Conference report 2: Witnessing to Hope, 13-20th August 2000, Caux, Switzerland

   
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Lebanese renounce violence

Assaad Chaftari, an engineer, held senior rank in one of the Christian militias during the civil war in Lebanon. "I was brought up in a Christian belief and environment. What I knew about politics was enough for me: the Christians made Lebanon. They had to protect their prerogatives. The Muslims were a danger. When in 1975 the first bullets were fired, it was natural for me to enrol in the Christian militias. I was motivated by prejudice, then by fear. Hatred came later during the war. It came with the destruction around me and death of fellow fighters and friends."
Through becoming involved in a dialogue between Christians and Muslims eleven years ago, his views gradually changed. "I discovered the other Lebanese, our partners, the way they really are. I learnt that we are all equals: Christians, Muslims, Arabs, black and white. I know now the importance of a human life. Nothing political is important enough to kill a human being or cause him harm."
In February this year he concluded that the time had come to make a public apology through the press for what he had done in the name of 'country' or 'Christianity'. "I asked the Lebanese to forgive me. Confessing to God or a priest is good. But confessing my own faults to the harmed persons may help them. Today I am ashamed of my past. I cannot change it. But I can be responsible for my future and the future of my country. I know that feeling sorry will not be enough! I should show to others where I went wrong and be part of the campaign to build the post-war, new Lebanon, where all may be reconciled and live as one."
Hisham Shihab, a Lebanese journalist, spontaneously responded to these words of a former militiaman from the other side: "When Assaad Chaftari presented his moving apology, I had to salute him, hug him, ask for forgiveness. I come from a Muslim background. As a teenager I joined a militant group and participated in shelling Christian neighbourhoods with mortars. Later I was given a long range rifle with a powerful telescope, and was ordered to snipe at people belonging to the other side. It was a moment of truth when, through my telescope, I once saw three people running for cover: an old woman and two boys. One of them looked like a cousin of mine. The old woman reminded me of my grandmother. My conscience told me that they are people like us. No political causes were worth the bloodshed. I refused to follow orders and decided to quit. I pledge to walk hand in hand with Assaad Chaftari, and with all the people who denounce violence and seek a better future for our children."

Quote from the Boston Globe:
BEIRUT-In the decade since Lebanon's civil war ended, this country has tried to rebuild from the ruins .... In a letter addressed to his victims "both living and dead" he became the first high-level militia leader to aplogise for the thousands that he and his Christian militia contributed .... By Charles M. Sennott,GLOBE STAFF

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