Martyrdom

A full account of Sa'adeh's martyrdom can be found in:
Outright Assassination
(Hardcover - Feb 2010 by Adel Beshara (Editor)
Author: Adel Beshara
ISBN: 978-0-86372-348-3
Binding: Hardcover
Publishing Date: Feb 2010
Publisher: Ithaca Press (GB)
Number of Pages: 332
Language: English

The Priest Who Confessed Him

Said Taky Deen

I am not concerned how I die but rather about what I die for. I do not count the years I lived, but rather the works I carried through to achievements. With these words, Sa'adeh closed the final chapter in his life. At the time, he was in Prison al-Ramel, waiting to be taken away for execution after the Lebanese government had decided to waive normal judicial procedures or to grant him an amnesty. The Priest Who Confessed Him is an eye-witness account of the final hours of Sa'adeh's life described in a dialogue between the priest who attended the execution and Sa'id Taki Deen, the distinguished Lebanese Litterateur.

In my fifth attempt to meet and question the priest who observed Sa'adeh's last hours, I finally located him at night, as arranged by appointment. He was different from the image that I had brought with me in my mind. I found not so much an aged figure with a white beard or a trembling voice or impressive dignity and fatherly speech that would accord with that special life that clergies live within society.

We sat, with my patience sorely tried by that small talk that strangers who have met for the first time must exchange. Our conversation dragged on the margin of the subject and I finally interrupted those present to raise it directly: "Could you please tell me Father about the night of the 8th of July?"

I was a bit upset that this man of religion did not at first assume a solemn demeanour but rather talked in a detached manner. Yet as he narrated the events that he observed [on that night], his voice, his tone, and his humility became tinted with emotions and real grief. He became like a master musician playing a moving piece on a piano, his fingertips lightly cherishing the ivory keys, until his discourse soared to an elevated music not of this world. We felt that the walls of the room had opened up and that it was lighting up those within it. We became there with Sa'adeh in his prison, in the church, in the cemetery addressing the world, among his people in the diaspora, in palaces, in court, in diplomatic missions, in the hearts of all who knew him and grieved for him, in the pride of struggles standing in the presence of the arrogant or in the face of executioners, in the calmness of the faithful, in the cave of treachery as bayonets that pursue criminals, flags that urge armies on, as the tempest that crushes and the cry that makes history pause in its forward march. The priest brought out a paper from the folds of his voluminous black cassck taken out of an exercise book, and was about to read it when I said: "Talk to me instead, don't read your papers even if they are memoirs."

He began to speak:

When I opened the door at the sound of the bell, around midnight, I found myself before officers of the Army who asked me to quickly get dressed and bring along my cross and clerical particulars. I said: "What is going on?" and they replied "we are to execute the traitor Antun Sa'adeh tonight and we want you to confess him and offer him the last rites before his execution." I said: "I cannot do something of that kind until you bring permission from the archbishop as our church laws require." They said: "We do not have the time. We will take the responsibility for it." Once more I excused myself, but they continued to insist, repeating that an infraction against church laws is less harmful than sending a Christian to his death without having complete his religious obligations. I finally gave in and reluctantly rode in their jeep through streets crowded with security forces both military and police patrolmen and with weapons held ready to fire. We saw Prison al-Ramel appear. It was brightly lit up both from without and within. We got down at a place where other officers were waiting for us.

The director of the prison walked up to me and introduced himself and informed that this would be his 13th execution and just a routine matter. I replied: "I have spend thirteen years in clerical garb and this is the first time that I am to view an execution." It was also the case with the doctor who was joining in our conversation. The prison director only replied: "This condemned traitor Antun Sa'adeh is a man who committed treason. He is an unbeliever atheist who actively propagates his atheism. Do you think such a man would pay any heed to you, Father - that atheist anti-religious traitor?".

We then went into where they had put Sa'adeh, a small cell that would not have deserved the title of a room. We found him laying down on a patched and grubby carpet that was shorter than him. He had made his jacket a buffer between the bed and the wall so that his two feet would not jar against it. He was sleeping in a normal position, his head supported by his left arm which he made a substitute for the pillow he did not have.

We woke him up and he got up at once greeting us first and saying to me "welcome, Reverend." In reply I told him that no amnesty had been issued for him and that the execution would now be carried out against him. Almost at once he thanked us with a composed smile and asked for permission to put on his jacket which was bunched up under his feet. They let him do so, he thanked them again and put it on.

When I was alone with him I asked him if he wanted to carry out his religious obligations and he answered why not. I asked him to confess, and he replied, " I have no sin that for which I want forgiveness. I have not stolen, I have not been a charlton, I have not bore false witness, I have not killed, I have not deceived, and I have not caused misery to anyone."

After I concluded the religious rites, we left the room and they handcuffed him. Then we went out to the prison office. There he asked to see his wife and daughters but was told that was out of the question. They offered him a breakfast which he refused with thanks, although he did accept a cup of coffee which he drank with his right hand and supported with his left. The handcuffs would glint and cling every time they knocked against the cup.

Sa'adeh smiled quietly as he ran his eyes from face to face as though he was farewelling us without getting anyone uptight. At this point, I burst into tears as did some of the officers one of whom sobbed violently. After he drank his coffee, he once more insisted on meeting his wife and daughters. He was asked to whom did he want to leave the four hundred liras that had been found with him. He replied "that and a patch of land in Dhur Shweir are all that I own." He left them to his wife and daughters in equal portions. He asked to address journalists but they told him that was impossible. He asked them for a paper and a pen but they refused. He said I have something that I want to put down for history. One of the officers shouted out to him in warning: "beware not to attack anybody lest we harm your dignity." Sa'adeh smiled once more saying "you cannot do that because no one has the power to degrade somebody else, though a person can degrade himself." He repeated: "I have something to say which I want history to record." We all felt into a dense silence that was itself almost audible.

Speaking honestly, I was in a vortex of emotions and I don't think I can remember every single word he said. But I vaguely heard him saying:

"I am not concerned how I die but rather about what I die for. I do not count the years I lived but rather the works I carried through to achievements. This night they will execute me, but those dedicated to my ideology will triumph and will then avenge my death. All of us die but few among us have the honour of dying for a belief. The shame of this night for our descendants, our overseas communities, and the foreigners. It seems that the independence that we watered with our own blood on the day we planted it must now draw new blood from our veins."

We walked to where the cars were waiting for us, Sa'adeh walking with strong quiet steps and smiling unperturbed as though an execution was something that he had undergone many times before. He did not burst out into hatred or vengefulness or bluster like somebody hiding fear.

At that moment I would have liked to hide him with my cassock, to have been able to hide him in my heart or between the leaves of my bible. My bones tremble whenever I remember him. When we walked into the yard I saw a coffin made of fir wood which looked quiet white despite the night gloom. Sa'adeh looked at his coffin without his expression or smile changing. Before getting into the jeep, he asked for the third and last time to see his wife and children. And for the third and last time he had the same answer. His features sharpened and in that brief instant of that night, alone, the lightning of emotions appeared through the storm of his manhood.

The jeep carried Sa'adeh surrounded by the officers and behind him his coffin and a convoy of cars and trucks behind him and before him filled with armed officers. I had fallen perhaps into a bit of a trance for I thought that the execution might be postponed or that a pardon might come. This delusion calmed a bit until we drove off the main highway to a sort of a path between some sand dunes. We stopped in a space between the sands that opened like an entrance to non-existence. He leaped down from among them in his handcuffs to the post that had been set up for his death. They drew near him to blindfold his eyes, but he asked them to leave him with his free sight. He was told the law, and he replied, I respect the law. They made him kneel down and tied him to the post. The gravel under his knees pained them and he asked the attending officers if it was possible to remove it which they did. He said to them thank you twice, the third time being cut off by the bullets.

There Sa'adeh was with his head hanging down and his right lung splattered out and his left arm shattered: it was now only held to his shoulder by some skin so that it hung down. They put the corpse in the coffin and the convoy then headed for the cemetery. There they were about to bury it without any prayer had I not shouted out. At last they said to me pray but make it snappy.

We entered the church and placed the coffin on the altar and I began to pray while the blood dribbled from the cracks in the wood dripping down onto the floor of the church in small dots which then started to join together and flow under the altar. We left the church and I paused at its door facing the rising dawn, talking to God, and hearing the sound of the shovels as they dug into the gravel and through earth down then cut into more gravel and dropped more earth.

The priest who confessed him then suddenly said to me:
"I can tell you all the earth in the world cannot cover that hole. I can tell you that the sound of the shovels on that dawn will become the resounding trumpet summoning this nation to awake.
I can tell you that the beacon of life has arisen above the abyss of non-existence".