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when Lebanon, at peace with her neighbors and free of all foreign forces, resumes her traditional place in the Middle East.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes our statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Hearing on U.S. Policy Toward Lebanon
June 25, 1997
Distinguished Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, as one who is proud to claim Lebanese ancestry, it is truly an honor to have the opportunity to speak on travel to Lebanon. As I am sure you are all aware, travel to Lebanon has been banned by the U.S. State Department since 1987. And, only two other countries--Iraq and Libya--have received travel bans from the State Department. Including Lebanon on the same list as Iraq and Libya is clearly unjustified.
In 1995, I visited Lebanon and the village of Itoo, the hometown of many of my relatives. As I traveled through Lebanon, I was able to see the progress that Lebanon has made since the end of its civil war, as well as to gauge the impact that the travel ban has
had on that country.
The civil war that the Lebanese people had to endure began in 1975. Indeed, according to Congressional Quarterly, the majority of the Lebanese people were not even involved in the fighting, but most were, unfortunately, victims. The fighting that took place in Lebanon in 1975 and 1976 largely occurred between rival militia groups, who were vying for control of the country's political system. As the rival groups battled each other, some of the fighting inevitably spilled over, destroying many of the buildings and
much of the infrastructure of the Lebanese countryside.
During my visit to Lebanon, I experienced firsthand the rebirth and reawakening that is currently sweeping through the country. This rebirth follows a period of civil war and fighting that, according to the Congressional Research Service, left more than 100,000 persons dead and another 200,000 wounded. In addition, the war, at one time or another, produced nearly 1million refugees, which translates to roughly one-third of Lebanon's total population of 3 million. Yet, despite these years of violence, war and civil strife, the spirit of the Lebanese people has not been broken--the people are committed to the task of rebuilding their country.
More importantly, the years of bloodshed are finally behind the Lebanese people. Though once home to foreign terrorist groups, the Lebanese people have largely eradicated them from their homeland. In fact, in the past six years, not a single American has been killed or injured due to terrorism in Lebanon.
Today, Lebanon is moving toward a bright and better future. And, if the future of Lebanon is to be a bright one, and if the people of Lebanon are to be successful in their rebuilding efforts, then they will need the aid of foreign investment--particularly,
Though the devastation caused by the civil war still remains fresh in the minds of many Lebanese, there has already been tremendous efforts to rebuild the infrastructure of the country. If you travel to Beirut, you will see new buildings and businesses rising up all over the city. Slowly, Beirut is beginning to rebuild itself, and hopefully, one day it will be able to reclaim its status as the “Paris of the Middle East."
An infusion of foreign capital has already aided in the rebuilding efforts, and would greatly help to provide a solid foundation for the growing and expanding Lebanese economy. However, the current travel ban prevents Americans from offering financial investment and assistance to Lebanon. We must not allow this to continue. The
Lebanese people have committed themselves to rebuilding their country--the question we must answer, is “Are we willing to participate in this rebuilding?"
The travel ban not only hinders economic development, but it also locks American businesses out of a market that has enormous potential. Every day that the travel ban remains in effect means another day in which American companies lose out on business and investment opportunities. The State Department's travel ban essentially allows foreign competitors, of which there are many, to establish a foothold in Lebanon, while the American companies are forced out of the picture entirely.
One only has to look at the numbers to see the effect that the travel ban is having on U.S. investment opportunities. In 1995, nearly two-and-one-half billion foreign dollars were invested in the Lebanese economy. By contrast, only $12.5 million of that figure was from the United States, and that amount was from a U.S. grant.
Missed economic assistance and lost investment opportunities, however, are not the only negative consequences of the travel ban. Those that are, perhaps, most affected by the travel ban are Lebanese-Americans who are prohibited from visiting their friends and family in Lebanon. Currently, there is no legal way for U.S. citizens to visit friends and family in Lebanon, and it is very difficult to receive a waiver or exemption from the State Department in order to travel there.
The impact that such a ban has on Americans is enormous. It is estimated that as many as one million Lebanese-Americans live in the U.S. today. We must not continue a travel ban that hurts not only our citizens, but also the citizens of Lebanon. The ties between our two countries are too strong, and too many, to justify the State Department's travel ban.
Lebanon is, and has been a good ally of the United States. Historically, Lebanon has been a free, democratic and independent country, and banning travel there is not the proper way to treat an ally. By lifting the ban on travel, we can take a positive first step toward helping the Lebanese rebuild their lives and their country. At the very least, a
business travel waiver should be available so that American businesses can travel to
Lebanon to conduct business deals and engage in investment and development. The U.S. Department of Commerce has proposed the implementation of a business travel waiver, and adoption of this waiver would be of great benefit to both Lebanon and the United
Therefore, I urge President Clinton and Secretary Albright to consider the severe impact that the travel ban has on the people of our country and of Lebanon. Mr. Chairman, the time has come to lift the travel ban, and it is my hope that this hearing today will help move this issue to the forefront so that we can achieve this goal.