By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Forty years ago, in April 1975, the Vietnam War came to an end. But that same month, a civil war was beginning in another part of the world. The war in Lebanon would eventually take the lives of an estimated 150,000 people and devastate the country’s infrastructure, before coming to an end in 1990.
Just next door to Lebanon, a brutal war has been raging now for more than four years in Syria. A year and a half into the conflict, I asked an analyst in Lebanon how long he thought the war in Syria might last. He said, “The best case scenario is five years. The worst case scenario is 20 years or more.”
At the time I thought his assessment was pessimistic. Now, with no end in sight to Syria’s war, I see that it was all too realistic. Many in Lebanon fear that the war will cross over into its borders. In some ways, it already has.
Last fall clashes related to the war in Syria broke out in the northern city of Tripoli. In other parts of the country car bombings have been carried out in retaliation for the Lebanese group Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.
As many as 1.5 million Syrian refugees have sought refuge in Lebanon—meaning that 1 out of every 4 people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Many have exhausted their resources and struggle to meet basic needs such as housing, food, health care and education.
The refugee crisis has taken a heavy toll on host communities within Lebanon as well. But based on the level of pledges made at an international donor conference in late March, the Lebanese government estimates that it will receive only a third of what it needs to respond to the refugee crisis in the next several years.
At the same time, significant funds are going toward military efforts. The United States, France and Saudi Arabia have all given military assistance to Lebanon in recent months. The U.S. also continues its convoluted involvement in the Syrian civil war, carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State group—part of the opposition—while simultaneously training and equipping other Syrian opposition forces.
In some ways it is surprising that the Syrian war has not spread more fully to Lebanon. But the memory of the pain and suffering of their own civil war serves as a strong deterrent. People do not want more war.
As he reflected back on Lebanon’s civil war, Rashid Derbas, Lebanon’s Minister for Social Affairs, said, “I used to feel that life depended on my team losing or winning, and I discovered that all of Lebanon had lost.”
Today, take two actions for peace. Urge Members of Congress to oppose further U.S. military action and to support a political solution to the crisis in Syria. Then, offer your prayers and support for peacemakers in the region. As Christian leaders in the Syrian city of Aleppo plead, “People of conscience, if there is anyone willing to listen, we implore you to end destruction and massacres. We are tired! Close the doors to the sale of arms and stop the instruments of death.”
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.