Lebanon’s women warriors

Lebanese women from all sides talk about participating in their country’s civil war.

During Lebanon’s civil war – and Israel’s invasion and occupation of Lebanon – some women fought on the frontlines.

These women proved determined and were often resourceful in the weapons they used.

In Women Warriors, Lebanese Muslim and Christian women reflect on the days when they were fighters and talk about how it has impacted their lives.

Through the eyes of women who fought on the frontlines, this film offers a fresh perspective on the Lebanese civil war and a contemporary insight into Lebanon today, the role of women there, and the relationship between women and violence.

Eileen Boulus, former fighter with the Lebanese Forces

Eileen Boulus became a fighter with the Lebanese Forces militia after her sister was killed in a bomb blast and her brother paralysed by a bomb that hit their house.

She was about 12 years old when she first held a weapon.

She moved around living a military life and fought whenever she was needed.

“I don’t regret it, no, why should I have regrets? I know I’ve defended my neighbourhood, my family and myself.

“My favourite weapon is the AK-47 rifle with a rounded steel rifle stock.”

She now works as a bus driver. In the evening she lights a coal fire and says she never really gave up the simple military lifestyle.

“Fire and war are like each other. Fire is raging and the war is raging. Fire will not die out on its own. You have put it out yourself. In the same way the bullets will not stop until you stop the fighting.

“I don’t think I will ever carry a gun again.”

Soha Bechara, member of the Lebanese Communist Party

Soha Bechara secretly joined the Lebanese Communist Party in 1982, the year in which Israel invaded Lebanon.

She left college in 1987, and in 1988, at the age of 21, attempted to assassinate General Antoine Lahad, the leader of the South Lebanon army (SLA), a Lebanese militia that operated in southern Lebanon with the support of Israel.

Under the guise of being an aerobics instructor to his wife, Bechara frequently visited Lahad’s house.

She struggled to carry out the operation at first. “I was then about to pull out my gun but instead I pulled out a tissue and left the house without carrying out the operation. That was the first time I had felt such a dilemma.”

But eventually, motivated by feelings of obligation to the resistance, Bechara shot Lahad twice in the chest

“I felt it was my duty to take part. If we did nothing, I said, we Lebanese would suffer the same fate as the Palestinians.”

Lahad survived and Bechara was arrested and held without trial in the infamous Khiam prison, a brutal detention centre in the mountains of southern Lebanon created by the Israelis and managed by the SLA.

She was finally released in 1998.

“There is no sense of personal revenge between me and Antoine Lahad. No personal revenge. There was an invader and we fought against this invader.”

Fadia Bazi, former fighter in the war of the camps

As a seven-year-old, Fadia Bazi watched her father teach her older brothers how to dismantle a Kalashnikov and put it back together again. That was how she learnt how to use weapons.

From the age of 16, Bazi fought in the war of the camps, a subconflict within the civil war in which Palestinian refugee camps were besieged by the Shia Amal militia.

“When the battle ended it was like the window of my memory had opened completely.

“For my whole life I had worn men’s clothes. But suddenly I changed dramatically – a 180 degree turn. I started wearing skirts, I started wearing dresses and high heels. I fixed my hair the way I liked it. I bought make up …. I started noticing other girls my age and the lives they led. I wanted to live like them.

“I was forced to be a fighter. My father taught me when I was seven years old. I don’t imagine raising my son in the same way my father raised us. The situation now doesn’t justify me teaching my son to use weapons to defend himself.

“I should be the one to defend him as I am the one who brought him into this life. That would be the only reason why I would ever carry a gun again.”

Maysloon Farhat, former Syrian Social Nationalist Party fighter

Maysloon Farhat became a fighter with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) when she turned 14.

“I love weapons a lot. They are a part of me. I feel they are part of my blood. This gun is our honour and our dignity.”

She married another fighter and continued to fight while pregnant, but her husband was killed.

Her son was arrested in 1985 for carrying out an operation against the Israelis. He was imprisoned for 12 years.

“I raised him to struggle, to be a fighter … and I will raise my grandchildren in the same way.”

Jocelyn Khoueiri, former fighter with the Phalangists

Jocelyn Khoueiri became an iconic image of women fighters for the Christian Phalangists.

She first held a gun in 1973 when she began military training, inspired by concerns about the Palestinian armed presence in Lebanon.

After fighting broke out between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Lebanese army, Khoueiri took part in several battles. 

“I think that women can be better fighters than men. Because a woman has inside of her all the energy of mothering, and all the energy of life, and all the energy of love. This energy is used to defend the people she loves. 

“Training to fight was a good experience for me, a positive one; it suited my personality and my nature. The training gave me – as it gave everyone else – a kind of serious strength. It made me ready for anything in the future.”

Wafa’a Nasrallah, fighter in the Lebanese Resistance Brigades

Wafa’a Nasrallah is a female fighter in the Lebanese Resistance Brigades, which is linked to Hezbollah.

Her brother was a fighter and through him she learned how to use and love weapons.

“I loved guns … not like little boys who play with toy guns. Unlike them, I would clean all the parts of the gun, put it away and hide it. I felt that guns were something very important.

“My first military operation was planting a bomb to blow up an Israeli convoy of six trucks. At that time, girls played a bigger role than young men, as girls were less likely to be caught and arrested by Israeli soldiers.”

She has spent her whole life fighting and still holds on to her weapon.  

“My third daughter is 11 years old, she is a fierce fighter. She says ‘I am my mother’s daughter’. Her military name is “Batool”.

“My youngest boy, Hussein Abu Ali, is six years old. He knows how to shoot a gun; he can descend a building by a rope; he wears a military uniform and marches like a soldier. He can crawl like a fighter. He can dismantle a weapon and tell you exactly what each piece is used for. Those children alone are an army regiment.”

Sana’a Mehaidli, former Syrian Social Nationalist Party fighter

Sana’a Mehaidli was a member of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP) in Lebanon.

In April 1985 she carried out a suicide attack against an Israeli military convoy in south Lebanon. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and two others injured.

Before she joined the SSNP, she worked at a video store, where she later recorded her will.

“I am very comfortable with carrying out this operation. I choose to do this because I am fulfilling my duty towards my land and my people,” she said in her recorded will.

“I want to send a message to my mother and ask her for forgiveness as I have left without saying goodbye. And I hope that she will pray for my soul.

“Mother, you taught me to love, to sacrifice and to show respect. Now I am loving my country, sacrificing my life and respecting the people of the south.”

Twenty-three years later, as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hezbollah, Sana’a Mehaidli’s remains were returned for burial in her hometown in south Lebanon.

Women Warriors first aired on April 21, 2010.