Makram Rabah

Fabricating Consent: Al-Mayadeen and the Invasion of Lebanon

Two Lebanese women walk 24 July 1982 in a West Beirut street devastated by Israeli shelling during the "Operation Peace for Galilee". (AFP / Dominique Faget)

First, a disclaimer is in order: I have never been a fan of al-Mayadeen news channel, nor its retro brand of 1970s revolutionary zeal. Its owner and managing director, Tunisian-born journalist Ghassan Ben Jeddo’s – formerly  Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Beirut— colorful shirts and his die-hard bias for the ‘so-called’ forces of resistance across the Middle East further estranged me from this news outlet and its slogan of covering “Reality As It Is.”


Just recently, however, I was intrigued to look up one of its documentaries, entitled “The Invasion of Lebanon,” chronicling the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which ended with the occupation of the first Arab capital, Beirut.


My main interest, however, was not the documentary itself, but rather the reaction of some Lebanese factions over what they believed was a twisting of facts and a cheap attempt to tarnish the reputation of their martyrs. After viewing it, at least the three episodes that have aired to date, the main striking feature is not the documentary’s distortion of events but rather its conscious omission of key facts.


Naturally, the sequence of this production starts by giving a background of the raging civil war that broke out in 1975 going back as far as 1969 and the Cairo agreement, which legitimized the PLO’s presence and gave it the right to carry out operations against Israel from Lebanon. While initially the narrative adopts a typical approach to the Lebanese conflict, the series and its producer Rafik Nasrallah, a dedicated mouthpiece of the Syrian-Iranian axis, slowly seep a hidden or perhaps blatant agenda into the plot.


The main overarching line adopted by the series producers, is that the Israeli invasion in 1982 was not primarily directed against the PLO, but rather against Syria and the Palestinian factions who refused to cooperate with the wheeling dealing Yasser Arafat and thus had to be targeted by Israel.


More importantly, Syria is always portrayed as being altruistic in much of its decisions throughout the Lebanese conflict, only guided by its Arab nationalist principles and its brotherly love for the Lebanese.


This is extremely vivid in the series’ dealing with two main events: the siege and massacre of Tel al-Zaatar Palestinian refugee camp and the assassination of the leader of the anti-Syrian Lebanese National Movement, Kamal Jumblatt.


In both examples, the series fails to mention the crucial and somewhat sinister role Hafez al-Assad and his regime played throughout the battle of Tel al-Zaatar. The right wing Christian militias’ ultimate victory over the besieged camp was made possible through artillery cover provided by the Syrian army, which was masquerading as the Arab Deterrent Force.


Moreover, the assassination of Kamal Jumblatt, a watershed moment in the civil war, is given a very hasty mention while failing to accuse any side of carrying out this crime. Jumblatt’s slaying, as it is commonly recognized by all factions, was due to his strong opposition of the Syrian Army’s entry to Lebanon to bail out the Christian militias in 1976. This position, in addition to his refusal to cooperate with Assad’s Palestinian lackeys— instead supporting the PLO and Arafat, earned him and his two bodyguards a spray of bullets in 1977.


The second main problematic issue that this series brings forth is the resistance against the invading Israeli hordes. According to Nasrallah, the main forces of resistance in the summer of 1982 were composed of the Arab Syrian Army, Palestinian factions loyal to Syria, and the seeds of groups of activists and militants sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, you guessed it: Hezbollah.


By claiming this, the series was giving the aforementioned factions the monopoly of a movement which in reality was the product of a number of groups, but primarily led by the Lebanese Left, i.e. the Lebanese Communist Party and their fellow travelers.


However, the crux of the problem is not in these ridiculous statements but rather the evidence provided to support these claims. Most of the people interviewed throughout the series almost exclusively belong to the pro-Syrian/Iranian camp and thus provide a single ironclad narrative that totally excludes the other.


Second, most of the lineup of interviewees are at best B-rated analysts and politicians who were not at close proximity to the events they claim to have direct knowledge about. In episode two  (time code 10:33) for example, a certain Imad Shouaibi, a Syrian writer and researcher claims that Bashir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, met with the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.


This alleged meeting took place during the 100 day war in which the Syrian army ruthlessly bombed the eastern sector of Beirut in an attempt to subjugate the Christian militias. Bashir, known for his open support for a Lebanese-Israeli alliance, strangely requested Assad’s support for his bid to become the next president of the Lebanese republic. More awkward, however, is that Assad gave his full endorsement to the young militant politician.


Strangely, Shouaibi, who was born in 1961, was only 17-years-old when this meeting took place and there is no reason whatsoever for him to have been briefed of this meeting by any of the senior Syrian regime members at that time.


The craft of writing history is always a perilous and challenging task, which is seldom satisfactory to either sides, even when the historian or in this case the producer employs a clear methodology that relies on unquestionable sources. However, by allowing such a poorly-produced and skewed account of the Israeli invasion to air, al-Mayadeen has perhaps affirmed the following: The Syrian-Iranian axis accusation of employing a policy of exclusion and harboring a project that aims at distorting the history and legacy of the region is true.


Second and most importantly, those who still remain within the ranks of the Lebanese Communist Party, who view Hezbollah as a continuation of their early struggle against Israel and the West, are harshly reminded that in the history Iran and its allies are drafting, no place is reserved for them in the past nor the future.


Makram Rabah is a PhD candidate at Georgetown University’s history department. He is the author of “A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967–1975.”

Two Lebanese women walk 24 July 1982 in a West Beirut street devastated by Israeli shelling during the "Operation Peace for Galilee". (AFP / Dominique Faget)

the main striking feature is not the documentary’s distortion of events but rather its conscious omission of key facts."

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Also, your claim that pro-government forces' victory over the Tal Zaatar Palestinian terrorist camp was made possible by Syrian army artillery reeks just like Mayadeen's archaic left-wing zealots. You repeat it like a parrot because you read it perhaps somewhere in the writings of Itamar Rabinowich and other Assad-nostalgia consorts, yet its real aim is to discredit the pro-government nationalist forces that protected Lebanon against Palestinians and Syrians, who suddenly today are your own worst enemies. You were not in Tal Zaatar. Some of us were. Shouldn't the PhD teach you some objectivity?

    February 20, 2016

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    You yourself make equally preposterous, unsubstantiated, ridiculous claims. The most egregious is your attribution to the Communist Party of a significant share of the so-called "resistance". You choose to omit that the Communist Party was, prior to Amal and Hezbollah, the only channel of action for Lebanon's Shiites in the South. It was the failure of the Communist Party and the rise of Iran that pushed the Shiites to flee the Communist Party en masse and join the Iranian puppet militias. Finally, and I am skipping many of your claims, two points about Tal Zaatar. First, please find some intellectual integrity to stop labeling the pro-government nationalist forces (Kataeb, Ahrar, Guardians of the Cedars, Lebanese Army, Tanzim etc.) as "right wing Christian militias". Perhaps it is your ignorance combined with your training in the den of American Zionism that makes you follow in the tradition of a Western press that was bent then on thrashing the Lebanese nationalist forces that stood in defense of the State against its dismantling by foreigners (Syria, Palestinians) and their local puppets (Lebanese Sunnis, Druze, nascent Islamists and other assorted savages and terrorists). If the history of the Lebanese War tells us anything, with the benefit of hindsight, it is the irony of how those who rose against the State (Sunnis, Druze, Palestinians, later joined by Shiites) today brandish the same slogans that the nationalist pro-government forces then espoused (no to foreigners, Lebanon first, sovereignty, no to Palestinian freedom of action, divorcing Lebanon from the Israeli-Arab conflict, etc...).

    February 20, 2016