Two Heroes from Lebanon (By Marlene M. Sabeh)

They never gave up. They never wavered. They never lost hope. Despite fierce opposition, several delays, and tough resistance from the American Administration, some key Congress members, and prominent Lebanese political entities, Gabriel Issa and Tony Haddad did not give up their persistent efforts until they succeeded in passing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, which was signed into law by President Bush on December 13th, 2003. Their relentless drive to restore the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon was not just a project; it became a life mission driven by their love for their country of origin and infused with their deep appreciation for justice and democracy. Their journey toward that cherished goal was never effortless or smooth; there were many unforeseen postponements and deadlocks along the way.

The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act can be summarized in a few policies it has set; policies that undoubtedly impacted the history of Lebanon and its opportunity to exercise democracy again: The acknowledgement that the full restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity are in the U.S. national security interest (section 4), the fact that Syria is in violation of Security Council Resolution 520* through its continued occupation of Lebanese territory and its encroachment upon its political independence (section 5), and Syria's obligation to withdraw from Lebanon is not conditioned upon progress in the Israeli-Syrian or Israeli-Lebanese peace process but derives from Syria's obligation under Security Council Resolution 520⁽¹⁾ (section 6).

Gabriel Issa and Tony Haddad started lobbying in the United States for the sovereignty of Lebanon and the withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon, as early as 1990; but their first lobbying achievement took place in 1993, with the passing of the non-binding Sense of Congress Resolution 28⁽²⁾ which in turn, acted as a precursor to several other resolutions in subsequent years, in support of Lebanon’s freedom. Consistent attempts to lobby for the absolute sovereignty of Lebanon first and foremost continued to occur, almost on a yearly basis, overlapping President Clinton’s and President Bush’s Administrations. Oftentimes, serious advance would be achieved toward passing the preceding legislation, Liberation of Lebanon Act (LOLA), but would not effectively materialize. As explained by Haddad, senators and politicians often provided recommendations and passed resolutions in favor of Lebanese sovereignty, but the American Administration was not legally bound to implement or abide by them as laws. Issa elaborated the countless attempts he and Haddad made to illuminate the complex status of the Syrian occupation in Lebanon and the damaging consequences it had on the sovereignty and independence of the country, striving to gain the support and sponsorship of key political figures. For years, requisitions were made for American high officials to consider the unjust and oppressing Syrian dominance over Lebanon and how it deprived it of the right to be politically and economically autonomous, capable of exercising and self-regulating its own government. Gradually, a need to hold Syria accountable for its occupation of Lebanon started to emerge; nevertheless, despite the extensive awareness provided to the American Administration, it wasn’t until Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, that the efforts started to progressively come to fruition. Issa and Haddad finally realized that in order to change the course of the negotiations and accomplish substantial outcomes, President General Michel Aoun needed to personally address the issue and convey his own account of the damaging occupation of Lebanon, to members of Congress. An official invitation was sent to President General Aoun in August of 2001 and he was scheduled to appear in Congress in late September to give his crucial testimony; however, the 9/11 attacks in New York dissolved the plan and once again, the chance to accomplish the goal of restoring Lebanon’s independence dissipated. Not only America was immersed in the worst terrorist attacks that ever hit its soil, but the Bush Administration had sought in Syria a potential ally against the Saddam regime in Iraq, a repeat of the 1990 arrangement that allowed Syrian troops to overrun the last free areas of Lebanon in return for their nominal cooperation with the U.S. in their war against Iraq to liberate Kuwait. Compromising such a strategic alliance was out of the question and the plan to bring President General Aoun to Congress to give his testimony had to be postponed. Yet, Issa and Haddad were not, in any way, deterred. On the contrary, with President General Aoun’s support and guidance, they continued to enhance and solidify communications with members of Congress in both chambers, presenting significant information about the despotic presence of Syria on Lebanese soil and refuting all misconceptions about the need for the Syrian power to stabilize the unstable situation inside Lebanon. Knowledge, factual evidence, and key testimonies were consistently relayed and a new American receptive attitude started to slowly but firmly form. Subsequently, after LOLA was blocked by the Administration and key Congressmen in President Bush's first term and to gain more track and sponsorship from a wider base of Congress members, Issa and Haddad negotiated combining the two separate yet related proposed legislations: their own LOLA and another relating to holding Syria accountable. A merged and unified legislation, The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act was finally introduced to Congress under the sponsorship of Representative Eliot Engel (D), on April 12th, 2003.

Issa explained that the post 9/11 era was immensely favorable to constructive talks about justice and sovereignty anywhere in the Middle East. America was finally ready to listen to the truth. He added that President General Aoun was, at that time, the best suited Lebanese Political figure to lead the way toward exposing the truth about Syria, based on his own experience with the Syrian occupation and its impact on Lebanese politics. On September 17th, 2003, President General Aoun testified in front of Congress members, bringing the voice of the Lebanese people; a people longing for freedom and suffering under occupation. He asserted that the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act is a piece of prospective and crucial legislation, as it establishes for the first time a clear United States policy regarding Syria's occupation of Lebanon. He skillfully elucidated that “Lebanon, free from Syrian occupation and terror, will emerge once again with a political system that is democratic, an economic policy that is truly capitalistic and transparent, a modern and independent judiciary that enforces and respects the rule of law, and an educational system that nurtures a culture of peace in a region and environment in dire need of true peace”.

Meanwhile, Issa and Haddad did not waste time. They intensified their diligent efforts to build connections with senators and representatives from all states, lobbying for Lebanon’s sovereignty, and asking for their support to restore its democracy and independence. In the face of channeled opposition from the U.S. Administration and legal attempts from Lebanon to convict President General Aoun of high treason – a conviction that carries the death penalty as a consequence – for his blatant stance against Syria, Issa and Haddad maximized their determination to neutralize them and gain the support of politicians in favor of the Act.

The efforts proved productive and on November 20th, 2003, the House passed the bill with a vote of 398 to 4, the Senate with a vote of 89 to 4 and on December 13th, 2003, President Bush reluctantly signed the veto-proof bill into law H.R 1828.


Tony Haddad (left), President Bush, and Gabriel Issa, the day SALSRA was signed, 12/13/2003.

 

Not too many people understand the impact that SALSRA had (and still does) on Lebanon’s stability and democracy. It unequivocally set a precedent in US foreign politics in which Congress was able for the first time to impose through legislation a foreign policy on the U.S. President and Administration. The effective and peaceful withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon, on April 26th, 2005, was a concrete manifestation of this Act and a new lease on Lebanon’s independence. Because the primary goal was never about punishing Syria, Issa bravely accepted to act as President Michel Aoun’s special envoy and visited Syria in January 2005, to lead the negotiations for a peaceful withdrawal of all Syrian troops. No one had believed that this action would ever materialize and that the 29-year occupation would end, without any wars or casualties. The withdrawal freed Lebanon from what was an oppressive dominance that paralyzed nearly all facets of the country and its people. Without the remarkably unyielding efforts of Gabriel Issa and Tony Haddad, Lebanon would have still been under the repressive occupation of the Syrian regime until today. The relentless determination they exerted in the face of powerful and consistent opposition from several influential political parties changed the history of Lebanon forever. They brought an existential dream to completion, relying on their passion for democracy, the belief in Lebanon’s sovereignty, and the robust support of an outstanding leader. As Lebanon celebrates its independence every year, the Lebanese people all over the world need to recognize in Gabriel Issa and Tony Haddad the honorable heroes that they truly are. Without their actions, Lebanon would have probably still been lost in the dark mazes of despotism.

To them, we truly owe our prospective chance for a real and everlasting democracy in Lebanon.

 

**Gabriel Issa and Tony Haddad founded the Lebanese American Council in 1990, in Detroit, Michigan. Together they spent years advocating for the restoration of the sovereignty, integrity, and democracy of Lebanon. In 1996, they went national with the prospering organization, established its central office in Washington, DC, and changed its name to the Lebanese American Council for Democracy. In 2003, and after many years of lobbying under the LACD, Issa and Haddad succeeded in passing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act into law.

Today, the organization has hundreds of dedicated Lebanese-American members and active chapters in several major US cities, and continues to diligently lead the journey in promoting and sustaining democracy and justice in Lebanon.

For more information about the LACD and its activities, visit www.lacd.us

 

(1) RESOLUTION 520

Passed unanimously on 17 September 1982 by the UN Security Council, this resolution condemns Israeli violations of a ceasefire agreement. It notes and condemns the assassination on 14 September of Bashir Gemayel, who had been about to take office as president. Then, "Taking note of Lebanon's determination to ensure the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese forces" and reaffirming several recent resolutions on the Lebanese situation, it "Condemns the recent Israeli incursions into Beirut in violation of the cease-fire agreements and of Security council resolutions," "Demands an immediate return to the positions occupied by Israel before 15 September 1982 . . ." and "Calls again for the strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Lebanese Government through the Lebanese Army throughout Lebanon."

 

(2) RESOLUTION 28

Commends Syria and Lebanon for participation in the Middle East peace process and encourages their continued cooperation in efforts to settle ongoing regional conflicts.

Expresses congressional support for the sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of Lebanon.

Considers the Government of Syria in violation of the Taif Agreement of 1989 (calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon).

Urges: (1) Syria to withdraw its armed forces to the gateway of the Bekaa Valley; (2) Syria and Lebanon to agree upon a firm timetable for the complete withdrawal of Syrian forces; (3) the President to consider withholding U.S. assistance to Syria and the Secretary of the Treasury to consider directing the U.S. executive directors of all international financial institutions to vote against loans or assistance to Syria until such withdrawal occurs; (4) the Syrian Government to increase its cooperation with the Lebanese Government in efforts to disarm nongovernmental armed groups and militias in Lebanon; and (5) the President to consider methods of revitalizing the Taif Agreement and to encourage the negotiation of a firm timetable for complete withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon.

 

 

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