Alex Rowell

Innocent Syrians pay the price for Aounists’ bigotry

 A man walks through a torched refugee camp in the Beqaa Valley in December 2013

I personally made the plan to encircle Tel az-Zaatar and liberate it […] The siege lasted 52 days, I think, and the Palestinians weren’t leaving […] Eventually, it was getting boring and irritating so they removed the camp. There might have been some transgressions […]”


That was General Michel Aoun’s casual description, as recounted to Al Jazeera, of his role in the famous 1976 siege of the Tel az-Zaatar refugee camp, the end result of which, David Hirst writes in Beware of Small States, was some 3,500 Palestinian men, women and children killed; “between 1,000 and 2,000 of them after the camp had fallen, crushed under bulldozers, shot and hacked to death, or finished off by militiamen.”


It’s the kind of anecdote that casts a perpetually ironic shadow over Aoun’s 2006 Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah, and is always worth recalling when you hear the MoU described as some kind of enlightened breakthrough for communal harmony – a “remarkable” example of “Christian[s] and Muslims working together for a united Lebanon,” as a hopelessly hoodwinked Terry Waite put it not long ago.


Indeed, while it’s by no means straightforward to identify Lebanon’s most sectarian Christian party – recall that the dreadful Orthodox Gathering electoral law proposal had enthusiastic, bipartisan Christian support – the Aounists have certainly contended harder than most for the title in recent years (as even the likes of Asaad AbuKhalil are beginning to notice).


As if to seal the deal, on Sunday former telecoms minister Nicolas Sehnaoui and his comrade Ziad Abs – both of whom are often touted even by March 14ers as exemplifying the polished, respectable face of the Free Patriotic Movement – took to the mic to declare the era of playing nice with the Syrian refugees over for good.


Picking up where their colleague, the new Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil last left off (“Syrians already in Lebanon should be deported […] What is happening [is a plot] to change the demography of the country”), Sehnaoui and Abs explained that the refugees’ already-alarming designs on Lebanon had overstepped the final frontier of tolerability. From the “barracks” of their sodden tents, the job-stealing, gun-toting invaders have at last arrived, with their veiled wives and daughters, to – quelle horreur! – the doorsteps of Ashrafieh itself. His proposed solution, reports as-Safir, involves sealing the border, enforcing an 8pm curfew for all Syrians in the area, and creating a nightly security patrol force, “especially in the places Syrians gather."


It’s obviously pointless to note that no evidence exists linking the refugee influx with higher crime, or that the only major act of violence to have occurred in Ashrafieh since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis was the car bombing of the March 14 ally, Wissam al-Hassan – a brazen murder of a senior policemen for which Sehnaoui held no indignant press conference at the time.


Indeed, the tragic thing about this kind of crude incitement is it really works with the constituents (don’t be surprised if, feeling the squeeze, a March 14 Christian tries to one-up Sehnaoui’s act next weekend). But it ought to go without saying it’s also abhorrently inhumane. It isn’t just that sealing the border would be, as rights groups are often forced to repeat, a violation of international law. Innocent Syrians in Lebanon have already suffered far too many unprovoked physical assaults, fuelled by precisely the bigotry and misinformation peddled by Sehnaoui and Abs on Sunday. (Recall, for example, the torching of a camp in December after false allegations of rape, or the secret beatings in October 2012 of Syrian labourers by the army in Ashrafieh itself, as I witnessed with my own eyes while crouching next to NOW’s Raphael Thelen, who first broke the story.) It’s only a matter of time before more xenophobic violence occurs, and when it does, Sehnaoui and his friends will bear a part of the responsibility.

Refugees have already faced a series of unprovoked assaults in Lebanon (AFP)

It’s only a matter of time before more xenophobic violence occurs, and when it does, Sehnaoui and his friends will bear a part of the responsibility."

  • Jihanek

    This is really non-sense! Why exactly are we supposed to welcome all the refugees?! Human rights?? Really??? What about the 40% poor lebanese population? Who are taking care of them?? You????? Words, articles and blindness like these are destroying the country!!! The palestinians will never go back so do the syrians!! So what will we do? What our children will do?? Will they have a place to stay?? Yes they are innocent and civilians, but we can have a strategy to welcoming them! They are taking the lebanese work and the lebanese homes and no one is helping us! Where are the rich countries why they dont welcome and help them??! Dear alex, please speak rational and not from ur political blindness (which is so obvious) because we have a country to win or to lose and it is far more important than parties, politics and seats! We should preserve this country to our children! Thank you

    March 20, 2014

  • Jihanek

    Articles, words and blindness like this have destroyed lebanon... Why should Lebanon welcome all the refugees, can u explain?!human rights? Really? What about the 40% poor lebanese people? Who help them? You???? why rich countries do not bear what we bear? Can u stop ur political blindness and see what we will happen to lebanon in the future?? The palestinians will never return and the syrians as well, what about our children,will they stay in lebanon where there is no more place for lebanese??? Dear alex, You are apparently living safely in ur country to criticizing people and deputies talking on our behalf!! Yes we need a strategy, yes we have to do something because we do not want to leave but we want a place to stay!! Do you know that syrians are now taking the jobs of a lot of lebanese?? Do you know that syriana are now living in places of a lot of lebanese?? Apparently not!!! You dont know anythg!! Yes we want to help, yes they are innocent and paying the price but there is a way and strategy to do so!!! So please stop ur non sense comments unless u and people like u are willing to pay the price

    March 20, 2014

  • Anthony Zayek

    How is asking for closing the borders is bigotry? Lebanon, this tiny country, has to welcome all refugees that other countries like the US, England, Saudi Arabia, Israel.... work on making refugees with their wicked inhuman plans? Palestinians, Syrians, Irakis, what next? You are a Britsih aren't you? Well grab the hands of these Syrian refugees and take them to your England, or ask your government to take them. Best of all is the "tonzir" (ask someone to translate it for you), but what about real facts of everyday's life, fact that our country is barely enough for us, with its limited resources be it electricity, water, job opportunities... If the war in Syria stops this minute, it will take years for these refugees to go back, until then, how will Lebanon survive? When Gebran Bassil talked about this issue, he was called by "mounazirin" like yourself a racist and a heartless man, few months later, every single politician was having the same speech, including many of 14 March politicians. But of course, coming from Bassil or Sehnaoui, it has a different flavor, doesn't it, because you guys have the aounophobia, sooo scared of what this party and its men represent. Well hard luck, live with it. Oh and... stop your tonzir and do something about it.

    March 19, 2014

  • rawadrizk

    Alex, I am not sure if you are american or british . Doesn't matter you seem to share the views of your government which they are based on 0 understanding of situations in other countries. If you read the history of the civil war in Lebanon and especially the Tal el Zaatar camp, you will understand that the refugees who were welcomed back then decided to hold weapons against Lebanese and on Lebanese soil, their famous slogan " road to Palestine goes through Jounieh ". Your country probably supported the Israeli invasion of Palestine and they have more blood on their hands than any lebanese. At least we were defending our country against militias who were committing al kind of crimes near tel el zaatar camp . What is your excuse ? As for the syrian refugees , I suggest you read the World Bank report. 40% of prisoners are syrians. Every single bombing involves a syrian which is supported by your government who wants to spread " democracy" in the region like they did in Iraq and Afghanistan and many other countries. So please spare me your hypocrisy and before you insult a large portion of citizens in a country that is on the verge of a disaster due to the syrian refugees crisis , ask your government how many refugees they have. 200 ? We have 2 M.

    March 19, 2014

  • za fox

    A very biased article full of hatred and poison aiming unsuccessfuly at tarnishing Lebanon's most transparent and honest politician ever, meaning General Michel Aoun.

    March 19, 2014

  • DanyChemaly

    1) if you could be so kind as to post the link to the while quote you mentioned in the beginning of your article and not paraphrase and cut according to your will. We wouldn't want people to ever question your credibility. ;) 2) Syrians in Lebanon have been mostly met with open arms. Clearly there have been instances of bigotry but that was also happening before the Syrian war even started and if you look at the history of those incidents you would clearly see that neither FPM nor any of it's followers had anything to do with it. 3) Instead of writing an article that is presumptuous at best, maybe it would be better to start looking for solutions. I can point you in the direction of Jordan and Turkey. If Lebanese are calling to close the border because Syrian refugees have exceeded 25% of population (very conservative estimate), maybe you should call the UN and rights groups towards these other countries for violation of international law. Go count number of Syrian refugees there. Lebanese have suffered enough from Palestinian refugee problems and although we were doing and still are doing more than our share to harbor and look after refugees it is the responsibility of all neighboring countries and international communities to help with the division of Syrian refugees according to how much the countries can handle.

    March 19, 2014

  • Karma1

    I am amazed at the "bigotry" of this writer of this article. And I truly believe that the actual person who wrote this is Lebanese and from the other side of the political arena. As a Lebanese and as a former Journalist myself, I must admit that the situation in Lebanon and the number of Syrian regfugees has reached Danger point. Yes, our people are getting poorer, crime rate is defintely increasing, sicknesses increasing, water problems,, school locations, etc even the UN refugee agency have realised this problem and has decided to resettle a few in other countries as well as raise funds for those in Lebanon to help the country... we have a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and if we dont act immediately we are going to face more serious problems ... so for the writer of this artilcle who does not possess the courage to write it in his name, I would like to say next time get your facts right and dont use this blog as a propoganda machine .. maybe some people might believe your bias and "bigotry" but most of us are intelligent enough to read your negative emotions with no facts whatsoever, except quoting "Al Jazzeera" ... and as for your quote of Tal el Zaatar, why dont you actually refer to the criminals from the Lebanese Forces who entered Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian camps with Israel's assistance and massacred innocent men, women and children which made headline news in Europe and all around the world .. let us not be too selective and instead provide the facts as they are .. not forgetting the bombimg of a church by the LF leader, Samir Geagea, who was tried and convicted for many other murders.

    March 19, 2014

  • haadisouaid

    Dear Mr. Rowell The best reply to your article will be the one published on this same website, on the same day of yours, under the title "Lebanon needs more help with massive Syrian refugee influx" with the highlighted quote of the United Nations aid coordinator, Mr Ross Mountain, saying "This is equivalent to 80 million Mexicans arriving in the United States" The article is on the following link: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/lebanonnews/539714-lebanon-needs-more-help-with-massive-syrian-refugee-influx

    March 19, 2014

  • ralphaoun

    Mr Rowell how are you planning to solve the FACT that syrian refugees are now 25% of the total Lebanese population? When they reach 50% in 2015 will you be here to write an article about it? Oh wait you probably have a foreign passport you can leave find a job elsewhere by then, but our Lebanese Youth can't.

    March 19, 2014

  • pierre.elhnoud

    It is by far the most stupid and ridiculous article by Alex Rowell. Another example of why idiots should not be allowed to speak in public.

    March 19, 2014

  • josef H

    I have rarely read more mediocre and more hateful tripe, disguised as journalism. so called journalist alex rowell (probably a fake nom de plume) begs for attention and he shall have it: lebanese in 1976 lived a different context than in 2014. our duty to tame the arrogant palestinians is non of your business and has nothing in common with the MoU signed in a totally different context and different circumstances today. a professional journalist, rarely describes with superlative adjectives, when speaking of certain events, leaving this to the reader's critical thinking. (...) he cant help 'aiding' his braindead audience think in advance what the content will be, and what the conclusion to make, will be in advance. (...)

    March 18, 2014

  • lenlen

    Thank you for enlightening people about what hypocrites Aoun and company are.

    March 18, 2014