By Mireille Rebeiz
On September 21, 1983, Corporal in the United States Marine Corps, William Gaines wrote to his family from a war-torn Beirut: “I believe in our mission here . . . If we stay and achieve the freedom and stability . . . and I die in the process I feel that I would have died for a good reason.”
Almost a month later, he was killed in one of the deadliest attacks against American servicemen in U.S history. William was part of a multinational peacekeeping force that was deployed in Lebanon in 1982 to oversee the departure of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) members from Lebanon, and to aid the Lebanese Armed Forces as they tried to restore peace. The PLO relocated to Lebanon following its expulsion from Jordan after the Six-Day War in 1967, in which Jordan, Syria, and Egypt were defeated by Israel.
On June 6, 1982, Israel Defense Forces, under the orders of the Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, launched Operation Peace for Galilee and invaded Lebanon with the purpose of eliminating the PLO members. Iran responded to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon by training Shiite fighters and helping establish Hezbollah (Party of God). During the Lebanese civil war, Hezbollah’s immediate goal was to expel western forces out of Lebanon.
It kidnapped Lebanese and American civilians, placed car bombs, and hijacked airplanes. The biggest terrorist attack conducted by Iran and Hezbollah on Lebanese soil was the Barracks bombing of Oct. 23, 1983 that killed 241 American servicemen, including William Gaines. Witnesses reported seeing a yellow Mercedes speeding toward the Barracks. Loaded with over ten thousand pounds of explosive, it flattened the concrete building which housed the American troops. Minutes later, an identical attack hit the French barracks, and 58 French paratroopers were killed.
Iran and Hezbollah never claimed responsibility of this attack. In the United States, the memory of the fallen Marines was not forgotten. They are remembered at Arlington Cemetery. The city of Jacksonville in North Carolina, where most men enlisted, planted trees, and created the Beirut Memorial at Lejeune Memorial Gardens.
In 1992, the Beirut Veterans Association (BVA) was created to remember those who served in Beirut. Today, the BVA is supporting efforts to raise funds to build the Beirut Peacekeepers Tower to be located at the William R. Gaines Jr. Veterans Memorial Park in Charlotte County in Florida.
On Oct. 23, 2020, U.S. Representative Greg Pence proposed the resolution to dedicate Oct. 23. as a National Day of Remembrance for the anniversary of the bombing of the Marine barracks. In stark contrast, the Lebanese authorities chose to forget the war and have tried to erase it from memory.
In 1991, the Lebanese Parliament adopted a General Amnesty Law that forgave all crimes committed prior to March of that year and dismantled all militias except for Hezbollah. There was no recognition of the civilian and military victims, whether Lebanese or western, no reparation, and no transitional justice. While Lebanon chose to erase all traces of the war, Hezbollah worked to impose its own historical narrative , erasing all markers of secular national identity that could unite Lebanese people, regardless of religious or ethnic backgrounds.
In 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, leading to a full-blown war with Israel. Over 1000 Lebanese were killed and over 1 million were internally displaced. Lebanese infrastructure (airport, bridges, power plants) was heavily bombed and still are not completely repaired. Despite Lebanon’s tragic losses, Hezbollah claimed “a divine victory” and celebrates the event every year. In 2010, it opened the Museum of Resistance in South of Lebanon.
Hezbollah also has renamed streets, replacing the names of western personalities with those of its fighters. It illegally claimed public spaces by posting oversized pictures of its leaders, fighters and martyrs. Beirut’s international airport is festooned with Hezbollah’s flags or pictures of its Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. The message is clear: this is Hezbollah’s town. Posters of dead children, women and men are frequently erected in the South and in the Bekaa valley, both Hezbollah strongholds.
Hezbollah’s purpose also is clear: to celebrate martyrdom and generate animosity against the West. Months after the U.S. resolution to commemorate fallen Marines of 1983 was adopted, Hezbollah erected the statue of Qassem Soleimani in Beirut. Soleimani was an Iranian general and former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. He was directly involved in planning the barracks bombings. A U.S drone strike in Iraq killed him in January 2020.
Despite widespread outrage in Lebanon, the bust remained. Such action represents an imminent threat to peace in Lebanon. They also tell the West that Lebanon is no longer pro-western, and that Beirut is under the thumb of Iran. They send a particularly hostile message to the United States.