Who Are the Gemayels?

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET

Before we deconstruct the assassination of Pierre Gemayel in Beirut two days ago, we need to go back in history, to 1982.

September 15, 1982. Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon, commanded by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, surround two large Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. The names of the camps are Sabra and Shatila. No one is allowed in or out.

Israeli forces are allied with one faction of Lebanese, the Maronite Christian Phalangists, who have maintained an Israeli-supported militia along Lebanon's southern border.

Lebanon, formerly an enclave of Syria, was under direct French control from the end of WWI until 1943. By the time it received its tentative independence from France, the French has guaranteed the domination of the then-majority Christians over the government, its adminsitrative apparatuses, and the economy. As greater and greater numbers of Muslims populated Lebanon, driven significantly by mass exlusions of Palestinians from Palestine (Israel) and Jordan (where many Plaestinian refugees originally went after being pushed out by the Israelis), this control was contested.

Those attempts at resolving inequalities between Christan and Muslim resulted in sometimes violent reaction from the Christians, who clung jealously to their power. The close cultural ties between Syria (the Muslim-majority portion of the former French Mandate) and Muslims in Lebanon led directly to strong ties between Muslims under attack from Christian rightsts (organized as early as 1938 into the Kataeb Social Democratic Party, "Phalange" for short, by a Lebanese Christian strongman named Pierre Gemayel), and to Syrian intervention in the affairs of its former enclave.

Pierre Gemayel was a big fan of Spain's fasicst dictator, Francisco Franco, and organized the Phalangists in a nearly identical structure to the Spanish Phalange. This is the Party that the US government, CNN, and both US political parties now tout as the hope of Lebanese democracy.

Pierre's son, Bachir Gemayel, continued the Phalangist legacy, and organized Phalangist militias. In August, 1982, Bachir had just been elected president, in Christian-run elections that Muslims boycotted, at the height of a bloody civil war, now involving Lebanese Muslims, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, the Israelis, and the Syrians.

Gemayel had "run" for election on the promise to smash the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

September 14, 1982, nine days before Bashir Gemayal was due to take office, he was assassinated with a bomb, ostensibly by a Lebanese Christian working for the Syrians, named Habib Tanious Shartouni.

But the Phalangists' enemies were the Palestinians.

There was a swift reaction obviously coordinated with Sharon's Israeli military. That brings us back to:

September 15, 1982. Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon, commanded by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, surround two large Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. The names of the camps are Sabra and Shatila. No one is allowed in or out. Revenge was on the minds of the Phalangists, and in coordination with the Israeli cordon sanitaire around the Sabra and Shatila camps, the Phalangists entered on the afternoon of Spetember 16th.

For the next two days, until 8 PM, September 18th, they rampaged through the camps, dragging men, women, and children from their shanty-houses and hiding places and killing them.

Israeli troops, who were part of the cordon, would claim that even though they knew the circumstances after Gemayel's asassination, even though they had allowed the Phalange militia to enter, even though they heard the screams and shots for over 36 hours, they had no idea what was happening in Sabra and Shatila.

During hours of darkenss, at the request of the Phalangists, Israeli troops fired parachute flares over the camps to assist the Phalangists with illumination.

Phalange Commander Elie Hobeika was overheard by an Israeli soldier telling a subordinate who had asked what to do with the women and children, "This is the last time you're going to ask me a question like that; you know exactly what to do." This reply was accompanied by laughter from other Phalangist militamen.

Palestinians who tried to flee the camps were turned back by Israeli troops.

Israelis claim that 700-800 were killed. The BBC put the number at 800. Later researchers put the number closer to 1,300.

Among Lebanese Muslims, who constitute a majority (55%), in addition to aroudn 200,000 displaced Palestinians, the Phalange tradition embodied by Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, nephew of Bachir Gemayel, is perceived as anything but democratic. Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was assassinated two days ago in Beirut, and now we hear the outcry from UN Ambassador and world-class asshole John Bolton about Gemayel being part of some longstanding struggle for Lebanese democracy, and nary a mention of how the Phalange tradition has been one of support for the US-Israeli axis against Muslims.

Instead, we hear the same drumbeat, the same demonizations of the only allies Lebanese Muslims have been able to count upon in defense against these imperial-comprador depredations: Syria, on behalf of the Lebanese Sunnis in the North, Hamas and the PLO on behalf of the Palestinians, and Southern Shia Hezbollah -- perhaps the most authentic grassroots Lebanese popular formation in the country, which has now commited the unforgiveable sin, defeating Israel in combat.

That this assassination comes just as the immensely popular Hezbollah is mounting a successful capaign to take down the US-"supported" government in Lebanon should not go unnoticed. And the possibility of a "false flag" operation should not yet be discounted, as Syria and Iran -- next on the US target list (if they can ever extricate themselves from the ongoing defeat in Iraq) -- are being promoted in the US media and by the US government as the heavies.