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Christians in the Muslim World

Lebanon: When pain leads to solidarity and not only vengeance

January is a month that brings back the memory of a terrible day in 1976 when Damour, a predominantly Christian town of 25,000 some 20 kilometres south of Beirut, experienced the worst mass slaughter in its history as a result of an attack by some 10,000 Palestinian terrorists.


Words by Mgr Mansour Labaky, a priest in charge of a local parish at the time, best sum up the legacy of this anniversary. “There is still something I can remember that makes me shudder; the Can’ans: four children, plus their mother, father and grand-father. An entire family: all dead. The mother who was pregnant at the time was still holding one of the children. The children had their eyes gouge out, their limbs hacked off; they had no legs or arms.


We took them away in an Apecar. Who helped me? The one surviving member of the family, the children’s uncle: Samir Can’an. The two of us carried away what was left of his brother, his father, his sister-in-law and the poor children. The newly-born and the infants had died of dehydration.


The attack itself had begun in the mountains and was apocalyptic. They were thousands, screaming “Allahu akbar! God is great! Attack them in the name of the Arabs. Let us offer Muhammad a holocaust!” They slaughtered anyone they found in their path: men, women and children.


Entire families were killed in their homes. Many women were gang-raped—just a few were left alive. One woman saved her teenage daughter from rape by smearing her face with a dye that made her look disgusting. During the butchery the attackers took pictures of themselves which they later sold to European newspapers.


Some people survived to tell the story of what happened. A 16-year-old girl, Soumaya Ghanimeh, witnessed the execution of her own father and brother by two of the attackers; she saw her own house and those of her neighbours go up in smoke after being plundered. “Ten trucks were parked in front of the houses, each full of booty,” she said. “I can still remember how scared I was by the fire. I was screaming. For many months I couldn’t stand anyone who lighted even a match near me. I couldn’t stand the smell.”


Although wounds are still open, many survivors, starting with the parish priest, have felt that God has called upon them to share what they have with the poor, even with the ‘enemy’, by being patient and forgiving regardless of the injustice they endured. Some local youths are among those who take turns helping out needy families.


That's why the memory of those tragic events and the altruistic actions they inspired are for Lebanon a way to say that it is possible to openly live one’s Christian faith as a member of the Lebanese people whilst carrying out real actions to help those at the bottom through sharing what one has, however little it may be.


In a land like Lebanon, the pain of the people of Damour can thus serve as a learning experience that teaches how to work together in order to start anew. This way Christians, who remain an essential factor for the nation’s stability, will not abandon their land at such a crucial point in its history.