By Claudia Hajjar.
From the time Syria extended its occupation over Lebanon, I worked for the liberation of my beloved country. Although I was an Aounist and thought highly of the General, I was curious about Abu Arz and his Guardians of the Cedars Party. Aoun thought he would soon return from his exile in France; therefore, he rejected Abu Arz's idea of establishing a radio station in southern Lebanon. Aoun also had rejected the idea of coming to the south to lead a liberation struggle against the Syrians. Meanwhile, Syrian occupation and the Beirut proxy "authorities" compelled the GOC to be virtually invisible and inaudible. Abu Arz himself was located in the Jezzine area.
The first thing I thought of doing was ask my mother about Abu Arz and his Party. And so I did. She told me how patriotic and noble he was, my older sister interfered to add about his personal quality, a quality that is at the same time a major fault. She said that the love that Abu Arz has for his country was so deep that he never cared to be seen publicly or take any credit for what he has done. He was always, as we say, "behind the curtains". Instead of working for others to lead the country, he should have concentrated on himself. Because no one better than him will know the history, strategy and geography of this country, without forgetting his genuine sense of trust and loyalty. (Evita Hajjar Testimony)
Three weeks later, one of the many doctors I used to visit, invited me to spend a couple of days with him and his family in his native village, in the south. The word "south" rang in my ears! This was an opportunity I had to catch. I asked him if he knew Abu Arz and if he knew where exactly Abu Arz lived in the south. Astonished, he replied, "What? If I ever heard about Abu Arz?" he started laughing and continued, "if I ever think of spending my week-ends in my village, it's only because I can have/breathe some oxygen from Abu Arz…I adore this man." He asked me if I was one of his political fans. I told him that I wasn't but it was urgent that I meet him. Fortunately enough, he was very friendly and told me that I could go up with them whenever I pleased, he even told me that there would be no problem concerning a "laissez-passer", Later on, I understood that it wasn't my research or my persistence that led me to Abu Arz, but only "La Providance".
On the same weekend of this week, the doctors' family and I drove down to the south. Besides of what I had to do, I was very anxious to meet this man or at least to see what he looks like.
What seemed like an eternity finally came to an end when the gates of his quarter opened in Sabbah, Jezzine. Ten minutes later, we were inside Abu Arz's living room, waiting for him to enter. His living and dining room were very poorly equipped: the dining room was furnished with plastic chairs and a big plastic table, where as his living room consisted of long sofas, dating since ages. I mean, I literally felt the springs under my buttocks!
The walls were all decorated with pictures of Guardian martyrs and written slogans. It was the poorest and at the same time the most impressive house I have ever visited.
At last, he entered the room and greeted every one. After we were formally introduced, they all started chatting. While every one was talking, I kept staring at this man. A man with such charisma and humbleness at the same time, that one couldn't help himself but wonder if this was his true face. As they were talking, they asked him about the general situation in Lebanon. He started explaining, starting from the very beginning of the war to that present day, how/why things went wrong and why the whole situation "will" change, all based on the Lebanese history, geography and theology. He explained everything in such a simple way that it was hard, even for a child, not to understand. I asked him why he made things seem so simple while others made it look very complicated. And he answered, " The truth is always simple and only lies are complicated."
It wasn't until then that I realized that it was the first time in my life that I met a leader who knows how to listen and talk without interrupting anyone.
As the conversation was going on, I asked him," how can you say that the Lebanese war was not a war between the Lebanese themselves but the war of the others, when whom you blame are only the Lebanese leaders?
He answered, " all the wars are made from outsiders, each one for different reasons and interests, but not all of them will allow it to happen. It cannot happen if there aren't leaders from within that permit it to occur, in other words, traitors."
Although, I knew that every thing he said was completely right and made a lot of sense I found myself somehow angry and sad. At the same moment I didn't want to admit it, but the harsh truth was that, what I saw in Abu Arz in just a few minutes I couldn't find in the General Aoun. All of this was very hard for me to swallow and made it even harder knowing that Aoun was my idol. It was a feeling of disappointment and confusion at the same time. I suddenly found myself crying, tears were running down my face and I couldn't do anything to stop them. He looked at me but didn't say a word! I believe he knew the reason from the very first moment…
After resting for a while, Abu Arz came and had dinner with us at the doctor's house. We spent the night all together around the dining table, listening to every word that man said. He was the same man I met few hours ago; he had the same impact on me as he had before and even deeper. It seemed that this man couldn't stop impressing me with his simplicity and wise words. When he left we kept on talking about him, they kept repeating the whole time "only a man like Abu Arz can save this country".
I couldn't sleep that night, I kept crying until no more tears ran down. It was a very emotional day for me. Abu Arz impersonated all the qualities that might and should exist in a true leader.
Early the next day, Abu Arz came over. I began by telling him about the call I had with the General Aoun. I told him that Aoun thought that the radio station wasn't necessary anymore because he believes that we were coming to an end, and that things seemed positive for us. Abu Arz listened attentively to everything I had to say and only then he asked me how could Aoun be so sure. He pessimistically sighed, "INSHALLAH" and continued, "but I don't see it at all that soon…"
When we finished talking about the Syrian occupation and how they entered Lebanon, I asked him about the Israeli occupation and what was his opinion about it, Abu Arz hopelessly said, " we have been repeating, and so have they, for many years now. The Israelis don't have any intentions in our territories or in its resources. The ties between Lebanon and Israel were strong since the beginning of history …" and continued, "believe me if they had the slightest intentions of harming anything that belongs to us, I will be the first Lebanese to strike back and confront them, like we did with the Palestinians and the Syrians back in 1975. I think General Aoun knows this or at least should know it by now, and if unfortunately he doesn't then what kind of a leader does this make him?"
Somehow, I felt offended, after all, the General was my idol and at that time I couldn't tolerate anything that might undermine his credibility, so I rudely and aggressively answered back, " I don't think the General Aoun understands the situation any less than you do. And I believe that only the General will do whatever it takes to save his country and its people."
To my surprise, Abu Arz didn't react defensively, quite the contrary he was very, very calm and said for the second time, "Inshallah. I desperately want to believe it…"
When the time came for me to leave Jezzine and go back to Beirut, I promised him to do my Best…He wished me luck and said, " take care of yourself, don't expose yourself too much and God be with you. And Claude, if for any reason you need to come back to Jezzine, you are most welcomed."
When I arrived to Beirut, I felt like suffocating, it was as if I have just left My Freedom there. I felt more than ever the presence of the Syrian Oppression. Abu Arz's image surrounded by all his martyrs kept haunting me… and still does till now.
On that same night, I reported to the General Aoun everything we (Abu Arz and I) discussed. He said, " Forget the radio station.”
Five days later, after the 13th of October (Syrian invasion) I was there with Abu Arz and his closest companions… the Martyrs and my Freedom.
What I most remember of that night was that Abu Arz was shouting at one of his men, I thought that something bad has happened but it turned out to be that he was shouting at him because it was 23.00 p.m. and he hasn't had his dinner yet! It's amazing how a man like Abu Arz, carrying all the country's problems still looks out and worries about simple details.
The next day, we discussed over and over again all the issues.
Time came for me to leave, so I sat in my car ready to drive back, when suddenly I heard Abu Arz crying out, "stop, wait just a second".
I didn't know what he wanted, I thought maybe I have forgotten something behind. Finally, I saw Abu Arz heading towards me with two bags in his hands! One bag was filled with fresh eggs and the other had a bottle of pure honey. It was funny and very touching at the same time. He didn't forget that the first time I met him I told him that my daughter, Jennifer, was anemic. He gave me the eggs and the honey, especially for her!
Despite his uncommon bravery, this Man never stopped to express the loving and caring side to each one of us.
Once (and the last time) while I was in Jezzine, I had a fight with the members of the party, they were criticizing the political methods of the General Aoun, so obviously I attacked them. They reported to Abu Arz what had happened and later on I knew from one of them (who became one of my closest friends) that Abu Arz told them: " leave her, even if she attacks you. Don't answer or comment. She's living through a personal conflict/ dilemma. She's torn between her conscience and her faithfulness towards the General…just give her some time."
During my free time, I was reading and searching through the archives, I read everything that concerned this man and his party. And what was most incredible was that every piece of paper that I read stated the same exact thing; Abu Arz was the same man holding the same beliefs and principles through out the 25 years. I mean sometimes you literally wonder if not all his statements (all through the 25 years) were not written at the same time.
Two more years passed by with no results. Unfortunately, this was the time it took me to ADMIT to myself that Abu Arz was offering his Life, credibility and everything he had to Save Lebanon, while the others were just "maneuvering" to test their popularity. From that moment I became an integral Guardian, loyal and devoted to Abu Arz. This time, all the difference was there: devoted to Abu Arz meant, definitely loyal to Lebanon, and not just loyal to the man himself.
I remember asking him once, why does he pray before writing and releasing a statement? And his answer was: "My family, my friends and my militants are in Beirut under Syrian control, so I pray for God to give me the strength and courage to write down the truth and to name things as they really are; not to weaken my hand thinking of the severe consequences they might have to bear…"
One of the most brave and courageous things I have witnessed was the day we saw Abu Arz in front of us, here in Beirut. Convicted by the Syrian's proxies, he came to give us Moral support… I knew later on that he passed by under disguise…
Maybe he was not born so courageous and brave but his immense love for his people and country increased those qualities in him.
Today Abu Arz could have been like many others, living in any place/country he was invited to; but how can any great leader, someone like Abu Arz, do that, knowing that somewhere some or even one Lebanese is living in misery, despair and needs help.
Until this day Abu Arz is paying the price of His unconditional Love for Lebanon, the Lebanese and the truth…God be with him.
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