The Hilu Era

The Hilu Era

Shihab was succeeded by Charles Hilu (also seen as Helou), who was selected president by the Chamber of Deputies on August 18, 1964. President Hilu, a journalist, jurist, and diplomat, was known for his high moral and intellectual qualities. Despite his efforts to promote Lebanon's development, during his tenure the ArabIsraeli June 1967 War, in which Lebanon did not participate, had serious repercussions on all aspects of Lebanese life. The most significant impact was the increased role of Palestinian guerrilla groups in the struggle against Israel and the groups' use of Lebanon as a base of operations. The Palestinian presence impinged on the effort to maintain the confessional balance, for it tended to pit Muslim Lebanese against Christian Lebanese. On the whole, the former group initially viewed the Palestinian guerrillas as upholding a sacred cause that deserved full-scale support. The latter, who strongly favored Lebanese independence, tended to be more concerned with the effects of unrestricted guerrilla activity on Lebanese security and development. They feared both Israeli reprisals and the general undermining of governmental authority within Lebanon if curbs were not imposed on the guerrillas. The Hilu government did its best to satisfy the conflicting demands made on it by guerrillas, Arab governments, Israel, and the internal political and religious elements.

The Chamber of Deputies elections of 1968 and the subsequent disagreements over forming a cabinet had already receded into the background when Israel launched a raid on Beirut International Airport on December 28, 1968. This attack set the stage for the government crises that marked Lebanese life for the next five years, until the Arab-Israeli October 1973 War. Moreover, it highlighted the delicate balance of internal political forces in Lebanon and the connection between that balance and the extent to which Lebanese identified with the Arab position in the ArabIsraeli conflict.

Periodic clashes between the guerrillas and the Lebanese Army continued throughout the late spring, summer, and fall of 1969. In the late summer of 1969, several guerrilla groups moved to new bases, better located for attacks against Israel. Israel regularly raided these bases in reprisal for guerrilla raids on its territory. In October the Lebanese Army attacked some guerrilla camps in order to restrict their activity, an action that led to several demonstrations in support of the guerrillas.

On November 2, 1969, the Lebanese commander in chief and Yasir Arafat, the head of Al Fatah, the leading faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), agreed in Cairo to a cease-fire. The secret Cairo Agreement set limits on Palestinian guerrilla operations in Lebanon and helped to restore calm.

The Lebanese government's efforts to curtail guerrilla activities continued through late 1969 and 1970. Migration from southern Lebanon, particularly of large numbers of Shias, increased, primarily because of inadequate security against Israeli shelling and raids along with lack of economic opportunity. In Beirut the migrants, estimated to exceed 30,000, often could not find adequate shelter and met with indifference on the part of predominantly Christian military leaders. These problems resulted in occasional clashes between the migrants and government forces.

To deal with the problems caused by the fighting in the south, a governmental committee was formed, and funds were allocated for Al Janub Province. On January 12, 1970, the government announced a plan to arm and train Lebanese civilians in southern villages and to fortify the villages against Israeli raids. This action was apparently the result of an intentional government policy to avoid committing the army to action in southern Lebanon, presumably for fear of polarizing the religious groups that composed the army-- mainly Christian Maronite officers and Muslim or Druze enlisted personnel. But the problem was exacerbated by increasing activity by Palestinian guerrillas operating from southern Lebanon into Israel and by Israeli reprisals.

On January 7, 1970, General Emil Bustani, the army commander, was replaced by General Jean Njaim, suggesting a government effort to take a harder line toward the guerrillas and to defend southern Lebanon more actively. Clashes between the army and the guerrillas recurred, but southern Lebanese villagers continued to protest governmental inaction. After several bloody clashes between the guerrillas and the Lebanese Army and a nationwide general strike in May 1970, the government approved additional appropriations for the defense of the south, and it pressed the guerrillas to abide by the Cairo Agreement and to limit their activity.

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