Over eleven months have passed since the titanic Beirut port explosion, which claimed 214 innocent lives and injured thousands of people, leaving many displaced from their houses due to the destruction wreaked by the blast, and no justice has yet to be served.
The explosion was heard all the way in neighboring Cyprus and is estimated to have had the strength of 500 tons of TNT, the biggest non-nuclear explosion in history and around one-twentieth of the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
Despite the incredible damage caused, justice has yet to be found, with Lebanon’s political elite time and again refused to cooperate with judiciary authorities – a judiciary which, like the rest of the country’s archaic institutions, is mired by corruption and hampered by the absence of the rule of law.
Recently, Judge Tarek Bitar, the special investigator on the Beirut port blast, filed charges against a number of former ministers, including the caretaker Premier Hassan Diab and senior security officials for their role and negligence which led to the blast. Bitar’s daring act was naturally received with optimism by the Lebanese public, especially the families of the victims which have been vocal and unwavering in their demand for swift justice. However, Bitar’s charges were not novel, nor surprising, but merely reiterated the findings of his predecessor Judge Fadi Sawan, who six months ago was forced out by the Court of Cassation, Lebanon’s highest court, because he summoned and interrogated many of the same individuals Bitar has now indicted.
Despite the positive implications of Judge Bitar’s actions there are many factors and indicators that the judiciary action will fall short of identifying the real culprits behind the Beirut blast. To begin with, the names of those accused of negligence and criminal endangerment are merely scapegoats for their respective feudal lords, meaning that even if they are found guilty the true perpetrators of the disaster will continue to escape punishment.
Perhaps more importantly, judicial authorities continue to refuse to pursue much of the evidence that local and regional press have uncovered, chiefly the blast’s ties to pro-Syrian regime businessman and Russian-Syrian citizen George Haswani, who was responsible for importing the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate – the explosion’s fuel – despite the case underscoring that the disaster was mainly due to criminal neglect. Naturally, Assad’s implication in the blast hides Hezbollah’s and Iran’s involvement in storing these explosives, as well as weaponry, in the Beirut port, as they continue to fight in Syria to keep Assad in power.
While the ongoing investigation is confidential under law, it is clear that the investigation has purposely sidestepped Hezbollah and has been apprehensive to address the real elephant in the room, why is Hezbollah so eager to defend those accused of this heinous crime, including perhaps themselves. The Beirut blast might indeed be the result of criminal negligence, but the true cause needs to be identified by a judge after a long a thorough investigation with tangible evidence used to decide an outcome, a culture which unfortunately remains alien to most Lebanese, at least those in power.
Regardless of the legal process or the millions of forensic pieces needed to reconstruct the crime, one is soberly reminded that the real enforcer of the law is not Judge Bitar and his fellow judges, but Hezbollah, which sees itself above the law, and has time and again accused anyone who is even willing to hint to the possibility of its involvement in the blast as being an Israeli collaborator.
Two days after Judge Bitar’s indictment, Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, soberly reminded everyone, including the families of the victims of the blast, that the current course of the investigation, although technically not known to him nor the public, is being politicized, and that it will not achieve real justice.
History instead teaches us the irony of Nasrallah’s words. Real justice to Nasrallah exempts Hezbollah’s top assassination squad and one of its senior members, Salim Ayyash, who was found guilty of the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, an act which Hezbollah and its supporters shamelessly celebrated as a victory, rather than hand in the criminal. In fact, Nasrallah is not wiling to entertain any form of justice which implicates him or his group directly, or by association to any act of violence.
Bitar and his crusade to bring peace for the hundreds who lay dead in the graveyards, and the thousands who remain homeless because of the disastrous August 4 blast, will fail as long as the Lebanese refuse to acknowledge the fact that Hezbollah should be put on trial, and not limit judicial proceedings to only a few corrupt politicians and security officers who have for years benefited from their protection.
Bringing the culprits of the Beirut port explosion, whomever they are, to justice will set a dangerous precedent and will end the culture of impunity which Hezbollah and the entire Lebanese political establishment has exploited for decades. The fight for justice requires the Lebanese to protect Bitar and his likes, not by only flooding social media with letters of support, but by being ready to face the real leviathan, Hezbollah and the corrupt class it protects.