Occasional Crimes: Violent Episodes Hidden in Lebanon

Occasional Crimes: Violent Episodes Hidden in Lebanon

It was 7 a.m. Twenty-one-year-old Ahmad was jolted awake, heart beating, by gunshots and cursing in one of the Biqaa villages. This was not the first time such noises had startled him awake, but this time he’d been fast asleep in the middle of a beautiful dream. Mostly, he’s gotten used to young men in the neighborhood playing with firearms all times of the evening and morning.

Forty-seven-year-old Sonia, a cosmetic sales representative who spends most of her days roaming Beirut’s roads, knows about accommodating violent people.

“I was driving my car on the main road when someone emerged from a side road. I did not pay attention to him but he tried to overtake me, believing that he had the right of way. So, when I refused to yield to him he considered it an insult…He followed me with his 4 by 4, and cut me off. Then he pointed his gun at me while hurling all types of masculine curses,” said Sonia.

She adds: “Now I live in constant fear for myself and my family. Many Lebanese are now very irritable and a fatal bullet might be fired from somebody’s weapon at any moment, and for a trivial reason.”

Sonia finds her fear justifiable. There have been numerous murders in Lebanon in recent years for similar small reasons, as in the murder of Roy Hamouche, a young man killed due to a traffic dispute. Khalil al-Qattan and Talal al-Awad were killed because of a "Nescafe Cup," and Makram Mulaeb for "music". Many such deaths have been recorded.

These crimes are reminiscent of the novel "The Stranger" by Albert Camus, in which the main characters shoots someone (whose name we do not know) five times on a beach in Algeria. Asked  “why” in court,  he replied, “The heat was beginning to scorch my cheeks; beads of sweat were gathering in my eyebrows… and I had the same disagreeable sensations — especially in my forehead, where all the veins seemed to be bursting through the skin…”

And shockingly the court observers laughed.

Social media has had a hoot similarly over things like "squash", "pajama", "dog" and "right of way" as reasons to kill in Lebanon.

Focus on the "triviality" of reasons given for serious crime has helped dilute what might be the real motives and why officials overlooked them.

The first thing that comes to mind when addressing these crimes is how “absurd” they seem, but according to criminologist Omar Nashabe, this is inaccurate and overlooks serious, rational reasons for crime.

"We call this type of crime the occasional crime. The anxious and violent individual is not necessarily a criminal unless there is an occasion that triggers this characteristic in them, leading to a criminal act, "explains Nashabe.

Are These the Real Reasons?

This report explored a number of episodes connecting Lebanon’s "occasional crimes" and going deeper beneath the "ridiculous" rationalizations to find the real causes for them.

Those include the proliferation of firearms, lax enforcement of rules, loopholes in the Weapons and Ammunition Law, social pressures, political interference in the judiciary system, a confused security apparatuses turn out all to be factors. They might not necessarily lead to a criminal act, but together they create a criminal atmosphere where a person feels a surge of power. Combine that with the lack of accountability and you can end up with aggressive behavior or even murder.

124 Crimes… and Hundreds of “Occasions”

At the end of 2017, Internal Security Forces data recorded 124 homicides in Lebanon compared to 118 in 2016 and 155 in 2015.

"The number is relatively lower compared to previous years," said the ISF’s Public Relations Chief, Colonel Joseph Musallam. "But the horror of the crimes that have been recorded has changed the way society perceives itself, and the rise in the number of seemingly meaningless crimes remains frightening in a small country like Lebanon."

Additionally, with every crime that occurs, the lives of many changed in both the victim’s and the killer’s families. Some succeeded in controlling the consequences of the crime, others sank into a pool of blood.

The Destruction of Entire Families

Two moments forever altered Rehab’s life. The first was when her eldest son Makram, 23, fell to the ground covered in his own blood after being shot by Zaher, who lives in the same village; and the second time was when the doctors at the American University Hospital told her he died two days later.

On Dec. 5, 2017, some months after his death, met us at the family home in the mountainous village of Baissour ( in the Aley District of Mount Lebanon, about 18 kilometers from Beirut).

She showed off photographs spread all over the house of her with Makram, his father Marwan, and his brother and sister Bahaa and Ghena.

“My life, my heart,” Rehab addressed Makram's pictures.

“He was always in a hurry and very enthusiastic. His friends called him Abu-Hamas (the father of enthusiasm). He started building a house and could not wait to finish it so he could get engaged to his beloved in a few months. He wanted to live life to the fullest. But it was a dream that ended in a moment, as if he never existed.”

Whoever we asked in the village about Rehab described her as a "powerful woman". We saw that she did not cry and kept repeating that it was “her fate”.

“I try not to cry in front of the family. Everybody is broken and I don’t want to hurt them further,” says Rehab. Yet, she shared a secret with us that every day, she waits for her husband Marwan to leave to work and her other two children to go to school then she smells Makram’s remaining clothes, which are in the "service bag" (he was a member of the Lebanese General Security) and his bed sheets which she has refused to wash. She won’t leave the house either.

But what puts the life of an ordinary family, with its morning and evening routines, before the eyes of the world all of a sudden, leading to speculations and unanswered questions?

It was the crime that happened at 3 a.m, when Makram and three friends were spending their night near Zaher Mulaeb’s house. It was believed that the latter was disturbed by the sound of music the young men were playing. The man and the friends ] exchanged words. Things got more heated and they a machine gun went off.

While exactly how it happened is in dispute, no one disagrees that the problem did not justify killing anyone. The boy and the man belonged to the same village and family.

The father’s reaction as well as the intervention of the municipality—which represents all the Druze’s political parties, from the socialist, to the national and the Lebanese democratic parties, with which the residents of Baissour are affiliated—calmed fears that the matter escalating.

“When we heard the news at night, all we cared about was containing the incident,” says the mayor of Baissour, Nadim Mulaeb.

The municipality handed over the killer two hours after the shooting and asked his family to join Makram’s family at the hospital.

"Because Makram did not die on the spot, this gave us some time to calm everybody," said the mayor. He added: “Why should those who were sleeping in their homes be held responsible? Why should the murderer’s uncle be held responsible, for instance? Logically, the killer’s family did not incite him, so why should they pay the price of their son’s recklessness?”

Yet, the killer’s family still has to pay the price. “In the established norms, specifically in villages, the killer's family must depart. We asked them to lock their house and leave. The tenants also left their shops which are located under the family’s house and next to it, especially since the crime took place there,” explains the mayor.

Makram's photos are displayed across the village, while the murderer’s house, where he lived with his father and mother, appears lifeless, as do the houses of his uncles.

None of them, including Zaher’s uncle Raouf Mulaeb, complained. The uncle paid condolences to Makram’s family, thanking them for their noble stance and condemning the heinous crime.

Three days later, Zaher’s 70-something father was summoned for inquiry and the judge decided to keep him in custody.

“The killer and his father are criminals. We saw the father in the video watching from the balcony and holding a cigarette at night,” says Azzam Mulaeb, the dead man’s uncle.

No evidence linked the father to the crime, but he remains in custody until the investigation is completed. On the other hand, he cannot return to Baissour even if set free.

Azzam struggles to hold back tears, “What a loss. Makram was full of enthusiasm and life. He also loved helping people…We have no problem with Zaher’s family, but we don’t want to see any of them in the village.”

Ibrahim al-Qattan’s story is similar.

In April 2017, the Qabb Ilyas area in Beqaa (eastern Lebanon) witnessed the death of Talal Al Awad and Khalil Al Qattan because of a “cup of Nescafe”.

Ibrahim had been working with his father for six years at a stone crushing plant not far from his house in Qabb Ilyas. His father preceded him to the “coffee van” for his morning coffee with his friend, the van’s owner, before heading to work where Ibrahim met him with the lunchbox his mother prepared every day.

On that day, when his mother was busy preparing their lunchbox, his phone rang. “Your father was killed,” he was told.

The media was full of news about the  “Nescafe crime”. We knew that Mark Yammine, 24, had parked that morning near the Awad van and asked for Nescafé in a provocative manner. After an exchange of insults, he pulled out a gun and fired at the owner. When his friend and customer Khalil al-Qattan stepped outside, he was met by another bullet.

Yammine’s justification was simply that “the Nescafe was disgusting”, but in a country riven by sectarianism, this detail cannot be overlooked. The killer was Christian.” While observers were distracted by the killer’s sect, some members of the victims’ families attacked a liquor store owned by the killer’s family.

"Jihad", a pseudonym, lives in one of Beirut's underprivileged neighborhoods, where the sidewalks overflow with people seated day and night. In Lebanon, they are called “Zo’ran” or troublemakers. Some used to be in prison, others are wanted by police, and some are unemployed.

In his book "Social Backwardness: an Introduction to the Psychology of the Oppressed", Mustafa Hijazi explained that the oppressed man—in the context of the relationship between obsequiousness and machismo, and the "Master”—has a "narcissistic wound" as he is pursued by a shame complex and feels the threat to his dignity.

Here he "begins to search for someone at fault to bear the brunt of the aggression accumulated inside him, because bearing it on his own threatens his existence with explosion." According to Hijazi, "attacking the other is not an attack on their human worth, but simply a destruction of the symbol of evil and shame."

Sidewalk disputes  are common. During our meeting with Jihad, a verbal dispute between him and others might easily have turned into a fistfight except for the “the presence of guests.”

“Jihad”, in his early twenties, declined to reveal his identity for his own safety. He was barely 16 when he went to prison the first time in 2011. But the two-year term he spent after the attempted murder of his neighbor who became a party leader was "the heaviest” experience, he said.

He explained the causes of the crime, then talk about his experience with the security forces. He detailed the oppression he felt, and said he used violence  to make a living.

The “exchange of services” dynamic is similar to the relationship between “Alaa”, the collector of “protection fees”, who is close to the Amal movement, and those protecting him.

He does not necessarily kill, but the laws of the "Khawat" world (forcing shop-owners to pay a monthly fee ) in which he operates, explain why he feels powerful.

“We send people to beat the customers of whoever refuses to pay the khawa, so he pays willingly,” Alaa boasted.

Officials from the Amal movement denied all of this. “We will deal with whoever has accused us of this through the judiciary and the law. This is not true, because whoever talks about us, must face us, and we will not defend ourselves for we are known for not protecting corruption and chaos.”

The movement stressed that: "from Beirut to all other regions, it was the basis of civil peace and stability" and that "its youth are educated and sensible, and those who claim the opposite have a political agenda to distort the image of the Amal Movement.”

 

When Mohammed called a nearby police station to complain that bullets fired by his neighbors hit his balcony where he was sitting with his family, he was told: "Why are you sitting on the balcony? Go inside."

When Mohammed denounced that answer, the police spokesperson said they had too few people and there are too many firearms.

They jokingly say in Lebanon that those who do not own a weapon or know someone who does, will lose their nationality. This joke became more realistic after the long, 1975-1990 civil war. The “post-war authority failed to control” a proliferation of guns, according to MP Fadi Karam, a member of the National Defense, Interior and Municipalities Committee.

A member of the Lebanese Forces Bloc blames Hezbollah for launching a weapons campaign.

"Even what is said about the proliferation of firearms among everyone, not just Hezbollah, it was caused by the existence of an illegal weapon that allows the others to go out of control. Somehow, this party is given legitimacy and no one can come near it, so the other parties, from friends to foes, are benefiting from this weapon policy and even using it to justify theirs.”

On the ground, "Gino" (a pseudonym), sat on the balcony of his home in a remote northern village and talked about the subject that he loves the most: weapons.

When he talks about his "weapons" he means the four pistols, "Kalashnikov" and "Hurdaka" (hunting weapon), which is an entertainment piece for his two sons, the elder of whom is 9.

“I gift every newborn male in my family a gun so that they would remember me. And when they grow up, I teach them how it is used, technically,” he says proudly.

“Before turning 21, I pointed my gun at young men from a neighboring village who tried to court a girl from my village, and once again I used it to prove my right of way, an incident that has recurred frequently,” Gino said.

Gino, who is close to the Marada Movement in Zgharta, is not afraid that his anger might lead to killing. "If that happens, I will get a lighter sentence due to the support of the movement’s leader," he claimed. "I am satisfied with the idea of arming Christians from different parties, and I am even more comfortable that the security forces turn a blind eye to certain practices."

In another interview, “A.M”, who belongs to a different sect and a different region, displayed the weapons he owns.

"Weapons don’t kill, it is people who kill," is a well-known saying. But “a study published by Berkowitz and LePage in 1967 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology contradicted that view,” said social psychology professor Charles Harb.

He looked at the "weapons effect" or the ease of access to weapons as an enhancement factor in violent situations.

"This relationship is very clear," said Harb. He found in 2006 in Lebanon that one out of three people had access to a war weapon, not just a hunting weapon. Of the 1,500 people he surveyed respondents surveyed, 48.3 percent had access to a war weapon, either personally or through relatives, while 32.1 percent said they had used their weapon before.

The Minister of Interior and Municipalities Nohad Al-Machnouk,  according to his adviser, Mohammed Barakat, did not want to talk about lawlessness and declined an interview.

According to the Lebanese Weapons and Ammunition Law, the Ministry of National Defense is the sole party authorized to grant permits to possess and carry firearms.

Those who visit the Ministry’s website will find a page titled “Request for a firearms license,” accompanied by “documents and conditions required” to obtain a license, in addition to a pledge to sign.

According to the ministry, after completing the required documents, “the request shall be delivered by hand to the Ministry of National Defense’s Military Chamber, or sent by secured mail.”

During a tour that included visiting 10 holders of firearms licenses, everyone agreed that the idea of going directly to the Ministry of National Defense was ridiculous.

“Hisham” refereed to two ways whereby civilians who do not belong to any party and do not work in the field of protection and escort can obtain a permit to carry firearms in Lebanon: Either you have a "Wasta", or you get a broker for a price.

We found a broker without difficulty. But it was harder to get him to talk. Only after guarantees not to reveal his identity, did he narrate how he secures licenses for those who ask for them. He also revealed the relationship between the citizen and security.

For his part, a security source, who also asked not to be named, held that “many security institutions and political parties are responsible for providing people with licenses, and exploiting this issue to increase their popularity."

In 2010, Information International published a study that said certain " personalities did not only provide firearms licenses to their official protection teams, but dozens of licenses were also distributed to supporters and relatives."

According to the study "former Minister of Defense Mohsen Dalloul confessed to granting around 50,000 firearms licenses." Now, there are about 30,000 licenses in Lebanon, according to Fadi Abi Allam, head of the Permanent Peace Movement.

After Dalloul there have been seven defense ministers from different parties.

When we asked former Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Murad about pressures on a defense minister to grant licenses, he spoke candidly.

“The defense minister is not parachuted into his position, he is chosen on the basis of political consensus .. and he cannot withstand the many parliamentary and political pressures.. It happened to all ministers including myself,” explained Murad.

But he does not seem too concerned about it. The minister does not sell licenses to benefit himself, he said. These are rather services that he provides to his political colleagues and to the officers who work with him."

He acknowledges a quota for parties that differs based on party’s size. He did not remember the number of licenses issued during his times as minister, for he was not very interested in the matter, and besides, he said, "the minister signs a number of licenses at once, not each license individually."

Murad continually insisted that the problem was not due to lax licensing, but to the fact that "the defense minister and the officers in the Ministry of National Defense were followers of their political institutions."

The current Defense Minister, Yacoub Sarraf, has chosen to be tough on firearms." He announced in an official statement that he would sign all decisions pertaining to granting firearms licenses, which used to go through the minister's assistants.

In order to create a more accurate picture of the licensing process, we repeatedly contacted the Internal Security Forces to review the data of the crimes committed: which ones were committed using a licensed weapon and which ones were not? How many unlicensed weapons have been seized? The response was that the ISF does not have data on this issue, and we were not allowed to search files individually to create such a rule.

This brings us to another issue  -- which is the lack of official database that is key to understanding the problem, any problem, more broadly and more accurately.

Amidst the difficulty of controlling licenses, the Weapons and Ammunition Law also has loopholes.

The law came into being in 1959 not through a draft law sent by the government to the House of Representatives for review by competent parliamentary committees and then approved by the General Assembly, nor was it the result of a bill suggested by Parliament.

“Therefore the Weapons and Ammunition Law’s problem is how it came to be, which was in a hurry. It was not thoroughly reviewed, and the needs of the people and community challenges were not taken into account,” Abi Allam said.

The head of the Permanent Peace Movement, who has worked since the end of the civil war on numerous campaigns to amend and improve the law, explains that since 1959 nothing has been done.

“Generally, amendments to laws are necessary, since they must take into account the new challenges that societies face… Here I give an example of the security companies that are currently operating. These companies did not exist in 59, and now they are not subject to any military or civil law.

“It must also include Lebanon's legacy of the civil war, a period not observed by the weapons law, although it has contributed substantially to the spread of firearms and their entry into almost every Lebanese home,” he added.

“The law’s failure to keep up with global developments including new mechanisms to regulate the spread of firearms is another loophole," according to Abi Allam. He cites The Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, the International Tracing Instrument, and the Arms Trade Treaty”.

Regarding the penalty of opening fire, he believes “the law is excellent now.” In Article 71, the penalty was set at 500 to 1,000 lira plus a two-weeks jail term. Now, the law requires a fine of up to eight times the minimum wage and a prison term of no less than six months, as well as a license suspension. But regulating gunfire still leaves a lot to be desired.

One example is what happened in July last year, when dozens of people were arrested for firing rounds to celebrate the results of official exams. Minister of Interior Nohad El Machnouk came out the next day and blamed politicians for interfering to release 70-80 of the 90 detainees whom the Internal Security Forces worked hard to arrest during the entire week”.

At the time, El Machnouk revealed that "some of those arrested were released after half an hour or an hour due to political interference," warning that "anyone who knows that they will be released immediately by a politician who supports them will not hesitate to fire again."

We took those loopholes to the head of the Parliamentary Defense, Interior and Municipalities Committee MP Samir Al Jisr to ask for his opinion.

Al Jisr’s response was "I don’t prefer repealing the law and drafting another one in general, as this is not the solution."

In his opinion “there can be a solution, such as issuing licenses that are divided between carrying and possession ... I have no objection to everyone possessing firearms that are controlled by the possession law and forcing everyone to hold a license even if the person has more than one piece. But on the condition that each weapon has a stamp and that we have database for all weapons to trace those used to commit a crime.”

He believes the problem goes beyond the law and is linked to "the spread of drugs and ease of access to them at low prices, then the prevailing punishment system and the existing laws in detention centers and prisons, as well as political complications."

Furthermore, Al Jisr refers to "the issue of the various security services in Lebanon, from the army’s intelligence services to the internal security forces and public security. Each wants to outdo the other in terms of powers. In the course of his work, a particular institution may find leads so they coordinate with the responsible institution, but in Lebanon there is a conflict of powers. Worse still, there is a kind of rivalry between institutions, and one party may mislead the other to get a security lead, thus wasting the desired result.

The “insanity” of the Lebanese civil war did not end with the Taif Accord of 1990. The leaders reconciled, but there has been no serious discussion of responsibilities, and none of the conditions for transitional justice has been met.

They say that when the civil war ends, its victims realize it. In Lebanon, no one was sure that war ended, the question "will the war break out again?" is brought up at the smallest tension. The equation of what was called "civil peace" has ended as follows: warlords have established their authority, while their people have been stuck in its violent whirlpool. They did not forgive nor did they reconcile.

The elements of "tribal delirium" were refuted by researcher Fawaz Trabulsi as "mother, earth, family, power, manhood, life, duty and genocide." These elements have dominated the violence in the civil war and continue to prevail in the daily life of the Lebanese after more than 20 years.

Fighting is no longer legal. Thus, they found it easy to kill over the right of way, and over an insult, or due to the feeling of excessive power, or sectarian superiority and even because of the fear of genocide.

This was not the case with former civil war fighter Ziad Saab. He was one of the few to adapt peace fully.

Between what prompted him to kill and what he conveyed to “Combatants for Peace" are details that reveal some of the reasons why many fighters remained stuck in the memories of their “heroic deeds.”

“The grandfathers’ legacy and what I heard about my grandfather’s heroism against the French mandate, growing up in the so-called pockets of misery on the outskirts of the capital, the search for change, the sense of possession of absolute truth, the search for identity and the quest to leave a mark ... All are factors that contributed to my pursuit of the rifle which was justified by lofty goals,” said Saab.

In his opinion, “The new generation has carried this war trauma that has become a prelude to a bigger violent act. "

"Remember, forgive .. change" was the slogan of the "Combatants for Peace" association, which Saab, the former military leader of the Lebanese Communist Party, co-founded a few years ago with some veterans, some of whom were yesterday's enemies such as deputy chief of the security apparatus and intelligence in the Lebanese Forces at some stages of the war, Asaad Al Shaftary.

What about the reasons that helped him transition from violence to nonviolence? Saab answered: “It was a difficult churn. Throughout the war, I did not take any tranquilizer drugs but I started to take neurological drugs once the fighting ended ... I felt that my life ended.”

He added: "The fighters felt they had been abandoned. The problem is that most of them did not reflect or critically analyze their experiences, and did not have a vision for the future. I understand their attachment to that violent circle. If the fighter admits that what he has done for 15 years was a mistake and a crime, with a limited horizon for the future that was set by the post-war environment, he will be stripped of everything, becomes nothing. "

The former fighters remained stationed in their former fronts in an environment that claimed peace. They convinced themselves they were heroes who defended the country, the city, the neighborhood and the building, and were still in a state of defense. Alleged peace and bottled-up violence that may appear at any moment.

“Those who won the war were the civil - sectarian - tribal – familial society, which explains the high rate of community violence today,” said Saab.

The former fighter does not like to delve into the details of political performance now. Those who took part in the war have led the peace process.

The scene is summarized by the reaction of some politicians to “Warriors for Peace’s” request to carry out awareness campaigns among members of their parties, in order to prevent the recurrence of the civil war. “None of them openly rejects our association’s efforts, but we are not the children of today, and we know that what we hear from them is an indirect refusal,” asserts Saab.

One leader they visited said: "What is this nonsense? We have reconciled." And another said, "We encourage your efforts, but don’t you feel that you are losing the youth fighting spirit." One said, "This is really what we lack, but do not work with us. Go to others. "

Reconciliations are spreading across Lebanon. The Bekaa region, which has the highest number of crimes, according to the Internal Security Forces, also saw the largest number of reconciliations.

In the 1990s, the house of Kamel Zu'aitar, who served as mayor of Baalbek in the Bekaa Governorate for 30 years and was a prominent social reformer, was filled with "seekers" asking for mediation in a reconciliation here and there.

The social reformer died three years ago, so people began to turn to his son for the same reason.

The son admits that these reconciliations and the payment of money may lead people to believe it was easy to commit crimes "as long as there are those who cover their trails," but he sees no alternative.

Why? His answer was that "reconciliations are necessary to spare the parties additional problems between the families of the aggressor and the victim .. while the security forces supports the idea of reconciliations to alleviate the burden."

There are no specific statistics for the number of reconciliations held annually, but in September alone, for example, the son participated in four reconciliations, three reached satisfactory conclusions in his opinion and the third remained hanging.

In the 1950s, officer Boutros Abdul Sattar was assigned the post of "tribal adviser" under the direction of the then President Fuad Shihab. The adviser was solving problems using the same tribal logic.

Tribe member Qasim, 50, says since then, Abdul Sattar has encouraged the Bekaa area to adhere to tribal logic and steer away from the state.

"The leading forces in the region—the political parties such as Hezbollah and the Amal movement—view people purely as electoral votes, whose allegiance they guarantee by releasing a prisoner or covering up weed farming.

On the other hand, a mayor who is affiliated with Hezbollah and who preferred not to be named, said his party had recently noticed that it was helping to encourage disorderly behavior so it declared its refusal to contribute financially to solving problems.

Dropping Personal Right

The brutal death of Manal Assi in 2014 at the hands of her husband is not part of the cases we are reviewing. But her mother's testimony about pressures on the family to drop the case against the murderer, Mohammed al-Nuhaili, provides an example of what the families of some victims are exposed to, according to the balance of power (families with political or financial support or large families at the expense of small families).

Based on many of the cases he follows, one lawyer, who preferred not to be named, criticized certain forms of protecting "the supported criminal" such as “manipulation of the investigation”. “If there is a shooting, the problem - through political intervention in the investigation - is turned into a mess. "Intentional murder" can be turned into "manslaughter", which reduces the death penalty to 15 years. Furthermore, in the investigation, the murder can be linked to more than one person, so the real culprit gets away with murder.”

The lawyer points to a more general reality that "the judiciary is not completely independent and the mechanism of recruitment is fragile due to its association with traditional leaders, sectarian parties and religious denominations in general."

During our meeting with MP Samir Al-Jisr, who was also a former Minister of Justice (2000-2003), we addressed this issue. “During my time in the Ministry of Justice, I have seen many cases of interference in the judiciary. But the blame does not fall solely on politicians, but on the judges as well.”

He added: “I saw security personnel entering judges rooms to ask them to release a detainee. The officer might even go to his car to get some money that he gives to the judge to meet his demand.” He added: “The percentage of security and political interventions that I currently see is very high, even compared to the past when the Syrian regime’s influence was strong.”

Hezbollah, specifically its so-called "security committee," has been accused of interference in the work of the security apparatus and in imposing self-security which is not controlled by the state.

We went to the Information Advisor of the Secretary-General of Hezbollah and the head of Hezbollah's Information Department, Mohammed Afif, who explained the details related to these accusations. He said, the name changed from the security committee to the liaison and coordination committee after the party noticed that the former name suggested it was linked to security services in Hezbollah.

“The committee carries out a number of tasks, one of which is coordination with the security, judicial and military services in the Lebanese state,” Afif said. “This is common. Every major body in the country has a board or a committee that coordinates with the state’s security institutions. Is this normal? No, but it is the status quo in the country based on what was produced before the war and civil war.”

Afif said, "We are not a security authority. We do not accept and do not want to be ... but of course we have a hidden role and presence to maintain order in the southern suburb of Beirut, because we are part of that environment and are responsible for the role of resistance in that environment.”

He explained the limits of the security committee’s work, which intervenes exclusively when a member of Hezbollah is involved in a problem "due to the exceptional security situation of the southern suburb, and because the area is where the leaders of the resistance live and we are keen on maintaining their security. When the state wants to do something we coordinate ... We also intervene where necessary in the cases linked to members of Hezbollah, because the person is the son of Hezbollah and this is our right. We also fear that he might be wronged due to the political structure in the country."

When asked about the interventions by officials affiliated with Hezbollah, such as heads of municipalities, deputies and district officials, in the judiciary and security to help someone out of a problem, Afif responded that it was "part of the clientele nature of the Lebanese state."

“We are part of the Lebanese people. Whatever happens to everyone happens to us as well. I do not deny that at some stage, or sometimes, if a person close to someone in Hezbollah committed a crime or a relative or son of the mayor of a village affiliated with Hezbollah is involved, then there is interference. But in the end, the lesson is how submissive the judge and the judiciary system are to political interventions. "

Minister of Justice Salim Jreissati referred us to his adviser, Judge Nazik Khatib when we asked for his opinion about this. Al-Khatib admitted there was political interference in the judiciary, but she felt that the prevailing ideas about intervention were exaggerated.

“There are 540 judges in Lebanon. I cannot deny the pressure on them, and the political infringement on the judiciary is possible, but I refuse to generalize,” Khatib said.

She stressed that judicial inspection is efficient, yet in contrast, “there are weaknesses in the judicial body, including that the Supreme Judicial Council appoints a large number of its members (First President, Attorney General of Court of Cassation, Head of Judicial Inspection ...) by a government decree, as eight out of 10 members are appointed by the executive authority.

Regarding the spread of homicide, Khatib cited two measures adopted by the ministry: “The minister asked the Supreme Judicial Council to instruct penal judges to strictly implement penalties linked to the use of firearms or even their possession without authorization.”

“The second measure was a draft law prepared by the minister to toughen intentional murder penalties. For example, when the killing happens (according to Article 549), it is prohibited to reduce a life sentence with hard labor,” Khatib said.

Two months ago, the 2018’s meter began recording additional crimes, the latest of which (until the investigation was completed) was the shooting of a Sudanese worker at a gas station in Zrariyeh in a dispute over filling a tank. Some talk about racism as an aggravating factor that facilitates crime in this and similar cases.

Excessive violence remains a dominant reality for the Lebanese. Looking beyond the surface causes of violence could make more clear the real causes and responsibilities of it and might lead to a  far-reaching cure.

This investigation was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) - www.arij.net - and coached by Mohammad Komani. 

Haifa Zeiater

Haifaa Zaatar is a Lebanese journalist who worked for Al-Safir newspaper, as well as France24 Arabic.

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