A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

April 13, 1975: The Lebanese Civil War Begins, 41 Years Ago Today

The Bus
Forty-one years ago today, a series of violent incidents in the mostly Christian and Druze Beirut suburb of ‘Ayn al-Rummaneh (عين الرمانة) between Phalangists and Palestinians would come to be seen as the opening shots of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

Of course, this was no more the first sectarian violence in Lebanon, any more than 1990 was the last. But it is conventionally seen as he outbreak of the war.

Like so much else in the war, the narratives of the incidents as preserved among the mostly Maronite Phalangists (Kata'ib) and the Palestinians and their allies. An initial clash in the morning between Phalangist militiamen of the Kata'ib Regulatory Forces (later known as the Lebanese Forces Militia) and Palestinians led to a second clash an hour or two later, both outside a church; in the second several were killed in a Palestinian reprisal. Later the same day, a bus full of Palestinians passing through en route to the Sabra refugee camp was attacked by Phalangists under Bashir Gemayel, son of the Phalangist leader Pierre Gemayel.

The Bus as Memorial
About 30 were killed, and over several ensuing days the Phalangists and their Chamounist Christian allies traded reprisals with Palestinians and their Lebanese allies. In later narrative, Phalangists saw it as an attack on Pierre Gemayel himself; Palestinians as a Phalangist attack on themselves. Still in the future were Syrian intervention, Israeli and Western intervention, and countless shifts in allegiance, but the die was cast and Lebanon had crossed its Rubicon.

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