Resistance as a way of life


 Nadia Abou El-Magd


 Al-Ahram Weekly


 14 June 2001

Soha Beshara

Soha Beshara immediately after her release from El-Khiam prison

     Soha Beshara: Moukawema (Soha Beshara: Member of the Resistance), Beirut: Dar Al-Saqi, 2000. pp254.

Towards the beginning of her memoirs, Soha Beshara: Member of the Resistance (written originally in French), Soha Beshara asks " does the date of one's birth have an impact on one's life? I was born on 15 June 1967. How can I ask such a question!" And, indeed, only ten days after the naksa (setback) when the Arabs lost East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights to Israel, there was little reason to celebrate Beshara's birth. But Soha Beshara did not celebrate her 15th birthday either, for on that day she and her family were preparing to escape Beirut as Israeli forces commanded by Ariel Sharon, the then Israeli defence minister, had invaded Lebanon on the 5 June 1982 in an operation dubbed "Peace for Galilee," and these forces were advancing on the capital. "For the first time in my life I saw my enemy face to face," Beshara says, "my feelings fluctuating between fear and challenge." Challenge, however, prevailed over all other feelings, and the present book amply shows how dominated its author's life has been by resisting Israeli aggression, indeed how resistance has become her way of life. 

Born in Deir Mamas, a small village in South Lebanon, "a stone's throw from Israel," Beshara became aware of the frequent Israeli raids into her country when she was only six years old. Following the raids of the early 70s, the Lebanese Civil War, which Beshara blames in large part on Israel, erupted in 1975, lasting not for the one day that her parents had predicted but for the next 15 years. "Fighting became our daily bread, and war a daily affair, "she says. Born to a Communist father and a strong-willed mother who hated politics, by the end of the 70s, Beshara had reached the conclusion that her country's main enemy was Israel. The massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982 by Phalangist militiamen while Israeli forces surrounded the camps confirmed this view. "I'm not a Christian Lebanese woman, I'm Lebanese first and foremost," she says. In my opinion, "those who helped Israel invade Lebanon ceased to be Lebanese." 

It was also at this time that Beshara began to think about what action she could take, as a very young women, against the Israeli forces that were occupying her country. In 1982, while she was taking part in a demonstration protesting against the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ragheb Harb, a member of the Shi'ite Amal movement, a passer-by pointed at Beshara, saying "that girl will undertake action herself one day." That same year the birth of the Lebanese National Resistance Front gave Beshara hope that her country would one day again be free." I ceased being lost," she says. "I found my way, and I became committed to the Resistance movement." 

Like all teenagers, Beshara had her personal dreams, but these she subordinated to her part in the national struggle. " I was 15 years old when a young member of the Communist Party expressed his love to me, but after giving the matter deep thought, I decided that love was an obstacle to my future plans. I decided not to mix my feelings with my work in the Resistance. Like all the other girls of my generation, I wanted to have a boyfriend, and I dreamt of having a married life and having a family and children. But all that was impossible because of the pressing circumstances we were living through; I thought then that if people could sacrifice themselves for personal ends, why should they not do so for national reasons?" 

"I'm a peaceful person by nature, but when Sanaa Al-Mehidly, an 18-year-old Lebanese girl, blew herself up as an Israeli patrol was passing in 1985, that shocked me and made me ready for the struggle." 

By the time that Beshara began her operational work in the Resistance in 1987, she already had a clear plan and definite targets, namely members of the Israeli-supported South Lebanon Army (SLA), the Israelis themselves, or Antoine Lahd, the leader of the SLA. Beshara took a job in a leisure complex in Marajayoun, the headquarters of Israel's local militia. Here, she learnt that Lahd's wife was looking for an aerobics' instructor, and Beshara took on this position too, frequently visiting the Lahds' "beautiful house." Assassinating Lahd himself proved difficult, however, despite Beshara's contact with him; as she writes here, despite the violence and the killings for which Lahd was responsible, and her feeling that he was therefore a legitimate target, it was difficult to find a way of assassinating him. 

However in November 1988, when Beshara was at Lahd's house as usual, and as he was talking on the telephone, she pulled her gun from her bag and shot him. Asked why she had shot Lahd, she simply said, "He is the one who is killing us." And for Beshara, shooting Lahd led to a new sense of living in truth. "For months and months," she writes, "I had lied and deceived people about who I really was and what I was really about. After the shooting I was able to announce my ideas and my identity. There are no other roles to play." Beshara was arrested, as was her mother, uncle and some 60 of her relatives and friends. Kept in the notorious El-Khiam prison, Beshara was tortured for months, yet when asked about her last wish before her execution, she said that she would "sing a song by [Lebanese singer] Marcel Khalife, a song that glorifies the Resistance." 

Beshara had not succeeded in killing Lahd, however. But she writes here that despite this failure, she had succeeded in important other respects. "We achieved our goal in that we revealed how fragile the regime imposed by Israel was, and we showed that such people were not safe or secure in the Israeli occupied territories." Beshara herself now had to prepare herself for long detention at Israeli hands, finally being released from prison in 1998, when she was 31 years old. 

Her description of life in prison occupies a good part of the present memoirs. Again she resorted to what she knew best, challenge. " I clung to my will, being determined to remain active and fit, but I did not have enough to eat," and as a result of having only one meal a day and being kept in solitary confinement she lost a lot of weight and became at times seriously ill. A chapter of her book she dedicates to a young Palestinian woman, Kifah, from the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. Only 12 years old when she lost three brothers in the 1982 massacres, at 17 Kifah had tried to take some Israeli soldiers hostage to force the release of Palestinian prisoners. In El-Khiam prison, these two young women, "colleagues of weapons and pain," went through much of their ordeal together. Beshara also fought prison and solitary confinement with creativity, starting to write and making the pens to do so from the aluminium foil that covered the cheese they were given to eat. 

Soha Beshara was finally released from Israeli prison in September 1998 as a result of the intervention of international human- rights groups, and particularly of the Paris- based "Committee for the Release of Soha Beshara." Once in the car that took her away from prison and towards freedom, she writes, "I didn't once look back at the hell I had lived in for the past 10 years." 

Beshara visited El-Khiam prison soon after its liberation following Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon last year. "Life," she says in the conclusion to her book, "started again for me after El- Khiam, but life has become yet more wonderful after Lebanon's liberation." As for Lahd, he escaped to Israel after the Israeli withdrawal, and he is still living there complaining of Israel's "betrayal." 



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