians in the village of Tanyel[53]. they did the same to the nearby.

The Second Stage of the War: October-December 1975

The second stage of the war began with the joint attack of the Muslim Al Mourabition and the PFLP on the mixed district of Kantari defended by the Phalange. On the 24th of October the attackers seized the Rezaq (More) tower, a forty story building considered the tallest building in Beirut. The Christian seized the three major hotels in the city, The St.George, The Phoenicia, and the Holiday Inn. During the fighting, the Muslim forces entered Christian houses and killed forty civilians[54].

This new stage of fighting, known as The Battle of the Hotels, lasted several months. It concentrated on a small complex along the Beirut sea front. It was a strategic stronghold for the Christians, as many of their weapons came through Beirut's harbor[55]. The battle of the hotel district marked the transition from local sniping and shooting to massive tactical and strategic military maneuvering aimed at large territorial gains.

November 1975 was a relatively quiet month in the capital, and interior minister Camille Chamone set up a special police task force, named Task Force 16, responsible for taking out snipers. On December 6th, after four Christian Phalanges were ambushed and killed while driving by the Tel Zaatar Palestinian refugee camp, Phalange commander William Hawi ordered a reprisal attack. The day is known as The Black Sabbath, when more than 350 people were killed. In retaliation, the left wing Muslim organization Mourabiton shot thirty-eight Christians at road blocks[56].

The Third Stage of the War: The Intensification of Syrian Intervention. January–June 1976

In 1976 Syria’s policy towards Lebanon evolved from indirect involvement (April-December 1975) to limited direct involvement (January-May 1976), to total invasion (July-October 1976)[57].

One might wonder what kept Syria from earlier intervention in Lebanon. SyriaBeirut in July1958, the US was conceived as the western superpower serving to deter any foreign intervention. Finally, SyriaLebanon would result in massive Israeli intervention[58]. was weakened by a series of military coups since its independence and was unable to launch any credible invasion. This was until Hazfez Al Assad’s takeover in 1970, when despite its severe political challenges, the "old Lebanese" regime showed an extraordinary capability for survival. Since the US Marines’ intervention in feared that any involvement in

With Assad’s takeover of Syria several changes took place. For the first time since Syria's independence, Assad succeeded in establishing a stable regime that would become a threat to both Egyptian and Iraqi aspirations to lead the Arab world. Lebanon's internal political situation was growing more unstable due to the increase of the Muslim population and the infiltration of PLO terrorist factions. The impact of the 1973 war and the Arab oil embargo gave many Arab Muslims a sense of overwhelming strength, such that many Lebanese Muslims thought it would now be easy to change the political landscape in Lebanon. American post-Vietnam trauma and the 1973 war damaged both the US and Israel's deterrence capabilities in the eyes of the Arab world. Although Syria never underestimated Israel's military capabilities, she was now more inclined to take the risk of collision[59].

In late September 1975, the Syrians deployed a battalion of the Palestinian Yarmuch Brigade and members of the PLA (Palestine Liberation Army) and Sai'qa to stop the fighting between the Muslim militias and the Christians. This was the first time the Syrians intervened directly in the war. In early 1976, the Syrians adopted a new policy, one that replaced mediation with military intervention. In January 1976, Syria deployed two battalions of the PLA to assist the Palestinians and Muslim organizations against the Christians. In mid-March they deployed Syrian commando battalions in disguise, and on April 9th an entire Syrian armor brigade entered Lebanon. This time much of the activity was directed against the Palestinians and the Muslim left[60]. In June, a full scale Syrian invasion was launched, in order to enforce a Pax Syriana. The final attack began on September 28th, and the war ended on 17th of October [61].

From early 1976 the Christians focused on Beirut. In order to create a continuous Maronite presence between Central Mount Lebanon in the west and the Lebanese mountains in the east, they had to deal with the Palestinian refugee camps. On January 4th, the Christians besieged two major refugee camps in Beirut, Tel Zaatar and Jish El Pasha. These camps separated the eastern Christian sector of Beirut from the Christian Matamth. Arafat decided to turn the battle into what he called ‘The Palestinian Stalingrad’. The Jish El Pasha camp fell on June 30th, and Tel Zaatar on August 12th. Christian sources stated that those who remained were PLO combatants as most of the civilians had fled before the attacks began. Palestinian doctors who worked in the camps claimed that 1,600 people were killed during the fighting, but did not specify how many of them were combatants and how many civilians[62]. region. The assault on both camps began on June 26.

Palestinian-Syrian-led Massacres against the Christian Community during 1976

The third stage of the war brought local massacres to new heights especially against Christian communities. On January 8th, Palestinians attacked the town Jiyyeh in the Shouf region, killing dozens. On January 15th they raided the Christian town of Kab Elias in the Beqa murdering sixteen civilians and wounding twenty-three. This attack resulted in a mass exodus of many Christians from villages in the Bekka to the cities of Zahleh, Jounieh, and Beirut[63]. 

On January 18th, Palestinians and Syrians attacked the village of Deir Jennine executing two priests and eleven civilians[64]. Four days later, they raided the Christian village of Hoche Barada, looting and destroying it[65].

On January 22nd Palestinians and Syrians killed twenty five Christians in the village of Rahbe in Akkar[66]. On March 15th, Sai'qa shelled the village of Kobeyat-Akkar and dozens of Christians were killed[67]. On March 23rd, the villages of Kaddam and Dier El Amar in North Lebanon were raided, and twelve civilians killed and many more injured[68]. Similar attacks initiated by Palestinians occurred during 1976 in the town of Shekka (July 5th), and ninety civilians massacred[69]. Between June 29th-August 12th, Palestinians in Tel Zaatar and Jish el Pasha camps killed 160 Christians[70]. Between October 19th and 21st, Palestinians and Syrians killed sixty-three Christians, including many children, in the village of Aishiyeh[71]. During the second half of October the Christian villages of Aintoura, Abaydiyeh, Araya, Chebanieh, Masser Beitedinne were partially destroyed. In Masser Beitdinne, fourteen Christians were killed[72]. Muslim soldiers who had deserted the Lebanese army and joined the AAL (The Army of Arab Lebanon), seized opportunities to kill Christian soldiers in former Lebanese army barracks. A case in point was the seizure was The Emir Bechir Barracks in Beirut. On the 10th of March more than thirty Christian soldiers were killed in the Khyam Barracks.[73].

If these events could be considered part of the' horror routine' of civil war, the following events in Damour exceeded all imagination, even according to local standards.

The Unique Aspects of the Damour Massacre: January 9th–23rd

In order to unlock the siege that the Christians had laid on the Palestinian refugee camps of Tel Zaatar and Jish al Pasha and the Karantina quarter, a joint coalition of Sai'qa, Fatah, PFLP, PDFLP, the Mourabiton and left wing Muslim militias, began surrounding the Christian town of Damour (population 25,000)[74]. It had one public hospital where Muslims and Christians were treated equally. The commander of the assault, Zuheir-Mouhsein, was later known as "The Butcher of Damour". Assisting Mouhsein was Fatah commander Colonel Abu Musa. Mouhsein was eventually targeted by the Mossad in 1979, hence the disintegration of Sai'qa[75]. 

The siege of Damour began on January 9, 1976. According to British journalist Robert Fisk, Abu Musa actually led the attack[76]. One of the key witnesses to the tragic events of Damour, was a priest Father Mansour Labaky who gave a full report to the Lebanese Red Cross[77]. Father Labaky initially tried to contact major Muslim dignitaries, one of whom was Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, to try to forestall the attack. Jumblatt replied, "I can do nothing for you, because it depends on Yassir Arafat" and gave him Arafat's phone number[78]. The priest reached one of Arafat's aides who tried "comforting" him by saying, "Father don't worry, we don't want to harm you. If we are destroying you, it's for strategic reasons"[79]. Labaky returned to Jumblatt, who repeated that the solution to the crisis lay solely in the hands of Arafat. Sai’qa forces cut the electric power to the city. More than fifty Christian civilians including children were slaughtered and their bodies mutilated. While the attackers numbered 16,000, the defense of Damour rested in the hands of 225 young men, most of them teenagers with no military background armed only with old hunting shotguns[80]. They were no match for the well trained and equipped Palestinians and their allies. As the Palestinians had cut off all access to the town, starvation and dehydration was rampant.

Father Labaky described the January 23rd final assault:

"The attack took place from the mountain behind. It was an apocalypse. They were coming, thousands and thousands, shouting "Allahu Akbar! God is Great! Let us attack them for the Arabs, let us offer a holocaust". They were slaughtering everyone in their path, men, women, and children. Whole families were killed in their homes. Many women were gang-raped, and few of them left alive afterwards"[81].

The attackers then looted anything that could be moved. One of the most shocking aspects of the looting was the desecration of the local Christian cemetery.

"Coffins were dug out, the dead robbed, vaults opened and bodies and skeletons thrown across the graveyard"[82], Labaky testified.

The number of fatalities according to Christian sources amounted to 582, although other sources talk about 500[83]. Many details about the massacre were contributed by the participants, who took photos and later sold them to the local press[84].

Approximately 500 Christians, who found refuge in the Church of St. Elias, managed to reach the seashore and were evacuated by boat to the Christian town of Junieh[85]. After the fighting, Damour was transformed into a stronghold for Arafat's Fatah and George Habash's PFLP. The St. Elias Church became a garage for PLO vehicles and a shooting range[86].

While not underestimating the events of Sabra & Shatila, it could be seen as bloody revenge for the Damour massacre. It could be perceived as revenge for the assassination of President Bashir Jemayel and twenty-six of his aides. The assassination was ordered by President Hafez al Assad and carried out by Syrian air force intelligence commander, Muhhammad Al-Khuli[87].

A strong testimony to the Christian attitude comes from Khalaf Samir's words. "The Damour Brigades of the Lebanese Forces vowed to avenge their fallen townsmen and relatives. They swore not to stop the fighting until all Palestinians were driven out of Lebanon"[88].

Another testimony to the linkage between the Damour massacre and Sabra & Shatila, comes from New York Times editor Tom Friedman, in his famous book From Beirut to Jerusalem. "The Phalangists wanted to avenge not only Bashir's death, but also past tribal killings of their own people by Palestinian guerillas, such as the February 1976 massacre by Palestinians of Christian villagers in Damour South of Beirut"[89].

The Fourth Stage of the War: The Syrian Invasion of Lebanon (June-October 1976).

The first phase of Syria's invasion of Lebanon began on the night of May 31, 1976. While one armored brigade moved towards Tripoli in the north, another gained control of the Beirut-Damascus highway. The major thrust of the Syrian operation began on June 6th, when elements of the 3rd Armored Division began moving on Beirut and Sidon. Heavy resistance succeeded in stopping the Syrian advance into Beirut and Sidon. A temporary ceasefire was announced through the mediation of the Libyan Prime Minister and the Algerian Minister of Education[90]. 

The failure to defeat the Palestinians put President Assad in a very difficult position. His relationship with the PLO was now completely shattered, and he was totally isolated from the Arab world. This forced Assad to reach three separate agreements with the Palestinians and the Muslim left with which neither side intended to comply[91].

The final attack ("Operation Mountain") began on the 28th of September, and ended on the 17th of October with the total defeat of the Palestinians. The first stage of the attack lasted two days. The Syrian army took over the Palestinian pocket, in the center of Mount Lebanon, that had controlled the Beirut-Damascus highway . In the second stage (October 12th-16th), the Syrians advanced towards Beirut and Sidon. Unlike the failed attack in June, the PLO did not put up any serious resistance, and thus enabled the Syrians to complete their operation. This gave them a strong standing in the upcoming Arab League Summit in Riyad (October 17th-18th)[92]. SyriaLebanon as her own backyard. has never given up her desire to treat


This article has shown a new and different perspective on the worldview of the role the Palestinians play in the Middle East conflict and Lebanon in particular. Although relatively new to the Lebanese scene it is the Palestinians more than any other foreign factor who contributed to the destruction of the country’s fragile socio-economic infrastructure. While many in the west remember Sabra & Shatila (September 1982) and tend to blame Israel and the Christians for all the wrongs in Lebanon, very few are aware of the many Palestinian-led massacres against Christian villages and towns.

Thus in order to understand Lebanon's endless blood feud, one must adopt a much broader historical perspective, that would highlight the major role the PLO has played in the destroying the country. After Israel evacuated its narrow security zone in Southern Lebanon in May 2000, Syria and Iran’s transplanted proxy and ally, Hezbollah, continue to destroy the country, pushing the Christian and the Druze communities out of any political strongholds, applying terror and assassination methods against whoever defies them[93].


[1] See: Deeb, Marius. Syria's Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process (New York: Palgrave/ Macmillan) 2003.

[2] Zamir, Meir. Kinuna shel Lebanon ha Modernit (Tel-Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1993) pp 27 – 28.

For the English version, see: The Formation of Modern Lebanon (1985).

[3] The term 'Mount Lebanon' applies to the northern part of the mountain, but due to increasing Maronite immigration, it currently applies to the entire mountain ridge.

[4] Ibid., p. 1. Zamir, p. 20.

[5] For organizational proceedings leading to the establishment of 'The Organic Law', see: Spagnolo.J.P. France and Ottoman Lebanon 1861–1914 (Oxford: St. Anthony’s College, 1977) pp. 41-47.

[6] See: Phares, Walid. Lebanese Christian Nationalism: The Rise and Fall of an Ethnic Resistance (Boulder–London: Lynne Reiner Publishers, 1995) p59. A Mutasarifaya is an Ottoman administrative unit meaning 'County'. See Findelly. C.V The Evolution of the System of Provincial Administration as Viewed from the Center, in, D.Kushner ed. Palestine in the Late Ottoman Period: Political, Social, and Economic TransformationJerusalem: 1986) pp.3-29.

[7] Ibid., p. 2. Zamir, p. 47.

[8] See: Nevakivi, Jukka. Britain, France and The Middle East. 1914 – 1920 (London: University of London – The Athlone Press) 1969. Also see: Longrig, S.H. Syria and Lebanon under French

Mandate (Oxford University Press) 1958.

[9] Kamal was Hajj Amin al Hussenie's step brother. See: Al-Peleg. Zvi. Ha Mufti ha Gadol (Tel- Aviv, Ministry of Defense Publications, 1989) pp. 11-12 (Hebrew) .

[10] Rabinovich, Itamar. The War for Lebanon. 1970 – 1983Ithaca & London: Cornell University (

Press, 1984) pp. 22-23.

[11] Ibid., p. 10. Rabinovich, pp. 24-25.

[12] Ibid., p. 10, Rabinovich, pp. 26-27.

[13] Ibid., p. 10, Rabinovich, p. 28.

[14] There were two phases of the war: The first was from November 30th - May 15th, after both the Palestinian leadership and Arab League rejected UN General Assembly resolution 181 that called for the establishment of an Arab and a Jewish state. The second was from May 1948–July 1949, after Israel's independence, when five Arab regular armies joined the Palestinians in their quest to destroy the Jewish state.

[15] Elizabeth Picard mentions 140,000 refugees; Harald Vocke speaks about 100,000. Benny

Morris breaks down the stages between what he calls "The Massive Flight (April-June 1948)" and what followed during operation Hiram See: Picard, Elizabeth. Lebanon: a Shattered Country New York & London: HM, 1996) p.79, also see: Vocke, Herald. The Lebanese War (New York: St.Martins Press, 1978). p. 31. Also see: Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refuge Problem 1947 – 1949 (Tel- Aviv: Am-Oved Publications, 1991) p. 107 (Hebrew version).

[16] Vocke, Harald. The Lebanese War (New York: St. Martins Press, 1976) p. 32.

[17] Although Arafat escaped, most of his men were either killed or captured by the IDF. He succeeded in turning the entire affair into a great victory against Israel. This brought to his camp hundreds of Arabs and Muslims, thus exacerbating the situation for Jordan.

[18] See: Karsh, Efraim. Arafat's War: the Man and his Battle for Israeli Conquest (Tel-Aviv: Maaraiv & BESSA, 2004) pp. 35-36. (Hebrew version).

[19] Interview with Ziad Refai, in a BBC series called: "The 50 Years War: Israel and the Arabs" (London, BBC Production, Program No.3) 1998.

[20] All 425 passengers aboard were released, but the planes were blown up on the runway with the cooperation of Arafat's Fatah. See: Bar-Zohar, Michael & Eitan Haber. The Quest for the Red Prince (Tel-Aviv: Zmora, Bitan Publishers, 1984) pp. 98-99. (Hebrew version).

[21] Ibid., p. 18, Karsh, p. 36.

[22] See: Arnon, Adam. Lamut Be Beirut (Tel-Aviv: Astrolog Publishing, 2007) p. 28 (Hebrew)

[23] Ibid., p. 10, Rabinovich. pp. 43-44, and p. 233.

[24] Ibid., p. 21, Arnon, p. 29.

[25] Jebril formed the PFLP-GC in October 1968, as a result of differences of opinion with George Habash of the PFLP.

[26] One of the terrorists, Samir Quntar, was sentenced to lifein prison; Hezboullah is now asking for his release in exchange for the two Israeli soldiers abducted in July 2006.

[27] For historical background of the Black SeptemberOne Day in September (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2006) pp. 36-39. organization, see: Reeve, Simon.

[28] See: Picard, Elizabeth. Lebanon: A Shattered Country (New York & London: HM, 1996) p. 81.

[29] See, Ibid., p. 18, Karsh, p. 37.

[30] See: O'Ballance, Edgar. Civil War in Lebanon (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998) p.15.

[31] Ibid., p. 30.

[32] Ibid,, p. 30, O'Ballance, and Ibid p. 21 Arnon, p. 44.

[33] Ibid., p. 30, O’Ballance, p16. To avenge Jumbllat’s by the Syrians, the Druze killed 170 Christians. See: Khalaf, Samir. Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002) p. 44.

[34] Magna Syria, 'Greater Syria', is a geographical vision of Syrian nationals that included the entire Levant, Trans-Jordan and Palestine as one political entity under their rule.

[35] Ibid., p. 30. O'Ballance, pp. 44-45.

[36] Ibid, 30, p.16.

[37] The Palestinian Refusal Front led by Dr. Habash broke off from the PLO on July 1974, after negating Yassir Arafat's "Stage Plan" which recommended eliminating Israel stage by stage", as being too moderate.

[38] Ibid, 21, Arnon, p. 45.

[39] Ibid, 30, O'Ballance, p. 4.

[40] See: Plonter: Shoter Tnua ba Svach ha Levanoni (Tel-Aviv: Yediot Achronot, 2006) pp. 42-43


[41] Ibid, 40, p. 42.

[42] Ibid, 30, O'Ballance. p. 1

[43] Ibid, 21, Arnon, p. 39.

[44] Ibid, 21, Arnon, p. 41.

[45] Ibid, 21, Arnon. p. 45.

[46] p.1

[47] Ibid, 21, Arnon. p. 43.

[48] p.1

[49] Christian sources claim that some of the raiders in Deir Ashash were Syrian soldiers in disguise.

See: Ibid, 46, p. 2.

[50] Ibid, 48.p. 1.

[51] Ibid, 46. p. 2.

[52] Ibid, 46, p. 3.

[53] Ibid, 21, Arnon. p. 48.

[54] Ibid, 21, Arnon. P. 51.

[55] Ibid, 30, O'Ballance, p. 27.

[56] Ibid, 21, Arnon, p. 54.

[57] See: Avi-Ran, Reuven. ha Meoravut ha Surit be Levanon (1975 – 1985) (Tel-Aviv: MOD, 1986)

p. 25. (Hebrew)

[58] Ibid, 57, p. 21-22.

[59] Ibid, 57, p. 22-23.

[60] Ibid, 57, Aviran, p. 31.

[61] Ibid, 57, Aviran, p. 28-31.

[62] Ibid, 30, O'Ballance. pp. 54 - 57. The population of Jish El Pasha was 6000 and Tel Zaatar 5000. See, O'Ballance, p. 54

[63] See: Also see: Ibid., 46, p. 3. p.1

[64] See: p.3- 4.

[65] Ibid, 64. p.4

[66] Ibid, 64, p. 6

[67] Ibid, 64, p. 7

[68] Ibid, 64, p. 7

[69] Ibid 64, p.10.

[70] Ibid, 64,p. 8-10

[71] Ibid, 64.p.13

[72] Ibid, 64, p. 14.

[73] Ibid, 63 p.2.

[74] Nisan.M. The Conscience of Lebanon: A Political Biography of Etienne Sakr (Abu Arz) (London: Routledge, 2003) p. 41.

[75] Klein.J.Aron. Striking Back (Tel-Aviv: Yediot Achronot, 2006) p. 182 (Hebrew version).

[76] See: Fisk, Robert. Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 2001

[77] For Father Monsur's testimony see: past002.asp p. 1-6. See Julian Becker. The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization (London: Windenfeld & Nicolson 1984) pp.122-6. Also see: Fisk, Robert. Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) pp. 99-100

[78] Ibid, 77.p.2

[79] Ibid, 77

[80] Ibid 77, p. 3

[81] Ibid, 77. p.3-4.

[82] Ibid, 77. p.5-6.

[83] Ibid, 77, p. 5. Also see: Khalaf, Samir. Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002) p. 43.

[84] See: Ibid 63, p. 1-6. Also see: , pp.3-6. and: p.1-5.

[85] See O' Ballance, p. 43.

[86] Ibid, 77, p. 6.

[87] Deeb, Marius. Syria's Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2003) p. 79.

[88] Samir, Khalaf. Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon (New York: Columbia University Press,

2002) p. 45.

[89] See: Friedman, Thomas. From Beirut to Jerusalem (Glasgow: Fontana-Collins, 1990) p. 161.

Friedman of course was wrong about the exact dates: the massacre took place between January 9th-23rd.

[90] Ibid, 57, Aviran, p. 32.

[91] Ibid, 57, Aviran, p. 34.

[92] Ibid, 91.

[93] For further reading on Syria's involvement in the killing of former Lebanese President, Rafik Hariri,

See: Blanford, Nicholas. Killing Mr Lebanon: the Assassination of Rafik Hariri and its Impact on the Middle East (London/New York: I.B.Tauris) 2006.