Friday, November 24, 2006

The Phalangist Martyr

Amongst all the talk of the murder of Pierre Amine Gemayel, the mainstream media have managed to omit a few pertinent facts. The media have been keen to portray Gemayel as a heroic figure that stood up to the imperial ambitions of Syria. However, Gemayel is anything but heroic - unless you have a penchant for the far-right. His murder has become a stick with which to beat the Syrian regime, despite the lack of evidence and the lack of motive. His death is also being used as a symbol by the right to highlight all that is wrong with the region. However, it is Gemayel himself who is an example of what is wrong in the region.

Gemayel was a member of the Kataeb Party in Lebanon. Mainly supported by the Maronites, it was originally founded in 1936 by Pierre Gemayel (Gemayel's grandfather) as a youth movement. The idea came from a visit Pierre Gemayel made to Germany for the Olympic Games. So impressed was he with the organisation of the Nazi Party, that he decided to use this as a template for a new movement in Lebanon. Although the eventual structure bore some comparisons with the Nazi regime, it had more in common with Franco's vision of fascism. Essentially, Gemayel was opposed to the growth in Arab nationalism throughout the late fifties and sixties. He had little sympathy with the cause of the Palestinians, and was opposed to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. It was this policy by the Kataeb Party that lead to the massacres of 1982.

By this time, the Kataeb Party (under Bachir Gemayel) had aligned itself with Israel and was engaged in supporting the fight against the Palestinians. At this stage, the party was working to eliminate all Palestinians from within Lebanon. This in turn led to the horrific massacres at Sabra and Shatila. These massacres were the work of Phalangist militia units working in conjunction with the Israeli military. After the Israeli army had sealed the camps off, the Phalangist militia entered the camps and, for the next 36-48 hours, proceeded to massacre everyone inside. Those who tried to escape where turned back by Israeli soldiers. The following is taken from a transcript of the BBC programme Panorama, entitled "The Accused", broadcast on 17 June 2001:

KEANE: Groups of civilians were herded into the streets, 12 year old Mounair among them.

MOUNAIR AHMED: They said the men and the older guys to go to the right and the women and children go to the left. They kept on telling us "Don't worry, you're going to be okay, you're going to be okay, nothing going to happen".

KEANE: The Israelis had a forward command post about 200 metres away which overlooked the camps. There were Phalangists stationed on the roof with the Israelis. It was around this time, 7 o'clock on Thursday evening that an Israeli officer stationed on the roof overheard a deeply troubling conversation. He was standing close to Elie Hobeika, the Leader of the Phalange operation. A soldier inside the camps came on the radio. He told Hobeika he was holding 50 women and children. What should he do with them? Hobeika replied "That's the last time you're going to ask me a question like that. You know exactly what to do". There was raucous laughter from the other Phalangists. The Israeli officer reported this to his superior, General Amos Yuron. There would be more worrying reports to the Yuron, but beyond warning Elie Hobeika not to harm civilians the General took no further action that night. Ariel Sharon was now at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Ministers heard the Phalange were now in the camps.

Deputy Prime Minister David Levy was deeply troubled.

"When I hear that the Phalangists are already entering a certain neighbourhood and I know what the meaning of revenge is for them, what kind of slaughter, then no one will believe we went in to create order there and we will bear the blame."
[emphasis mine]

According to the Kahan commission, around 700-800 Palestinians were massacred by the Phalangists. However, these figures are most likely inaccurate as the report covered up many of the crimes committed by the Israeli forces, pushing the blame entirely onto the Phalangists. The UN later described this massacre as genocide.

It is strange, therefore, to see a man from this party be treated as a heroic martyr by much of the media. There is nothing heroic about him. He comes from a political party whose background is grounded in fascist ideology. A party that was intent on wiping out Palestinians in Lebanon. And yet, there are many on the right who accuse Syria of conducting this murder and referring to them as Nazis. They bleat on about 'Islamofascism', and then venerate a fascist leader in the Middle East. Pierre Amine Gemayel is no martyr.

Further Information: Full transcript of Panorama programme, full text of General Assembly resolution A/RES/37/123, the Kahan commission report (although widely considered a whitewash, it is still a valuable source) .