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The Book of Ecclesiasticus is one of the Bible’s most accessible texts, due to its pertinence and its ability to impart a wealth of practical wisdom. It most specifically refers to matters that are “gratifying to God,” such as “neighbors who live in harmony,” and others that are more sorrowful, such as “the soldier who ages in poverty.”

All along, the military profession has been unlike any other: the soldier carries within him the memory of his homeland and the dangers it has endured.

What held true in biblical times still does today. Retired Lebanese Army personnel, known as “veteran warriors,” are currently asking for an adjustment to their allowances by doing so in public squares. At Riad el-Solh Square, tensions escalated as they nearly came to blows with the young recruits standing on the other end.

The wage of a regular soldier in the Lebanese Army (70,000 members) stands at a mere $220 as a result of the 2019 economic collapse, which witnessed the depreciation of the national currency by 95%. Outrage and frustration broke out when the veterans discovered that recent salary adjustments, authorized by Najib Mikati’s government, placed them on par with 5th category civil servants.

Retired General and prominent figure in the protest movement, Georges Nader, who was badly injured in the 2007 battle between the Army and the Islamist group Fateh el-Islam in the Palestinian camp of Nahr el-Bared, asserts, “I served in the Army for 35 years. Before 2019, my salary was $4,000; today it’s $580, which is 12% of what it used to be. How do you think I could have survived without my plot of land in Akkar and my two sons?”

The former officer further says, “Believe me, there are some of us who live in such dire circumstances that they can’t even afford to offer you coffee if you were to pay them a visit. And occasionally, we collect some financial help for some of them. Is this fair?”

“On average, current salaries and allowances amount to around 9% of what they were before 2019. We will fight to raise this percentage to 40%,” explains this military hero, who has been subjected to humiliation by a court summons. He was accused of wearing military fatigues and a T-shirt with the Army’s insignia during a demonstration.

To maintain the proper functioning of the Lebanese Army, many countries have provided occasional support since 2021, including donations of fuel, food parcels, and cash stipends for the soldiers. In June 2022, Qatar contributed $60 million in aid to help cover soldiers’ salaries. In June 2023, 70,000 servicemen received a $55.5 million donation from the United States and the United Nations, equivalent to $100 per month for a six-month period.

In early March, the Army Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Aoun, attended a meeting in Rome in support of the regular forces. The meeting was attended by Army generals from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Discussions focused on ways to support and strengthen the capabilities of the Lebanese Army in the potential scenario of deploying 15,000 soldiers south of the Litani River.

Chamel Roukoz (former Brigadier General and former head of the Army’s commando corps) believes that “these temporary aids are not a solution.” “The struggling soldiers who are seeking additional income elsewhere to support their families are losing their morale; they are no longer performing at their best. Today, many of them are finding means to cover the unexpected expenses of daily life through part-time jobs, such as delivery drivers, waiters, valet parking attendants, and mechanics. Under normal circumstances, they would be confident, knowing that they can rely on their officer. Today, their focus is elsewhere,” he explains.

Some of these soldiers are losing hope and deserting, while others are thinking of leaving Lebanon permanently. Some are even having to take out loans. “My salary used to be 12 million Lebanese pounds (approximately $120), but my medication expenses amounted to 15 million,” reveals Antoun D., a married soldier — almost 50 years old — to Asianews. While efforts are supposedly underway to ensure medical care and hospitalization, no official information has been disclosed on this matter.

At a time when there is talk about increasing the Army’s personnel to meet the strict requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, retired armed forces members are suffering from the political class’s utter indifference to their plight. They are — reluctantly — being pushed to take to the streets. To them, the Army is more than an institution. It is the fundamental pillar and the last stronghold of national unity. They deplore the fact that their final battle is waged for something as mundane as their salaries. When listening to them, one better understands why the author of the sacred text mentions that God is “saddened” by the sight of a soldier “in poverty.” It’s on par with trampling on a flag.