Friday, February 20, 2009


In 1981, I told Bashir Gemayel that he would be the next president of Lebanon. He shook his head and replied that his enemies would not forgive him so soon. We were both right. On August 23rd, 1982, he was elected. On September 14th, 1982, he was assassinated.

All the acclaim currently going to “Waltz with Bashir,” the frontrunner (from Israel) to win this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film, begs the question, “Who was Bashir Gemayel?” 

A voice-over in “Waltz with Bashir” tells us he was “a star, an idol, a prince…” Indisputable, but insufficient. An often literally nightmarish history of the 1982 Israeli-Palestinian conflict waged on the fields, streets and beaches of Lebanon, “Waltz with Bashir” is a hybrid animated documentary, a brilliant one. It is not a biography, and film has its limitations. Having known Bashir, having enjoyed an easy rapport with him and been stirred by him, I feel compelled to pick up where the film leaves off.

To meet Bashir was to be inspired by him. He was strong (to excess, according to his critics) when Lebanon, which had suffered from a history of "laissez faire-type" govern­ment, needed bold, determined leadership. He was committed: believing from the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975 that he and his people were re­sponsible not only for their own destinies, but also for the destiny of their country, Bashir gave up his law practice to become a soldier.

In beige business suit, dress shirt and tie when not in military fatigues, with boyish voice and cultured candor, he looked and sounded more like the best man at a wedding than the Commander-in-Chief of the 25,000-strong coalition Lebanese Forces and the emerging charismatic political leader on whose shoulders the future of Lebanon would barely have time to perch, much less rest.

Before he paid for his aspirations for his country with his own life, he paid a price even dearer—a car bomb intended for him took the life of his eighteen-month-old daughter, Maya. He stoically told me it was a "tribute" he was forced to pay, "the same as many Lebanese." 

A Christian Maronite who sought to be president to Christians and Moslems alike, Bashir was staunchly pro-Western, unfettered by Pan-Arabism, friendly to Israel and hostile to the Syrians and to the Palestine Liberation Organization. With his combination of intel­ligence, courage and confidence, he impressed me as having the potential to emerge not only as the leader the Arab world lacked and needed so badly, but also as a pivotal leader on the world stage. He was the only principal player in the Arab world with the imagina­tion and the courage to fill the void left by Sadat. No one since has surfaced to change that.

The details of Bashir’s death are lurid and heartbreaking. Chief of his nationalist Kataeb party, he routinely attended a weekly Tuesday afternoon meeting at a party headquarters in Beirut’s Ashrafieh neighborhood. As president-elect of Lebanon, he insisted on going “for the last time” before resigning his post. Habib Chartouni, an assassin in the employ of Syria, had family—by varying accounts, grandparents and/or a sister—living in the office’s building, where he had planted a mammoth TNT bomb. His urgent phone calls to them giving various excuses to leave the building failed—they lingered to get yet another glimpse of the beloved Bashir. Reports say the explosion lifted the building into the air before it collapsed into rubble.

No one would believe Bashir had met ill. Word spread that his attempted assassination had failed; their hero lived! Church bells pealed in celebration and soldiers fired into the air. His corpse, unearthed with many other victims, lay unidentified initially because his face was so badly crushed he was unrecognizable—until identity was established by the discovery of a nun’s letter to him in his pocket and a distinguishing finger ring. “They didn’t kill a man,” a woman is said to have screamed, “they killed a country.”

His disciples—for that in effect is what they were—were in shock and inconsolable. The voice-over of a former Israeli soldier in “Waltz with Bashir” coolly expresses, “I think they even felt an eroticism for him…. It was as if their wife had been murdered.” They took their revenge within days in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by massacring hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children. The Israel Defense Forces, ringing the outskirts of the camps, were accused not so much of complicity as of callous indifference. “It was obvious they’d avenge his death in some perverse way,” says the voice-over. In the waves of world-wide shock and revulsion that followed the exposure of the massacres, the think­ing world, which had barely a chance to consider Bashir when he was alive, lost sight of Bashir and never got to consider what it lost. The magnitude of his death was dismissed as quickly as his body was interred.

Lebanon is still in the hands of ill-intentioned intruders—Syria, Hezbollah and other surrogates for Iran—not the Lebanese people. Two Arab countries flanking Israel, Egypt and Jordan, enjoy peace with her—but not Lebanon. As more Arab countries recognize Israel, more Arab countries will be forced to recognize Israel—and as a consequence, be uncustomarily faced with peace. The waltz, a mournful one, continues; the band plays on.


  1. I would also add that Bashir was the only dream "Lebanese Christians" had...since his death, our community (guess what I am :) ) has been suffering. He was a great man, because he knew what the people needed (not just wanted) and acted for their best interests.

    And this alone is so rare in politicians (which he really wasn't) all over the world.

  2. Bashir was a Lebanese, a true Lebanese, because he saw Lebanon for what it could and should be, the heart and soul of a modern Middle East. Even today, Christian or Moslem is not the division. It is who is working to preserve Lebanon and who is working to destroy it, at the behest of foreign forces.
    Bashir thought to forge a front with Israel. There was no other way and the U.S. would never stop supporting Israel. It was bold but doomed to failure. Amin was more cautious,became President, and is still alive, but had to endure the sacrifice of his son.
    Sadly, even today the U.S. does not appreciate the importance of Lebanon and what it has to offer in rebalancing the various factions throughout the Middle East. Hizbollah steals attention away from what is admirable and stable in Lebanese society, and Syria is treated as a big brother to pathetic little Lebanon.
    Even a movie like "Waltz with Bashir" does not explain the reality created by settling so many refugees in Lebanon, and in such sensitive areas, thereby creating no-man's land areas which were intolerable to a traditional people, whatever their religious sect. When we used to drive to our beach club, past poverty and filth and shanty-towns,we knew time would bring great changes and not for the good.

  3. What is striking to me is that an outsider, an American, is telling the story of a Lebanese cut down too soon by the crazies in that self-destructive world. Bravo, Ray

    Mickey 208

  4. I haven't seen "Waltz With Bashir," but i still want to.

    Hope all is well, Ray.


  5. Now that I can use my eyes again I've just caught up. Your postscript about Bashir was a beautful tribute. It's hard to remember the time when there was hope.

    Thank you for this wonderful blog.


  6. Thanks for this. The real tragedy is that Israelis and Lebanese are so similar in mindset and culture, it's ridiculous we're still at war.

    There's a saying, probably Lebanese in origin - Syria and Iran will fight Israel until the very last Lebanese!

    Sad, but you know it rings of truth.

  7. I am not at all Israeli or Lebanese, but an American educating himself on the strife and culture of the Middle East.

    There are so many misconceptions and preconceived ideas based on the lack of real communication, and the omnipresence of fear.

    I am happy that another soldier in the fight for truth has taken a stance to enlighten all of us!



  8. In 1970, I met a family member of Bashir, from Bikfaya, in Germany - and will never forget a long conversation we had, about the pride and love he had for Lebanon, it was as if he spoke of a first born son, the woman of his dreams, the love of his mother, and the respect for a father, all this love, wrapped into Lebanon, the Jewel of his heart. I remember the awe and amazement of such devotion and unrestricted love of country and people....and the sparkle, the tears that appeared in his eyes - born from the emotion which inspired him - and his hopes for Bashir Gemayel, whom he saw as a beacon of perpetual light, a man distinguished by brilliance, commitment and prophetic pureness.He also spoke of the dark forces of Syria, the plague of Arafat, the Egyptian, his enterprise of crime and blackmail, and the threat of their presence in Lebanon. Forty years later, and I still remember every detail of that conversation -
    and when I heard about Bashir's assassination, I felt as if I had lost a close friend. When I tried to locate Raymond, to pay respect and to offer comfort - he had disappeared....and still after 40 years, I ask every Lebanese I meet, if they know Raymond Bashir from Bikfaya, but nobody knows.......they remember the family, the place, and then their memories veil their eyes in sadness...their Lebanon is now occupied, stolen, destroyed and violated by the very people they offered hospitality to - who took advantage of their warmth and trust, and stabbed them in the heart....they who are Lebanese, have now become homeless and eternally feel a loss they cannot put into words. But I feel their pain, and all the words that remain unspoken. Bless Lebanon, and yes, Israel has always been a true friend to Lebanon, but, like Lebanon - Israel inspired envy, jealousy and the dark, evil forces who wished to destroy these two wonderful hard working countries,who reached out to extend friendship and hospitality to the same traitors who prefer the handy work of conspiracy and betrayal, murder and destruction - than earning and deserving.
    And when the thieves and murderers get what they wanted to steal, they will turn on each other, and when their madness, greed and evil has run it's course - and contaminate it with the evil they are, until there is nothing left to steal. Then they will move on, because without the beauty and happiness of the people of Lebanon, Lebanon will remain silent and haunted, and will never give pleasure to those who cannot love it. Bashir will always long for Lebanon, as Lebanon will always long for a son like Bashir, his memory is Lebanon's unfulfilled promise of the future. I pray for Lebanon, with you and for you. Rebecca.