Is Bikfaya warming up to the South?

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Former President Amin Gemayel in his family's ancestral in the Mount Lebanon town of Bikfaya. Al-Akhbar/Haitham Moussawi

By: Amal Khalil

Published Saturday, December 13, 2014

Former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel will be a guest in South Lebanon. He will be making a brief visit to Marjeyoun, al-Biyada, Khiam, Qulaia and Kawkaba that might dispel a decades-long estrangement caused by the civil war and political differences and meet the expectations of the Phalange Party which wants to have dialogue with Hezbollah for the sake of national unity and... the presidential palace.

The distance separating Bikfaya from Marjeyoun is no longer a long one. Hezbollah’s MP representing Marjeyoun and Hasbaya, Ali Fayyad, is no longer a stranger at the Gemayel home. The stones pressed on top of each other beginning in the 16th century in the old neighborhood overlooking Mount Sannine, our Lady of Lebanon, and the bay of Jounieh have gotten used to conversations of the Resistance. For months now, Fayyad has accepted President Gemayel’s invitations and the last visit was two weeks ago. Hezbollah’s representative in the dialogue with the Phalange Party has come to know the inside of this house that is alien to many in the South. He has seen the Christmas tree decorated with the pictures of the late Minister Pierre Gemayel. Amin Gemayel’s first-born son who was supposed to inherit this house, as family traditions require, was assassinated eight years ago. Instead, his pictures have inherited every corner in the house. On top of the piano that the father plays is a picture from one of the national dialogue meetings at the presidential palace in Baabda of the former president with his son and Phalange MP Antoine Ghanem who was also assassinated around the same time as Pierre.

Gemayel brought his former political adversary to his private abode where he is spending more time than in his home in Beirut or the party headquarters in Saifi, not only to remain close to the memory of his son in Bikfaya, but in response to advice he received from security authorities to remain cautious because he, and his second son Sami, remain on the assassination list.

Fayyad and his political party have warmed up to Bikfaya. Is it time for Bikfaya to warm up to the South again? Before the civil war broke out, the road to the South was easier for then attorney Amin Gemayel who used to attend to legal cases in the Marjeyoun court and visit members and supporters of the Phalange Party in the area. In his mind, Gemayel still remembers Marjeyoun’s map by heart. But how is he going to enter the South, which he visited for the last time when he came to Saida with the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami after it was liberated from the Israeli occupation? Memories of the popular support that the Phalange Party had in some Shia villages, the fact that the first Phalange office was opened in al-Marwanieh town in al-Zahrani district and that Mahmoud al-Tarraf from Nabatiyeh was one of the first Phalangists to die during the 1958 revolution, are not enough.

It took Bikfaya nine years to find its way to the South. The first time it was suggested that Gemayel visit the area was in 2005. But his positions and the role he played in the March 14 alliance made him persona non grata in Hezbollah and the Amal Movement’s homefront. The repeated dates set later on were postponed due to political tensions and security incidents like Pierre’s assassination, until finally the presidential race, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Nusra Front shortened the distance again. Visits by members of the Phalange Party to Dahiyeh – Beirut’s southern suburbs – after the terrorist bombings as well as the party’s evolved and distinct positions from the other March 14 forces in the past few months, like calling for coordination between the Lebanese and Syrian armies or calling on Hezbollah’s leadership to negotiate the release of Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by ISIS and al-Nusra and the party’s sheer openness to dialogue with Hezbollah. All of this not only opened the gate of the South wide to Gemayel but made him a welcomed guest.

His quiet home in Bikfaya allowed Gemayel to keep up with the details of his upcoming visit to the South on Saturday. He pays attention to every little detail and wants to know the opinions surrounding the visit. He relies on the goodwill fostered by former Phalange minister of social affairs, Salim Sayegh, who stepped up services to Shia and Druze villages and accompanied Fayyad on a tour of Ain Ebel, Qulaia and Rashia al-Fakhar. Gemayel is careful not to exclude any of the prominent figures of Marjeyoun and Hasbaya on his visit. He wants to begin by meeting Druze sheikhs in the sanctuaries of al-Biyada to exorcise the ghosts of the Mountain War. He called Druze MPs Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan to put them in the picture. In addition, he continues to coordinate with his friend Nabih Berri who told finance minister, MP Ali Hassan Khalil, to “observe the traditions of hospitality.” Khalil will host a lunch at his home in Khiam that will bring together all the prominent figures of the area to honor Gemayel. Again, Fayyad will not only attend this lunch, he will take part in reopening the Phalange office in Marjeyoun which was shut down in 1978. Between al-Biyada and Khiam, Gemayel will meet figures from the Christian towns of Qulaia and Kawkaba. Will he be able to answer questions about the fate of the Lebanese who fled to Israel (when the Israeli army withdrew from South Lebanon) and the existential threat from ISIS and al-Nusra Front and calls for civilians to arm themselves and prepare for self-defense? Publicly, he is reticent when it comes to talk about Phalangists guarding their villages and their willingness to fight the takfiris even if they have to join the ranks of Hezbollah. Gemayel says he is sensitive to this issue because of his own engagement in self-defense and militia movements during the civil war. He does not want a repeat of this scenario and would rather see support for the army.

Gemayel wants his visit to have a lasting impact. He is taking with him Phalange cabinet ministers to listen to people’s demands and development needs. He wants to combine his efforts with that of the Amal Movement, Hezbollah and the Council of the South. He says: “Working to create jobs and provide the means necessary for the people of the South to stay on their land represents the biggest challenge to Israel.” Even his visit, which he promised will not be the last, “is a form of resistance against Israel.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar English's editorial policy. If you would like to submit a thoughtful response to one of our opinion pieces, send your contribution to our submissions editor.

Comments

...I love this story!Welcome to the south Mr. President!
You are a true Lebanese, I hope you get re-elected .God bless you!

Gag! :(

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