Mount Lebanon, a rural area in the centre of the country, is considered the cradle of the modern Lebanese state. The War of the Mountain represented a recurrence of violence as part of the civil war, after a long history of Christian-Druze conflict in the region.
After the war, the state sought to pacify and reconstruct the massacre-scarred region, and facilitate the return of Christian villagers. An event in September 1991 was to have a major influence on official returnee policy: seeking to avenge the killing of several family members, a Christian from the Druzo-Christian village of Ma’asir al-Chouf killed several Druze, including children. The political authorities were concerned to avoid further cyclic, vindictive violence between villagers – a practice that still structures social relations in some regions. This convinced the Ministry of the Displaced (MD) to include ‘reconciliation’ in national returnee policy.
National returnee policy distinguished between two types of situation in Mount Lebanon. First, the return of displaced people to exclusively Christian villages situated in a Druzo-Christian region, which were not, according to the ministry, the theatre for massacres. Returns to these villages started in late 1992 without recourse to reconciliation. For example, in seven villages of the Harf region in Chouf district, inhabitants returned after re-establishing more or less formal relations with Druze in neighbouring villages, through committees set up to encourage Druze and Christian villagers to participate in each others’ rites of passage, in particular funerals. Each village was also represented at the MD by its own committee. Meetings with officials – the minister, the director and technical experts – were aimed at establishing lists of Christian and Druze whose houses had been destroyed or damaged and who would receive indemnities. Druze who occupied Christians’ houses because their own had been destroyed received evacuation indemnities. The ministry promulgated decrees of “return and collective evacuation”.
The second category concerned Druzo-Christian villages in which massacres were perpetrated. Approximately twenty villages were specifically identified by the MD as “villages of reconciliation”. Christian and Druze villagers were represented through committees reflecting their political and familial diversity. The process involved “the formation of a common committee constituted from the Ministry of the Displaced, the Fund of the Displaced and a representative of the committee of returnees [Christian] and a representative of the committee of residents [Druze]”. Discussions around litigious issues – individual responsibilities during massacres, violations of property, indemnities – were to end with the signing of a reconciliation agreement, the terms of which effectively left the MD with responsibility for settling cases relating to violations of property. The signed agreement would exclude resort to courts, as it would come “with no conditions or suits”. This posed a problem in cases where the intended beneficiaries did not receive payments specified in agreements. In the 1990s frictions between former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who had authority over the fund, and Walid Jumblatt, Minister of the Displaced, led to the suspension of payments.
Linking reconciliation to reconstruction of village infrastructure and public services (for instance roads, lights and water pipes) has posed a problem for those Druze who were not displaced. The MD contributes to reconstruction only after a reconciliation agreement has been reached. Ramzi (not his real name) from Abay, a village where reconciliation is not yet concluded, told the author in 2003: “It is as if we have to accept reconciliation in order to receive our rights. This takes the form of a pressure”. His wife also deplored this situation: “If reconciliation is achieved on these grounds, it will be temporary. It must be based on fair foundations. Reconciling is not an exchange”.