Lebanon’s anti-war movement started as soon as the Lebanese civil war began. A few months after violence broke out prominent religious leaders led by Imam Moussa Sadr, head of the Shiite Islamic Council, called for a hunger strike until the violence stopped. In 1977 a group of well-known intellectuals and journalists formed ‘The Gathering for a United Lebanon’, calling for secularisation and the dismantling of all militia forces.
The first popular action against the war began on 6 May 1984 and was led by a young female university student, Iman Khalifeh. She called on all Lebanese opposed to the war and militia control of the country to gather around the demarcation line in the Museum area of central Beirut in order to commemorate Martyrs’ Day in Lebanon. As 6 May approached it became clear that the campaign had been gaining momentum and a large turn-out was expected, with the press widely reporting the reactions of trade and teachers’ unions and other civil society organisations (CSOs). Many DPOs also welcomed the call. However, on 5 May two opposing militia forces began bombarding the planned gathering area, and the organisers were forced to cancel the event.
Even though the event did not take place, the circumstances of the demonstration revealed that militia forces were losing popular support – the bombing exposing militias’ fears of how successful the demonstration was likely to have been. Furthermore, the organisers of the event gained confidence in their capacity to rally the Lebanese people against the war.
In response, the non-violent movement was established in Lebanon in 1985. It included some of the leaders of the 6 May event and other activists – including prominent feminist leaders, youth leaders and some religious anti-war personalities – as well as from within DPOs. The movement launched a blood donation campaign as a demonstration of solidarity among all Lebanese. In October 1985, supported by the Lebanese Red Cross, a tent where people could give blood was erected on a main highway in the Dowra area of eastern Beirut. But despite enthusiasm from the Lebanese public to donate, an hour after the tent was assembled local militia forced the organisers to close it down.
The anti-war rationale of the disability movement was twofold. First, with the state paralysed and the country in turmoil because of the war, it could not demand particular rights for disabled people but had to join with other forces to struggle for the rights of all Lebanese for peace and security. Second, Lebanese civil society was not taking the lead in opposing militia forces, and so the Lebanese disabled community needed to show the way as the most vivid reminder of the war and as proof that persons with disabilities are key national and social actors, equal to other groups in the country.
Later in 1985, in response to the sabotage of the blood campaign, DPOs, with the support of the non-violence movement, decided to organise twin marches by disabled people, from East and West Beirut to meet in the centre of the capital and demand the end of the war. The March was planned for Independence Day on 22 November. However, as the march got underway the two main militias controlling West Beirut started fighting each other in the streets and the marchers were caught in the crossfire.
In October 1987 the disability movement organised another anti-war march, this time across the country from north to south as a civil challenge to the militia order. Although it was led once again by persons with disabilities, Lebanese CSOs joined them to strengthen the popular impact of the demonstration. This also helped disability become a prominent national cause and gain significant support across a range of sectors in civil society.
The success of the march further encouraged other CSOs to protest the violence. By late October 1987 the teachers’ union called for a general strike against the war and on 9 November the national trade union organised the largest anti-war gathering yet in central Beirut, involving an estimated 300,000 people. Building on these successes, from 1987–89 the Lebanese disability movement began organising a series of camps and seminars to promote human rights, non-violence and disability rights, as well as blood donation campaigns and sit-ins.