TO THE DEATH
A Survey of the Continuing Experiences among Fighters
|By UMAM Documentation and Research
Arabic with an English Abstract
© UMAM D&R, 2010
Contrary to the common held notion that the war was waged by just the few who sabotaged the lives of the many, Elias Atallah (a high-ranking veteran of the Lebanese civil war, one who eventually became a member of the Lebanese parliament) made the following statement while standing before a camera: "I believe that most Lebanese participated in the war. Some had machine guns in their hands... Others participated silently... Some participated while standing on their balconies... What I mean is that while the level of participation varied, participation itself was never an issue."¹
Obviously, this former fighter was referring to moral responsibility rather than direct participation alone. But by extension, Atallah may have been trying to broaden the scope of responsibility recognized typically in Lebanon in order to shift the harsh focus being placed back then on wartime involvement by him and his peers. Nevertheless, while some individuals played verbal, moral and even academic roles in the conflict, others gave their very blood and souls. They fought "to the death."
The issue surrounding those who actually fought Lebanon’s civil war is among the most neglected elements of that conflict. In fact, it has become one of the many considerations commonly overlooked—beyond the ad hoc solution arrived at concerning the integration of numerous militiamen into the army and other governmental bodies.
As part of its program WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Lebanon's War-Loaded Memory (composed of closed workshops and public events, such as film screenings and public exhibitions), UMAM D&R commissioned a specialized research firm to survey the attitudes of former combatants, the results of which were first publicized in a limited edition work distributed during a workshop titled "A WAR WITHOUT CRIMES? Amnesties and Prosecutions" (held October 18 – 19, 2008). The second edition of that work has benefited tremendously from the comments offered by workshop participants and others who reviewed its forerunner.
In terms of study constraints, elements of the Lebanese Armed Forces and members of other military and security bodies were excluded from the assessment. Likewise, the survey did not include members of Hezbollah or the Islamic Resistance. Of note, the study focused specifically on individuals who engaged in active military service during the Lebanese civil war between April 13, 1975 and October 13, 1990. The sample population comprised even numbers of combatants from both camps in the conflict, irrespective of the name changes and control shifts that occurred within each. The poll was conducted from early September to early October 2008 with a questionnaire constructed to explore five relevant questions:
How do former combatants perceive their experiences during the war? What are their views on accountability versus impunity and amnesty? What is their current relationship with society? What consequences did the war have on their lives? How prepared were they to tell the truth, provide information about what happenend, and apologize?
This publication was made possible by funding from the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa).
¹ Excerpt from Elias Atallah's testimony in the documentary IN PLACE - Four Returnees from the Lebanese Civil Wars by Monika Borgmann and Lokman Slim, Beirut, 2009.