Amin Gemayel: We can't afford civil war

Father of slain Lebanese politician tells 'Post' how family is coping with tragedy.

amin gemayel crying 298. (photo credit: AP)
amin gemayel crying 298.
(photo credit: AP)
As you drive into the small town of Bickfaya, northeast of Beirut, a huge poster of slain Lebanese industry minister Pierre Gemayel smiles down at you. Behind him, a photograph of the bullet-punctured car he was in when attacked by assassins fills the frame. It's a picture that's now familiar in Lebanon - plastered across just about every available bit of space, from billboards along the country's highways to bumper stickers. Here, it's draped across a bronze statue of his late grandfather, his namesake, the founder of the Phalange Party for which the family's now famous. But fame has its price, and for this prominent Christian family, Gemayel's murder marks the fifth they've been forced to come to terms with. There's no let-up in the traffic as a steady stream of cars drives slowly to his gravesite, next to that of his uncle, former president Bashir, who was assassinated a few days after being elected to office in 1982. Both were 34 when they died. Pierre's death fell on the Phalange Party's 70th anniversary. A narrow, pebbled path leading to the grave is flanked by massive bouquets of flowers on both sides. Throughout the three official days of mourning, supporters from across the country have been coming here to pay their respects. Eliane Rahy is 18, a student in the town. She's an active member of the youth branch of the Phalange Party. "He was a hero to us," she says. "He was an inspiration, a leader, someone we could phone whenever we needed to ask him something. Lebanon is at war, but it's not a war of bombs. It's a war between people. He was a statement for us." That statement is something Gemayel's father, Amin, is pushing hard for. President of the country for six years following the death of his brother, he stands teary-eyed alongside his wife, daughter-in-law and son in the family's ancestral home. Together with other members of the family they shake hands with the never-ending queue of mourners filing past. Security is tight. People's names are checked off from a list. "My family is coping," Amin tells me. "It's extremely difficult and we've known so much tragedy already, but we are strong. Pierre's assassination was a kind of threat to my family, but it wasn't only to us, it was a way to assassinate the faith of the country, the hope, the determination. What's going on is something really diabolic." He remains hopeful, though, that his son's death won't plunge Lebanon into civil war. "Immediately after my son's death, I appealed to our supporters to be calm and not to seek revenge. I don't believe there will be violence, at least I hope not. Lebanon cannot afford for this to happen," he says. His face stricken with grief, the tears remain lodged in the bottom half of his eyes, threatening to spill over at any moment. That's precisely what happens to his wife at one point, and she collapses into the sofa behind them, her body heaving with heart-wrenching sobs. And still the mourners file past, many with heads bowed, unsure of what to say. Outside, the streets of Bickfaya are deathly quiet. Out of respect for its most revered family, most shops are closed. Across the country, banks, companies and industrial plants have also decided to remain shut until Sunday in an effort to force the six resigned cabinet ministers to return to office, and to get the parliament to endorse the United Nations tribunal. This endorsement came late Saturday night. The commission has agreed to also investigate Gemayel's murder. But whether or not Syria is found guilty, as most Lebanese charge, it's unlikely to bring much comfort to this family in mourning.