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How Lebanon’s First Female Militant Made Her Fight More Faithful

Image: Courtesy of Shiraz Awad

On July 31, Jocelyne Khoueiry passed away mercifully five days before seeing Beirut destroyed, again. A key player in the civil war that once tore the city apart, she spent the rest of her life trying to stitch it back together, and all of Lebanon with it.

The Beirut explosion on August 4 reminded many of the worst days of the 1975-1990 conflict. The Lebanese capital divided into a Christian east and a Muslim west, alternately shelled by militias and foreign armies vying for control.

But though far smaller in scale than the blast at the port, the deaths caused by Jocelyne’s 1976 hand grenade also shook the nation.

Born as one of two daughters in a Maronite Christian family of ten, Jocelyne grew up across the street from the Beirut headquarters of the Phalange.

Originally a Christian youth movement dedicated to an independent Lebanon, the Phalange took great offense at the state-within-a-state formed by the 300,000 Palestinians who were fleeing war with Israel. The 1969 Cairo agreement gave the refugees sovereignty to organize their own communities and continue the armed struggle, with the blessing—though not involvement—of their host nation.

The Khoueiry family provided some of the earliest fighters to the Phalange Christian militia formed in response, and a not yet 20-year-old Jocelyne enlisted with her brothers. In 1975, the civil war broke out in earnest, and several Lebanese Muslim militias sided with the Palestinians.

Jocelyne was not a practicing Christian; she preferred the Beirut nightlife. But on May 7, 1976, on a routine patrol on the roof of the Regent Hotel, she had a vision. She said the Virgin Mary appeared to her, and she saw herself kneeling in veneration. But she was also overcome with a sense of dread, and prayed that God would protect the six other female fighters stationed there with her.

On the way down from the roof, she saw advancing Palestinian militants.

The Regent sat on a dividing line between mixed and wholly Christian neighborhoods of Beirut, and Jocelyne’s squad was completely alone. While the Phalange militia’s men had anticipated defending a different hotel encampment, a 300-strong regiment of Palestinians attacked the female outpost instead.

The battle lasted six hours. Eventually, Jocelyne risked exposure by climbing back to the roof, and threw down a hand grenade that miraculously killed the Palestinian commander. The militia scattered, and the line was held.

Jocelyne became a legend. But in the years that followed, she contemplated…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on September 14, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Jocelyne Khoueiry

God,

May she rest in peace.

May her nation simply rest.

Compelled by civil war, the young woman took up arms to defend her people.

She later laid them down, as religion moved from identity to faith.

God, does Lebanon need the same?

Can faith demand arms? Is identity for sect or nation?

Which do you desire first?

The Maronite patriarch continued his call for neutrality. The Shiite mufti called it impossible.

Their evidence is the same: Lebanon is surrounded by regional trouble.

Trouble that again spilled over the border.

Claiming infiltration by a Shiite militia, Israel exchanged fire and launched cross-border shells.

The militia denied anything happened at all.

But it will. Their dead fighter in Syria demands retribution.

And if it comes, Israel pledges destruction of infrastructure. The price will be high.

Who benefits? Who wins? Does faith demand arms? Does fidelity to nation?

Does neutrality?

God, guide Lebanon in the necessary discussion.

Calm the region, with justice and peace.

Restore the economy, for fuel and food.

Reform the government, in all transparency.

Convict the heart, to make amends.

The courage of Khoueiry transformed to conviction. Her earlier certainty shifted to service.

Even as killing continued.

Honor her, God, both former and latter. Honor her enemies, who risked life for their cause.

And today honor all, as they repeat the cycle.

Until one day all swords become plowshares. And all men in fullness give honor to you.

May she rest in peace. May she inspire the same.

Amen.


Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.