To the Editor:
In response to Bernard Lewis's fine article, "Muslim Anti-Semitism" [MEQ, June 1998], Abdelaleem El-Abyad's letter [MEQ, September 1998] contains three enduring misconceptions regarding Lebanon that require a response because it comes from seemingly so authoritative a source.
Mr. El-Abyad alludes first to what he calls Israel's "unprovoked invasion of Lebanon" in 1982. The head of his embassy's press and information bureau seems oblivious to the armed and belligerent Palestinian presence in Lebanon since 1968 that provoked the Israeli action. Successive Lebanese governments had urged Palestinian organizations in Lebanon to restrain and modify their reckless and irresponsible strategies in confronting Israel; their refusal to comply led to Lebanon's breakdown in 1975, two Israeli invasions in 1978 and 1982, the establishment of Israel's "security zone" in South Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of dead, wounded and displaced Lebanese citizens, countless billions of dollars in destruction and losses to the Lebanese economy, and the eventual takeover of the country by Syria.
Second, Israel is hardly alone in having fomented violence in Lebanon; Egypt too was among the many neighboring countries that had a role in this. For example, the Egyptian-sponsored 'Ayn Jalut brigade of the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA), participated in several sectarian massacres in Lebanon, including the destruction of the coastal city of Damur in 1976, resulting in the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of innocent civilians.
Third, on the question of the 1982 massacre in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla, Mr. Lewis accurately notes that the Israeli authorities had undertaken several investigations; neither the Syrians nor Palestinians did anything comparable, either on this occasion or in the scores of other massacres and atrocities in Lebanon in which they had roles. Worse, the two individuals-Elie Hobeika and Pierre Rizk-who shared command of the Lebanese Forces (Phalangists) at the time of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre have flourished in Syrian-controlled Lebanon. Hobeika has been one of the most trusted people in Lebanon by Damascus since at least 1985 and an influential minister in the Syrian-controlled Lebanese government since 1990. Rizk, who long collaborated with the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] leadership, is currently reaping millions of dollars as a business front for Yasir Arafat and his wife Suha. Where are the Syrian or Palestinian inquiries into their leaderships' close connections to these two?
These errors are symptomatic of a larger problem. In an exchange of correspondence I had in late 1996 with Ahmed Maher El-Sayed, Egypt's ambassador to Washington, His Excellency would not acknowledge that Syria is an occupying force in Lebanon nor that there is a need for all foreign forces to withdraw from the country.
Time and again, in other words, the Egyptian Embassy in Washington engages in distortions when it deals with the Lebanese situation.
American Lebanese Institute
Abdelaleem El-Abyad replies:
Daniel Nassif's comments are extraneous to the determination of guilt in the Sabra and Shatilla massacre or to the central arguments in my letter to the Middle East Quarterly. The world's court of public opinion, including that in the United States, long ago had passed its verdict on this matter, as anyone can verify by re-visiting coverage by leading American newspapers of this great tragedy.
Mr. Nassif is fully entitled to his views about Egypt, although they are shared neither by successive Lebanese governments or the overwhelming majority of Lebanese people who rightly believe Egypt to be their steadfast friend and ally. The many bonds that tie our peoples are too numerous to count. Nothing ever will sour this relationship.
Press and Information Bureau
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt