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The logo of the Guardians of the Cedars. The motto can be loosely translated as "At your service, Lebanon".
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The Guardians of the Cedars (Arabic: حراس الأرز or Ḥurrās al-Arz) are a far-right ultranationalist Lebanese party and former militia in Lebanon. It was formed by Étienne Saqr (also known with the kunya or nom de guerre Abu Arz or "Father of the Cedars") and others along with the Lebanese Renewal Party in the early 1970s. It operated in the Lebanese Civil War under the slogan: Lebanon, at your service.

Contents

Creation

The Guardians of the Cedars started to form a militia in the years leading up to the Lebanese Civil War and commenced military operations in April 1975.

In September 1975, Communiqué No. 1 was issued to denounce advocates of the partition of Lebanon. The second communiqué contained a bitter attack on the Palestinians. The third articulated the party's attitude on the issue of Lebanese identity: Lebanon should dissociate itself from Arabism. The party spread its messages by means of graffiti in East Beirut, including slogans against Syria, the "Palestinian Resistance", and Pan-Arabism, sometimes with violent anti-Palestinian tones, as in the slogan ﻋﻠﻰ ﻜﻝ ﻠﺒﻨﺎﻨﻲ ﺍﻥ ﻴﻘﺘﻝ ﻓﻠﺴﻁﻴﻨﻴﺎﹰ ("It is a duty for each Lebanese to kill a Palestinian"). [1][2][3][4]

The Guardians of the Cedars joined other pro-status quo, mainly Christian Lebanese militias in 1976 to form the Lebanese Front.

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1970s

In March 1976, they confronted Palestinian and leftist forces in West Beirut. A Guardians unit was also dispatched to Zaarour, above the mountain road to Zahle, to support Phalangist forces. In April, Guardian fighters held a line in the area of Hadeth, Kfar Shima, and Bsaba, south of Beirut, against a coalition of Palestinian, PSP, and SSNP forces.

In the summer of 1976, the Guardians were among the first militias to assault Tel al-Zaatar, the last remaining Palestinian military camp in east Beirut. The camp fell after a 52-day siege.

The actions of the Guardians and their allies following the capture of the camp have been widely reported as amounting to a massacre of many of its civilian inhabitants. During this battle, Saqr led a unit of Guardians force to Chekka, where Christian civilians were being sieged by leftist-Palestinian forces, and fought off the Palestinian forces.

The Guardians and allied Christian militias then invaded the Koura region in northern Lebanon and reached Tripoli, to support Christian residents trapped by fighting. In 1978 as part of the Lebanese Front they did small attacks on the Syrian army in Beirut and again in 1981 in the Battle of Zahle. This came after the alliance between the Phalanges and most Christian groups with the Syrians had taken a twist.

During the war, the Guardians earned a reputation for specializing in cruelty. Militia members usually tied Palestinian prisoners to the backs of taxis and then dragged them up the motorway into Jounieh. Their carcasses would then be flung into a dried-up riverbed. Commanding his followers to slay all Palestinians, Saqr once stated, "If you feel compassion for the Palestinian women and children, remember they are communists and will bear new communists".[5]

1980s

In 1985 the Guardians of the Cedars mounted a fierce defense of Kfar-Fallus and Jezzine, battling Palestinians and Shiite-Druze militias and protected thousands Christians of South Lebanon.

Towards the close of the 1980s, and continuing to 2000, most of the remaining fighting in Lebanon occurred in the south, inside the Israeli-occupied zone, under the Southern-Lebanese-Army influence led by Saad Haddad and later by Antoine Lahd, the latter who had close ties with the National Liberal Party (Al Ahrar in Arabic). The Guardians and other militias were largely reorganized into the South Lebanon Army, preserving much of the early ideology while adopting new military tactics.

Political Beliefs

Said Akl, Lebanese poet, writer and spiritual leader of the Guardians of the Cedars.

The Guardians hold to several key beliefs:

This has led the Guardians of the Cedars to maintain that Lebanese people are not Arabs. The political consequence of this stance advocates the 'de-Arabization' of Lebanon. Similarly, followers draw a distinction between Arabic and 'Lebanese', aiming to restore the form created by Lebanese philosopher Said Akl. The Guardians of the Cedars have adopted positions hostile to Pan-Arabism. This is believed to be the main reason why they did not grow as a party in Lebanon outside the Maronite community.

Etienne Saqr, founder of the Guardians of the Cedars.

Saqr himself had fought against pan-Arab forces back in the Lebanon Crisis of 1958. During that time Camille Chamoun entered Lebanon in the Baghdad Alliance led by the US, but faced stiff resistance from a huge section of the Lebanese people, and this later led to the failure of this alliance.

After heavy Palestinian involvement in the Lebanese Civil War, the Guardians cultivated ties with the Israeli military, receiving weapons and support. Some followers maintain that this was a collaboration of necessity, and not an ideological agreement with the Israelis. Others disagree, claiming that collaboration with Israel was based on the conviction that there was a commonality of interest between the two countries. Other similarly-aligned militias, such as the Phalangists, Ahrar and the Tigers, also cooperated semi-secretly with Israel. This cooperation was later emphasized by Saqr who said : "Lebanon's power is in Israel's power, and Lebanon's weakness lies in Israel's weakness".

This alliance with Israel played a major role in banning the party, and expelling its members who mostly fled to Israel. Saqr who now lives in Tel Aviv has since admitted that Israel has been funding the group throughout its existence, even before the war began. Saqr is now considered as a traitor to the Lebanese government, alongside the likes of Antoine Lahad who like Saqr resides in Tel Aviv under Mossad protection.

Front of the Guardians of the Cedar

The Front of the Guardians of the Cedar – FGoC (Arabic: Al-Jabhat li-Hurras el-Arz), sometimes known by its Arabic acronym, JIHA, was a pre-dominantly Christian right-wing grouping that appeared in 1974. Apparently a splinter of the Guardians of the Cedars, they held similar views to those of this party – expressed just prior to the war in anti-Palestinian graffiti bearing the ‘JIHA’ signature scrubbed in the walls of east Beirut’s buildings – very little is known about this small and obscure organization. Estimated at about 100 members, the JIHA operated mainly in the eastern sector of the Lebanese Capital during the 1975-77 phase of the Lebanese Civil War, but nothing was heard from them afterwards. It is assumed that they might have been re-absorbed into the GoC or by the Lebanese Forces in 1977.

Lebanese Renewal Party

The Lebanese Renewal Party – LRP (Arabic: Hezb al-Tajaddud al-Lubnaniyya) or Parti de la Renovation Libanaise (PRL) in French, is a banned political party in Lebanon formed in 1972 as the political arm of the paramilitary force known as the Guardians of the Cedars. It is often characterized as right-wing extremist, but by its followers as a patriotic nationalist movement. Its membership is almost exclusively Christian, but it is a secular organization. The party is still led by its founder, Étienne Saqr (Abu Arz).

History

It was formed by right-wing activists opposed to the presence of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The refugee population also included a substantial element of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters, especially after the 1970 Black September events in Jordan. This created severe tension in Lebanon, and is believed by many to have been a driving factor behind the outbreak of civil war in 1975.

During the Lebanese Civil War, the party and its militia was a small but active part of the Maronite-led alliance fighting the Palestinians represented by the Rejectionist Front and PLO , and its allies in the Lebanese National Movement (LNM) of Kamal Jumblatt. During the early fighting in the war, the party was implicated in the massacres of Karantina and Tel al-Zaatar. In 1977, the main Christian-backed militias (LRP plus the National Liberal Party and the Kataeb Party) formed the Lebanese Front coalition. Their militias joined under the name of the Lebanese Forces, but the Lebanese Forces soon fell under the command of Bashir Gemayel and the Phalange. The LNR and the Guardians of the Cedars were uncompromisingly opposed to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

After the 1982 Lebanon War the party cooperated with Israel Defense Forces, and its militia joined the South Lebanon Army (SLA). After the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon in 2000, most of the leadership fled to Israel. The group was banned by the Syrian-dominated government and decided to give up its arms to become a traditional political party. It remains banned, and is only a minor force in national life. Still, some of the rhetoric used by the LRP in advocating its domestic policies was revived during the Cedar Revolution in 2005, which forced the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon and led to expectations of political reform.

According to an Israeli military observer Haim 'Arev, the soldiers of the Guardians of the Cedars were the best and most experienced fighters among the militias that constituted the Lebanese Front. He draws a direct connection between the patriotic ideology of the Guardians and the superior battle capacity of their fighters. He states that while the Guardians were among the smaller parties of the Lebanese Civil war, it's idealistic men and women were soldiers of the best caliber. Later, in Southern Lebanon, the Guardians fighters had a reputation for being exceptionally motivated and among the toughest fighters in the ranks of the SLA.[6]

Ideological beliefs

The Lebanese Renewal Party is ethnocentric, and believes that Lebanon is not an Arab country. It labored extensively to create or discover non-Arab cultural expressions, and went so far as to design a new alphabet for Lebanese Arabic, which it claims is a language in its own right. Accordingly, the party was staunchly opposed to Pan-Arabism, which was advocated by many in the LNM and the left-wing Palestinian movements. As far as the Lebanese Christian community is concerned, the belief that Lebanon is not an Arab country was substantiated by some segments of Lebanese society, espcecially the Maronites.

One of the main themes of the party's rhetoric was its preoccupation with ridding Lebanon of Palestinians. It regularly employed hate speech, as when the party asserted that it was "the duty of every Lebanese to kill one Palestinian" and compared them with germs, snakes, and a cancer in the body of the nation. The party still insists that all Palestinians and Syrians must leave Lebanon.

Another distinguishing element of the party's politics was that it advocated cooperation with Israel. While there were several other movements on the Christian side in Lebanon that cooperated with Israel during the war, the LNR was the only organization openly and ideologically committed to this, regarding a Lebanese-Israeli axis as the best protection against Arabism and the Palestinians.

Attitude towards Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims

Saqr summed the Guardians of the Cedars attitude to Palestinians in an interview with the Jerusalem Post on July 23 1982:

"It is the Palestinians we have to deal with. Ten years ago there were 84,000; now there are between 600,000 and 700,000. In six years there will be two million. We can’t let it come to that." His solution: "Very simple. We shall drive them to the borders of ’brotherly’ Syria ... Anyone who looks back, stops or returns will be shot on the spot. We have the moral right, reinforced by well-organized public relations plans and political preparations."

GoC slogan during the civil war was "It's the duty of every Lebanese to kill a Palestinian".[7]

However, in stark contrast to the policies of other Christian militias such as Kataeb, Tanzim, Ahrar, etc, and to their own attitudes towards Palestinians, the Guardians never harassed or killed Lebanese Muslims, on the basis of their religious affiliation. During the harsh urban fighting in Beirut, a Lebanese Muslim who approached a Guardians check post would be properly treated. In such cases, the Guardians would usually take the Muslim's Lebanese identity card and place it on his forehead to demonstrate respect.[8]

End of the militia

1989 saw the Guardians once more fighting the Syrians alongside the Lebanese Army in support of the Lebanese government of General Michel Aoun. In a statement in 1990, the GoC greeted the occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein by asserting that "Arabism is the undisputed lie of the 20th century." The Guardians called upon the people to rally around the leadership of General Aoun, and demanded the withdrawal of Lebanon from the Arab League.

As the Lebanese Civil War drew to a close in 1990, political changes weakened the right-wing movements which had existed in earlier decades. In October 1990, as part of the end of the war, the reorganized Lebanese government forced Prime Minister Aoun out of power under Syrian demands and commands. From this year on, Syria occupied Lebanon till its withdrawal in 2005.

Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces militia captured Saqr because he had supported Aoun. During this incident, he suffered an unspecified injury. He was forced to seek refuge in Jezzine, and finally left Lebanon for Europe after Israel pulled its forces out of Lebanon. Several other members of the Guardians are presently wanted by the Lebanese government, in order to answer for war-crimes.

From the end of the civil war in 1990 until the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 the Guardians of the Cedars formed an element of the now-defunct South Lebanon Army. Since that date their military operations have ceased and they operate solely politically, campaigning to remove the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

Today, the newly-reorganized GoC is a legal and fully-functional political party; lately, the term Harakat al-Qawmiyya al-Lubnaniyya (Lebanese Nationalism Movement) was added to its name.

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ CHAKHTOURA Maria, La guerre des graffiti, Beyrouth, Éditions Dar an-Nahar, 2005, page 121.
  2. ^ Etienne Saqr, "The Ideology of the Guardians of the Cedars" (Lebanon 1977) original Title: من عقيدة حراس الأرز
  3. ^ فضل شرورو "الأحزاب و التنظيمات و القوى في لبنان 1930-1980" بيروت 1981
  4. ^ Micheal Kuderna, "Christliche gruppen im Libanon (Wiesbaden 1983)
  5. ^ Fisk, Pity the Nation, p. 85
  6. ^ The conscience of Lebanon: a political biography of Etienne Sakr (Abu-Arz), Mordechai Nisan, Routledge, 2003, p. 45
  7. ^ Naharnet Newsdesk - Guardians of Cedars Party Protests Arrests, Clarifies Stance on Palestinians
  8. ^ The conscience of Lebanon: a political biography of Etienne Sakr (Abu-Arz), Mordechai Nisan, Routledge, 2003, p. 29

References

  • Mordechai Nisan, (2003) The Conscience of Lebanon, Routledge, ISBN 0714653926
  • Robert Fisk, (2002) Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192801309
  • Plonka Arkadiusz, L’idée de langue libanaise d’après Sa‘īd ‘Aql, Paris, Geuthner, 2004 (French) ISBN 2705337393

External links


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