Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Ain Dara

Battle of Zahleh (Lebanon, 1982): Revisiting this “melancholic civil war”

The importance of “The Battle of Zahleh” in 1982 is that it will turn out to be a catalyst for Israel to decide invading Lebanon in June 1982, and enter the Capital Beirut.  The battle of Zahleh extended fantastic dilusion dreams to Ariel Sharon:  “We kick out of Lebanon the armed faction of the Palestinian Resistance Movement (PLO), they move to Syria, Syria sent them packing to Jordan, and the PLO establish a State in Jordan.  In the meanwhile, Israel create a stooge State in Lebanon government by Christian militia allies…”  That is how Robert Fisk reported the strategy from an Israeli military reporter, who heard it from Sharon as the battle of Zahleh was in progress.

Zahleh, a medium-size city of 150,000 citizens, the first city you reach as you descends the eastern side of Mount Sannine.  Zahleh is at 945 m in altitude and smack in the middle of the rich Bekaa Valley (representing about 42% of the size of Lebanon).  The main center is divided by the Berdawni River. On the north of Berdawni, an area called Wadi al Arayesh, crowded with countless restaurants, side by side, boarded with tall trees and the sound of flowing fresh water, serving typical Lebanese meals and mezzeh (composed of two dozen small dishes).

Zahleh was founded 300 years ago with the influx of mountain people, from Mount Lebanon and Huran plateau (Syria) and settled by the Berdawni River. Zahleh was burned down in 1771, 1791, and again in 1860 during the internal clashes between the Christian Maronite and the Druze sects.

Train rails were constructed in 1885 to serve the agricultural trade exigencies among the neighboring regions.  There is no more trains, and barely any rails are standing. Zahleh is surrounded with famous vineyards located in Wadi Hadi, Harqat, Bir Ghazour, and Tell Zeina.  The vineyard Ksara in a few miles south.

The very credible accounts of investigative reporter Robert Fisk (see notes) described the battle of Zahleh in his book “Afflictions of a Nation”.  I am reading the Arabic version of the book (the private reading library that I patronize does not enjoy English reading customers) and this diary of an episode of Lebanon civil war is an abridged version, written my own style and my comprehension of this particular history and context.

Until the end of 1980, Zahleh was like an oasis in the midst of this barbaric and incomprehensible civil war that has been dragging since April 1975.  The Syrian troops guaranteed peace and tranquility in Zahleh with a majority of Christian Catholic orthodox.  Young Bashir Gemayel, head of the Christian militia “The Lebanese Forces”, a militia built around the Phalanges Party after annexing by force the other weaker Christian militias, started to plan becoming the next president of the republic. Consequently, he needed to exhibit the image of the leader of all the Christians, everywhere they existed as majority in the country.

Beshir encouraged the Christians in Zahleh to attack and harass the Syrian troops. The Syrian troops responded by shelling Zahleh with tank guns.  The propaganda of the Christian militia that they were confronting Islamic invasion to disperse all Christians from Lebanon failed to generate any reactions from the USA and Europe.  Israel’s major-general Yahoshoa Sagoy, head of Israel intelligence agency, guessed that Bashir is trying hard to draw Israel directly into the civil war.  However, General Rafael Etan decided to down two Syrian helicopters supplying the unit on Sannine.

There was a deal: The Syrian troops were to vacate Mount Sannine on condition that no other force try to retain this strategic location.  The people in Zahleh were not concerned with Beshir Gemayel and very few were members of the Phalanges party.  Beshir decided to build a side dangerous road leading to Zahleh with the intention of dispatching military supplies.

In the winter season of 1981, the Lebanese Forces installed mortar guns on Mount Sannine. Robert Fisk was among the “Christian” forces and he could barely breath from the high altitude and the freezing weather.  The Syrian army got suspicious of Beshir’s purpose, particularly that Bashir boasted publicly of his friendship with Israel. Actually, Israel has been unloading military equipment and ammunition in the port of Jounieh for quite a time. What if this side road is being prepared for Israel to use in a preemptive war against Syria?

Syrian tanks fired over these mortar installations.  The militia behaved as frightened adolescent every time a tank fired over them.  The Syrian troops managed to stop finishing constructing this military road.  The Christian militia prevented the Syrians from reaching Faraya snow skiing resort.  The Syrian troops acquired the top of Sannine, while the Christian militia were contented of remaining 50 meters below. Fisk looked over the sand bags and could see the entire Bekaa Valley down below.

This was a totally bungled battle, meant principally for propaganda purpose.  The university graduates in the Christian militia were hardly capable of firing properly the mortar guns.  Fisk wrote: “As we were withdrawing in a hurry, using a German truck (the same kinds imported by the Palestinians in West Beirut), a tire blew up.  We had to scramble on slippery snowy ways for 9 miles toward the hotel Mazar Faraya.  This hotel was transformed into a military garrison.  All the utensils were imported from Israel, as well as the military clothes”. The militias were into the new trend of shalom here, shalom there.

After Israel downed the two Syrian helicopters, Syria moved in sort of obsolete anti air missile, freshly painted white, and explicitly exposed to be photographed by the foreign press. and the pictures displayed in foreign dailies.  Israel Begin PM refused to acknowledge the presence of these missiles:  They were of no military threat, and Israel was preparing a “preemptive incursion” into Lebanon.

By the end of July, the case of Zahleh was closed.  Fisk wrote: “The battle of Zahleh was an international tag of war, and not a battle between Phalanges and Syrian troops. About two hundred civilians were killed or injured.  95 members of Phalanges who had residences in Beirut quit Zahleh.  The remaining Christian militia members stayed in peace in Zahleh.”

I was living in Lebanon in that period: No same Lebanese had any illusion of the military outcome of this rediculous battle.  In fact, as Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982, the Israel military power could not reach Zahleh and was stopped by the remaining Syrian troops in its progress in the higher region of the Chouf district by the town of Ain Dara.  The battle of Zahleh will turn out to be a catalyst for Israel to decide invading Lebanon in 1982, and enter the Capital Beirut.

Note 1: Robert Fisk is one of the famous journalist reporters who covered Lebanon civil war.  He was the correspondent of the British “Times” in the Middle-East till 1987.  He is currently the correspondent of the British daily “The Independent”.  Fisk wrote two books on the Irish civil war and conflicts, and a book on Lebanon’s civil war “Afflictions of a Nation”.

Note 2:  The Zionist lobby in England took to the street denouncing the accurate accounts of Fisk in the Times: “The Times is the new Arabic secret weapon”

Note 3: Fisk reported that Israel invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was the beginning of the shattering of Israel’s image in the eyes of world community:  Foreign reporters and press declined accepting Israel accounts as accurate or credible.  The foreign press has witnessed the atrocities and countless violations of human rights of the Israeli soldiers and officers against civilians in Lebanon.

Note 4: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/israel-is-announcing-to-world-community-i-am-ready-for-another-preemptive-war-back-me-up/

Part 6: “Wild trails of Mount Lebanon” (Mar. 8, 2010)

Pierre Bared, a middle aged man, tall, svelte, with graying beard and three children decided to walked alone for 22 days on the wild trails of Mount Lebanon crossing it from the upper northern town of Kobayat to the southern town of Marje3youn  in June 2008.

On the 17th day, two Syrian workers, guarding a newly renovated villa, did their best to welcome Pierre. They reserved him one of the two beds for the night and purchased a roasted chicken.

Many Christians denied Pierre, even a listening ear, during his walking trip.  The place allocated to the workers was miserable: “the others” must have been used to miserable conditions!

Pierre descends a valley to the river and crosses a rickety bridge; he reached the town of Bzebdine by 1 pm.

It is Sunday; Pierre’s friends Joseph and Saba were to meet him for a picnic. The son of the owner of a building, studying for his public exam, gathers red and green prunes from his garden and offers them for the three men.

Two armed civilian militia of the socialist Druze party (of the warlord Walid Jumblatt) pay them a visit for questioning.

Pierre has hard time locating the trail to Kornayel using the useless guide book.  He traverses a forest and hears gun shots and various arms firing.  The forest is degraded by men.

By 6 pm, Pierre is in Falougha.  Kids are playing soccer by the church yard: it is an unknown notion in Lebanon to reserve playing grounds and spaces for kids.

In Falougha, the mayor stops to pick up and collect detritus off the sides of streets: an example that renders this town clean.

Joseph, a member of the association “Sentiers du Mont Liban”, meets Pierre in an ice cream parlor.  Joseph claims that the wild trails are not marked so that people call them up! What an excuse given that the association was awarded $3 millions for that project.  It seems that part of the budget was allocated to restore a few welcoming houses for travelers.  It is good to know that the project is done by volunteers and the private company is doing nothing.

Chamoun, the one who called Pierre to join him for the remainder of the trip, called Pierre and they agreed to meet at the main fountain in the morning. Pierre sleeps at Joseph’s house.

Next morning, Chamoun arrives decked in kaki outfit and all kinds of small flags pinned on the uniform; he even brought a spare boot.  They both ascend to Dahr el Baidar; an army post is there but did not disturb the travelers.  The walkers take a break under the shadow of a lonely tree.

They cross Damascus Highway to catch the old train tunnel: no train rails are left.  They see a quarry, so many unlicensed quarries in Lebanon that are disfiguring the landscape. Many Lorries are suffocating the climate with dirt.  They meet a 10 year-old girl shepherding goats: Pierre gives the girl water to drink.

A couple of old folks are gathering cherries and apricots; they welcome the travelers as if they knew them.  The walkers see another quarry that inflicts significant pain to the eyesight.  They meet an old cultivator who invites them to his one room depot.

They continue to Ain Dara.  They meet workers rebuilding the bridge of Mdayrej that Israel bombed in 2006; they eat with the workers at the central town square restaurant and good boy jokes fuse from everywhere. Chamoun is carrying promotional materials concerning his exploits, adventures, and recommendation in health care; he never stops talking once he is carried away for his aggrandizement attitudes.

Pierre and Chamoun resume their trip to Nabe3 el Safa; they cross a small natural farm of cows and chicken co-existing.  They come into an orchard of peach trees (best peaches in the world).  They stumble over a sofa under a tree: they could not let this luck be missed for a well deserved pause.

For the first time in the trail, Pierre sees a notice warning against landmines, cluster bombs, and unexplosed missiles left by Israel recurring bombing of Lebanon.  They reach the “Cedar reserve” of Chouf; the guard of the forest reserve offers them a room with two real beds and a real hot shower facility (5 stars accommodation).

The next day, the photographer Alfred shows up for photo sessions of the routine cedar tree planting.  Planting a cedar tree in the reserve cost $250, including entrance card to the forest any time, having your name attached to the tree, and a certificate; the tree has the number 116.  The mayor accompanies Pierre.

The walkers return to Falougha for another planting ceremony of cedar tree, and then to Mtein.

Chamoun calls up his sister to give them ride to the cedar reserve; she drops Pierre in Mdayrej; Chamoun calls it quit and returns with his sister home.  Pierre waits 30 minutes to be picked up by a truck to Nabe3 el Safa; the next target town for Pierre is Barouk.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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