Dialogue about past conflicts always poses a risk for sparking new ones. Thus, in post-conflict societies processes of dealing with the past are to be carried out carefully and inclusively engaging all different groups of a society. In Lebanon however, the governments and vast parts of the society until now decided to not engage in any dialogue about the past but rather to promote a ‘collective amnesia’. The amnesty law from 1991 made sure that the majority of the perpetrators from the Lebanese Civil War remained unpunished and thus, the numerous human rights violations and atrocities were never publicly addressed. And although a decree from 2014 forced the Committee of Inquiry in the Fates of the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared to disclose all their investigation files, the process showed how little had been done to investigate the disappearance of people during the Civil War.
The right to know the truth is a crucial part of dealing with the past and the precondition to reconcile with it. The passiveness of the Lebanese governments has made it very difficult to achieve a constructive dialogue about the past. On the other side, this has left space for numerous initiatives from individuals or civil society organisations. In an attempt to map such initiatives between 1990 and 2015, forumZFD initiated a study in 2015. The produced databank was then published by Lebanon Support on their Civil Society Knowledge Center. After forumZFD and Lebanon Support had decided to go further with their partnership, Lebanon Support extended the study in order to also include initiatives from 2015 to 2017.
The Event in antwork
On the 18th of September 2018, both organisations invited various people from NGOs and individuals to come to antwork in Hamra. The main objective of the event was to show the general public how much had already happened in the field of dealing with the past in Lebanon. At the same time, it was a chance to identify future needs and ideas for reconciliation initiatives. Especially because the mere number of actors involved in the 156 mapped initiatives poses a great chance for collaborations in the future. Jenny Munro, the programme manager in Dealing with the Past said at the event: "forumZFD seeks to support their partners to engage with multiple narratives of contested historical events. One of the strategies to do this is to work with actors in the field and build on synergies. We hope that the mapping can serve as a tool for civil society actors, policy makers and researchers to advance the efforts of dealing with the past in Lebanon."
After a concise introduction to the databank on the initiatives and the report on the mapping study written by Mia Bou Khaled, forumZFD and Lebanon Support invited six speakers to talk about their very own experiences with initiatives addressing the past in Lebanon and how this field is personally important to them. The theatre maker and founding member of the Zoukak Theatre Company, Lamia Abi Azar opened the panel with a short performance on the Civil War and memory in Lebanon.
Yara Ayoub, a student of Philosophy and Interior Design and Hala Abi Saleh, a young researcher with a maitrise in Political Science, shared how their biographies led them to meet each other in an initiative by the non-governmental organisation Fighters for Peace. Fighters for Peace was founded by two ex-fighters from the Civil War that decided to jointly promote peace and reconciliation among the numerous ex-fighters in Lebanon and among youth in order to not repeat the past mistakes. Hala shared that her main objective to get involved was to find answers about the Civil War that her parents or her school teachers didn't provide her with. Especially when she found out that her "dad took part in it" she wanted to start promoting dialogue and providing answers for people that had the same questions as her.
The founder and leader of the Committee of the Families of Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon, Wadad Halwani, talked about her struggle to fight for her right to know. For almost 40 years she has been promoting the discovery of the fate of the disappeared that have been gone missing during the Civil War. Her husband went missing in 1982 after two police men took him away without any further notice. Wadad Halwani’s husband is one of around 17,000 disappeared. For her it is obvious that "we are still stuck in the past, and we are still struggling to reconcile with the past". Neyla Hamadeh, the president of the Lebanese Association for History stated during the event on Twitter: "The case of the forced disappearances is one of many crucial cases resulting from the Civil War."
Ghassan Moukheiber, a former member of the Lebanese Parliament and Human Rights Activist, believes that Civil Society and Politics can't work without each other in order to reconcile with Lebanon's past. Although, politicians had been passive so far, he sees the chance that an active engagement of civil society can promote the collaboration between political and civic powers. Furthermore, Ghassan Moukheiber also sees an urgent need to not forget about the people that went missing during the Civil War. He told the audience: “I am interested in the symbolism associated with war monuments. In 1999, I suggested that we create a park for the Disappeared in the Valley of Beirut. It symbolises a graveyard and gives a place for the families to visit and remember their missing”.
The event documented the multifold efforts, mainly by the local civil society, to engage in the process of dealing with the past in Lebanon. Various actors from politics, civil society, arts and educational backgrounds are eager to support reconciliation efforts in order to not repeat the violent past. forumZFD's programme area Dealing with the Past aims to support these actors and the mapping study makes the public better aware of efforts in dealing with past.