art of resistance, Iraq

The Book To Read: War Works Hard by Dunya Mikhail.

dunya1/Dunya Mikhail, photo via Vimeo/

Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail continues to amaze me. I recently read The War Works Hard, Mikhail’s first poetry collection translated to English (beautifully translated by Elizabeth Winslow). The War Works Hard was also the first translation of poems by a female Iraqi poet published in the United States (it was published in 2005).

The poems in this collection were written between 1985 and 2004, during the two decades of mainly sad and painful moments for Iraq and its people. Years of war working hard. In a poem I was in a hurry, Mikhail writes:

Yesterday I lost a country.

I was in a hurry,

And didn’t notice

When it fell from me

Like a broken branch from a forgetful tree

dunya

Mikhail was born in Iraq in 1965. While working as a journalist for the Baghdad Observer, she faced increasing threats from the authorities and fled first to Jordan and then to the United States in the late 1990s. In 2001, she was awarded the UN Human Rights Award for Freedom of Writing.

When you first look at it, Mikhail’s poetry might seem very simple, but she manages to achieve so much with so little. Her writing is gentle, bare, unadorned, direct. The language is pointed, stark. There’s so much beauty, honesty and love in that – it’s moving, it’s thoughtful and respectful. It’s caring.

In a poem Prisoner, Mikhail writes:

She doesn’t understand

The prisoner’s mother doesn’t understand

Why she should leave him

Just because

“The visit is over”

I am thankful to Dunya Mikhail for continuing to write (Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea was published in 2009, Iraqi Nights in 2014), and to Elizabeth Winslow and Kareem James Abu-Zeid for translating Mikhail’s work and making it available for more readers everywhere.

I hope to read more of Mikhail’s new poetry, but I am also sure I will go back to The War Works Hard many times in the future. I’d go back, even if it was only for this verse:

You planted pomegranates and prisons

round, red and full.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Desert Songs Of The Night

In The Country Of Men

After Zionism

The French Intifada

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Algeria, art of resistance

Kader Attia: Square Rocks | Rochers Carrés.

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Kader Attia is a French artist of Algerian descent. He grew where most migrants grow up in Paris – in banlieues, the suburbs of the city. Attia uses his experience of living as a part of two cultures as a starting point to develop a dynamic practice that reflects on aesthetics and ethics of different cultures.

His series Square Rocks (Rochers Carrés)  includes Algerians sitting on huge, jumbled concrete blocks at a beach in Algiers that locals call “rochers carrés” (square rocks). It’s a beach of Bab El Oued, a poor neighborhood in Algiers, where the government had erected these huge concrete blocks to prevent young men and women from taking boats across the Mediterranean sea to Europe.

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Photo installation by Attia presents an actual architectural structure that sets a boundary, a no-trespassing zone. In each photograph, you see one or two young men or teenagers gazing pensively at the Mediterranean and beyond, presumably toward Europe and its questionable promise of a better life.

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As Gregory Volk writes: “One man, viewed from behind, sits on a block’s sharp edge watching as two freighters pass by on the distant horizon. Two shirtless boys standing in slightly awkward teenage postures look half ready to do the impossible: dive into the sea and swim to Paris, spurred by fantasies of money, opportunities and glamour.”

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It’s been seven years since Attia took these photos. Yes, they’re still relevant. It’s hard to imagine they will stop being relevant anytime soon. There are millions of people sitting and waiting, still being allowed to do only that. And there are many Square Rocks, all over the world.

There are so many people still looking out to the horizon, seeing it as space limited, a wall, a boomerang. And yet, those walls, limitations, boomerangs, remain invisible to people looking from the other shore. They do not know, or don’t care enough to know, that the horizon has its ending. Behind the blue line, a square rock and people waiting.

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//all photos © Kader Attia//

For more on Kader Attia and his work, see his official website.

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art of resistance, Lebanon

Playlist: Maghawir By Mashrou’ Leila.

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It’s hard not to love Mashrou’ Leila. And why would anyone even try? Just love them. Love their music. Deeply. This June, they played at NPR’s Tiny Desk, and here is a lovely video of them singing Maghawir (Commandos). Maghawir is one of my favourite songs from their new album Ibn El Leil, and it might be one of their best songs ever.

The band wrote the song in response to two nightclub shootings in Beirut — a tragic parallel to what happened in Orlando (that’s why they decided to open the Tiny Desk session with that song). In the Beirut shootings, which took place within a week of each other, two of the young victims were out celebrating their birthdays.

So Maghawir is a wry checklist of sorts about how to spend a birthday clubbing in their home city, but also a running commentary about machismo and the idea that big guns make big men.

Number one, happy birthday beautiful.

Number two, you’re in for a long night;

Tell your mother to chill:

The club’s a bullet’s throw away.

Number three, wear your black suit and come down,

Bearing that when snow caps the hills

All the boys become men:

Soldiers in the capital of the night.

Shoop shoop shot you down.

Shoop shoop shot you down.

We were just all together,

Painting the town.

Where’d you disappear?

Previous Playlist:

Selda Bağcan

Saul Williams

Farida Muhammad Ali.

Nakba Day

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art of resistance, Syria

Remembering Louay Kayali: Life Is On The Streets.

the match seller/The Match Seller by Louay Kayali/

Louay Kayali was a Syrian modern artist, a brilliant painter born in Aleppo in 1934. He began painting at the age of eleven and held his first solo exhibition when he was eighteen.

Kayali died in 1978, from burns incurred from his bed catching fire, reportedly from a cigarette (he suffered from depression, leaving many to think it was suicide).

Kayali studied art at the Accademia di Belle Arti, and met Syrian artist Wahbi Al-Hariri there – they would remain friends for the rest of Kayali’s life (Al-Hariri became his mentor). Later on, Fateh Moudarress (also mentored by Al-Hariri) and Kayali represented Syrian modern art at the Venice Biennial Fair.

laundrette/The Laundrette/

Kayali graduated in Rome in 1961 and returned to Syria where he started his career as a fine arts professor at Damascus University, where Fateh Moudarres also taught.

Kayali’s artwork changed during his life, he was inspired by various things and made beautiful paintings of still nature and village landscapes, but what moves me deeply when it comes to his work are his painting of “ordinary” people, the way he captured life on the streets.

woman-selling-figs/Woman Selling Figs/

When Kayali made his atrwork about the people around him, people we pass by every day, people that are not often thought of as important, as the ones that deserve attention – that is when his art became so powerful, it became a statement of resistance, a portrait of struggle that cannot and should not be unseen.

His ways of capturing the psychological condition of the people, the harshness of life in the way they hold their bodies, the way they look at you – it is a true skill, it is a way of seeing and understanding people, not just trying to paint them.

In that sense, his portraits of people in the streets of Syria, the relationships he made, can be compared to those of Vincent Van Gogh and the miners he lived with and painted.

fisherman in arwad/Fisherman in Arwad/

Kayali is also famous for capturing the agony and the decampment of Palestinians in his paintings, particularly during the 1967 war.

His painting Then What shows Palestinian refugees, barefoot and disoriented, and it remained one of his most powerful works. You can see the misery, you can feel the despair.

kayai so what/Then What/

In his work, Kayali did not adhere to the idyllic image of national heroes, and his shift towards “everyday” people did not go without criticism. After all of the turmoils and attacks, in 1977 he decided to leave for Italy, he sold his house and left Syria, dreaming that he would work on his art in Rome, in a more peaceful atmosphere.

But he couldn’t do that and he returned to Aleppo, to live in solitude. He died in solitude, but in his work all of the connections he made remain visible.

He cared about people deeply. He was a keen observer of life, a mad person, a genious, a humanist not well understood in a world that is very often so far from humanistic values.

the bread maker/The Bread Maker/

He made sure we remember and notice the bread makers, fishermen, ice cream sellers, corn sellers, match sellers, bead sellers, fig sellers, socks sellers, flower boys, flute players, shoe-shine boys, oud players, cleaning ladies, beggars, refugees, single mothers….

That is why we should remember Louay Kayali.

//all paintings by Louay Kayali//

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Ronit Elkabetz: A Thing Of Soul And Beauty

Remembering Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans

Remembering Mahdi ‘Amel: The Importance of Resistance

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art of resistance

In Defence Of M.I.A.

mia borders video/photo: ytb-prtsc, Borders video/

There has always been a lot of controversy about M.I.A. and her music, and most of the time for the wrong reasons. I wouldn’t usually take time to write about it, but I feel it’s important to write something because it just doesn’t stop – by it I mean the shitstorm M.I.A. is facing.

Like it was nicely explained on Backwithpowerpower, it really doesn’t stop – from the dislikes she gets for posting photos of refugees and conditions they live in on Instagram, to debates about her headlining Afropunk. Sure, some of the criticism she has faced over the years is justified and it opened up space for conversations  that were much needed (I think Afropunk is in that category), but it’s also important to note that there was a lot of criticism over the years that wasn’t aimed to be constructive, but rather destructive (in relation to M.I.A.).

It wasn’t really about engaging with her, it wasn’t about having a discussion, it was about silencing her, discrediting her – in one fast move, usually. Of course, M.I.A. is a not a one-trick pony and cannot be discarded just like that. Her message resonates with many people, although they might not be the ones having the power in their hands and setting the course of mainstream conversations.

The first thing that comes to mind and is necessary to go back to again, is the famous article published in The New York Times six years ago, written by Lynn Hirschberg, titled M.I.A.’s Agitprop PopIt was the article that made M.I.A. say “fuck the New York Times” and that sentiment was not without a reason.

After it was published, M.I.A. posted two audio recordings from her interview, that she secretly taped. Hirschberg suerly didn’t expect that. In the published piece, M.I.A. is described as “eating a truffle-flavored French fry” as she mused about what type of artist she is. To be precise, here is the quote:

“‘I kind of want to be an outsider’, she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry. ‘I don’t want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I’m a terrorist.'”

Now, if you are an observant reader, truffle-flavoured French fry is not just a small detail, it might tell you a lot about M.I.A.’s personality, it might tell you how she is, well, one of the fancy rich folks, pretending while talking about being an outsider and all.

The thing is, according to the tape M.I.A. posted after the interview was published, it was Hirschberg who introduced the concept of fry-ordering, and proposed the idea of a fancy treat. M.I.A. also tweeted Hirschberg’s phone number in response to the piece. Hirschberg said that was an unethical thing to do, but didn’t think it was surprising. “She’s a provocateur, and provocateurs want to be provocative”, she said about M.I.A.

But M.I.A. was just angry, because she felt that she was cheated on, that her story was distorted. Hirschberg’s own opinions and desire for a strong angle got in the way of her piece’s veracity. All the way through the nine page piece, it feels like she wants to discredit M.I.A., in a subtle way, writing things like:

“But many of her fans didn’t listen too closely to her lyrics, concentrating instead on the beat, the newness of the sound and her own multiculti, many-layered appeal. She was an instant indie darling (although Arular sold only 190,000 copies in the United States). Her songs were creative and abrasive in an intoxicating way, and it didn’t hurt that Maya was absolutely great looking. She quickly became a style icon: like that of all great pop stars, her anger and spirit of revolution was mitigated by sex.”

Now, that is what I am talking about. Hirschberg, whose main issues with M.I.A. are precisely her political lyrics, tries to downplay the importance of that part of M.I.A.’s work – saying how her fans don’t even listen closely to the lyrics. She also says how it’s basically all about her great looks. Sure, M.I.A. is beautiful, she has a unique style and there’s a cool vibe about it, but, her anger wasn’t and isn’t mitigated by sex (that is exactly why many people have issues with her).  In a song 20 dollar, from her second album Kala, M.I.A. raps:

People judge me so hard

’cause I don’t floss my titty set

I was born out of dirt like I’m porn in a skirt

I was a little girl who made good with all that I blurt

I put people on the map that never seen a map

I show ’em something they ain’t never seen

And hope they make it back

Saying M.I.A.’s politics don’t matter means being dismissive about the absolute core of her work, from day one. It’s also totally dishonest, as it is obvious in the part of the article where Hirschberg writes about the Born Free video:

“Seemingly designed to be banned on YouTube, which it was instantly, the video is set in Los Angeles where a vague but apparently American militia forcibly search out red-headed men and one particularly beautiful red-headed child. The gingers, as Maya called them, using British slang, are taken to the desert, where they are beaten and killed. The first to die is the child, who is shot in the head. While ‘Born Free’ is heard in the background throughout, the song is lost in the carnage. As a meditation on prejudice and senseless persecution, the video is, at best, politically naïve.”

So, first we will say that M.I.A.’s political message is not important at all, and then we will discard her on the basis of that political message. Hirschberg was not the only one to do that. In an article on Flavorwire, titled Is It Time To Give Up On M.I.A.? Judy Berman writes:

“The (ultraviolent, NSFW) music video (if you can call it that) for ‘Born Free’ brought M.I.A.’s political posturing to a new low. In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the flap over the seemingly endless clip, it features military types rounding up and shooting redheads, including some particularly adorable children. While some were impressed with M.I.A. and director Romain-Gavras’ messaging, all we got out of the extreme visuals was this: ‘Genocide happens! And it’s bad! What if it happened to you?’ Next time, try telling us something we didn’t know… or at least leaving shocked viewers with some opportunity to get involved in efforts to stop mass murder around the world.”

So, many of the critics got on the bandwagon, saying M.I.A. is just superficial and provocative, and her work is pure political posturing – she’s not really informed, she doesn’t really care, she just wants attention. Now, this definition “she’s not really informed, she doesn’t really care, she just wants attention” can be applied to a great majority of pop stars today (although they will never be nailed to a cross, or even questioned for it), but it cannot be applied to M.I.A.

You don’t see a lot of pop stars doing what she’s doing to “get attention”, do you? You don’t see a lot of mainstream musicians making bold statements and taking a stand on various issues, through their music and their public appearance, do you? Sure, little moments happen from time to time, but they seem very calculated and thought out in order not to shake things up too much. So, why aren’t their PR experts telling them to do what M.I.A. does, if that has been working out so well for her?

Simply because – it’s risky, it will get you in trouble, it upsets the status quo (and status quo is good for business, and business is all that matters). But M.I.A. won’t stick to the rules of business. In Born Free, she raps:

Yeah I don’t wanna live for tomorrow

I push my life today

I throw this in your face when I see ya

I got something to say

I throw this shit in your face when I see ya

Cause I got something to say

We really ought to ask ourselves what we want from our public figures. Should we really aim all the criticism towards the ones who are trying to open up the debate, who are giving space to new voices, who offer us new and different perspectives, who make us think, or make us feel uncomfortable? Are we really going to analyze them in detail, tear them apart, make them disposable? Do we really want to magnify their flaws, present them as the main thing about their work?

And at the same time, we will not say anything about all of those who create music that supports the system, that questions nothing, music that is just a nice sound and nothing else, music that is one long lullaby to our brain. They are ok, the damage that they are doing we do not see and do not question. But from M.I.A. we will demand consistency, adherence to principles all the time, in everything she does. And if she makes one mistake, we will call her a fake and say it’s time to give up on her?

Sure, that doesn’t mean we shloudn’t talk about the issues that exist. I don’t like the fact that M.I.A. decided to be fronting a recycling campaign for H&M, a company that relies on sweatshops and cheap third world labour. Even if you want to say they are making an effort (recycling and all) there’s an issue there too – those who recycle their clothes at H&M, which allows you to turn in garments at its stores year round, get a voucher for a discount on their next purchase, giving them incentive to buy more clothes. So yeah, it’s an issue.

Also, criticism of M.I.A.’s headlining of Afropunk have some truth to them – it is an event conceived by Black people, for Black people. But is it really just her fault, or was it also the organizers, who invited her in the first place? Aren’t they also complicit in erasing Black talent in this case? Those questions also need to be asked and we need to think about them, the same way we need to think about the importance of Black-Brown solidarity.

Now, back to that interview published in The New York Times. In it, it was also emphasized how M.I.A. said that instead of giving peace a chance we should maybe give war a chance, a stance then connected to her “militaristic and rebelious character”. I think this could be discussed on so many levels. For example, watching the Democratic National Convention (!) last week, you could hear much more horrifying things than what M.I.A. has (ever?) said.

General John Allen went out to say (yell might be a better word for it), among other things: “To our enemies, we will pursue you as only America can. You will fear us, we will defeat you”. I didn’t see much uproar about his and many other similar views expressed that night. If Hassan Rouhani yelled out something like that, it would be welcomed with terror. Because, you see, from the position of world dominance fueled with the (out of reality) idea of the “greatest nation in the world” it’s hard to recognize your own violent rethoric, your own exclusivity and aggression. That’s why it’s troubling to many when they hear lyrics like the ones in Bucky Done Gone from M.I.A.’s first album Arular:

Can I get control

Do you like me vulnerable

I’m armed and I’m equal

More fun for the people

Recently, M.I.A. has been criticised for her comments about Beyoncé and the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed in the interview in the Evening Standard. “It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me – it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s”, she said.

She later added: “Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV programme, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.” Since the piece was published M.I.A. has clarified her position, saying she wasn’t criticising Beyoncé directly, or BLM, and that her point was that only certain issues are allowed to be discussed on “American platforms”.

What she is really questioning is American exception and hegemony, the larger American imperialist structure. Now, this is where we need to talk about unity, about the way the oppressed people can recognize each other’s struggles and the way their struggles are connected. It’s a chance to talk about the multiple layers of oppression that make up the complex realities we live in. Because it’s not only about racism, it’s not only about imperialism, it’s not only about capitalism, it’s not only about patriarchy. It’s about all of it combined. That is the struggle. Neither one of those alone can serve as a lens to understand all forms of power and all the issues we face – it is just not that simple. We need to recognize that in order to develop true solidarity.

As Akiba Solomon writes in Yes! Magazine, “My lips, so accustomed to spitting out ‘White supremacy’ and ‘racism,’ never once considered ‘patriarchy’ as a way to explain why things were so fucked up for people who were not White, heterosexual, able-bodied, traditionally masculine, cisgender males with money. This was true even as I saw the women closest to me doing feminist work.”

And finally, when it comes to M.I.A., I think one of the most important things about her is (one) that she is holding a mirror and (two) she is trying to own her story. And she won’t be silenced, she won’t play the game politely, she won’t be a puppet. Yeah, she’s flawed, and who isn’t? Unlike many, I think she’s actually willing to talk about it. You may not like what she has to say, and so what? That’s Karmageddon, baby.

Things do change and change can have range

System shouldn’t operate by sticking me in a cage

Ain’t Dalai Lama

Ain’t Sai Baba

My words are my armour and you’re about to meet your karma

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art of resistance, Syria

After | Aleppo.

aleppo/Aleppo, illustration by the Lebanese artist Jana Traboulsi/

After Aleppo by Jehan Bseiso

I learned to read early.

But the truth is, sometimes I wish the letters remained funny drawings for longer, before the uninvited tyranny of words, and

before other tongues found home in my big mouth.

I don’t mean it literally.

One day, we will go back to Aleppo you said.

You don’t mean it literally.

Habeebi four years ago we shouted for change, and now we are citizens of border towns.

We go from Turkey, to Lebanon, to Egypt, but we don’t find Aleppo.

We have food vouchers, and, assistance criteria, and, intermittent empathy.

I don’t write any more poetry.

The boat is sinking,

literally,

but I don’t want to leave this room.

It smells like jasmine and you taste like freedom.

This poem was published in January last year, on Mada Masr.

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art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Lebanon

Noam Chomsky: War Is Peace (Excerpt).

shatila 2 ivana/Shatila, photo © Ivana Perić, MER/

Summer of 1982 was a long time ago, but mention it to anyone living in Lebanon, anyone Palestinian and/or Israeli, they probably remember it very well. That’s what war does, it shapes your memory, distorts it, occupies it. War’s a little ghost that keeps clinging to your chest.

Summer of 1982 was a long time ago, but it’s important to go back in time, to see what happened, to see how it reflects in what we witness today (war is peace?). Following is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky’s book The Fateful Triangle.

On June 6, 1982, a massive Israeli expeditionary force began the long expected invasion, Operation “Peace for Galilee,” a phrase “which sounds as if it comes directly out of the pages of 1984,” as one Israeli commentator wrote:

Only in the language of 1984 is war-peace and warfare-humane. One may mention, of course, that only in the Orwellian language of 1984 can occupation be liberal, and there is indeed a connection between the “liberal occupation” [the Labor Party boast] and a war which equals peace.

Excuses and explanations were discarded almost as quickly as they were produced: the Argov assassination attempt, defense of the border settlements, a 25-mile limit. In fact, the army headed straight for Beirut and the Beirut-Damascus highway, in accordance with plans that had long been prepared and that were known in advance to the Labor opposition. Former chief of military intelligence Aharon Yariv of the Labor Party stated: “I know in fact that going to Beirut was included in the original military plan,” despite the pretense to the contrary, dutifully repeated by the U.S. government, which could hardly have been in much doubt about the facts if U.S. intelligence was not on vacation.

Extermination of the Two-Legged Beasts

The first target was the Palestinian camp of Rashidiyeh south of Tyre, much of which, by the second day of the invasion, “had become a field of rubble.” There was ineffectual resistance, but as an officer of the UN peace-keeping force swept aside in the Israeli invasion later remarked:

“It was like shooting sparrdws with cannon.” The 9000 residents of the camp-which had been regularly bombed and shelled for years from land, sea and air-either fled, or were herded to the beach where they could watch the destruction of much of what remained by the Israeli forces. All teen-age and adult males were blindfolded and bound, and taken to camps, where little has been heard about them since.

This is typical of what happened throughout southern Lebanon. The Palestinian camps were demolished, largely bulldozed to the ground if not destroyed by bombardment; and the population was dispersed or (in the case of the male population) imprisoned. Reporters were generally not allowed in the Palestinian camps, where the destruction was worst, to keep them from witnessing what had happened and was being done. There were occasional reports. David Shipler described how after the camps were captured the army proceeded to destroy what was left. An army officer, “when asked why bulldozers were knocking down houses in which women and children were living,” responded by saying: “they are all terrorists.” His statement accurately summarizes Israel’s strategy and the assumptions that underlie it, over many years.

There was little criticism here of Israel’s destruction of the “nests of terrorists,” or of the wholesale transfer of the male population to prison camps in Lebanon and Israel-or to their treatment, discussed below. Again, one imagines that if such treatment had been meted out to Jews after, say, a Syrian conquest of Northern Israel, the reaction would have been different, and few would have hesitated to recall the Nazi monsters. In fact, we need not merely imagine. When a PLO terrorist group took Israeli teen-age members of a paramilitary (Gadna) group hostage at Ma’alot, that was rightly denounced as a vicious criminal act.

Since then, it has become virtually the symbol of the inhuman barbarism of the “two-legged beasts.” But when Israeli troops cart off the Palestinian male population from 15 to 60 (along with many thousands of Lebanese) to concentration camps, treating them in a manner to which we return, that is ignored, and the few timid queries are almost drowned in the applause-to which we also return-for Israel’s display of humanitarian zeal and moral perfection, while aid is increased in honor of this achievement. It is a scene that should give Americans pause, and lead them to raise some questions about themselves.

Israel’s strategy was to drive the Palestinians to largely-Muslim West Beirut (apart from those who were killed, dispersed or imprisoned), then to besiege the city, cutting off water, food, medical supplies and electricity, and to subject it to increasingly heavy bombardment. Naturally, the native Lebanese population was also severely battered. These measures had little impact on the PLO guerrilla fighters in Beirut, but civilians suffered increasingly brutal punishment. The correct calculation was that by this device, the PLO would be compelled to leave West Beirut to save it from total annihilation.

It was assumed, also correctly, that American intellectuals could be found to carry out the task of showing that this too was a remarkable exercise in humanity and a historically unique display of “purity of arms,” even having the audacity to claim that it was the PLO, not the Israeli attackers, who were “holding the city and its population hostage”-a charge duly intoned by New York Times editors and many others.

Green_Line,_Beirut_1982/Green Line, Beirut, 1982/

Dan Connell, a journalist with wartime experience and Lebanon project officer for Oxfam, describes Israel’s strategy as follows:

The Israeli strategy was obvious. They were hitting a broad belt, and they kept moving the belt up toward the populated area and pushing the people in front of it. The Israelis forced an increasing concentration of people into a smaller space, so that the casualties increased geometrically with every single shell or bomb that landed.

The attackers used highly sophisticated U.S. weapons, including “shells and bombs designed to penetrate through the buildings before they explode,” collapsing buildings inwards, and phosphorus bombs to set fires and cause untreatable burns. Hospitals were closed down or destroyed.

Much of the Am el-H ilweh refugee camp near Sidon was “flat as a parking lot” when Connell saw it, though 7-8000 Palestinians had drifted back-mostly women and children, since the men were “either fighting or arrested or dead.” The Israelis bulldozed the mosque at the edge of the camp searching for arms, but “found 90 or 100 bodies under it instead, completely rotted away.” Writing before the Beirut massacres but after the PLO had departed, he notes that “there could be a bloodbath in west Beirut” if no protection is given to the remnants of the population.

The Israeli press also reported the strategy of the invading army. One journalist observing the bombardment of Beirut in the early days describes it as follows:

With deadly accuracy, the big guns laid waste whole rows of houses and apartment blocks believed to be PLO positions. The fields were pitted with craters. . . Israeli strategy at that point was obvious-to clean away a no-man’s land through which Israeli tanks could advance and prevent any PLO breakout.

The military tactics, as widely reported by the Israeli and foreign press, were simple. Since Israel had total command of the air and overwhelming superiority in firepower from land, sea and air, the IDF simply blasted away everything before it, then sent soldiers in to “clean out” what was left. We return to some descriptions of these tactics by Israeli military analysts. The tactics are familiar from Vietnam and other wars where a modern high technology army faces a vastly outmatched enemy. The difference lies in the fact that in other such cases, one rarely hears tales of great heroism and “purity of arms,” though to be accurate, these stories were more prevalent among American “supporters” than Israeli soldiers, many of whom were appalled at what they were ordered to do.

Economist Middle East correspondent G. H. Jansen describes Israel’s tactics in the first days of the war as follows: to surround cities and towns “so swiftly that civilian inhabitants were trapped inside, and then to pound them from land, sea and air. After a couple of days of this there would be a timid probing attack: if there were resistance the pounding would resume.”* “A second striking aspect of Israeli military doctrine exemplified in the Lebanese campaign,” he notes, “is the military exploitation of a cease-fire.

Israel has done this so often, in every one of its wars, that perhaps one must assume that for the Israeli military ‘cease-fire’ only means ‘no shooting’ and is totally unconnected with any freezing of positions on the ground along a ‘cease-fire’ line.” We have, in fact, noted several earlier examples of exploitation of cease-fire: the conquest of Eilat in 1949 and of the Golan Heights in 1967. “The Israelis, in this war, have refined their cease-fire-exploitation doctrine by declaring cease-fires unilaterally, at times most advantageous to them. This has left them free to switch cease-fires on and off with a show either of peaceful intent or of outraged indignation. For the Israelis the cease-fire is not a step towards a truce or an armistice, it is simply a period of rest, reinforcement and peaceful penetration-an attempt to gain the spoils of war without fighting.” Such tactics are possible because of the huge military advantage that Israel enjoyed.

* Israeli troops in fact often warned inhabitants to leave before the land sea and air pounding, but many report, not surprisingly that they were unaware of the warnings see Michael Jansen, The Bathe of Beirut Furthermore the leaflets sometimes were dropped well after the bombardment of civilian targets began as in Sidon. It has repeatedly been claimed that Israel suffered casualties because ofthe policy of warning inhabitants to leave but it remains unexplained how this came about in areas that were sure to be next on the list, warning or not and how casualties could be caused by the use of the tactics just described, which are repeatedly verified in the Israeli press Danny Wolf, formerly a commander in the Paratroopers, asks “If someone dropped leaflets over Herzliya [in Israel] tomorrow, telling the civilians in iliding to evacuate the town within two hours, wouldn’t that be a war crime?‘ (Amir Oren, Koteret Rashit, Jan.19, 1983). It would be interesting to hear the answer from those who cite these alleged IDF warnings with much respect as proof of the noble commitment to “purity of arms.”

Since the western press was regularly accused in the United States of failing to recognize the amazing and historically unique Israeli efforts to spare civilians and of exaggerating the scale of the destruction and terror-we return to some specifics-it is useful to bear in mind that the actual tactics used were entirely familiar and that some of the most terrible accounts were given by Israeli soldiers and journalists.

In Knesset debate, Menachem Begin responded to accusations about civilian casualties by recalling the words of Chief of Staff Mordechai Our of the Labor Party after the 1978 invasion of Lebanon under the Begin government, cited on p.181. When asked “what happens when we meet a civilian population,” Our’s answer was that “It is a civilian population known to have provided active aid to the terrorists… Why has that population of southern Lebanon suddenly become such a great and just one?”

Asked further whether he was saying that the population of southern Lebanon “should be punished,” he responded: ‘And how! I am using Sabra language [colloquial Hebrew]: And how!” The “terrorists” had been “nourished by the population around them.” Our went on to explain the orders he had given: “bring in tanks as quickly as possible and hit them from far off before the boys reached a face-to-face battle.” He continued: “For 30 years, from the war of independence to this day, we have been fighting against a population that lives in villages and in towns…” With audacity bordering on obscenity, Begin was able to utter the words: “We did not even once deliberately harm the civilian population. all the fighting has been aimed against military targets…”

Turning to the press, Tom Segev of Ha’aretz toured “Lebanon after the conquest” in mid-June. He saw “refugees wandering amidst swarms of flies, dressed in rags, their faces expressing terror and their eyes, bewilderment…, the women wailing and the children sobbing” (he noticed Henry Kamm of the New York Times nearby; one may usefully compare his account of the same scenes). Tyre was a “destroyed city”; in the market place there was not a store undamaged. Here and there people were walking, “as in a nightmare.” “A terrible smell filled the air”-ofdecomposing bodies, he learned.

Archbishop Georges Haddad told him that many had been killed, though he did not know the numbers, since many were still buried beneath the ruins and he was occupied with caring for the many orphans wandering in the streets, some so young that they did not even know their names. In Sidon, the destruction was still worse: “the center of the town-destroyed.” “This is what the cities of Germany looked like at the end of the Second World War.” “Half the inhabitants remained without shelter, 100,000 people.” He saw “mounds of ruins,” tens of thousands of people at the shore where they remained for days, women driven away by soldiers when they attempted to flee to the beaches, children wandering “among the tanks and the ruins and the shots and the hysteria,” blindfolded young men, hands tied with plastic bonds, “terror and confusion.”

Danny Rubinstein of Davar toured the conquered areas at the war’s end. Virtually no Palestinians were to be found in Christian-controlled areas, the refugee camps having been destroyed long ago. The Red Cross give the figure of 15,000 as a “realistic” estimate ‘of the number of prisoners taken by the Israeli army. In the “ruins of Am el-Hilweh,” a toothless old man was the youngest man left in the camp among thousands of women, children and old men, “a horrible scene.”

Perhaps 350-400,000 Palestinians had been “dispersed in all directions” (“mainly women, children and old men, since all the men have been detained”). The remnants are at the mercy of Phalangist patrols and Haddad forces, who burn houses and “beat the people.” There is no one to care for the tens of thousands of refugee children, “and of course all the civilian networks operated by the PLO have been annihilated, and tens of thousands of families, or parts of families, are dispersed like animals.” “The shocking scene of the destroyed camps proves that the destrudtion was systematic.” Even shelters in which people hid from the Israeli bombardments were destroyed, “and they are still digging out bodies”-this in areas where the fighting had ended over 2 months earlier. An Oxfam appeal in March 1983 states that “No one will ever know how many dead are buried beneath the twisted steel of apartment buildings or the broken stone of the cities and villages of Lebanon.”

By late June, the Lebanese police gave estimates of about 10,000 killed. These early figures appear to have been roughly accurate. A later accounting reported by the independent Lebanese daily An-nahar gave a figure of 17,825 known to have been killed and over 30,000 wounded, including 5500 killed in Beirut and over 1200 civilians killed in the Sidon area. A government investigation estimated that 90% of the casualties were civilians. By late December, the Lebanese police estimated the numbers killed through August at 19,085, with 6775 killed in Beirut, 84% of them civilians.

Israel reported 340 IDF soldiers killed in early September, 446 by late November (if these numbers are accurate, then the number of Israeli soldiers kifled in the ten weeks following the departure of the PLO from Lebanon is exactly the same as the number of Israetis killed in all terrorist actions across the northern border from 1967). According to Chief of Staff Fitan, the number of Israeli soldiers killed “in the entire western sector of Lebanon” – that is, apart from the Syrian front – was 117. Eight Israeli soldiers died “in Beirut proper,” he claimed, three in accidents. If correct (which is unlikely), Eitan’s figures mean that five Israeli soldiers were killed in the process of massacring some 6000 civilians in Beirut, a glorious victory indeed. Israel also offered various figures for casualties within Lebanon. Its final accounting was that 930 people were killed in Beirut including 340 civilians, and that 40 buildings were destroyed in the Beirut, 350 in all of Lebanon. The number of PLO killed was given as 4000.

shatila3 ivana/Shatila © Ivana Peric, MER/

The estimates given by Israel were generally ridiculed by reporters and relief workers, though solemnly repeated by supporters here. Within Israel itself, the Lebanese figures were regularly cited; for example, by Yizhar Smilanski, one of Israel’s best-known novelists, in a bitter denunciation of Begin (the “man of blood” who was willing to sacrifice “some 50,000 human beings” for his political ends) and of the society that is able to tolerate him.

In general, Israeli credibility suffered seriously during the war, as it had in the course of the 1973 war. Military correspondent Hirsh Goodman reported that “the army spokesman [was] less credible than ever before.” Because of repeated government lies (e.g., the claim, finally admitted to be false, that the IDF returns fire only to the point from which it originates), “thousands of Israeli troops who bear eye-witness to events no longer believe the army spokesman” and “have taken to listening to Radio Lebanon in English and Arabic to get what they believe is a credible picture of the war.”

The “overwhelming majority of men-including senior officers”-accused lsraeli military correspondents of “allowing this war to grow out of all proportion to the original goals, by mindlessly repeating official explanations we all knew were false.” The officers and men “of four top fighting units. . accused [military correspondents] of covering up the truth, of lying to the public, of not reporting on the real mood at the front and of being lackeys of the defence minister.”

Soldiers “repeated the latest jokes doing the rounds, like the one about the idiot in the ordnance corps who must have put all Israeli cannon in back to front. ‘Each time we open fire the army spokesman announces we’re being fired at…”’ Goodman is concerned not only over the deterioriation in morale caused by this flagrant lying but also by Israel’s “current world image.” About that, he need not have feared too much. At least in the U.S., Israeli government claims continued to be taken quite seriously, even the figures offered with regard to casualties and war damages.

As relief officials and others regularly commented, accurate numbers cannot be obtained, since many-particularly Palestinians-are simply unaccounted for. Months after the fighting had ended in the Sidon area inhabitants of Am el-Hilweh were still digging out corpses and had no idea how many had been killed, and an education officer of the Israeli army (a Lieutenant Colonel) reported that the army feared epidemics in Sidon itself “because of the many bodies under the wreckage”.

Lebanese and foreign relief officials observed that “Many of the dead never reached hospital,” and that unknown numbers of bodies are believed lost in the rubble in Beirut; hospital figures, the primary basis for the Lebanese calculations cited above, “only hint at the scale of the tragedy.” “Many bodies could not be lodged in overflowing morgues and were not included in the statistics.”

The Lebanese government casualty figures are based on police records, which in turn are based on actual counts in hospitals, clinics and civil defense centers. These figures, according to police spokesmen, do “not include people buried in mass graves in areas where Lebanese authorities were not informed.” The figures, including the figure of 19,000 dead and over 30,000 wounded, must surely be underestimates, assuming that those celebrating their liberation (the story that Israel and its supporters here would like us to believe) were not purposely magnifying the scale of the horrors caused by their liberators. Particularly with regard to the Palestinians, one can only guess what the scale of casualties may have been.

A UN report estimated 13,500 severely damaged houses in West Beirut alone, thousands elsewhere, not counting the Palestinian camps (which are-or were-in fact towns). As for the Palestinians, the head of the UN Agency that has been responsible for them, Olof Rydbeck of Sweden, said that its work of 32 years “has been wiped out”; Israeli bombardment had left “practically all the schools, clinics and installations of the agency in ruins.”

Beirut: Precision Bombardment

Repeatedly, Israel blocked international relief efforts and prevented food and medical supplies from reaching victims.* Israeli military forces also appear to have gone out of their way to destroy medical facilities-at least, if one wants to believe Israeli government claims about “pinpoint accuracy” in bombardment. “International agencies agree that the civilian death toll would have been considerably higher had it not been for the medical facilities that the Palestine Liberation Organization provides for Its own people”’and, in fact, for many poor Lebanese-so it is not surprising that these were a particular target of attack.

In the first bombing in June, a children’s hospital in the Sabra refugee camp was hit, Lebanese television reported, and a cameraman said he saw “many children” lying dead inside the Bourj al Barajneh camp in Beirut, while “fires were burning out of control at dozens of apartment buildings” and the Gaza Hospital near the camps was reported hit.” This, it will be recalled, was in “retaliation” for the attempt by an anti-PLO group with no base in Lebanon to assassinate Ambassador Argov.

On June 12, four bombs fell on a hospital in Aley, severely damaging it. “There is nothing unusual” in the story told by an operating room assistant who had lost two hands in the attack; “That the target of the air strike was a hospital, whether by design or accident, is not unique either,” William Branigan reports, noting that other hospitals were even more badly damaged. Fragments of cluster bombs were found on the grounds of an Armenian sanitarium south of Beirut that was also “heavily damaged during the Israeli drive.”

A neurosurgeon at the Gaza hospital in Beirut “insists that Israeli gunners deliberately shelled his hospital,” it was reported at the same. A few days later, Richard Ben Cramer reported that the Acre Hospital in Beirut was hit by Israeli shells, and that the hospitals in the camps had again been hit. “Israeli guns never seem to stop here,” he reported from the Sabra camp, later to be the scene of a major massacre:

“After two weeks of this random thunder, Sabra is only a place to run through.”

Most of this was before the bombing escalated to new levels of violence in August. By August 4, 8 of the 9 Homes for Orphans in Beirut had been destroyed, attacked by cluster and phosphorus bombs. The last was hit by phosphorus and other rockets, though clearly marked by a red cross on the root after assurances by the International Red Cross that it would be spared.

On August 4, the American University hospital was hit by shrapnel and mortar fire. A doctor “standing in bloodstained rags” said: “We have no more room.” The director reported: “It’s a carnage. There is nothing military anywhere near this hospital.” The hospital was the only one in Beirut to escape direct shelling, and even there, sanitary conditions had deteriorated to the point where half the intensive-care patients were lost and with 99% of the cases being trauma victims, there was no room for ordinary illnesses. “Drive down any street and you will almost always see a man or woman with a missing limb.”

One of the true heroes of the war is Dr. Amal Shamma, an American-trained Lebanese-American pediatrician who remained at work in Beirut’s Berbir hospital through the worst horrors. In November, she spent several weeks touring the U.S., receiving little notice, as expected. She was, however, interviewed in the Village Voice, where she described the extensive medical and social services for Palestinians and poor Lebanese that were destroyed by the Israeli invasion.

For them, nothing is left apart from private hospitals that they cannot afford, some taken over by the Israeli army. No medical teams came from the U.S., although several came to help from Europe; the U.S. was preoccupied with supplying weapons to destroy. She reports that the hospitals were clearly marked with red crosses and that there were no guns nearby, though outside her hospital there was one disabled tank, which was never hit in the shellings that reduced the hospital to a first-aid station. On one day, 17 hospitals were shelled.

Hers “was shelled repeatedly from August 1 to 12 until everything in it was destroyed.” It had been heavily damaged by mid-July, as already noted. Hospital employees stopped at Israeli barricades were told: “We shelled your hospital good enough, didn’t we? You treat terrorists there.” Recall that this is the testimony of a doctor at a Lebanese hospital, one of those liberated by the Israeli forces, according to official doctrine.

One of the most devastating critiques of Israeli military practices was provided inadvertently by an Israeli pilot who took part in the bombing,

An Air Force major, who described the careful selection of targets and the precision bombing that made error almost impossible. Observing the effects, one can draw one’s own conclusions. He also expressed his own personal philosophy, saying “if you want to achieve peace, you should fight.” “Look at the American-Japanese war,” he added. “In order to achieve an end, they bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

The Grand Finale

Israel’s attack continued with mounting fury through July and August, the prime target now being the besieged city of West Beirut. By late June, residential areas had been savagely attacked in the defenseless city. Robert Fisk writes that “The Israeli pilots presumably meant to drop their bombs on the scruffy militia office on Corniche Mazraa, but they missed. Instead, their handiwork spread fire and rubble half the length of Abu Chaker Street, and the people of this miserable little thoroughfare-those who survived, that is-cannot grasp what happened to them… Abu Chaker Street was in ruins, its collapsed apartment blocks still smoking and some of the dead still in their pancaked homes, sandwiched beneath hundreds of tons of concrete… The perspiring ambulance crews had so far counted 32 dead, most of them men and women who were hiding in their homes in a nine-storey block of flats, when an Israeli bomb exploded on its roof and tore down half the building.”

One old man “described briefly, almost without emotion, how [his daughter’s] stomach had been torn out by shrapnel.” “This was a civilian area,” he said. “The planes are terrorizing us. This is no way for soldiers to fight.”’ This was before the massive air attacks of late July and August.

On one occasion, on August 4, the IDF attempted a ground attack, but withdrew after 19 Israeli soldiers were killed. The IDF then returned to safer tactics, keeping to bombing and shelling from land and sea, against which there was no defense, in accordance with familiar military doctrine. The population of the beleaguered city was deprived of food, water, medicines, electricity, fuel, as Israel tightened the noose.

Since the city was defenseless, the IDF was able to display its light-hearted abandon, as on July 26, when bombing began precisely at 2:42 and 3:38 PM, “a touch of humor with a slight hint,” the Labor press reported cheerily, noting that the timing, referring to UN Resolutons 242 and 338, “was not accidental.”

The bombings continued, reaching their peak of ferocity well after agreement had been reached on the evacuation of the PLO. Military correspondent Hirsh Goodman wrote that “the irrational, unprovoked and unauthorized bombing of Beirut after an agreement in principle regarding the PLO’s withdrawal had been concluded between all the parties concerned should have caused [Defense Minister Sharon’s] dismissal,” but did not.

The Il-hour bombing on August 12 evoked worldwide condemnation, even from the U.S.. and the direct attack was halted. The consensus of eye witnesses was expressed by Charles Powers:

To many people. in fact, the siege of Beirut seemed gratuitous brutality. . . The arsenal of weapons, unleashed in a way that has not been seen since the Vietnam war, clearly horrified those who saw the results firsthand and through film and news reports at a distance. The use of cluster bombs and white phosphorus shells, a vicious weapon. was widespread.

The Israeli government, which regarded news coverage from Lebanon as unfair, began to treat the war as a public-relations problem. Radio Israel spoke continually of the need to present the war in the “correct” light. particularly in the United States. In the end, however, Israel created in West Beirut a whole set of facts that no amount of packaging could disguise. In the last hours of the last air attack on Beirut, Israeli planes carpet-bombed Borj el Brajne [a Palestinian refugee camp]. There were no fighting men left there. only the damaged homes of Palestinian families, who once again would have to leave and find another place to live. All of West Beirut, finally, was living in wreckage and garbage and loss.

But the PLO was leaving. Somewhere, the taste of victory must be sweet.

Read more on Chomsky.info.

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