Local News Archive
Print Issue: July 4, 1985
War-Torn Lebanon Defies Solution
By Msgr. Noel C. Burtenshaw
Jimmy Palmer was the first hostage to be released. His captors let him go on humanitarian grounds; he has a heart condition. As he returned alone to Germany and then to his home in Arkansas, he was asked what is going on in the Middle East nation we know as Lebanon. He simply responded in frustration, I really dont know.
It was a brief answer and not very informative, but it is an answer that many native Lebanese would also give. We had the opportunity to confront three men who are natives of Lebanon last week and they are totally frustrated as they try to explain the chaotic condition of that tiny coastal Mideastern nation that was, just a few short years ago, the playground of the millionaires and the jewel of commerce for that area.
Now, said William Fakhoury who, along with his father, Wadith Fakhoury, is visiting Atlanta, it is in chaos and many of the cities are in rubble. It is a very sad turn of events.
The Fakhourys were visiting Monsignor William Haddad, Melkite pastor of St. Johns parish in Atlanta. Monsignor Haddad, who was born in Lebanon, is a relative of the Fakhourys.
The Fakhourys are natives of Sidon which is a city about 45 miles south of Beirut. They have been merchants in that seaside city for 50 years.
It was a wonderful place to live, says the handsome young William, who is a business executive. But in a matter of just a few years everything has gone. When the Israelis invaded and the bombing began, my family had to go to the mountains and leave everything. Now we are back, but things are very different.
The difference is that the Shiite Muslims are armed and no one knows just who is in charge or where the center of authority is.
William Fakhoury, who is 30, grew up in Sidon and although Christians are a minority in that city remembers getting along with Moslem friends and neighbors very well. There was even inter-marriage, says William. Moslems resented Christian rulers since they feel that only Moslems should rule Moslems, but there was peace and ordinary living.
Then what happened?
It began, says William, 10 years ago when the Palestinians were welcomed to our country. The camps were setup. We had one just south of Sidon. Sidon is only 100 miles from the Israeli border. The difficulties began.
In 1983 Israel, after many reprisal bombings of the Palestinian camps, invaded Lebanon. While the Palestinian problem was silenced, the Moslems now rose up.
For many years, they felt left out, says William. Nabih Berri, who is much in the news with the American hostages, has for years been attempting to get recognition for himself and the Shiites he represents.
But the plot only thickened at this point and many more complications immediately followed. There was a complete breakdown in central government, says William Fakhoury. President (Amin) Gemayei was ignored, the Syrians invaded along with Israel and every other division of the Moslem community claimed independence from each other and everyone else.
The Fakhourys, mother, father, two brothers and a sister, saw the chaos develop as they were forced from their home and their familiar neighborhood. The Moslems-Sunni, Druse, Shiite and Palestinian -- all became suspicious of each other. Recently, war broke out between the Shiite and the Palestinian camps. Add to this the new emergence of the Khomeini influence and what have you. It is too much, too much.
Wadih Fakhoury was a respected businessman in Sidon. He speaks very little English, but said in Arabic through his son that his Moslem neighbors had protected his property while he and his family took refuge in the mountains. But his business was destroyed and he has little hope it will revive in the near future.
I am preparing to leave Lebanon for good, says William. It is the very last thing I want to do, but I see very little hope soon in my country. I believe that nothing peaceful will happen in the Middle East until the Palestinians have a homeland. I have some hopes that Jordan and Egypt will be successful in negotiating with Israel. That will have to be first. Then maybe other settlements will take place. But right now I want to leave it there and get on with my life. Many other young people feel the same.
Monsignor William Haddad produced a letter he had received from his Melkite Archbishop, Joseph Tawil. It spoke of the turmoil and suffering of the people as they became refugees in their own nation. One part said, The disaster is so devastating that nothing in the past can be compared to it. For the first time in our long history the faith of all Christianity in the Middle East is terribly shaken and places in sharp focus the question of its very existence before the conscience of an indifferent and silent world. What is at stake is the survival of this Christianity which goes back to the Apostles. Shall it continue to exist or shall it disappear as it did in North Africa?
The letter further said that the seminary which trained Melkite priests in Lebanon has been seized and 25 to 30 villages have been vacated by the Christian inhabitants, while their churches were bulldozed.
St. Johns parish was offering special prayer on Sunday for the disaster of their Lebanese homeland and sending special offerings to assist with the refugees.
The Fakhourys are returning to Sidon. William will continue to work his international computer company. His brother and sister may also leave the land of their birth. Even as the American hostages of the TWA flight find their freedom and there is a happy ending to that incident, the unhappiness of the Lebanese people continues without letup.