24 March 2010

20 years after its civil war ended, Lebanon remains a byword for conflict. The war which ebbed and flowed between 1975 and 1990 left hundreds of thousands dead, at least a million injured (many with serious disabilities), and gave birth to Hezbollah. Tonight, as part of the MyWar season, FACT is showing West Beirut, Ziad Doueiri's award winning 1998 film about life in Beirut during the early months of the conflict.
\r\n
The roots of the Lebanese civil war are firmly set in the fractious modern history of the Middle East. Lebanon had seemed a model for the region in 1946, achieving independence from a French mandate without violence, and under a constitution which shared power between different religious groups. But the violent birth of Israel saw an influx of Palestinian refugees into Southern Lebanon, and the creation of the Jewish state raised tensions among Lebanon's Arab neighbours. When Syria and Egypt came together as the United Arab Republic in 1958, armed factions within Lebanon sought to force their government to follow suit. It required the deployment of 14,000 American troops, and the resignation of Lebanon's Christian, pro-Western president, to avoid an immediate civil war.
\r\n
Over the following two decades, Lebanon seemed to enjoy a period of peace and prosperity, but a slow build up to civil war had already begun. The 1958 crisis had encouraged the development of armed militias, affiliated with different political parties, and in the mid-1960s Palestinian guerrillas began to use Southern Lebanon as a base for attacks on Israel. 
\r\n
When King Hussein forcibly expelled the Palestinian Liberation Organisation from Jordan in 1971, driving more PLO fighters into Southern Lebanon, the PLO began to establish a state-within-a-state, exercising de facto control over a large swathe of Southern Lebanon as a base for attacks on Israel. 
\r\n
Although itself a fractious confederation of competing groups - the inspiration for the splintered Jewish resistance fighters in Monty Python's "The Life of Brian" - the umbrella PLO had a secular, socialist agenda, which allowed it to make common cause with socialist and anti-Western factions opposed to Lebanon's government. In the midst of the Cold War, Lebanon was nudged towards becoming one more proxy conflict between east and west.
\r\n
Clashes in the early 1970s between the PLO's member organisations and pre-dominantly Christian militias supporting the Lebanese government, and increasing pressure from the neighbouring Arab states which had forced Lebanon to accept the presence of the PLO in the first place, further undermined the already weakened government. For its part, Israel conducted retaliatory strikes into Lebanon in response to PLO attacks, and began to make connections with anti-PLO factions.
\r\n
When it finally came, the specific trigger of the Lebanese Civil War was almost a formality. Four members of the family of Pierre Gemayel, leader of the Christian Kataeb Party, were gunned down in East Beirut. In response, supporters of Kataeb attacked a bus filled with members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, killing 26 of them. 
\r\n
It was 13 April, 1975.
\r\n\r\n