Seventeen years ago today, the Israeli army withdrew in defeat from South Lebanon after an 18 year occupation. Thousands of Lebanese from across the ideological and religious spectrum resisted the Israelis and gave their lives to liberate the land, and they will never be forgotten.
I still remember my first trip to South Lebanon a few weeks after liberation with friends from Marj’ayoun (a town in South Lebanon). I had never been to the South despite having spent nearly every summer of my life in Lebanon because the South had been under Israeli Occupation since 1982. I’ll never forget the triumphant music blaring along the path adjacent to the border fence and the copious amount of rocks meticulously arranged in small mounds every dozen or so yards being picked up and thrown by passersby onto the Israeli side as they released their frustration and anger after years of occupation while simultaneously celebrating victory. I’ll never forget seeing Occupied Palestine for the first time across Fatima’s gate and being shocked at the lushness and greenery of Israeli settlements a few hundred yards from where we were given the desolate landscape on the Lebanese side after years of occupation.
However, the most haunting memory that remains with me is my visit to the notorious Khiam prison, where thousands of Lebanese resistance fighters were tortured – many to death – by the South Lebanon (proxy) Army under Israeli command. A former detainee who had been tortured and imprisoned for seven years stood up on a small rock and recounted the horrors of his ordeal for 30 minutes without pause, and without expression, and without emotion. It was as if they had beaten his soul out of his body, as he seemed incapable of feeling anything anymore. But the people who had gathered around to hear his stories were full of feelings, and emotions, and tears; of sorrow, of grief, of pain, and perhaps of joy for being able to finally put behind that horrible chapter in our history.
Happy Liberation Day Lebanon.