Beirut, Lebanon:23 April 2004 –On Sunday, April 18, 2004, at 6 p.m., like every year, the relatives of the kidnapped gathered at Martyrs Square and claimed their right to know the fate of thousands of people kidnapped during the war in Lebanon. They carried signs saying things like ‘WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR CHILDREN,’ ‘LET’S REMEMBER IT SO WE DON’T REPEAT IT,’ and ‘NO WAR ANYMORE.’ A brother of Samir Al Kontar, a Lebanese prisoner held in Israel, participated in the gathering. Kidnapping is horrible and suffering is horrible, whether the kidnapper was Israeli, Syrian, Palestinian, or Lebanese. Men distributed fliers to passersby for the
Let’s Remember It So We Don’t Repeat It Campaign, and in the square amidst the blue protest signs, they also distributed roses to all participants, hoping that roses of peace will replace each gun fired during the war.
Wadad Halawani, president of the Committee of The Parents of The Kidnapped, asked the parents to gather their sorrows and the pictures of their loved ones in a half-circle next to a sign calling for the construction of a memorial for all the victims of war. Activists from human rights organizations joined them, as well as MPs Beshara Merhej and Ghassan Mkheiber.
The war in Lebanon has ended, but the pain of those who have suffered is not gone. The casefiles on war kidnappings remain open and the promised report of a review panel has not yet seen the light of day.
“My son was kidnapped in Sidon in 1983. A head of a militia known as the Monster and Zaghloul sent for him to come and negotiate for about five minutes. These five minutes became long years,’ says Mountaha Haydar, mother of soldier Samir Kherfen.
Chants from the mothers and the fathers rose, cursing and calling officials to assume responsibility. “With the end of war and the election of President Elias Hraoui, we thought that the issue would be solved within weeks. The second mandate of the Republic of Taef is about to end, and my son hasn’t returned,” says one of the mothers.
Next to the sign calling for a memorial was a picture of missing prisoner Maher Kassir and written underneath it: “I was born in 1966, my registered number is 66, “Beirut Superstar,” Beirut municipal elections candidate, asking for an appointment from???” Maryam Saiid, Maher’s mother, says that the three question marks represent the appointment still not scheduled with the three presidents. Her son was arrested during the Israeli invasion in 1982, as a result of confrontations at the Lebanese University.
Fatma Hamdan, the mother of Saiid Bleibel, claims that her son is present in Israeli prisons, after he was kidnapped by one of the militias, and imprisoned for a while in Byblos. Hassan Rashed Hamada, son of Nabiha Nasr El Din, from Kamatieh, was kidnapped in 1984. His mother calls the state to reveal the truth. Rashid Mohammad Ali Ladoui, son of Halima Ali Jammal, was kidnapped in Tripoli in 1976. “My son is not a member of a political party,” says Rashid’s mother, “but as a result of a fight with some guys, he joined the Amal Movement three months before his kidnapping in the Nabaa Region.
What does a sixteen-year-old boy know about politics to be kidnapped or was his identity the crime?”
Like Israel, like Syria. The son of Umm Ali has been detained in Syrian prisons since 1981. He was taken in the Cola Region, and people testified before General Prosecutor Adnan Addoum that they saw him. Umm Ali sighs, “We had enough of promises,” she says sadly.
Amin Nahlé, a twenty-year-old student from Alzarif High School, says that he is participating in this gathering so that the war does not happen again. “This is a message addressed to the officials because the political situation is real bad.”
Hanane Dirani, a sixteen-year-old student in Fakhr El Dine High School, says this issue is very important and concerns everyone.
Mouhannad Mahfouz from The Arab Open University started participating in the gatherings two years ago “to learn from the Lebanese war and because prisoners and missing persons are part of the war.”
Attorney Nizar Saghieh was there, watching the tears of mothers falling for the sake of their sons, and at that moment, all questions disappeared. In 2001, Saghieh founded the committee to remember and to break the silence. Mothers of the kidnapped collectively do not trust the new investigatory committee headed by Minister Michel Moussa and responsible for revealing the truth. “We have had enough of committees,” said one of the mothers, while one of the signs held up said, “FREE THE REPORT, STOP TORTURING US.”
“We come here and we demonstrate and we leave. We see our picture in the media, but without a result. Many do not know why we demonstrate. We need to find new ways to mobilize for our cause,” said Nizar Amin, a student at the Lebanese University.
The president of the Committee of Kidnapped Persons justifies the small number of participants and says it is due to other demonstrations taking place at the same time. She also asserts that civil organizations should coordinate together and added, “We want a day for the memory for the cause of peace and not war.”
The participants signed two petitions. The first calls for declaring April 13th a national day of memorial to reject violence and fanaticism from people’s hearts and from society. This day is supposed to impart lessons that will be told to the new generations so they avoid the mistakes of their fathers and teach their children in turn. The second petition calls for the building of a memorial to commemorate all the victims of the war, to condemn the crimes of war, to commemorate all the victims, and to be a place of quietude which is free of discrimination.
The gathering ended in the hope that the parents of the missing will locate with their loved ones, or at least they know that their loved ones are martyrs. Every year they will go to the Martyrs Square Memorial, to conciliate and produce a common memory of peace.