FPM Reopens Debate on Lebanese Who Fled to Israel

Sunday, 21 July, 2019 - 07:00 -

FPM Reopens Debate on Lebanese Who Fled to Israel

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Lebanese soldiers stand near the border with Israel, at the village of Kfar Kila, in south Lebanon December 5, 2018. (Reuters)
Beirut - Caroline Akoum
The debate over Lebanese who have fled to Israel was revived after Foreign Minister and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) chief Jebran Bassil revealed that Justice Minister Albert Serhan was seeking to devise a mechanism to implement the law on their return.

The debate covers Lebanese who fled to Israel 19 years ago, or when Israel withdrew from its occupation of southern Lebanon. The thorny issue has the Lebanese divided between those who view them as traitors and others who view them as exiled.

Estimates said that some 7,500 Lebanese fled to Israel when it withdrew from the South after 22 years of occupation. They now number some 3,400 after several left for western countries.

Bassil made his comments during a tour of the South last weekend.

Lebanese in Israel were always a concern for Lebanese parties, particularly the Christian FPM, Phalange and Lebanese Forces given that 90 percent of Lebanese in Israel are Christians who hail from the South.

Parliament had in 2011 approved a draft law presented by the FPM to tackle the issue, but no implementation mechanisms were put in place for it. A few Lebanese did indeed return, whereas the remaining numbers will only feel safe once general amnesty is approved and which will spare them any investigation. Amnesty currently appears far-fetched.

The law applies to all citizens who escaped to Israel and who joined the South Lebanese Army militia or collaborated with it. It stipulates that they will be arrested by the authorities on the Lebanese-Israeli border upon their return and tried under the local law.

It also noted that their families and other Lebanese who had not collaborated with the militia could return under certain mechanisms and regulations.

In 2012, the Phalange Party proposed a draft law calling for a general amnesty for the Lebanese who fled to Israel, allowing pardon for all crimes committed before December 31, 2000.

Former president of the Maronite League Antoine Klimos, who previously worked on this file, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the presence of Lebanese outside their country is “a punishment in and of itself.”

The problem will only get compounded as they spend more time outside their country, especially since a whole generation of Lebanese would have lived without knowing their homeland, he remarked.