art of resistance, Lebanon, Syria

Invisible Children | Syrian Refugees In Beirut.

/image © Rania Matar/

Just this month, Syrian Centre for Policy Research published a report examining the current state in Syria, after five years of war and conflict. Fatalities caused by war, directly and indirectly, amount to 470,000, according to the SCPR – a far higher total than the figure of 250,000 used by the United Nations until it stopped collecting statistics 18 months ago.

In all, 11.5% of the country’s population have been killed or injured since the crisis erupted in March 2011, the report estimates. The number of wounded is put at 1.9 million. Almost half of the population has been displaced. Last week, the International Red Cross said that 50,000 people had fled the upsurge in fighting in the north, requiring urgent deliveries of food and water.

Many of them have nowhere to go to, every country seems to be closing its borders, building up a fortress. The SCPR report notes that the rest of the world has been slow to wake up to the dimensions of the crisis. “Despite the fact that Syrians have been suffering for… five years, global attention to human rights and dignity for them only intensified when the crisis had a direct impact on the societies of developed countries.”

It is estimated that more than one million Syrian refugees found their new home in Lebanon, some in refugee camps, some in basic housing, and some on the streets. If you come to Beirut, you will see Syrian children selling flowers, chewing gum and wet tissues, you will see them playing music or standing silently at the corner of the street.

They became invisible children, something everybody is so used to that they don’t notice it anymore. Lebanese photographer Rania Matar decided to put a face on their individual stories, often crammed into one narrative.

Matar writes: “I was poignantly struck by the Syrian refugee children and teens standing at every other street corner, most often begging for money, sometimes selling red roses or miscellaneous trinkets, or carrying beat-up shoe-shining equipment. They all said they were working.”

She continues: “They were being brought by the truckload every morning, dropped off on the streets and expected to bring money back every day. People often walked or drove by them seemingly indifferent or just fed-up by what the influx of refugees has done to the country’s economy and resources and by what the city has become with kids begging in most cosmopolitan areas of Beirut.”

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Matar was moved by the children, the teenagers and the young mothers begging on the streets, and struck by the fact that they had become almost faceless and invisible to the locals.

She noticed how those kids and teens seemed to blend with the graffiti on the walls in front of which they were standing, just like an added new layer of ripped billboard advertising, as invisible and as anonymous.

“Being perceived by people and on the news as ‘the refugees’ the group identity seemed to define them more than their individual identity. Maybe by keeping them individually anonymous, one can more easily ignore the magnitude of the refugee crisis.

I tried through my images to put an individual face to the invisible children, to give them their dignity and portray their individuality”, Matar writes.

To find out more about Matar’s project Invisible Children and see more photos – visit The Story Institute. For more on Matar’s work in general, visit her official website.

//all photos © Rania Matar//

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art of resistance, Lebanon

Playlist: Yasmine Hamdan.

maxresdefault/Yasmine Hamdan, photo: ytb-prtsc/

It’s hard not to love Yasmine Hamdan. I am sure you’ve heard of this Lebanese goddess and there is a great chance she enchanted you in Only Lovers Left Alive, singing her mesmerizing song Hal.

Hamdan is now based in Paris, where she continues to make great music. She first became known with Soapkills, the duo she founded with Zeid Hamdan while she was still living in Beirut.

Her solo album Ya Nass came out two years ago, and it brought so much freshness to the world of Arab music. For years, Hamdan was an icon of underground music across the Arab world, but she’s finally getting more recognition – not just in the Arab countries, but all over the world.

I am so excited for her, and I want to continue enjoying her music for many more years to come. Click on the video, let Hamdan cast her spell.

Previous Playlist:

Atab by Cheb Abid

Fadimoutou Wallet Inamoud

Khebez Dawle

Checkpoint 303 – The Iqrit Files

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Palestine

Shatila, Still An Open Wound.

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Just two weeks ago I visited Beirut, the city I’ve been waiting on for so long. Being there, my big wish was to explore Dahiyeh, the southern part of the city. I’ve realized it is an area totally separated from the rest of the city, an area in which the oppression and segregation of Shiites and Palestinians continues.

What really struck me was the visit to Shatila. I thought I was well prepared for it. After all, I did read all of those books and articles, I’ve listened to numerous lectures, watched movies… I knew what the world of Waltz with Bashir looked like, I knew the streets on which the characters of De Niro’s game were walking on, I knew all about the piles of bodies from the Gate of Sun, I knew about the dirt Beirut’s elite refused to see – like Lamia Ziadé wrote:

“But we still want to think that our country is the Switzerland, the Paris, the Las Vegas, the Monaco and the Acapulco of the Middle East all in one, and what’s more, we want to enjoy it. From the cafe terraces of Raouche or Ain Mreissels, where we sometimes go for a banana split, we can’t see the Shiite ghettoes or the Palestinian camps. And when we wear sunglasses we can’t spot all the dirt.”

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Well, atleast I thought I knew… Coming to Shatila made me realize that nothing can really prepare you for it. Most of the things we know about Shatila are connected to the massacre of Sabra and Shatila (1982) and the War of the camps (1984 – 1989). Since all of those events took part during the Lebanese civil war I think our brain tends to put them in the “past” department. But there is no “past” departments in Shatila, everything spills into present.

The most tragic thing is not that nobody was really brought to justice for the horrible crimes committed in Sabra and Shatila more than three decades ago, the most tragic thing is that people still live there – in refugee camps, in dirt, poverty and desperation.

I was standing on the place where the massacre was committed, a small area of orange and brown dirt, thinking how it wasn’t until recently that a small memorial plaque was put to commemorate the victims. It seemed so unfair – for this place to look so everyday like, to feel so ordinary, a patch of land close to a small building, where chickens and turkeys sometimes come out to have a walk.

But that is what also makes it symbolic on so many levels – this suffering that goes on, continues and deepens, but still goes somewhat unnoticed, still gets perceived as a normal state of things. That is what Palestinian people understand the best, hardly anybody can relate to it as much as they can – life of suffering continuously followed by ignorance, by status quo.

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In Shatila, more than twenty three thousands of people live in the area of one square kilometre. There are families of fifteen living in small room for years. Camp was built in 1949, and in the first years refugees lived in tents. In 1949 that piece of land was rented by UNRWA on a 99-year lease which proves it was known already at that point that the Palestinian refugees will stay outside Palestine for a long time.

In the 70’s, when many of the refugees lived in Shatila for more than twenty years, they started building first houses and small buildings. With time, people expanded the houses, doing it mostly themselves – which is a problem because the constructions in the camp are quite cheap and poorly made, and it feels like everything could just collapse one day. The very sad thing is that, if something like that happened, the world probably wouldn’t care.

I asked the translators that were with us in the camp if they had ever been in this part of the city before. They were Lebanese and lived in Beirut. They said this is their first time, adding that they hope it’s also the last.

In discarded Shatila, the view of the sky is prevented by the intricate web of electricity cabels, connecting all of the buildings and houses. Everybody is stealing electricity here, and a man recently died due to a dangerous encounter with the web of cables. But it’s nothing new here, people already got used to such stories.

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There are special educational issues in Shatila connected to the school in the camp, financed mainly by UNRWA. Lovely people from the Association Najdeh explained to me how every year there is a battle about the finances for the next school year and UNRWA claims they are not able to finance it anymore.

At the moment there are around fifty students in every class and next year there might be more – due to budget cuts. Activists from Najdeh tell me that the big shift happened after the Oslo Accords, when UNRWA decided to focus more on the West Bank, while the Palestinians in Lebanon were left almost forgotten.

Health service is also on the long list of the things not functioning well in Shatila. “Panadol for everything” is already a famous saying in the camp beacuse it illustrates the situation well. The only help people get is mainly connected to food – certain amounts of flour, rice, oil, gas. But there are almost no efforts to move beyond the relief phase.

There are also a lot of Syrian refugees in Shatila nowadays, but also some of the Lebanese refugees who arrived to the camp during the Civil war. At the moment, there is still around one thousand people in the camp who have been there since 1949. They’ve spent their whole lives there and welcomed their old age there. I cannot even begin to imagine what their life was like, but I am sure it took enormous amounts of strength and resilience to survive through all of that, to still find a reason to live and look forward to every new day.

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Some of them still keep the keys of their houses in Palestine, together with the small things they took when they were leaving – every year on Nakba day they take it out of their drawers, under their pillows and from their walls. They sit and talk about their memories and the right of return. But it seems like the world keeps on laughing in their faces.

Palestinians really have it the worst in Lebanon. They cannot get the citizenship, they cannot work, or own a property. Basically, all they can do is to be in a refugee camp, and/or turn to criminal or radical activities.  As we walk through the camp, I see children playing with small wooden planks on the dusty streets, pretending they have guns and are in a war, behind a house that has Rachel Corrie graffiti painted on it.

In every corner there is a small dedication to Arafat, a relic from a long time ago – when Arafat was still young and cool, when he stood for something.  The flea markets we pass by are modest, people are trying to sell whatever they can to earn some money. There is garbage in all colors everywhere, and the smell is far from nice.

I gaze up to the sky and think about the children we met at the Centre for psychosocial support. I think about the way they showered us with smiles and joy. They are children like all children – same in the way they treat the world, but different in the way world treats them.

What will happen with them when they grow up? What can happen with somebody who grows up in this environment? Walking on these streets it is easy to understand how one can turn to radicalism – when your life doesn’t have a purpose, you might wish to find it in your death.

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That’s the south of Beirut, separated by another Green line, still unnamed and not very much talked about. Beirut, a city that sleeps above the ancient Rome, still doesn’t like to learn from its mistakes.  Like the lyrics say – Make me forget myself, I want to be like Beirut. But the thing is – we’ve all forgotten too much, and some days it seems like all we do is forget.

//all photos © Ivana Perić, MER//

If you find issues in Shatila important, please see more about Association Najdeh  and the work they do in Shatila and in other camps.  You might ask them how you can help. Because there’s always something we can do and a way we can help. Hey, maybe you can collect some money among your friends and donate it to Najdeh?

Or you can try to inform the people in your country about this, protest and put pressure on your government to do something about Shatila and other camps (and Israeli – Palestinian conflict)? Or you can maybe even go to Shatila for couple of weeks and volunteer? Maybe you could teach English, or prepare some creative workshops? These are just some of the first ideas I had. Whatever you do, it’s important.

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art of resistance, Lebanon

Remembering Samir Kassir: Life As Courage, Death As Silence.

Today would be Samir Kassir’s birthday and he would celebrate it. He would be fifty-five. Lebanon would celebrate (with) him. He would be happy.

But that will never happen since Samir Kassir was assassinated ten years ago.

2014-10-04-21_41_50-samirkassir1-jpg-310c397320-opera/Samir Kassir, photo via ballandalus/

Born to a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother, Kassir was one of the most well known intellectuals of the Arab left. He was a professor of history and a journalist. He was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, and of secular democracy throughout the Middle East. He was a vocal critic of the Syrian presence in Lebanon  – many say that’s what (or who) killed him.

From 1981 to 2000, Kassir contributed to Le Monde Diplomatique. In 1998 he became an editorial writer for the daily An Nahar newspaper and was widely known for his popular weekly column. He wrote numerous books – about Lebanese civil war, history of Beirut, Israeli – Palestinian conflict and Arab identity.His most famous and probably most important work is Being Arabin which he popularized the concept of the “Arab malaise”.

In Being Arab, Kassir writes:

‘Arab’ itself is so impoverished a word that it’s reduced in places to a mere ethnic label with overtones of censure, or, at best, a culture that denies everything modernity stands for.

He continues, describing the “Arab malaise”:

The Arab malaise is also inextricably bound up with the gaze of the Western Other – a gaze that prevents everything, even escape. Suspicious and condescending by turns, the Other’s gaze constantly confronts you with your apparently insurmountable condition. It ridicules your powerlessness, foredooms all your hopes, and stops you in your tracks time and again at one or other of the world’s broder-crossings. You have to have been the bearer of a passport of a pariah state to know how categorical such a gaze can be. You have to have measured your anxieties against the Other’s certainties – his or her certainties about you – to understand the paralysis it can inflict.

Still, you could conceivably overcome, or even simply ignore, the Western gaze. But how can you avoid returning it, and measuring yourself against its reflection?

In the article Who killed Samir Kassir?, Robert Fisk wrote:

‘He always left home at 10.30am and I saw him walking across the street,’ a female neighbour told me yesterday. ‘He always left home at the same time. He opened the door of his car, sat inside and started the engine. Then the car blew up.’

 Close inspection of Mr Kassir’s Alfa-Romeo, registration number 165670, showed clearly the blast came from beneath the driver’s seat. It tore open the roof, blasted out the driver’s door, smashed the steering column and hurled Mr Kassir on to the passenger seat. The ignition seems to have detonated the bomb.

 This was a shock that no one in Beirut expected – except, of course, the assassins. Germany’s top detective, Detlev Mehlis, is already here with his team to investigate the murder of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February. We all thought that Lebanon’s assassins were in their rabbit holes, fearful of arrest.

But no, they are still on operational duty, still in killing mode. Nassib Lahoud, the opposition MP and friend of Kassir – he may be the next Lebanese president – was in tears when I spoke to him beside Mr Kassir’s wrecked car. He talked about ‘criminal hands’, about the ‘intelligence apparatus’ who he blamed for the assassination. The only word he didn’t use was ‘Syria’.

So who murdered Samir Kassir?

The question remains. The answers are being whispered around Beirut for ten years now, but the overall silence drowns those whispers, and it drowns all the tears and screams that came with the news of Kassir’s death.

And he was not the only one. It was one of the many political assassinations that occurred in Lebanon from 2004 to 2008.  May Chidiac, also a critic of Syrian policies in Lebanon, managed to survive when a car bomb detonated as she entered her car – but she lost an arm and a leg. Samir Kassir’s colleague, An Nahar’s chief editor, and top anti-Syria legislator Gebran Tueni, was killed by a car bomb just couple of months after Kassir. That’s just to name a few.

So who killed them?  We still “don’t know”. When will we be ready to know?

Unlike his life and his work, the killing of Samir Kassir remains wrapped in silence, tied with cowardice. Let us remember that and let us remember him.

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure

Remembering Howard Zinn: To Be Hopeful in Bad Times

Remembering Pablo Neruda: Pablo Neruda, Presente!

and more.

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art of resistance, Lebanon

The Book To Read: De Niro’s Game.

I am currently reading De Niro’s Game by Rawi Hage. It is a story of two young men caught in Lebanon’s long civil war. For Hage, who was a teenager growing up in Beirut during the war, a lot of the book comes from his memories, not his imagination. Bassam and George are childhood friends, always together , doing pranks, drinking beer, chasing girls… But, war changes their firendship and their aspirations in life.

TADhagecover

The story is told in the most poetic of ways, sarcastic and smart, with great comparisons and descriptions. I’ve rushed through the first half of the book, but now stopped for a while, just because it is one of those books I do not want to finish to soon, I want to enjoy it little longer, page by page, I want to anticipate and crave for more and look forward to it every day.

Here are some great quotes from the first part of the book, just to illustrate Hage’s striking dance with words.

“Longhaired teenagers like us, with guns under our bellies, and stolen gas in our tanks, and no particular place to go” 

*

“We sat and sipped our cocktails, licked our fingers, and talked about the gun, and how silent it was.”

*

“Ten thousand bombs had split the winds, and my mother was still in the kitchen smoking her long white cigarettes.”

*

“They washed like meticulous Christian cats that leak corporate oil extracted by exploited Nigerian workers from underneath the earth where devils roam, and worms gnaw on the roots of dead trees that are suffocated by factory fumes and the greedy breath of white skinned engineers.”

*

“The sea that is filled with Pharoah tears, pirate ship wreckage, slave bones, flowing rivers of sewage and French tampons.”

*

“I laid ten thousand kisses on her body, under the cascade of sweet falling bombs.”

*

“George, I said the next day while we were sitting in a café, smoking and drinking coffee, Khalil’s funeral is on Wednesday. Are you going? “No, he said, and looked at me with piercing eyes. I do not kill the bird and dance with its feathers.” 

*

I will definitely write more about this extraordinary book in the future.

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art of resistance, Lebanon

Bye Bye Babylon (Beirut 1975-1979).

Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975-1979 is a graphic novel dealing with the Lebanese Civil War, by accomplished Paris-based artist, illustrator, and designer Lamia Ziadé, who lived through the war as a child. The novel  doesn’t follow a traditional form with frames and captions, but rather, is a first-person narrative with a wealth of colorful illustrations in gouache.

In essence – it is a story of a rich family and the way they coped with the war, while the Lebanon’s poor and “others” world is far away. Ziadé doesn’t run from that fact. As a child in the book, she dreams of banana splits, American candy, flying on Pan Am Airways and visiting the local cinema. But there are moments her world clashes with the world of  “others”.

In one part of the book, when the family drives by the site of the destroyed camp after the massacre, Ziadé writes: “I feel heartbroken and ashamed, ignorant little rich girl that I am, to have envied the lives of those poor children.” Meanwhile, her nanny declares her support of the Kataeb, the Christian militia which destroyed the camp, and all that makes Ziadé very confused. She asks her parents, “‘Is it true that the Palestinians in Karantina were scum? And what are Palestinians anyway?” It is one of the great and truly honest moments.

Here are some more.

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“Spinney’s, an ultra modern supermarket, had opened in Beirut several years earlier. It’s a monument to the best of what the western world can offer and it’s a first for Lebanon: trolleys, escalators (or maybe the first were in Byblos department store, I am not sure). It’s a real paradise that is about to go up in flames like everything else.”

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“But we still want to think that our country is the Switzerland, the Paris, the Las Vegas, the Monaco and the Acapulco of the Middle East all in one, and what’s more, we want to enjoy it. From the cafe terraces of Raouche or Ain Mreissels, where we sometimes go for a banana split, we can’t see the Shiite ghettoes or the Palestinian camps. And when we wear sunglasses we can’t spot all the dirt.”

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“The shiny Western varnish, which the Lebanese are so proud of, is finally cracking…”

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all images © Lamia Ziadé/Interlink

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