Gemayel's mourners know that in Lebanon
nothing is what it seems
By Robert Fisk
Clearing House" -- -- In the house of
mourning, an old Lebanese home of cut stone, they did
not show Pierre Gemayel's body. They had sealed the lid
- so terribly damaged was his face by the bullets which
killed him - as if the nightmares of Lebanon might thus
be kept away in the darkness of the grave.
But the Maronites and Greek Orthodox, the Druze and -
yes - the Muslims who came to pay their condolences to
Gemayel's wife, Patricia, and his broken father, Amin,
wept copiously beside the flag-draped casket. They
understood the horrors that could unfold in the coming
days and their dignity was a refusal to accept that
Down in Beirut, I had been watching the Lebanese
detectives - they who had never solved a single one of
Lebanon's multitude of political murders - photographing
the bullet holes in the pale blue Kia car which Gemayel
had been driving, 13 rounds through the driver's window,
six of which had broken out through the passenger door
after tearing through the Lebanese Minister of
Industry's head and that of his bodyguard. But in the
family home town of Bikfaya, mountain cold with fir
trees and off-season roses and new Phalangist banners of
triangular cedars, the black huddle of mourners spoke of
legal punishment rather than revenge for Gemayel's
It was a heartening moment. And who would have imagined
the day - back in the civil war that now haunts us all
again - that the Druze could enter this holiest of
holies in safety and in friendship to express their
sorrow at the death of a man whose Uncle Bashir was the
fiercest and most brutal enemy of the Druze?
Bashir's best friend Massoud Ashkar, a militia officer
in those dark and terrible days, spoke movingly of the
need for Lebanese unity and for justice. "We know the
Syrians killed people during the war," he said to me.
"We are waiting to find out who killed Sheikh Pierre.
These people wanted to restart a civil war. We must know
who these people are."
Ah, but there is perdition in such hopes. With the
sadness of those who still expect recovery when all such
possibility has been taken away, some of the local
Christians gathered in the Beirut suburb of Jdeideh
where the three killers had blasted away their MP on
Tuesday afternoon. His car, Lebanese registration number
201881, the hood smashed upwards where it had been
rammed by the gunmen's Honda CRV at 3.35pm and its rear
still embedded in the van of a waterproofing company
into which it rolled when Gemayel died at the wheel, was
photographed a hundred times by the cops. They were
watched silently by the men and women who, less than 24
hours before, had not heard the silenced pistol which
killed him, and thought at first that the minister was
the victim of a road accident. No one would give their
name, of course. You don't do that in Lebanon now.
"I was asleep when I heard some very mild sounds, like
gunshots but not loud enough," a white-haired man told
me on the balcony of the old family home where he was
born. "Then I heard a crash and several real gunshots. I
got up, put on my clothes but didn't see any gunmen. A
neighbour went over and came back and told me it was
Sheikh Pierre and then I saw him carried from his car
covered in blood and put in the back of a van."
Scarcely an hour earlier, Pierre Gemayel had been up in
Bikfaya, only 200 metres from where his body lay
yesterday, honouring the ominous statue of his
grandfather - also Pierre - who had founded the
Phalangist party which his grandson represented in
No one mentioned, of course, that this same old granddad
Gemayel, a humble football coach, had created the
Phalangists as a paramilitary organisation after being
inspired - so he told me himself before he died in 1984
- by his visit to the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Hitler's
Germany. As usual, such uneasy details had long ago been
wiped from the narrative of Lebanese history - and from
our journalistic accounts of the grandson's death this
Pierre Gemayel Jnr, however, had been an earnest MP as
the witness to his death made clear. "You see that house
over there with the awnings?" he asked me. "Well an old
lady had died there and Sheikh Pierre was coming here to
express his condolences to the family." The dead woman's
home was scarcely 30 metres from where Gemayel's car had
come to rest. He must have been slowing down to turn
into the side road. Everyone here knew he was coming to
the house on Tuesday morning, so the neighbours said,
which meant - although they did not say this, of course
- that he had been betrayed. The murderers were waiting
for the good MP to pay his condolences, knowing that the
man's own family would be receiving condolences
themselves a day later. They didn't even wear face masks
and coldly shot a shopkeeper who saw them.
The Lebanese have been responding to the international
outcry over Gemayel's murder with somewhat less rhetoric
than President George Bush, whose promise "to support
the Siniora government and its democracy" was greeted
with the scorn it deserved. This, after all, was the
same George Bush who had watched in silence this summer
as the Israelis abused Siniora's democratic government
and bombed Lebanon for 34 days, killing more than a
thousand of its civilians. And the Lebanese knew what to
make of Tony Blair's remark - he who also delayed a
ceasefire that would have saved countless lives here -
when he said that "we need to do everything we can to
protect democracy in Lebanon". It was a long-retired
Christian militiaman, a rival of the Gemayel clan, who
put it succinctly. "They don't care a damn about us," he
That little matter of the narrative - and who writes it
- remained a problem yesterday, as the Western powers
pointed their fingers at Syria. Yes, all five leading
Lebanese men murdered in the past 20 months were
anti-Syrian. And it's a bit like saying "the butler did
it". Wouldn't a vengeful Syria strike at the
independence of Lebanon by killing a minister? Yes. But
then, what would be the best way of undermining the new
and boastful power of the pro-Syrian Hizbollah, the Shia
guerrilla army which has demanded the resignation of
Siniora's cabinet? By killing a government minister,
knowing that many Lebanese would blame the murder on
Syria's Hizbollah allies?
Living in Lebanon, you learn these semantic tricks
through a kind of looking glass. Nothing here ever
happens by accident. But whatever does happen is never
quite like what you first think it to be. So the
Lebanese at Bikfaya understood yesterday as they
gathered and talked of unity. For if only the Lebanese
stopped putting their faith in foreigners - the
Americans, the Israelis, the British, the Iranians, the
French, the United Nations - and trusted each other
instead, they would banish the nightmares of civil war
sealed inside Pierre Gemayel's coffin.
22 November 2006
PM Fouad Siniora asks UN to help investigate Pierre
Gemayel is shot as his convoy drives through Beirut,
raising fears of civil war.
Five pro-Syrian Shia ministers resign after collapse of
talks on giving their camp more say in government.
Hizbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, vows peaceful
protests demanding elections unless there is a national
12 July 14 August
Hizbollah captures two Israeli soldiers. At least 1,200
Lebanese and 157 Israelis are killed in conflict.
12 December 2005
Gebran Tueni, anti-Syrian MP and journalist, is killed.
Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's interior minister, "commits
suicide" as UN investigates.
George Hawi, anti-Syrian ex-Communist leader, is killed.
Anti-Syrian alliance led by Hariri's son, Saad, wins
Samir Kassir, anti-Syrian journalist, is killed.
Syrian troops leave Lebanon.
Rafik Hariri, former prime minister, and 22 others are
killed by truck bomb.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited