art of resistance, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria

Without Peace, We Can’t Have Women’s Rights.

obey_middle_east_mural_20141202505809/photo: Shepard Fairey, Obey Middle East Mural/

More than a century has passed since the famous strikes of female workers in the American textile industry. For more than a century, all around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th of March. A century later, inequality isn’t gone. To discuss the issues of inequality and representation in the Middle East, a region often in the spotlight for violation of women’s rights, we talk with female lawyers, poets, aid workers, directors and activists from the region – Jehan Bseiso, Hind Shoufani, Roula Baghdadi, Fatima Idriss and Nagwan El-Ashwal.

In the honor of International Women’s Day, in the name of continuity of the struggle, we’re in discussion with women from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. We tackle the issues for women in general, and in the Middle East particularly. Western media usually doesn’t do justice to this topic and the mainstream discourse on Middle Eastern women is highly problematic. It’s not only about the stories written, it’s equally about the imagery that follows them – in some cases the photographs chosen to accompany the news about Middle Eastern women are less than representational of the story at hand. Let’s change that. The struggle continues, but solidarity continues too!

Jehan Bseiso: Between victims and superheros – too much of a burden

Bseiso is a Palestinian poet, researcher and aid worker. Her poetry has been published in Warscapes, The Funambulist, The Electronic Intifada, and Mada Masr among others. Her book I Remember My Name (2016) is the creative category winner of the Palestine Book Awards. Bseiso is co-editing Making Mirrors a new anthology by, for and about refugees. She is also working on a collection of poems: Conversations Continued, a compilation of real, misheard, and misremembered conversations. Bseiso has been working with Médecins sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders since 2008.

In Jordan and Lebanon, women continue to carve out a space across all spheres at home and at work. There is a lot of incredible progress, but also so much work left to do in confronting unjust laws , like the one that lets a rapist marry his victim, permits a brother to shoot his sister in the name of “honor” and forces women to “declare pregnancy” when applying for a job.

I find that women from the MENA region are portrayed either as victims or superheroes, and that is too much of a burden, it needs to stop.  The ordinary is extraordinary and we forget that. Western media is particularly obsessed with the trope of “the oppressed Arab and Muslim woman” to an extent that first it misrepresents that story, and it overshadows any other narrative.

Concerning change – each step, however small, if it’s in the right direction it counts. The struggle for change and improvement of the situation for women in the MENA is historical and ongoing, it predates the “Arab spring” and it must necessarily continue to be allied to any call for systemic change.

Hind Shoufani: Legal system written against women

Hind Shoufani is a filmmaker and a writer, working and living in many cities in the Middle East. She’s Palestinian by blood, born in Lebanon and at heart a Beirut girl, raised in Damascus, but also lived in Jordan and held a Jordanian citizenship her whole life. Shoufani currently lives in Dubai and considers herself from all of these places. She is the founder of the Poeticians collective, where poets from all backgrounds read multilingual spoken word and poetry in Beirut and Dubai. She performed her poetry in various cities in Europe, the US and the Arab world and currently works as a freelance director/producer/writer in the UAE and the Arab region at large. Shoufani is currently making a video art feature length documentary on the sensuality, politics and religion present in the poetry and life of six female Arab poets. 

Aside from the violence against women, issues such as honor killings, assault and abuse that goes unreported and unpunished, women in the Arab world suffer the most from the legal system that is written against them. Whether based on Sharia law or civil rights law, women are never treated equally in the eyes of the law. We do not inherit assets, money or land the same way men do, we cannot pass on our citizenship to our children if their father is from a different nationality, and Christian women can be robbed of their children/assets/money if they marry a Muslim man who either divorces them, or passes away. Lebanon just removed the law that says if a rapist marries the woman he assaulted he will not be prosecuted under the legal system.

There are attempts in various countries to improve the standing of women in society as a legal citizen with rights, but it has not yet fulfilled any equality with men. This is mostly due to religion being the key reference for most arbitration in court, whether its issues of childbirth, divorce, inheritance or marriage in general. The personal status laws in the Arab world when it comes to women are abysmal and need a complete overhaul. Issues like violence against women are international issues and not specific to the Arab world, but our legal system really needs to be completely rewritten. A separation of “Church” and state is very much needed here. Sadly, there are very strong forces in the region who want to see us go back to a thousand years ago, and a massive clash of ideology is currently playing out, to very bloody and sad results.

That being said, a lot of mainstream discourse is offensive to Arab women. No one outside the region quite understands how amazingly strong Arab women are. We defy the odds and persevere every single day, we rise from swamps of hatred, prejudice, narrow minded beliefs, obstacles, violence, a legal system that treats us as inferior citizens, and we make life happen. We are doctors and poets and mothers and cleaners and dancers and teachers and warriors. This holds especially true for the Palestinian women who have resisted such a cruel occupation for over seventy years, and more recently Syrian women who are doing best to hold the sky together for themselves and their families dispersed in camps, prisons, street corners, homeless and refugeed and hated and besieged and starving.

The mainstream media is also missing a massive point. While there are hundreds of thousands of women who are struggling for a better life in the region, there are very large numbers of women who were born free, into educated and progressive and open minded families, who are leading brave and exhilarating lives. Not all of us are fighting oppression. Not all of us are in a camp, attempting to escape terrorists such as ISIS and so on. Not all of us have a brother or father who beats us. I personally know hundreds of women who have university degrees, live on their own, make their own money and are economically independent of their parents, choose their lovers, are lesbians, are artists, are outspoken activists and lawyers and nurses and teachers and poets. Many are atheists, some are spiritual, some Muslim or Christian. Free. The mainstream view of Arab women rarely showcases these stories because they are not considered sexy.

Roula Baghdadi: Without peace, we can’t have human and women’s rights

Roula Baghdadi is a Syrian lawyer. She is a part of supervisor’s legal team In Equal Citizenship Center inside Syria, and works with a legal team which defends abused women. Baghdadi is also currently doing her Master in Public law.

On the International Women’s Day, I am hoping for peace, in all of the world, for all of the people. Without peace we can’t achieve respect and fulfillment of all human and women’s rights.

Women in the region are in the worst situation, by the effects of religion and the Islamic extremism, but also totalitarian regimes. Our women today have to fight the long and strong history of thoughts and ideologies, wars, poverty… They have to deal with all of these problems to reach their rights. I believe women’s rights can’t exist without democracy, social justice, and full respect of human rights in general – in constitutions and laws and society. As a lawyer, I believe laws help societies evolve, but that still needs real development in the region.

In Middle East, women do their best. These issues will still need decades to be resolved, but we are on our path, we reject the old systems of the world – in which there’s discrimination between women and men, between black and white, between poor and rich. We reject the regime of profiling, we reject tyranny. And that is not easy.

Syrian women are sold in the markets and are whipped and are still being arrested and abducted. They are being targeted and used as a weapon of war, raped and sold, forced into marriage – particularly minors. All of the parties in Syrian war agreed to one thing, which is targeting of women. That’s why I’d like to say, once again, on the International Women’s Day – let’s work for peace, peace and peace. For all of humanity.

Fatima Idriss: It starts with people addressing immediate issues of daily life

Fatima Idriss is a general manager of Tadamon Council (Egyptian Multicultural Council for Refugees) since 2009, and one of its founders. In 2013, Idriss published a research booklet on education for refugees, which was mainly written by children and young people. She has participated in many international conferences in Europe and in the Arab world. Idriss has been working in the human rights field since 2001, with different international organizations based in Egypt, including: Save the Children – Regional office Middle East and North Africa as Child Participation officer (2004); or CARE Egypt on an awareness-raising project on SIDA (2006).

It has been proved that women still struggle globally – to be considered an equal human and citizen, and those struggles are not ending, due to multi-dimensional factors preventing women to achieve a decent amount of their basic rights.

In Middle East and Egypt particularly, being a woman is a trouble for the community on a daily basis. Women in Middle East have been heavily torn under the concept of “women rights defenders” by those who declare themselves as protectors of the rights of women, but are full of hostility and hatred for women – they are not happy as long as women don’t complete the form that they want and not what women really want. Every violence against women and sexual harassment is still seen as women’s liability, they are the ones blamed by the whole community.

Freedom is not always about grand political debates. It often starts with people addressing the immediate issues of daily life. When it comes to women controlling their lives, the current mainstream discourse on women is different  – the example of Tunisia is completely different from Egypt, and then there’s Gulf area, which is totally different from the rest. When questioning the current mainstream discourse on women as an act of justice to the reality, the answer is “NO”.

We are witnessing massive deterioration of women’s rights. We’ve gone from taking on the roles as active citizens after the Arab spring to passivity – due to limits of change in the social, economic, and political atmosphere in general. At one level, community members kept back to undercurrent burden of economic situation (Egypt as example), it keeps them so busy with the daily needs. The economic situation got the priority and that created limited space for all citizens to engage in public life – so women have less opportunity to be active.

Nagwan El-Ashwal: The issue of democracy

Nagwan El-Ashwal is from Egypt. She is PhD researcher at the European University Institute – EUI- Florence, Italy and she works on Jihadi movements in the Arab region. Also, she was a visiting PhD scholar at the Institute of International Studies at University of California at Berkeley and the chairperson of Regional Center for Mediation and Dialogue. El-Ashwal was involved with a lot of different organizations related to justice, equality and democracy in Europe and in the Middle East.

The main issue for women in the Middle East today is the issue of democracy and freedom from repressive regimes. Those regimes close the public sphere when confronted with any kind of activism.

I think that women activists in the first years of the Arab spring have enjoyed a lot with the free space where they could take part in all political activities and push society forward to get more rights – in terms of political and economical struggle. However, after what occurred – either in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen or Libya, women involved in activism are getting back to the first step. The situation is better in Tunisia but it is still dramatically bad in other cases.

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This article was also published in Croatian, on H-Alter.

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art of resistance, Lebanon

(Interview) Yazan Halwani: Uniting The City.

action_shot_yazan_halwani/Photos: Yazan Halwani (private album)/

Although he’s only in his twenties, Yazan Halwani is a name you will hear a lot in Beirut. For the last couple of years his work is among the most notable ones when it comes to Arab street art. Halwani has adorned walls of Beirut (and cities all over the world) with portraits of the writer Khalil Gibran and legendary singers Fairuz and Sabah, as well as everyday local heroes like Ali Abdullah, a homeless man who died one winter’s night in 2013 and Fares, a 12-year-old flower seller from Hamra street.

I meet Halwani in a quiet cafe in Gemmayzeh, a vibrant area of cafes and small shops in downtown Beirut. He’s relaxed and easygoing, with a big smile on his face, and remains of paint on his fingers. We move from topic to topic, he speeks with ease and eloquence. We talk about the different layers of (street) art, use of graffiti to tell a story, sectarianism and Lebanese identity, and importance of doing things your way.

In your work, you put emphasis on the unified aspects of Lebanese identity. In a society that knows separation, society that is deeply fragmented, you try to focus on the commonalities. In Beirut, different neighbourhoods have different tags on the walls, different posters and flags – the visualization of division is quite present in this city. How do you work around that?

What I am doing is not necessarily trying to tell people that they shouldn’t be religious, that they shouldn’t have a certain identity, not at all. What I am trying to do is creating a unified cultural identity. If you try to answer the question – what does it mean to be Lebanese – you cannot answer it, and that is mainly because of how Lebanon was created. It was a mix of cultures and different religions that were put together in a very random and incosiderable way.

In the beginning it maybe made sense because the identity was formed in relation to the occupier, but that changed over the decades. Although there are some commonalities, the emphasis in Lebanon was always on the religious and sectarian identity.

Why is that so?

The reason for that is that the political parties benefit much more from such divide than from enforcing a citizen or political identity. If you have a political identity you tend to shift, and the political party you support needs to be consistent, it needs to deserve your loyalty. It’s much easier to talk about religion, to continue the sectarian speech, than to address real issues, like corruption.

This sectarian identity is emphasized in the urban landscape. In Geitawi and Achrafieh, you see the crosses, the tags of Lebanese Forces, and in Hamra, a street supposedly run by Syrian Social Nationalist Party, you see couple of guys sitting on plastic chairs, guarding “their” territory. And Hamra is a diverse area where you have a population of tens of thousands of people, and this party is relatively small and insignificant in comparison to that, but they still try to show that they own the area.

They create that impression, and that is what happens in a lot of areas in Beirut. It used to annoy me a lot – that there are certain areas of Beirut marked by sectarianism, instead of more representative images of reality. That is why I focused on painting the figures of people that connect us, instead of all these signs of separation. I painted Fairuz, Sabah, Ali Abudllah. I wanted to show that these streets belong to all of us.

sabah/Sabah/

Talking about identity, you often said how in the beginning your work was very much copy paste of Western style graffiti, which is what you recognized as the right way of doing street art. How did you end up finding your way, your style of doing it?

There are two layers to my work. One is a political, social, a position on certain issues. On the other hand, there is a more artistic one, the cultural layer – which is more about the actual art in Lebanon and in the Arab world. Initially, I thought graffiti was about colors and tagging, things like that. Slowly, I started reading, thinking and understanding more.

When I started developing my own style I didn’t want to copy paste the art of the West, but I also didn’t want to reproduce the old Arab cultural identity, like the calligraphy of the 12th century. I tried to find a balance, something that is true to the reality we live today. We live in a modern world, and although we have a past that should be preserved, it should not come with the cost of denying what we are and how we are today. So I took some aspects of Arabic calligraphy but I also broke away from some other apects of it and adjusted it to the modern times.

How did you do that – what is different in your work in comparison to classical Arabic calligraphy?

Arabic calligraphy is focused on the text, but I don’t use it that way. I use it to paint, to create images. I also use a lot of figurations, which is not that common in the traditional art of this area. You can’t and shouldn’t stay puritan that way, you need to find a way to incorporate and communicate the art in the times we are living in.

I want to create a more universal approach to art in general, so I use calligraphy to paint faces. That way everyone can understand it. I don’t want my art to speak only to people who can read Arabic, but I do want it to show and incorporate a part of Arab culture.

fairuz/Fairuz/

Do you think there’s more (re)thinking like that happenig in the Arab art world?

Yes. More and more Arab artists are comfortable with questioning their identity, expressing the modern Arab world. Identity is not static and uniformed, especially in our country that is so unstable and people have so many different experiences. The truth is that we face many problems in preserving our culture.

Arab public shools are not strong enough, so most of the people who can afford it tend to go to private schools, and private schools are all in French or in English. I went to a French school and I was annoyed by having to speak in French, so I read a lot in Arabic and tried to rebel against it. There is another big problem in Lebanon – we don’t have a good infrastructure to preserve culture. We don’t have good consistent publishing, archiving of books and newspapers, theatres, museums, etc. It creates a kind of volatile culture.

Can you compare the situation to Gulf countries, since you’re currently living between Dubai and Beirut?

Gulf countries are now very conscious about the need to archive their identity, and there’s a lot of efforts there in preserving Arab culture. The contribution of some Arab art collectors in Gulf is much bigger than the Lebanese, but that is also connected to different issues these countries face or don’t face.

A lot of your work is socially responsible, and connected to different social issues. Sometimes, in the art world, that can be considered a lower form of  art. What are your thoughts on that?

If we want to accept this argument, and the reasons for it, we first need to discuss the fact that the art that was at the forefront of the art world in recent times is conceptual art. Concept or the idea is the most important. The reason why they say socially or politically driven work is less of an artwork is that it sometimes doesn’t offer a new concept. The emphasis is usually on the topic, on the content.

In the work I do, there’s always two layers. One is the theme, and the other layer is an artistic one – which is using Arabic calligraphy to change the traditional form of expression. I use the language of calligraphy for reasons other than text. My work is very much socially and politically driven, but it also offers a new concept.

Also, it’s important to say that in today’s world conceptual art is failing more and more. First, because of its inability to create art that is always relevant, to offer new concepts that are evolutionary, and second because the art world itself is becoming more vague so conceptual art is not that important anymore. There’s no longer one defintion of what is the most important form of art.

yazan1/Ali Abdullah/

Unlike many street artists, you try to do things legally. Why is that important to you?

In all art disciplines, there are certain things that are still done but there’s no longer justification for doing them. In your camera on the phone, there’s a clicking sound, but there’s no need for it anymore. A lot of disciplines have a thing like that, and street art is one of them.

Initially, doing things ilegally made sense, there was a lot of value in that. But take Lebanon today – people in power do things ilegally all the time, so many people are doing vandalism, and it doesn’t make sense to me to be doing things that way. Civil war was an extreme form of vandalism, political parties terrorising this city are a much stronger form of vandalism than any street art could ever be.

So there’s no value in doing street art ilegally in Lebanon.

Exactly. There’s no value in bringing the street art where I live and being a vandal. It’s much more dangerous to try to create a unified sense of identity and do it legally. When I started doing graffiti, I did things ilegally and the police didn’t care. But when I started painting big buildings, talking to people about history and culture, getting the permits, officials started asking much more questions, they wanted to make my work much harder.

It’s beacuse doing things that way had much more impact on the city and the people. In my approach to street art, I like to reconsider every aspect of it, I don’t want to do something just because it was done a certain way before. I realized there’s no value in doing street art ilegally in Lebanon and that is why I don’t do it ilegally.

A lot of your work is in Lebanon, but you also painted murals in different countries all over the world. One of them is a mural in Germany, of a young boy Fares, who was a flower seller on Hamra street in Beirut. How do you decide which stories cross borders?

Whenever I go to the some other country, it’s an opportunity, a platform to express something. In the instance of Fares, I was invited to Germany at a time when the talk about refugees was that they are an unwanted addition to the country, how they offer no contribution to the society. This was obviously not true. One of the examples was Fares, Syrian refugee whose cultural contribution to the Hamra street, where he used to live, was much greater than the most of the other people living there.

Me painting Fares was a reference to the fact that refugees are not fleeing an imaginary conflict – Fares died in a bombing when he went to visit his family in Syria. It was also a reference to the contribution of refugees to our societies – when Fares died, his passing away generated so many stories, his personal and cultural contibution to Hamra and Beirut was enormous. To all of those who are saying refugees are a burden, in Germany or in Lebanon, I wanted to show Fares.

fares_mural/Fares/

In conclusion – what guides you in your work, how do you choose the next project?

I always have a lot of ideas, and when one is actually mature enough, I take it out and try to make it happen. I am a big fan of artists who created decisive moments in the art history, because they have been able to question the art in the time they were living in and break away from the tradition. But with good reasons, not just for the sake of doing it. I was not educated in art, I came to the art world as an outsider and that helps me in the approach to some of the art doctrines – it makes me question traditionalism.

When I painted Fairuz, people started noticing my work. That wall became a kind of landmark, although it’s a small piece. People recognized themselves in the work, and that was the first time it happened to me. It happened because I started doing work that makes sense to me, and I think it made sense to others too. I am painting with brush and ink, I have tons of spray cans that are unused for years. I don’t let anyone tell me there’s one way of doing street art. Every painting, every mural is a learning experience.

• • •

This interview was also published in Croatian, on H-Alter.

 

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art of resistance, Lebanon

Nizar Qabbani | Beirut, The Mistress Of The World.

nizar

*Been in Beirut for a month now. This poem’s on my mind most of the time. One of the first days here I got lost searching for the sea (it’s hard to see, smell or hear the sea due to all of the building/s/ everywhere) and I finally found my way – stumbling upon a little street that took me straight to the coast.

It was the street of Nizar Qabbani. In this city of refuge that needs a refuge, Qabbani shows the way to the sea. I call it hope.

Beirut, The Mistress Of The World

Beirut, the Mistress of the World
We confess before the One God
That we were envious of you
That your beauty hurt us

We confess now
That we’ve maltreated and misunderstood you
And we had no mercy and didn’t excuse you
And we offered you a dagger in place of flowers!
We confess before the fair God
That we injured you, alas; we tired you
That we vexed you and made you cry
And we burdened you with our insurrections

Oh Beirut
The world without you won’t suffice us
We now realize your roots are deep inside us,
We now realize what offence we’ve perpetrated

Rise from under the rubble
Like a flower of Almond in April
Get over your sorrow
Since revolution grows in the wounds of grief
Rise in honor of the forests,
Rise in honor of the rivers
Rise in honor of humankind
Rise, Oh Beirut!

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Syria

Playlist: I Was Born For Poetry (Adonis).

/photo via Ninar Esber/

This time, something a little different in the Playlist session. It’s not a song, but it plays out like a song. Listen to the great Syrian poet Adonis – talking about his childhood, the way poetry gave him life and he gave life to it, the role of the poet as a thinker…

Adonis talks about everything – how an original poem written for the Syrian president sent him to school, how he got the name Adonis, revolutionized Arabic poetry and lives in the exile of being – in continuous beginnings.

Previous Playlist:

The Partisan

Rojava Women

The Melody of our Alienation (Yemen)

Ruba Shamshoum

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art of resistance, Lebanon

Playlist: Jerusalem In My Heart.

jimhnews3

Jerusalem In My Heart (JIMH) has been a live audio-visual happening since 2005, with Montréal-based producer and musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh at its core.

Moumneh is a Lebanese national who has spent a large part of his adult life in Canada and has been a fixture of the Montréal independent music community for the last twenty years.  He’s also active in the Beirut and Lebanese experimental music scenes, where he spends a few months every year.

With performances occurring a couple of times per year, no two Jerusalem In My Heart events have ever been the same: configurations have ranged from 2 to 24 participants, with varying degrees of theatrical stage action alongside a film/video component.

Enjoy a little bit of the JIMH experience listening to this lovely piece.

Previous Playlist:

Maghawir by Mashrou’ Leila

Selda Bağcan

Saul Williams

Farida Muhammad Ali

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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, 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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