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Bashir Gemayel

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Bashir Gemayel

بشير الجميّل
Bachir Gemayel
President-Elect of Lebanon
In office
23 August 1982 - 14 September 1982
Preceded by Elias Sarkis
Succeeded by Amine Gemayel
Personal details
Born (1947-11-10)10 November 1947
Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon
Died 14 September 1982(1982-09-14) (aged 34)
Achrafieh, Beirut, Lebanon
Political party Kataeb
Spouse(s) Solange Totonji
Religion Maronite

Bachir Gemayel (Arabic: بشير الجميّلBashīr al-Ghimayal, also Romanized al-Jumayyil, El Gemaiel, Joomayyeel; 10 November 1947 – 14 September 1982) was a Lebanese politician, militia commander, and president-elect. He was a senior member of the Phalange party and the commander of the Lebanese Forces militia amid the first several years of the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90). He was elected president on 23 August 1982 while the country was torn by civil war and occupied by both Israel and Syria. He was assassinated on 14 September 1982, along with 26 others, when a bomb exploded in the Beirut headquarters of the Phalange. The bomb was planted by Habib Tanious Shartouni.[1] The Federal Bureau of Investigation blamed the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.[2]

Early life

Bachir was born in the Achrafieh neighborhood of Beirut on 10 November 1947, the youngest of six children. The Gemayel family is originally from the Bikfaya village in the Matn District of Lebanon and is one of the most influential Christian families in Lebanon. His father was Pierre Gemayel, who founded the Phalange party in 1936 as a youth movement. Bachir Gemayel attended College de Notre Dame de Jamhour and the Institution Moderne du Liban (I.M.L)- Fanar. He completed his university education at St. Joseph University (Université Saint-Joseph - U.S.J.) in Beirut. After teaching for three years at the Lebanese Modern Institute, he graduated in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in law and another in political sciences in 1973. In 1971, Gemayel also took another law qualification from the American and International Law Academy in Dallas. Qualifying in 1972, he joined the bar association and opened an office in Hamra Street, West Beirut.[3]

Early activities in the Kataeb Party

Bachir became a member of the Kataeb Party when he was 12 years old.[4] Bachir realized the dangers that surrounded Lebanon in 1958, so he spent a lot of time with the organized forces of the Kataeb Party.[4] He attended the meetings organized by the Kataeb Student Section, and he was the president of the Kataeb Circle in St. Joseph University between 1965 and 1971.[4]

In the late 1960s, he underwent military training in Bikfaya, and he was appointed the military leader of a Kataeb group. Then, in the early 1970s, he formed the “Bikfaya Squad” where he became acquainted with the basics of military resistance.[4] In 1968, he participated in a student colloquium organized by the newspaper Orient, following events which occurred across Lebanese universities between the Islamic and leftist students supporting Palestinians in Lebanon on one side, and Lebanese and nationalist students (who Bachir represented) on the other.

After the continuous battles between the Lebanese Army and the PLO, Bachir gathered a group of students, and they started training in far mountains. This was the basis of what will later form the Lebanese Forces. At this time, he was under the command of William Hawi.[4]

In 1970, Bachir was briefly kidnapped by Palestinian militants in Lebanon and taken to the Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp. He was released 8 hours later.

Bachir became a member of the “BG Squad” formed by William Hawi. He was a revolutionary in the party. He became close with Jean Nader, leader of Achrafieh at that time, and he became the vice president of Achrafieh. This situation continued from 1971 till 1975.[4]

Bachir became the head of the “BG Squad” after its members found him as a leader more close to their views. This group was formed of 12 specially trained members such as Fouad Abou Nader, Fadi Frem, Elie Hobeika and others. They were fierce fighters, and they were known for their violent battles. This group was out of the direct control of the party.[4] He had his own views and principles, and he wanted to run for the Vice Presidency of the party, but his men said to him that they want him as the leader of the “Lebanese Forces” and not the VP of a party. In addition, many members of the party did not want him as the VP because he was the son of Pierre Gemayel, the founder and president of the party. The elections were cancelled and they weren’t done until after his assassination.[4]

He submitted his resignation from the party in 1976, but it was rejected. This was because the Kataeb Party had approved the entrance of the Syrian Army to Lebanon to stop the war, but Bachir refused this and he was strongly against the Syrian intervention because he believed that Syria wanted to annex Lebanon. He came to this conclusion because the Syrian officials repeatedly stated that Lebanon is part of Syria and that the Syrian Army doesn’t need anyone’s permission to enter Lebanon. Plus, at that time, the Syrian educational system used to teach that Lebanon is a Syrian district.[4]

Military command

In 1975, Gemayel was accused by the LNM of being responsible for the Black Saturday massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims. According to Phalange member Karim Pakradouni, Bachir admitted to him that while being in an emotional state for the killing of four Phalangists earlier that day, he ordered his militiamen into the streets. Bachir added that when the situation developed into something he did not agree with and civilians were being killed, he tried to stop the killings but failed to.[5] However, according to Michel Samaha, another Phalange member, Bachir was outside Beirut and that Bachir arrived after the killing of civilians had started. Michel Samaha added that Bachir was one of the many senior members of the Phalange Party who tried to stop this massacre.[5]


Christian East Beirut was ringed by heavily fortified Palestinian camps from which kidnappings and sniping against Lebanese civilians became a daily routine. Christian East Beirut became besieged by the PLO camps, with severe shortages of food and fuel. This unbearable situation led the Kataeb Forces and their allied Christian militias to besiege the Palestinian camps embedded in Christian East Beirut one at a time and bring them down. On January 18, 1976, Bachir led the invasion of the heavily fortified Karantina camp that was located near the strategic Beirut Harbor : About 1,000 PLO fighters and civilians were killed.[6] The Palestinian PLO and al-Saiqa forces retaliated by attacking the isolated defenseless Christian town of Damour about 20 miles south of Beirut on the coast, during the Damour massacre in which 1,000 Christian civilians were killed and 5,000 were sent fleeing north by boat, since all roads were blocked off.[7] The Maronites retaliated with the invasion of the Tel al-Zaatar camp that same year (The camp was placed under siege for 52 days by the Tigers militia led by Dany Chamoun). Bachir played an important role in the last stages of the battle: he sent a group of his forces that moved through the sewers and they blew up the ammunition storage in the camp. This incident was considered to be the lethal blow that led the fall of the camp.[8] The Christian militias also fought against the PLO and LNM militias at the Battle of the Hotels in central Beirut. Bachir led the battle for the Holiday Inn that had an important strategic location. The battle was a success for Bachir's troops, and they were able to move the PLO out of the hotel. After insuring the safety of the rear lines and their effectiveness (necessary for the safety of Christian East Beirut), Bachir and his troops decided to abandon the hotel.[9]


In 1976, with the death of William Hawi, who died due to a sniper shot in the battle of Tall Al-Zaatar, Bachir became head of the Kataeb militia. Later that year, he became a leading member of the Lebanese Front, a coalition of several Christian parties, and commander of their military wing, the Lebanese Forces. A military coalition of several Christian militias which not only opposed the PLO but also the Syrian troops, who had entered Lebanon at first to assist in defeating Palestinian militants, before turning into occupiers.[10]


Bachir led his troops in the infamous “Hundred Days War” in Lebanon in 1978, in which the Lebanese Forces successfully resisted the Syrian shelling and attacking of Eastern Beirut for about three months before an Arab-brokered agreement forced the Syrians to end the siege. Syrians took high buildings such as Burj Rizk Achrafieh and Burj El Murr using snipers and heavy weapons against civilians. The soldiers stayed for 90 days. Another major clash took place near the Sodeco area in Achrafieh where the Lebanese Forces fought ferociously and led the Syrian army out of the Rizk Building.[11] This War led to the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from East Beirut and the free Christian Areas. At this time, Israel was the primary backer of the Lebanese Front’s militia.

In 1981 at Zahlé in the Beqaa, the largest Christian town in the East, confronted one of the biggest battles – both military and political – between the Lebanese Forces and the Syrian occupying forces. The Lebanese Forces were able to confront them and reverse the result of the battle of 1981 with the help of 92 Lebanese Forces soldiers (L.F Special Forces: The Maghaweer) sent from Beirut as well as the towns inhabitants. Regardless of the very bad weather and heavy bombing, convoys were sent in the snow to Zahle. Two Lebanese Forces soldiers died on a hill due to bad weather, they were found later holding each other… till they died. The battle of Zahle gave the Lebanese Cause a new perspective in the International Communities, and by some was regarded as military and diplomatic victory. It strengthened Bashir Gemayel's position because of his leadership and important role in this battle. The battle started in 2 April 1981, and finished with a cease fire and Lebanese Police were sent to Zahle. The 92 Lebanese Forces returned to Beirut on 1 July 1981.[12] (See: Battle of Zahleh for more details)

Tensions within the Lebanese Front


Despite their increasing success in their battle against the PLO, and the Syrian troops, there are two factors that led to the Lebanese Front’s demise.

Following the killing of many Phalangist members, in addition to a senior Phalangist by members of the Marada militia, which was led by fellow member of the Lebanese Front, Tony Frangieh, Bachir called for a meeting to decide on what to do about this situation. At first, the decision was to capture Tony Frangieh, and force him to surrender the members of the Marada miltia who killed the Phalangists. However, there was concern about the consequences of this move. So, the decision was changed after many talks between the Phalangists present at the meeting. It was decided that the goal of the operation would be to capture the members of the Marada militia who killed the Phalangists and it would be done on Tuesday to be sure that Tony Frangieh would have finished his weekend vacation and left Ehden. On 13 June 1978, Bachir sent a squadron of his men led by Samir Geagea and Elie Hobeika to Ehden, but what Bachir did not know is that Tony Frangieh never left Ehden since his car did not work. As soon as the squadron arrived, bullets were flying all over their heads, so they retaliated and this led to the killing of Tony Frangieh and his family, in addition to tens of members of the Marada militia. The incident is known as the Ehden massacre. Bachir was very angry about what happened, but he stood by his men. [13]

In 1980, in order to stop the clashes happening inside the Christian areas, between the Kataeb Militia and the Tigers Militia, and in order to eliminate the possibility of an Intra-Christian war, Bachir sent his troops to the town of Safra, where Dany Chamoun and members of his Tigers Militia were vacationing. With full support from Dany’s father, former president Camille Chamoun, the Tigers under the control of Elias el Hannache were exterminated in what was later named Safra massacre. Dany’s life was spared and he sought refuge in West Beirut, but Camille Chamoun’s support of the attack was interpreted as him believing that his son’s militia was getting too out of control.[14]

Israeli invasion of Lebanon and Bachir's election

Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.[15] Defense Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, met with Bachir months earlier, telling him that the Israeli Defense Force were planning an invasion to uproot the PLO threat to Israel and to move them out of Lebanon.[16] While Bachir did not control Israel’s actions in Lebanon, the support Israel gave the Lebanese Forces, militarily and politically, angered many Lebanese Muslims and leftists.

Bachir met with Hani Al Hassan (representative of the PLO) and told him that Israel would enter and wipe them out. Bachir told him to leave Lebanon peacefully before it was too late. Hani left and no reply was given to Bachir.[17]



Israel invaded and the PLO were expelled from Lebanon in August 1982. During the invasion, the Israelis wanted the Lebanese Forces to assist the Israeli Army militarily by fighting the Palestinians and Muslims in West Beirut; however, Bachir refused that because he said that his forces would not assist an invading army. By now, Bachir had announced his candidacy for president. He was backed by the United States, who sent peacekeeping troops to oversee the withdrawal of the PLO from Lebanon. Bachir had requested that they stay longer to keep Lebanon stable until he could reunite it, but his request was denied. The Mossad also contributed his presidency.[15] On 23 August 1982, being the only one to declare his bid, Bachir was elected president.[18][19]

On 1 September 1982, two weeks before his assassination and only one week after his election, Bachir met the Israeli Prime minister Menachem Begin in Nahariya. During the meeting, Begin demanded that Bachir sign a peace treaty with Israel as soon as he took office in return of Israel's earlier support of Lebanese Forces and he also told Bachir that the IDF will stay in South Lebanon if the Peace Treaty wasn't signed. Bachir was furious at Begin and told him that the Lebanese Forces didn't fight for seven years and that they didn't sacrifice thousands of soldiers to free Lebanon from the Syrian Army and the PLO so that Israel can take their place. Bachir also added that he will not sign the Peace Treaty without national consensus on the matter. The meeting ended in rage and both sides weren't happy with each other.[20]

Begin was reportedly angry at Bachir for his public denial of Israel's support. Bachir refused signing a peace treaty arguing that time is needed to reach consensus with Lebanese Muslims and the Arab nations. This angered the Israelis because they knew that it is almost impossible for the Lebanese Muslims to agree on a Peace Treaty. They realized that Bachir was starting to distance himself from them.[21]

On 12 September 1982, in an attempt to fix the relations between Begin and Bachir, Ariel Sharon had a secret meeting with Bachir in Bikfaya. During the meeting, Bachir told Sharon that the Lebanese Army would soon enter into the Palestinian Camps to disarm any remaining fighters. They also agreed that the Lebanese Army would attack the Syrian Army's positions in Lebanon assisted by the Israeli Army. In addition, Sharon tried to convince Bachir about signing a Peace Treaty, but Bachir did not change his position on this matter.[20]

Bachir had planned to use the IDF to push the Syrian Army out of Lebanon and then use his relations with the Americans to pressure the Israelis into withdrawing from Lebanese territory.[22] By taking this move, Bachir crossed all international red lines about Lebanon and this was believed to be the main reason for his assassination. He tried to force a solution for the Lebanese War at the expense of Israel, Syria, and part of the American administration (Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig)[23]

Time as President elect

25 August : Deployment of International Separation Forces (mainly American, French, and Italian)

30 August  : Yasser Arafat leaves Beirut to Athens

1 September : Meeting between Presidents Bachir and Elias Sarkis with American Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger

2 September : Opening the path of Sodeco that used to be considered as a separation line between East and West Beirut

4 September : The Lebanese Army enters West Beirut for the first time since 1973

9 September : The Lebanese Army enters the Palestinian Camp Bourj el-Barajneh and that was restricted since 1969 by the Cairo Agreement

10 September : The International Separation Forces leaves Lebanon after completing its task

11 September : Beirut's economic market resumes its activities; Bachir meets with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saeb Salam.

13 September : Beirut's seaport resumes its activities

During these 21 days, fighters from the Lebanese Forces were prohibited from wearing their army clothes and also from carrying their weapons in the streets. The Lebanese Army was the only armed force in the streets.

Institutions

Al-Ashbal: its first camp was organized under the patronage of Bashir in Jbeil scout camping grounds (1975).

Popular Committees: launched by Bashir in 1976, their aim is the people’s participation in the organization of daily life.

Hamat Airport: created by Bashir in 1976 for special tourist trips and for the export of agricultural products....

Radio Free Lebanon : founded by Bashir in 1978 to explain to the world the reality of the Lebanese cause.

Radio 102 : out of Bashir’s desire for a commercial station in order to alleviate the burden of the war (1979).

Delta Computer : founded in 1979 as a specialized information body related to all components of social organization.

Help Lebanon : founded to take care of children and alleviate the consequences of the war.

Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) : launched in 1980 as a national, educational, cultural and non-commercial television.

Gamma Group : an institution including specialists to plan the building of a modern state in all of its sectors (1982).

The Lebanese Cultural Association : created in 1982 to deal with intellectual, literature and artistic affairs as well as Lebanese civilization.

Achrafieh Merchants Committee : created in 1982 to revive the economy and trade and organize the market.

Achrafieh Festival Committee : created in 1982 to organize fairs and exhibitions and to encourage artistic activities.[24]

Assassination

On 14 September 1982, Bachir was addressing fellow Phalangists at their headquarters in Achrafieh for the last time as their leader and for the last time as commander of the Lebanese Forces. At 4:10 PM, a bomb was detonated at the headquarters, killing Bachir and 26 other Phalange politicians. Whereas rumors spread that Bachir had gotten out alive, it was confirmed the next morning by the Lebanese Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan that Bachir was indeed assassinated.[25]

Habib Shartouni, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and also a Maronite Christian, was later arrested for the assassination. His sister was living in the apartment above the room Bachir was in. He had visited her the previous day and planted the bomb in her apartment. The next day, he called her and told her to get out of the building. Once she was out, he detonated the bomb from a few miles away from the building. When he came back to check on his sister, he was immediately arrested. He later confessed to it, saying he had done this because “Bachir had sold the country to Israel.” A reporter was heard telling him "You didn't kill a man, you killed a country." He was imprisoned for 8 years, until Syrian troops took over Lebanon at the end of the war and freed him on 13 October 1990. Amin Gemayel did not condemn Habib Shartouni because of immense Syrian pressure.[26]

Condemnations poured in from around the world, including from the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 520 as well as from American President Ronald Reagan. Reagan had been one of Bachir's most staunch supporters, saying "this promising young leader had brought the light of hope to Lebanon."[27]

Various theories exist as to other parties that had a hand in the assassination. Many point fingers at the Syrian government and then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad for having knowledge of the assassination attempt and for backing Shartouni.[28] Even after they kept pressuring him, Bachir refused to immediately give Israel peace.[29]

Bachir Gemayel's older brother Amine Gemayel was then elected as president, serving from 1982 to 1988. Rather different in temperament, Amine Gemayel was widely regarded as more moderate than his brother. Many of Bachir's followers were dissatisfied with Amine. Eventually, the Lebanese Forces became independent from the Phalange and its own political party.

Personal life

Gemayel's widow, Solange Gemayel, works to keep his legacy alive through the Bachir Gemayel Foundation, a political and informational organization.

Gemayel's first daughter, Maya, was murdered on 23 February 1980 at 18 months of age by a car bomb intended for Gemayel himself.[30][31] He had two surviving children: His second daughter, Youmna, was born later in the year and received her degree in political science in Paris. She is now working towards her Masters in Management at ESA (École supérieure des affaires) in Beirut. Gemayel's son, Nadim, who was born months before Bachir was killed, was a law student and political activist, and was elected as a member of the Lebanese Parliament in 2009.

Books about Bachir

  • Dameer wa Tareekh (ضمير وتاريخ)
  • Tareekh fi Rajol (تاريخ في رجل)
  • Rajol el Nahda (رجل النهضة)
  • Words from Bachir [32]
Preceded by
Elias Sarkis
President Elect of Lebanon
(assassinated before being sworn in

Succeeded by
Amine Gemayel

References

External links

  • Bachir Gemayel Community Site (Bachir Gemayel Foundation site)
  • The Lebanese Phalanges - Kataeb
  • Bachir Gemayel Squad Website

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