Cablegate: Lebanon: On Civil War Anniversary, Civil Society

DE RUEHLB #0520/01 1071445
P 161445Z APR 08





E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (SBU) April 13 marked the 33rd anniversary of the outbreak
of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war and a number of civil
society organizations marked the occasion with public events.
Commemorative events have been held in the past, but this
year's events are drawing more participants and public
attention than before, which some link to anxiety resulting
from the current political impasse. The range of programs was
extensive: a photography exhibit and reception with family
members whose loved ones "disappeared" during the civil war,
a lecture about international experiences with post-war truth
and reconciliation committees, a march with hundreds of
participants along the former "Green Line," an exhibit
displaying political posters from the civil war period, and a
week-long outdoor artistic downtown event which gives average
Lebanese citizens an opportunity to give voice to their war
memories. These events reflect the growing strength of civil
society, concern feel about the current political vacuum and
the desire to avoid another civil war, and the long-term need
for reconciliation and remembrance initiatives to promote
societal healing. End Summary.

Searching for Answers

2. (SBU) One conference participant summarized this surge of
events eloquently. "There are unhealed wounds in the
Lebanese psyche which are being exacerbated by the current
political instability. The amnesty laws of the 1990's failed
to deal with war crimes in a meaningful way and we see the
perpetrators of these crimes every day on TV because they are
still in power. We don't want a repeat of the civil war in
order to settle grudges, but we do want answers." Some
family members also told us that the Special Tribunal for
Rafik Hariri's murder has overshadowed effort to find justice
for "the ordinary people of Lebanon."

3. (SBU) Another important theme emerged, which is the need
to educate Lebanese youth on what the civil war really meant.
There have been recent violent street skirmishes between
youth from opposing political parties. Those who lived
through the civil war want the youth (many of them born since
the end of the civil war) to fully understand the
ramifications of their actions during this vulnerable period
in Lebanon.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
"Missing" Exhibit a Personal Experience for the Families
--------------------------------------------- -----------

4. (SBU) The Umam Documentation and Research Center, run by
independent Shia activist Lokman Slim (reftel) and his wife
Monika Borgmann, is an NGO founded in 2004 to deal with
Lebanon's civil war memories. With a belief that an act of
parliament or the Taef Accords are unable to adequately
"close the files" on war crimes, Umam has an ambitious
program in 2008 to "respectfully examine the past." Umam is
also committed to archiving primary sources of information,
including posters, pamphlets and first-person interviews,
which document Lebanon's past. (Note: Youth leaders have
also raised this issue with the Charge. There is no single,
objective source of information which is used in Lebanese
schools to discuss the country's modern history. The history
texts used in Lebanese private and public schools stop in
1943. End Note.)

5. (SBU) The "Missing" photography event was put together by
Umam staff, who visited with the family members of hundreds
of Lebanese citizens who disappeared during the civil war.
Umam staff told us that putting the exhibition together was
an emotional experience. Families longed to share stories
about their loved ones and were eager to donate large amounts
of documents on the cases to the Umam archives. On April 10,
over 500 people gathered for the gala opening of the exhibit.
The majority of the attendees were women: the mothers,
wives, sisters and daughters of the disappeared. Many
approached the Charge to share with her their personal
stories. One of the most striking aspects was also the
diversity of the crowd. Though Lokman Slim is an independent
Shia, the majority of the missing victims were Sunni and
Christian. Slim has told us that he places national issues
before confessional identification and this exhibit showed

BEIRUT 00000520 002 OF 003

that his words are backed up by action.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
Lecture Focuses on Truth and Reconciliation Experiences
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (SBU) In conjunction with the "Missing" exhibit, Umam
partnered with the German Embassy and the International
Center for Transitional Justice for a lecture on the truth
and reconciliation models followed in Germany and South
Africa. The German Ambassador to Lebanon, Hansjorg Haber,
spoke eloquently on Germany's painful and long-term process
of coming to terms with the Holocaust.

7. (SBU) Haber was followed by Dr. Alan Boraine, former Vice
President of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation
Committee. Boraine stressed that each country's experience
would be unique, but Lebanon was clearly in a "transitional
phase" as it emerges from civil war and Syrian occupation and
seeks to successfully transform the nation's institutions
democratically. He called for accountability, in order to
provide family members with the answers they had been seeking
for years. He also called for institutional reform, which he
defined as ensuring that the state and government were of
service to the entire nation without discrimination. He also
urged the government of Lebanon to "take responsibility for
the victims." Boraine said the GOL should help educate
orphans, provide services to fractured families and take the
lead in planning and funding a national memorial for war
victims. Boraine also announced that his current
organization, the International Center for Transitional
Justice, had opened an office in Beirut to help the Lebanese
nation work through the complex truth and reconciliation

--------------------------------------------- -------
Hizballah Allows Memorial March Along the Green Line
--------------------------------------------- -------

8. (SBU) On April 13, hundreds of Lebanese citizens marched
to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the outbreak of the
civil war. Opposition supporters, who have been camped in
tents in the downtown area for more than 16 months, raised
their barricades to allow the march to peacefully proceed
along the "Green Line," which divided Christian and Muslim
neighborhoods during the civil war. The march ended when the
group planted an olive tree symbolizing peace in one of the
city's public gardens. Local staff tell us that
commemorative events have been held in the past, but that the
2008 events, such as this march, are drawing more
participants and public attention than ever before.
According to the march organizer, Melham Khalaf, "We are
going through a phase in which the whole country feels in
danger. This is a turning point for Lebanese civil society."

--------------------------------------------- --
Political Posters Viewed as "Signs of Conflict"
--------------------------------------------- --

9. (SBU) An American University of Beirut professor, Dr.
Zeina Masri, has assembled an exhibit which focuses on the
political posters produced by warring factions during the
civil war. According to Masri, the graphic signs became a
regular part of life for Lebanese citizens as political
parties strove to legitimize their battle for power and
territorial control. The exhibit is being praised for
visually articulating the desires, fears and collective
memory of this period. Most striking, perhaps, is that
Hizballah lent posters from its own archive to be displayed
as "works on loan" during the exhibit, which is on display at
Beirut's "Planet Discovery" science museum in the Solidere
neighborhood renovated by late PM Rafiq Hariri.

Unique Image Draws Crowd in Downtown

10. (SBU) A display of 600 toilets in a downtown Beirut
empty lot has generated considerable public attention in
Lebanon. This installation is part of a week-long program
titled "Isn't 15 years in the toilet enough? and sponsored
by the Lebanese Association for Hman Rights, with quiet
financial support from AI/OTI. During the civil war, often
the bathroom was the only location in a family home secure
from flying bullets and shrapnel. People spent long periods
of time during the 15 year conflict huddled in that room and
the "seating" provided by the exhibit's toilets are meant to
physically remind people of that experience. During the

BEIRUT 00000520 003 OF 003

opening ceremony on April 13, attended by the Charge and
Special Assistant, moving and personal testimonies on the
civil war were shared. The crowd listened silently as one
Shia participant rose to admit that he had been part of the
armed militias which had split apart the country. He
admitted that he had injured and killed some of his neighbors
and he publicly asked for forgiveness. The crowd gave him a
warm round of applause and many guests said that Lebanon
needed more of these personal and local acts of contrition.

11. (SBU) Another guest spoke at length with the Charge about
his family's experience. His father and his cousin
disappeared during the war and had been featured in the
"Missing" exhibit. He said that he was able to condone
General Aoun's civil war behavior because at least he had
been following a soldier's code of conduct. However, he said
that he could not understand how Walid Jumblatt and Samir
Geagea, who led militias accused of human rights abuses
during the war, continue to be received as national leaders
by the international community. He added that it was
extremely difficult to listen to these leaders in the press
every day, knowing their backgrounds, and he said that it
would be in the best interest of Lebanon if they would step
aside and let younger members speak for the Jumblatt and
Geagea constituencies. Interestingly, he said he had nothing
against the Hariri family and the Future Party. His "dream
solution" would be to have Aoun and Hariri unite to lead
Lebanon in the future -- a scenario which seems highly


12. (SBU) Lebanese civil society does seem to be spreading
its wings this spring, after long years spent under Syrian
repression and after recovering from the shock of the 2006
war. Post will be exploring ways to support this
reconciliation and remembrance work in the future. Most of
the events and exhibits have taken place in Beirut, but it
will be important for these exhibits to travel throughout the
country in an effort to continue this important dialogue.
End Comment.

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