Lebanon-Syria Border Towns Ravaged by Sectarianism
By: Saada Oulwa Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
Um Amer, a woman in her fifties, is responsible for a Free Syrian Army unit in the Syrian town of Jossie. She came to the Lebanese town of Arsal through Mashari’ al-Qaa, across the border. With her was her eldest son, who was wounded during a battle that ended with the Syrian army taking control of her area.
About This Article
The Lebanese-Syrian border crackles with Sunni-Shiite tension as a result of the war in Syria, writes Saada Oulwa. She met residents of area villages and shares their stories of displacement and isolation, saying that Syria is not what it used to be.Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
The Lebanese-Syrian Brotherhood is Bleeding on The Sykes-Picot Borders. 60 Km of Open Borders: The Syrian Interior Emulates Lebanese Sectarianism
Author: Saada Oulwa
First Published: October 30, 2012
Translated by: Rani Geha
Laila Jaafar, fully armed, takes up position in a rocky outpost in her hometown of Jermash, which is inside Syria but inhabited by Lebanese citizens. Laila has been doing guard duty for nearly a year.
What separates Um Amer from Laila is not just the fact that their rifles are pointed at each other. There are 60 km of Lebanese-Syrian border separating Jermash from Arsal. Sectarian tensions are no longer restricted to Lebanon, and the Syrians can no longer assume that they are free from sectarianism.
Um Amer and Laila are separated by one legal crossing point, located in the Qaa area. The borders are uncontrolled. There are many crossings in the mountains, open plains and forests.
There has ben a history of smuggling here since the Sykes-Picot division that split the land and people, leaving about 30,000 Lebanese inside Syria. There is now a flourishing border economy that meets the needs of hundreds of families and benefits the smugglers on both sides.
Um Amer reached Arsal as part of a group that claimed to be the last to leave Jossie after the Sunni villages in the Qusair countryside fell into the hands of the Syrian army.
Displaced Syrian Sunnis and rebels use Mashari’ al-Qaa to reach Arsal. The wounded who had fled were taken to hospitals in the north through the town of Hermel, while the women and children joined about 12,000 displaced Syrians in Arsal. The fighters are staying in secret hideouts on the border.
The next day, the fighters got an opportunity to sneak back into Syria. There were reports that they were killed in an ambush set by the Syrian army. Um Amer says that 30 children were orphaned in a single night.
In the preface to his autobiography Living to Tell the Tale, author Gabriel Garcia Marquez says that “life is not what we live, but what we remember and how we remember it in order to tell a tale.”
Um Amer tells what she remembers. And Laila tells what she remembers since the Syrian events started. The people of Arsal and those displaced from the Sunni villages from the Qusair countryside also tell the tale of what they remember.
Arsal, al-Nazaria, al-Aatifiah, Jossie and other Syrian towns have told their tales, and so have the Lebanese living in the Shiite belt, which extends from al-Mashrafiah in the basin of the Orontes River in the Mashari’ al-Qaa area to Wadi al-Aarayis and Bawabat Jermash, the Syrian village inhabited by Lebanese.
They claim to have taken up arms in self defense after they found themselves helpless in the face of attacks by insurgents invading the area.
The Shiite belt extends from Jermash to al-Mashrafiah and is made up of 23 villages and towns of various sizes. The Shiite belt has pockets inhabited by other sects, but that had never been an issue. Those inhabitants used to be part of the social fabric, and there were intermarriages and kinship, just as Lebanese and Syrian Shiites did in majority Sunni areas.
But now, sectarianism is separating the villages in the Shiite belt. Demarcation lines are being drawn between them, as happened in Lebanon and Iraq.
Unlike ordinary people, the Lebanese political forces can promote the stories that suit their interests, benefiting from the uncontrolled 60 km border. Some say that Hezbollah is fighting alongside the Syrian regime. Others give examples of weapons smuggling and of Syrian and Lebanese militants being sent back to Syria to fight the Syrian army.
All this is happening while the official Lebanese “dissociation” policy is in effect. This policy seems to only apply to the Lebanese military and security forces in the area.
Syria is not what it used to be. Fatima is a Shiite woman from al-Sakmaniah who is married to a Sunni from Saqirjah. She can no longer visit her father’s home, which militants from Saqirjah hit with a shell, rendering it unsuitable for habitation.
Fatima will not soon be seeing her villages’ girls who married men from Saqirjah. The events have broken the bonds between the two sides. The rifles of hatred have replaced the wedding rings of love. Barriers have been established between the two sides. Earth mounds have closed roads and illegal “shortcuts” between the two countries.
Syria is not what it used to be. And the lives of the Lebanese and Syrians living there are also not what they used to be. Perhaps things will never go back to the way they were, especially if the Syrian wound is closed in the same way the Lebanese one was.
Each person tells a different story. As-Safir is now visiting the border stretching from Arsal in the northern Bekaa to Mashari’ al-Qaa — passing through al-Mashrafiah, Zaita, al-Aaqrabiah and the Syrian town of Akroum — and will be reporting on the people’s experiences there.
|Back to news list|