This blog could have turned out very badly, possibly as a work of poetry with powerful images of shrouds and palls. But, while researching the headlines again in preparation for this article, I was reminded that we are all too cognizant of the explosions, their aftermath, and the continuing pain for the families, friends, and Lebanese worldwide. Even the Wikipedia coverage, which I recommend for anyone who wants more details, is angry.
Time argues that, ”A culture of impunity has plagued Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war—which left at least 120,000 people dead and pushed some 1 million people, more than one-third of the population at the time, to leave the country. The adoption of an amnesty law in 1991 protected those accused of war crimes and allowed them to remain key players in Lebanon’s fractured political scene. No less than 17,000 people are still missing from the war, affecting thousands of families who are still waiting for answers about their fate.”
So why are we not to be angry when 17,000 people are still missing because of the Civil War? Does the continued impunity of the political leaders surprise anyone?
The families are not passive either. They have filed three lawsuits in June at Lebanon’s Shura council to oppose the government’s April decision to demolish all of the silos, which wound up catching fire anyway and even suffered another explosion this past week.
Rather than dwelling on those facts, let’s consider the culprit here – the collusion between those political actors and the judicial system to thwart a transparent and complete investigation. What began more than a year ago under Judge Tarek Bitar has been brought to a standstill by ‘system’. The investigation into the blast has stalled and the Lebanese people still have not received a full accounting of, nor justice for, what happened. And they are still suffering the consequences of the deadly blast.
Herein lies the nub of the crisis: a judicial system that cannot function independently and is hamstrung by politicians who control appointments to the courts and the freedom to investigate. Gallup carried out an extensive poll to gauge attitudes toward the government. “Only 16% of Lebanese expressed confidence in their judicial system in 2021. This percentage is an all-time low in Lebanon and was among the lowest in the world in 112 countries where Gallup asked this question last year. [emphasis added]
“When asked if Bitar’s investigation into the 2020 port explosion was being conducted fairly or with bias against certain groups, more Lebanese say the investigation is a fair one (35% versus 23%). Given the political sensitivity of the topic, however, more than four in 10 Lebanese (42%) did not express an opinion. When one looks only at Lebanese who expressed an opinion, 61% say the investigation is fair.”
“Still, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, Lebanese adults say that Bitar should be allowed to continue his investigation. When one looks only at Lebanese who give an opinion, two in three (67%) say that the investigation should continue.”
“There is widespread support for the continuation of the port investigation among most major Lebanese confessional groups, including 84% of Christians who express an opinion and a similar rate among Sunnis (88%). Only within Lebanon’s Shia community — which largely gives its support to Hezbollah and allied political groups — does significant opposition to the Beirut port investigation exist. Slightly fewer than one in four Lebanese Shia who express an opinion believe that the investigation should continue.”
So will the real Lebanese, please stand up – those who care for transparency, fairness, justice, and dignity? As the article continues, “The continuation of the Bitar investigation represents a rare democratic challenge from within the Lebanese government to the country’s powerful political establishment, most of whom have strong reasons not to have their own culpability examined in the port explosion case.”
The Gallup analysis goes on to say, “As a fragile state, Lebanon and its national institutions continue to require international support, if only to ensure that the country’s ills do not spread beyond its borders. An independent judiciary in Lebanon capable of addressing rampant corruption and pushing back against nondemocratic tendencies represents one of the surest ways to strengthen the government’s sovereignty and the nation’s wellbeing.”
This is our position and our campaign: giving voice to the voiceless, letting an independent judiciary do its work to protect the sovereignty and well-being of the Lebanese. Let those who would rather dissolve the State go elsewhere where they will seek the end of their rainbow. For us, the survival of the State begins with acknowledging the responsibility to protect the people and not take actions that disrupt or discourage a full partnership between the government and its citizens. The US should continue to help Lebanon move forward. It is time for justice. It is time to resolve the port explosion investigation.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.