Yasir Arafat and the Christians of Lebanon

The Maronite priest then called Arafat?s headquarters, but was deferred to a subordinate, who told him ?Father, don´t worry. We don´t want to harm you. If we are destroying you it is for strategic reasons.? Not any more relieved because the destruction was for strategic reasons, the priest persisted in asking for Arafat to call off his fighters... Although the main ?Butcher of Damour,?

Contributing Author

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Much has been made recently of Israel's decision to prevent PLO leader Yasir Arafat from attending Christmas services in Bethlehem. A casual reader can easily assume that Arafat is supportive of Christians and Israel barring his presence is an affront to religious sensitivities the world over. However, Islam in general is not at all receptive to infidels, Jewish or Christian, as can be seen in the pogroms targeting Christians throughout the Muslim world - be it Egypt, the Sudan, Mauritania, the Philippines, East Timor and other countries too numerous to mention. Can Arafat be an exception? Hardly. Arafat?s ?concern? for Christians is demonstrated by his past and current actions, whenever and wherever Christians come under his control.

The most recently reported incident of Arafat?s disdain for Christian sensitivities occurred in Jerusalem in 1997, when the Palestinian Authority-appointed Waqf (Moslem religious property) authorities attempted to break through into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher from the adjacent al-Hanaqa Mosque. Demonstrating their contempt, the Waqf authorities decided to install a latrine on the roof of the Church. According to a May 11, 1997, report in Ha?aretz, ?A Waqf internal report, written two weeks ago by the Waqf's Jerusalem engineer, 'Isam 'Awad, confirms many of the Christians' claims in the conflict that has emerged adjacent to the Holy Sepulcher Church regarding construction in the Church. The Church?s claim that the Waqf has harmed the historical and architectural substance of the Holy Sepulcher, as a result of a construction addition to the courtyard of the ?Hanaqa,? which leans on the wall of the Holy Sepulcher and even darkens it by its height.?

Israel attempted to calm down the conflict after the Churches complained and issued a work stoppage order against it, which was promptly ignored. The same Ha?aretz story reported that ?The Jerusalem district archeologist in the Antiquities Authority, John Zeligman, wrote to the Waqf director, 'Adnan Husayni, pointing out to the Waqf the damage to a site that is declared to be an antiquity and threatens to go to law if work is not halted immediately.'? Finally, the illegal construction was halted due to Israeli and world pressure, but we can be certain that without such pressure the desecration would have continued.

The obvious question is why would Arafat attempt to control Christian religious sites in Jerusalem, then and now, as he knew there would be severe protests at his actions? One explanation was given by another Ha?aretz article from July 13, 2000: ?Yasser Arafat also understands that the churches are a hidden treasure of international influence, or as the Israeli document puts it: ?Whoever controls the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem - controls the hearts of policy makers in the Western world.? That is why he enlisted leaders of the Arab world in the battle to conclude the fight over the protest tent in Nazareth [where Moslems want to establish a mosque on contested land in front of a church ? ed.]. It was important for him to prove that Muslims can live together with Christians and that a Palestinian administration is able to handle inter-religious crises better than the Israeli administration.?

However, these recent attempts by Arafat to control the local Christian populations in Israel are little more than a pale reflection of his actions in Lebanon. Genocidal anti-Christian brutality in Lebanon was never more vividly apparent than in the town of Damour, about 20 kilometers south of Beirut. Before the arrival of the PLO, it was a town of some 25,000 people, with five churches, three chapels, seven schools, both private and public, and one public hospital, where Muslims from near by villages were treated along with the Christians, at the expense of the town.

On 9 January 1976, the priest of Damour, Father Mansour Labaky, was carrying out a Maronite (Roman Catholics) custom of blessing the houses with holy water when a bullet whistled past his ear and hit one of the houses. He soon learned that the town was surrounded by the forces of Sa'iqa, a PLO terrorist group affiliated with Syria. The shooting and shelling continued all day. When Father Labaky telephoned a local Muslim sheikh and asked him, as a fellow religious leader, what he could do to help the people of the town, the sheikh replied, ?I can do nothing. They want to harm you. It is the Palestinians. I cannot stop them.? Other Lebanese politicians, of both the Left and the Right, proved equally unhelpful, offering only apologies and commiserations. Kamal Jumblatt, in whose parliamentary constituency Damour lay, told Labaky, ?Father, I can do nothing for you, because it depends on Yasser Arafat.? The Maronite priest then called Arafat?s headquarters, but was deferred to a subordinate, who told him ?Father, don't worry. We don't want to harm you. If we are destroying you it is for strategic reasons.? Not any more relieved because the destruction was for strategic reasons, the priest persisted in asking for Arafat to call off his fighters. Finally, the aide said that PLO headquarters would ?tell them to stop shooting.?

That promise was made at about eleven in the evening. After another half-hour of shelling and shooting, Damour?s telephone service, water and electricity were all cut off. The first invasion of the town came after midnight. The Sa'iqa militiamen stormed into civilian homes, massacring some fifty people and taking over part of the town. Father Labaky described the carnage, ?In the morning I managed to get to the one house despite the shelling to bring out some of the corpses? An entire family had been killed, the Can'an family, four children all dead, and the mother, the father, and the grandfather. The mother was still hugging one of the children. And she was pregnant. The eyes of the children were gone and their limbs were cut off? It was awful.?

Two hundred and twenty-five young men, most of them about sixteen years old, armed with hunting guns and none with military training, tried to defend the town from Arafat?s men. They held out for twelve days, while citizens huddled in basements, sandbags piled in front of their doors and ground-floor windows. The Palestinians cut off food and water supplies and refused to allow the Red Cross to take out the wounded, as infants and children died of dehydration.

Then, on January 23, the final onslaught came.

Father Labaky described the assault, ?It was an apocalypse. They were coming, thousands and thousands, shouting 'Allahu Akbar! God is great! Let us attack them for the Arabs, let us offer a holocaust to Mohammad.' And they were slaughtering everyone in their path, men, women and children. Whole families were killed in their homes. Many women were gang-raped, and few of them left alive afterwards? As the atrocities were perpetrated, the invaders themselves took photographs and later offered the pictures for sale to European newspapers.? As if even the absolute limits of nature could not stop them, the invaders broke open tombs and flung the bones of the dead into the streets. Father Labaky told some 500 Damourians who gathered in the Church of St. Elias that he did not know what to tell them to do. ?If I say flee to the sea, you may be killed. If I say stay here, you may be killed.?

An old man suggested that they raise a white flag, but two men of Damour who had fled the town and had seen the white flag from the seashore returned, warning that it would not help to raise a flag: ?We raised a flag in front of Our Lady, and they shot at us.? The townspeople decided to run for the sea. Two youths from Damour stood in front of the church and provided cover. A few minutes after they had gone, the PLO came and bombed the church without entering it, kicking open the door and throwing in grenades. The priest and his flock found shelter in the home of an anti-PLO Moslem and ultimately made their way to a boat, which took them to Jounieh.

In all, 582 people were killed in the storming of Damour, with many of the bodies having been mutilated. Damour itself was then transformed into a stronghold of Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and one of the main centers of international terrorism. The Church of St. Elias was turned into a repair garage for PLO vehicles and a shooting range for PLO terrorists.

Although the main ?Butcher of Damour,? Saiqa commander Zuhayr Muhsin, was assassinated in Cannes, France in 1979, the PLO leader whose legions were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Christians in Lebanon, Yasser Arafat, is still alive to bemoan the fact that Israel prevented him from attending Christmas services in Bethlehem.
Prof. Murray Kahl is editor and publisher of Israeli & Global News.