Peaceful Lebanese Revolution Could Lead the Way for Middle East

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Lebanese living in Israel are hopeful that international pressure on Syria to withdraw troops and intelligence agents will liberate their country from decades of occupation, but they are skeptical about whether they will be allowed go back home any time soon.

Some 2,500 Lebanese live here after fleeing their country nearly five years ago when Israel withdrew its troops unilaterally from a buffer zone it had maintained in southern Lebanon for 18 years.

The now-defunct South Lebanese Army (SLA) -- originally established as a militia by the Lebanese government - had worked along with the Israeli forces to protect Israel's northern border and to defend their own homes against Hizballah and other radical groups. When Israel pulled out, SLA members were branded as traitors and forced to flee.

Marlin (first name only), heads a non-profit organization that looks after the interests of the Lebanese living in Israel.

"There will be changes there [in Lebanon]," said Marlin. "We are waiting. All the news is good for Lebanon. It's big dream there that there will be peace in Lebanon."

Nevertheless, she said, no one in Beirut is advocating for the exiles living in Israel, and she laid the blame on Syria.

"No one is concerned about us. The government rejected us. We ran to Israel. We stay because the [Lebanese] government belongs to Syria. No one speaks on our behalf," Marlin said.

"We are waiting for peace, hoping for the future," she said.

"I don't feel anything," said one Lebanese man who asked not to be named out of fears that naming him might endanger his relatives still living in Lebanon. "I will return only after there is peace, only when nobody will ask me a question about where I was."

The 42-year-old father of two said it would take strong American pressure to convince the Syrians to leave Lebanon.

"If the Syrians do what the Americans are asking it will be good," he said. "We hope that there will be something good from now on."

Thousands of Lebanese fled to Israel when the SLA crumbled overnight as Israel withdrew its forces in a lightening move, with Hizballah attacking all the way.

A few returned and were put on trial, others moved on to third countries, and some settled here near their beloved Lebanon.

George Diab said he believes that the changes in Lebanon are the beginning of something new in the Arab world.

"This is the first time that it happened in the Arab world -- an embryo revolution [occurred] without one shot. This event will [move] the region to copy this cultivated revolution," Diab said.

Lebanon was always the country that gave "civilization" to the region, he added.
(Prior to its 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon was known as the Riviera of the Middle East.)

Following the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri last month, thousands of Lebanese took to the streets calling for their country's pro-Syrian government to resign - which it did - and demanding that Syria pulls its troops and intelligence services out of the country.

On Monday, Syrian troops began pulling back, closer to their own border, but it's still unclear whether they'll leave altogether. Following Monday's meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, it was announced that a complete withdrawal would hinge on further negotiations.

"The way is still long," Diab said. "[But] the Lebanese people [are] walking together...This [uprising] won't stop until they liberate all of Lebanon."

White House counselor Dan Bartlett said over the weekend that if Assad would withdraw his 14,000 troops as well as intelligence services from Lebanon as delineated in U.N. resolution 1559, a withdrawal timetable "could be worked out." He also said there is no room for "half measures."

Bartlett told CNN over the weekend that he did not see how "free and fair" elections, scheduled to take place in Lebanon in May, could take place "with the Syrian presence continuing to have an intimidation factor in Lebanon."

In Israel, Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that a Syrian withdrawal would pave the way for talks between Israel and Lebanon.

"Israel has neither territorial nor water issues with Lebanon," Peres said. (There are both territorial and water disputes between Israel and Syria.) "There is no real problem standing between Israel and Lebanon."

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