I Fought the Law…

Nawah Zoaiter, one of Lebanon's most powerful drug barons, is on the run from the authorities. Mitchell Prothero/The National

Nawah Zoaiter, one of Lebanon's most powerful drug barons, is on the run from the authorities. Mitchell Prothero/The National

Mitch Prothero has a must-read piece in The National about the fascinating intersections of drug trafficking, organized crime, and age-old tribal revenge politics in Lebanon’s Beqaa valley. Here’s a selection:

To illustrate the far-reaching influence of the families, the officer recounted a story that started 10 years ago when a member of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) working in Baalbak killed a member of the Jafaar family during a demonstration.

Fearing the Jafaar’s vengeance, the ISF immediately ordered the officer transferred to the Lebanese Embassy in Paris. A year later, Lebanese intelligence received a warning from their French counterparts that the Jafaar family had found the officer and the French were tracking a team of assassins who had arrived in Paris to kill him.

After recalling the man to Lebanon, changing his name and posting him to the police headquarters in the mostly Sunni city of Tripoli, where the Shiite Jafaar would have the least capability for revenge, people forgot about the case for a few years.

“The family later found out the man was working in the Serail in Tripoli and called in perhaps the only Jafaar family member with a job in the ISF,” the intelligence officer recalled. “The boy was ordered to demand a transfer to Tripoli or to find a way to visit the building. Once inside, he went to the office, calmly shot the officer to death and walked downstairs to be put in jail. I interrogated the boy, he didn’t want to do it. But his family and tribal pressure to avenge this death from years before was too much. He had no choice as a member of the Jafaar clan.”

I remember asking my eighty-two year old grandfather about all of the violence between the Beqaa clans and the army last spring. He thought for a moment and then replied: “When I was  a boy growing up in Deir al-Ahmar, the Jaafar and Zoaiter clans were always at each others throats. Somebody would get caught stealing sheep or there would be some kind of scandal, and they would immediately start shooting each other up. Nobody from the government ever dared to interfere.”

He paused, got a wistful look in his eyes, and then said: “Except, sometimes, someone would call for the men of our village to come down and break up the fighting. And so our men would walk down to the valley, with only rifles on their shoulders, in a single file straight into the village where the feud was taking place. They would walk right into the line of fire, and suddenly, the fight would end.”

Somebody needs to give the LAF a call and tell them to stop bothering with RPG’s, counter-intelligence, and body armor. Just give the boys from Deir al-Ahmar a call, and we could have all of this cleared up by dinnertime.
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6 thoughts on “I Fought the Law…

  1. The vengeance culture highlighted in Prothero’s piece is typical to almost all tribal cultures in the region. It is also known among different mafia groups to assure solidarity among members. So, nothing is new.
    It would have been interesting had the article touched on the size of the trade over the years as well its effect on the Lebanese economy. Moreover, I wonder how much percentage of the hashish is traded in for local consumptions.
    Finally, who, if any, are suspected to be involved one way or another among the big businessmen and politicians?

    Posted by i.e. Lubnan | July 3, 2009, 2:01 am
  2. Hey QN,
    The folks down at SC are playing the Debkeh contest. I wonder if you could track any relatives in this video or whether you could relate to any tunes:


    Posted by majid | July 3, 2009, 6:58 pm
  3. “the Jaafar and Zoaiter clans were always at each others throats.”

    Yes Lebanon has its own version of The Hatfields and McCoys”

    Posted by Enlightened | July 3, 2009, 9:16 pm
  4. “the Jaafar and Zoaiter clans were always at each others throats.”

    The Jaafar’s and the Zoaiter’s never had a vendetta. Each clan may have had a vendetta or two of its own with some other clans (there is no shortage).
    This is just a dramatization on the part of QN.

    The Zoaitar’s number over 50,000 men, by far the largest tribe in Lebanon. The Jaafar’s number somewhere around 25,000 men commanded by a single chieftain, which would make him as powerful as the head of the Lebanese army perhaps. Both clans have enough wisdom not to start a mini civil war.

    Posted by majid | July 3, 2009, 10:38 pm
  5. “They would walk right into the line of fire, and suddenly, the fight would end.”


    These “boys from Deir al-Ahmar” remind me of the “abadayette” in the Rahbani’s plays; very impressive.

    Sabaya, we should go to Deir al-Ahmar.

    (nice story)

    Posted by PN | July 4, 2009, 12:12 am
  6. Majid

    I’m sure there’s a great uncle or two in there.

    PN, that’s exactly right. Although Deir al Ahmar is not nearly as idyllic as some of those villages in the Rahbani plays.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | July 4, 2009, 8:34 am

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