The settlement reached in Doha last week between warring factions in Lebanon puts an end to an 18-month national crisis and raises hopes for a stable future for that beleaguered country. It may also make real my father s dream for his country, and prompt a wider movement for peace in the region.
In the 1920s, my father emigrated from Lebanon to Argentina, but not for one day did he stop thinking or dreaming about his beloved country. He was a man of wide cultural interests, but economic setbacks in his new home left him in a precarious position. It affected his health and he died in 1971, relatively young and having never fulfilled his dream to return to his native Lebanon for a visit.
My father had emigrated to Tucumán, a town in Northern Argentina with a substantial Arab and Jewish population. There, he tried to make real his commitment to promoting culture and peace. Together with a group of friends, he founded the cultural Athenaeum Gibran Khalil Gibran, named after the famous Lebanese writer. During the 1950s and early 1960s, famous writers from all over Latin America gave lectures on a wide variety of subjects that brought hundreds of people to the Syrian and Lebanese Society, where the Athenaeum was located.
To the surprise of many, from the stalwarts of that organization my father was able to obtain permission to allow Jewish professionals and students to attend the lectures. What may seem like a simple action was in fact a notable accomplishment, since it was the first time in the conservative society s history that Jews were welcomed. The memory of lively intellectual discussions created by those lectures persist even today, several decades after the Gibran Athenaeum stopped its activities.
My father s belief in peaceful co-existence between Arabs and Jews was evident also in his personal life, moving with equal facility between both communities and serving as a bridge of understanding and communication between them.
Among the memories from my childhood the most persistent perhaps is my father s pride when talking about how peaceful Lebanese people were, living together in harmony despite their different religions and political persuasions.
I am grateful he died before the internecine wars started ravaging the country, sometimes fuelled by outside interferences. Had he seen that, he surely would have died heartbroken.
The recent Doha accord between Lebanese parties, which left no victor and no vanquished, shouldn t stop there. It should serve to propel the idea that peace is indeed possible not only within Lebanon, but also between Israel and the Arab countries. This accord, as well as recent talks between Syria and Israel being mediated by Turkey, should be part of a broader and more powerful movement towards peace in the region.
With the same determination that war has been waged almost without interruption in the region, a momentum for peace must be created now. It would dignify the death of those that lost their lives in war, and re-establish a harmony that would honor the tradition my father so cherished for his country.
César Chelala is a writer on human rights and foreign affairs, and co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.