Ahmed Fakhoury: A Man Whose Life embodied the Imperialist Expansion into Lebanon
Ahmed Fakhoury died earlier this year, to be exact he passed away August 17th in 2020 from advanced Lymphoma. For many this will be your first time hearing about his story, his story shows us how deeply imperialism has its bloody talons in Lebanon, a nation itself who’s existence was used by French Imperialist to create an appendage of Europe in the Middle East. This article seeks to illuminate the history and continuation of Imperialism in Lebanon by highlighting a man whose life benefited from it.
Lebanon like most nations in the Middle East and North Africa have a tumultuous relationship with Israel, Lebanon, however, shares a direct border with Israel, considering that said border is now a demarcation zone set up by the United Nations to detail whether Israel had left the country after occupying the South of Lebanon for eighteen years. Lebanon’s relations with Israel have always been volatile, particularly when the Nakba occurred.
The Nakba and Lebanon
Israel was born into the world through blood and violence, when the Zionists, led by Ben David Gurion declared the independence of the new state it came with bloody conflict. The war of independence saw a decentralised loose coalition of Arab forces, particularly from neighboring states fight the centralised, well numbered, and organised Zionist armies. The result was the solidification of the fledgling state and the start of the dismantling of Palestine.
The result of the war saw a flooding of Palestinians into neighboring states and new national entities like Gaza. Over 500’000 refugees fled to Jordan, all of which were granted citizenship, at the hopes of the Jordanian state that it could erase their national identity. 200’000 refugees were crammed into Gaza which was now under Egyptian rule and a final 100’000 went into Lebanon. To this date, the refugees in Lebanon were never granted citizenship and for many were forced to live in refugee camps for the rest of their life, the reason for this will become clear in the next paragraph of this article. Israel refused to allow the refugees back to their homes, the Zionists feared that Israel’s fragile demographics would be compromised and the reality of a Jewish state impossible if hundreds of thousands of Muslim and Christian Palestinians returned. As such Israel claimed that these people were in fact told to leave by Arab officials and didn’t deserve compensation.
Lebanon at this point had an incredibly fragile political system which was a colonial relic. Based on the demographics of the various religious sectors of society and approved by French colonialists, the system meant that the Maronite Christian dominated society politically, with the strongest positions going to them. The Sunni Muslims came in second, with some political representation and finally, the Shia Muslims were at the bottom of this system, given position of little importance. The Shi’ites comprised the poorest sections of society accompanied by the least political representation.
The Nakba as such proved to be an uncomfortable question for Lebanon’s ruling elite, the influx of 100’000 Palestinian refugees who were primarily Muslim would upset the demographics of the fragile political system. As such the Maronite elite refused to grant citizenship to the refugees, forcing them to live in camps for the rest of their life. Refugees were forbidden from getting jobs and were condemned to live inhumane conditions as no deal for the resettlement of refugees with Israel could be reached. The refugees posed such a problem that the Maronites refused to carry out any population census, knowing that their position was now compromised.
Lebanon’s Civil War
The growth of Pan-Arab ideology in the Middle East primarily championed by Nasser and Baathism saw an increasing resentment of the political status quo of Lebanon, furthermore by the late 1950’s it was clear that the Muslims were now the majority and many began to agitate for the reform or complete destruction of the political system. However, the Maronite President could veto any legislation proposed by the Chamber, refusing to take a new consensus. This would eventually lead to a bloody outbreak of violence; the various religious groups took up arms and a vicious ethnic conflict erupted.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had become ingrained in the Palestinian refugee communities, using thier funds they would carry out state services that were being denied by the Lebanese state. The PLO became popular in these communities, eventually they used these spaces to carry their armed struggle against Israel. The Phalange, who were the Christian paramilitaries, had formed an alliance with Israel, both viewed the PLO as a threat, the Phalange saw them as a threat to Christian rule and Israel wanted to see the military apparatus built by the PLO to be dismantled.
Israel Intervenes and the Sabra-Shatila Massacres
Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon wanted to destroy the PLO’s military infrastructure in Lebanon, and eventually aimed for wiping out their whole hierarchy, which would require the Israeli army reaching the capital of Lebanon, Beirut, where the PLO headquarters were located. In doing so he hoped too also drive out the Syrian army, securing the position of the Christian elite which in turn would normalise relations with Israel. Furthermore, Israel had claimed that the PLO were behind the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom. When in matter of fact the attempt had been carried out by renegade Palestinian group who were opponents of the PLO.
With the death of the Christian Prime Minister who was assassinated, Israel began to step their involvement in Lebanon to new heights, commanding and transporting Phalangist forces to kill 2’000 PLO fighters who apparently were operating in a refugee camp. The Phalangist undertook mass killings of Palestinian refugees, helped with IDF flares to illuminate their targets. Killing until the next morning, 800 refugees who were primarily women and children were killed, with no PLO operatives found. A commission in the aftermath of the killings found that Israeli officials were indirectly responsible for the killings. With some Israeli leaders saying they hoped to “purify” Lebanon of Palestinians.
Israel’s Southern Lebanon Occupation and the Butcher of Khaim
Israel would begin a long and brutal occupation of Southern Lebanon, the Occupation showed a complete lack of awareness of the local environment and customs that the IDF had gotten itself into, most notably an IDF patrol who had become lost in a city met a crowd of Shia Muslims in a open mass processions. Threatened by the gathering in their alien environment the IDF opened fire to disperse the crowd, this action angered the local populace and turned more and more civilians against the occupation. Israels refusal to end its occupation would manifest with the emergence of a strong Shia resistance that would break the occupiers.
Israel sought many ways to control their occupation of the South, one method to achieve this was the use of local Lebanese forces, one such force was the South Lebanon Army (SLA). The SLA co-operated with Israeli occupation and were backed by Israel. They would join the Israeli army in carrying out attacks against resistance. They also ran a network of military installations including detention centers. A Lebanese man named Ahmed Fakhoury has been accused of running the Khiam detention center. Inmates who were alleged to be dissidents against the Lebanese state were routinely tortured at his hand, the number of people who were subject to his cruel treatment is alleged to be in the thousands. His reputation grew and was eventually dubbed the “Butcher of Khaim” for his acts.
The Israeli occupation became the perfect catalyst for the formation of Hezb’allah, a Shia militant group that would lead the insurgency against the Israeli Occupiers. Young Shia revolutionaries who were inspired by the Islamic Revolution in Iran believed that their faith and organisation would achieve their program. Furthermore, the Hezb’allah worldview saw America as the chief threat to Muslim people and claimed that Israel was its “spearhead” to inflict suffering on the Lebanese population. The United Nations was also viewed in a negative light, it had facilitated the imperial ambitions of great powers in Lebanon and didn’t alleviate the suffering of the Muslim population in Lebanon. As such all were denounced as imperialists who must be resisted.
Hezb’allahs resistance was carried out against numerous factions, but the main target was the IDF and Multinational Force (MNF), an international force that had come to the country in order to “stabilise” it and were primarily made from American and French troops. Hezb’allah would strike at the MNF by attacking a US marine barracks, killing 220 Marines it carried out another attack on a French base killed another 58 French paratroopers. The attacks put heavy pressure on the MNF and eventually forced them to retreat out of the country.
The main target of Hezb’allah was the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, it’s attacks were characterised by a deep level of professionalism and careful planning, it’s most deadly attack came in 1982 where a truck filled with explosive was detonated at the Israeli headquarters and intelligence service. 75 Israeli soldiers and officials were killed, the attack was so sudden that for years Israel didn’t know what happened and claimed the explosion was from a gas leakage. Growing unpopularity of the IDF and Hezb’allah carrying out more and more attacks meant by 1985 the Israeli occupiers had retreated to an area that comprised only 10% of Lebanese territory. Furthermore, the Israeli’s were suffering casualties that it had not experienced, an Israeli soldier was dying every three days at this rate.
Lebanon’s Civil War came to an end in the 1990’s with the signing of the Ta’if Accords. All militias agreed to disband other the Hezb’allah who claimed they would not disarm until Israel had left Lebanon. Hezb’allah was instrumental in the Israeli exit from Lebanon in 2000. Widespread celebrations occurred in the South, so much so that the Khaim detention center was having it’s doors ripped down by the local population who sought to free the prisoners.
Fakhoury post 2000
With the Israeli occupation over, Fakhoury fled to Israel, the popular support of Hezb’allah in post war Lebanon troubled him, particularly when SLA members were being tried for their collaboration with Israel. In some areas members of the SLA were beaten but in general they were not seriously hurt. In Israel he sought to apply for political asylum in America, rejected he eventually got citizenship through one of his children. Eventually returning to Lebanon he was forced to go on trial, inmates who had survived his horrific treatment levelled charges against him. He won the case only for the statute of limitations was reached.
America reacted badly to Lebanon holding Fakhoury. American political figures drafted a bill that would unleash sanctions on the Lebanese state for holding Fakhoury. The US also withheld aid to Lebanon, valued at $105 million. Human rights groups in Lebanon were appalled at the clear influence America was having on the military court’s decision. It seemed clear Fakhoury, a man who had credible evidence that he had tortured thousands was set to walk free.
When the military court wanted to retrial him it banned him from travelling for two months, this didn’t stop an American Osprey military helicopter arriving in the US Embassy picked Fakhoury up and brought him back to America much to the confusion of the Lebanese people and state.
Ahmed Fakhoury would die from advanced Lymphoma, justice was prevented and those who were tortured both physically and mentally under him were denied the justice that was owed to them. His story however details the greater injustice that Lebanon has suffered through Imperial exploits.
Lebanon is now facing a deteriorating situation today, the 2006 Lebanon War where Israel invaded the nation a second time destroyed its economy and infrastructure. The Beirut blast has crushed the economic lifeline of the country, the future looks dark for Lebanon and imperialism is to blame.
Norton, A. 2014, Hezbollah: A Short History, Princeton University Press
Smith, C.D. 2017, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict: a history with documents, Ninth edn