Lebanon Should Welcome Refugees From Syria

Article Summary
Lebanon needs to unite in embracing Syrian refugees and take a more active role in finding a resolution to the Syrian crisis, writes Edmund Saab, who argues that the current government policy of distancing itself from the crisis will eventually create divisions among the Lebanese people.

The policy of “distancing itself” from the Syrian crisis seems to have brought relief to the Lebanese government, because it gives many excuses to be idle, inefficient, and even irresponsible. The best proof of that is the scandal involving spoiled meat and food products which were being offered to the Lebanese people in supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels, without any inspection or supervision. However, the Lebanese people, of different backgrounds and orientations, did not abide by this policy. They were not able to distance themselves from the thousands of innocent Syrian victims who have been paying the price of their demands for freedom, democracy, dignity, justice, and human rights with their lives, blood, and property every single day for the last year.

Whatever the position of some Lebanese segments toward the Syrian regime, they can only sympathize with the victims, who, in the end, are their neighbors and brothers, family, loved ones, and partners in good and bad times.
But empathy alone is not enough, especially when there are parties encouraging murder and pushing toward sedition and civil wars. Here, the Lebanese are required to look at the Syrians as one people not as a group of tribes – as are the Lebanese – and should feel sad for the victim regardless of political, sectarian, or confessional identity.

Here arises the importance of rejecting the idea of Lebanon distancing itself from the Syrian crisis in order to prevent dangers to the Syrian people, and not to pit Syrians against one another, whether in the name of politics or religion. All the Lebanese people, both Muslim and Christian, must embrace those who have escaped the hell of murder, bombardment, and destruction without discrimination over faith or religion. This is because the Syrian people never hesitated to help and embrace the Lebanese of all sects and walks of life during the years of hardship between 1975 and 1990. In the war of July 2006, those who escaped its hell were fully welcomed by the Syrians.

It is sad to see the Syrian “refugees” in Lebanon take refuge within certain Lebanese sectarian groups for political reasons, whether in the North or the Bekaa, rather than being embraced for national and humanitarian reasons.

Furthermore, the Lebanese government – whose apparatuses under [late Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri’s governments have wasted grants and aid, and was implicated in an $11 billion scandal – is today asked not to distance itself with regard to the provision of necessary funds for the Higher Relief Council, to provide food, medical, and even educational aid for the Syrians who have crossed the border into Lebanon, sometimes “naked and barefoot”, while only carrying necessary supplements. They do so hoping to receive aid and shelter from their brothers on the other side of the border, while realizing how the crisis in their country has affected the situation in Lebanon.

The Lebanese have been divided among themselves even before the outbreak of the Syrian events. They have been drawn further apart by these events and the different positions taken toward them – whether they support the regime, back the rebels, or even want to provide them with money, arms, and political support. Thus, they should have seen in the Syrian plight an incentive to unite, if not in an effort to help the Syrian people sit around a dialogue table similar to Taif then at least over providing relief and assistance to the refugees. They should work toward this instead of working toward fomenting the internal conflict and helping to tear apart Syrian society and undermine the unity of the state. This would delight the enemies of Syria and Arabs, namely Israel and the United States and their Arab and foreign allies.

If the policy of distancing itself has so far succeeded in preventing the spread of the Syrian crisis into Lebanon, this may not last long and will, above all, threaten the national unity and increase division among the Lebanese.

Also, the unity of the country would be threatened by the takfiris [Muslims declaring other Muslims as infidels] who have infiltrated the army, and if those who have rejected dialogue refuse to sit around the discussion table called for by President Michel Suleiman. The situation calls for holding a dialogue, in which the only item to discuss should be not the weapons of Hezbollah, nor the national defense strategy, but the struggle over Syria and Lebanon's role in helping bring fast solutions and easing the suffering of the Syrians.

And there should be no disagreement among the Lebanese on the ways to alleviate the sufferings of the Syrian people. They should make the Syrian people feel that the Lebanese people, of all sects, sympathize with them and their right to freedom, reform, democracy and fighting corruption. This empathy is addressed to the Syrian people, scores of whom are dying every day as a result of the intransigence and ferocity of the authority, the fragmentation of the opposition, and the armed infiltrations in its ranks by foreign political parties and intelligence personnel, most of whom do not wish good for Syria.

It is shameful that the Syrian issue has become a controversial and divisive element among the Lebanese, at a time when the Syrian tragedy is shaking the consciences of strangers and foreigners, like UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who said on March 20 during his visit to Indonesia that “the situation in Syria has become an unacceptable and intolerable situation. We have no time to waste, no time to lose, because one minute, one hour of delay will mean more and more people dead." The number of the dead has exceeded 8,000 in one year.

Ban Ki-moon has called on the international community to “speak in one voice”. He added: “If we are unable to come to a decision at the United Nations, it does not mean that the suffering of the Syrian people should continue.” It is shameful that divergence, division, and “distancing oneself” are still the bases for the dealing with the issue among the Lebanese.

And we feel even more ashamed of the Lebanese and Arabs for allowing Syria to burn, without any effort to help or provide aid. To the contrary, some are pouring oil over the fire, such as when we read the story of how French photographer William Daniels and the wounded Le Figaro reporter Edith Bouvier departed from Syria to Lebanon through Bab Amr via tunnels, mainly a 160-cm diameter unused water pipeline which extends over a distance of four kilometers into Syrian territory.

After crossing to Lebanon and leaving with Bouvier for France, Daniels told Time magazine: “What worries me and makes me feel deeply uncomfortable is that the ordeal of four Western journalists, two of whom were killed in the bombing of Bab Amr, has gripped world attention, while hundreds of residents in Bab Amr have died without any one really caring. And the carnage continues in other parts of Syria”.

In testimony to the courage and tenacity of the Syrian people, Daniels said: “The real story is not us, it's the Syrian people. It is, unfortunately, a story that cannot be told in full, and where mourning the victim is punished with death”.

He tells us that the value of the Arab human being is at stake!

With the possibility of the events in Syria transforming into “the war of others” on its territory, where major countries would be present through intermediaries at the expense of the blood, souls, and livelihoods of the Syrians, we remember the Vietnam War, and how US Commanding General William Westmoreland, when asked what 600,000 US soldiers were doing, responded arrogantly: “We are trying our new weapons!"  A rebel in the Viet Cong guerrilla army who was asked about the secret of the suicide operations waged by the rebels against  US forces said: “If I die in an operation against the US occupier, I would only lose my weight on a steelyard. Man has no value if deprived of justice, dignity, sovereignty, and independence”.

Till when will the Lebanese ostrich keep its head buried in the sand?

Found in: syrian refugees, syrian crisis, syrian, refugees, proxy wars, lebanon, lebanese politics, lebanese policy, lebanese-syrian relations, human rights

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