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from issue no. 06/07 - 2010

A Conference for national reconciliation

Interview with Sami Gemaye by Davide Malacaria and Lorenzo Biondi

Sami Gemayel, although not yet thirty, is a prominent member of the Phalange Party. He has a clean and intelligent face and is the nephew of Bashir Gemayel, the president of Lebanon killed in 1982. His brother Pierre, who was assassinated in 2006, is considered a martyr for the freedom of Lebanon.

Sami Gemayel [© Lorenzo Biondi]

Sami Gemayel [© Lorenzo Biondi]

After the massacres of Sabra and Shatila, the Phalange does not have a good reputation in the West.
SAMI GEMAYEL: During the war there were many abuses. Unfortunately the media found space only for those of Christians. Much has been said of Sabra and Shatila, but not of the massacres of Lebanese Christians. The Kataeb party used weapons only for self defense, they never took them out of Christian territory. The story of Sabra and Shatila was the only exception, but it was not the decision of our party. It was an independent decision of friends of President Bashir Gemayel, after his assassination. A very serious mistake. However we know we have made mistakes and we are questioning the events of the past: only through self-criticism can reconciliation have a solid foundation. Today the war is over and we made the choice of peace, the State and the Constitution.
As regards the Palestinians: for decades, 350,000 Palestinian refugees have been living in your country and demanding rights, such as that of buying and selling land and houses.
GEMAYEL: They represent a major humanitarian problem that we can’t cope with on our own: the Arab countries and the United Nations must help us. The integration of the Palestinians into our State, which is the goal of Israel, since it would solve the problem of their return to their homeland, is a different issue. The living conditions of the refugees must improve, but without compromising their right to return to Palestine.
The majority coalition backed by your party is viewed in the West as an anti-Syrian alliance. Yet your relations with Syria are good.
GEMAYEL: They say we’re anti-Syrian because we took part in the Revolution of the Cedar, a great alliance for the withdrawal of Syrian troops. Immediately after, however, we tried to establish good relations with Syria, in the interest of the State. But there’s still much to do, such as the release of Lebanese prisoners from Syrian jails and certain border issues. Priority questions for us, yet to be addressed.
Although Hezbollah is an armed party, it participates in political life...
GEMAYEL: Precisely for that reason it is unacceptable for it to be armed. You cannot play the role of resistance and that of political party at one and the same time. The fact that there is an armed party may have consequences for the whole State. Why must we suffer the consequences of Hezbollah’s decisions? It must be the State that decides on war and peace.
Your Christian party governs with a Muslim party. Can these kinds of alliances promote detente?
GEMAYEL: Everything that brings the Lebanese together should be encouraged. But our system of government, which requires the consensus of the various political forces, does not work: without an opposition there is no check on the action of the government.
Your family has paid dearly for the tension gripping the country...
GEMAYEL: Lebanon has been through several wars, including a civil one. There was an official and media reconciliation, but there has been no effort of remembering, of understanding the war and its causes. We are hoping in the creation of a National Conference to shed light on fifty years of Lebanese history. Otherwise clashes, political or military, between the various factions will continue. We hope that the current government of national unity turns into a National Conference.

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