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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art of resistance, Lebanon, Syria

The Art Of Mohammad Khayata.

khayataweb/Walking on Thread, photo via Mohammad Khayata website/

I was first introduced to Mohammad Khayata’s work while I was strolling down the streets of Beirut last November. On of his works (Walking on Thread) was exhibited in a gallery I passed by and it caught my eye immediately. I told myself I should remember his name and investigate more about his art when I come back home.

Khayata is a painter and a photographer, born in Damascus in 1985. His first solo exhibition was organized in Lebanon, three years ago.

mohamad kh

Khayata’s work is beautiful – it’s sensitive, powerful, thoughtful. In Bits and Pieces, he portrays symbols of what went on in Syria, combining stories and memories like a patched work stitched and tied to a canvas.

The images capture real life grief – from the portrait of a man wrapped in a patched quilt made of memories to another one disappearing into a patched quilt holding a suitcase in preparation to leave behind his world and life as he knew it.

He started from the captured moment, sketched it and finally gave birth to an entity painted on a canvas full of personal memories, feelings and passions to make visual the unspoken words.

khayata3

In Blue Period, Khayata starts from his brother’s story, “who filled a boat with his body and went far away for a new hope surrounded by whales, to smugglers who create creative ways to fill our bodies in tanks of chocolates and oil”.

The work is about the burden of our choices, how they are forced upon us, how it can all change our lives.

It is “about our choices that became rare, destiny that became like that of a fisherman who throws his hook in a sea of memories hoping his bate will catch possessing thread of power, or a suitcase to emigrate as far as you can get in this world, a bullet to kill or get killed by, or an empty bottle to lock and isolate yourself in”.

mkahay

Remember Khayata’s name, like I did that day when I passed by that little gallery. He is an artist whose compassion and tenderness goes a long way.

//all photos © Mohammad Khayata//

For more on Khayata’s work, visit his website.

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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.”

 2014

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

Ania Dabrowska: A Lebanese Archive.

12_Ania Dabrowska_ALebaneseArchive_Om Ashad_Diab Alkarssifi_1984/photo © Diab Alkarsiffi, A Lebanese Archive, Ania Dabrowska/

A Lebanese Archive is project by the Polish artist Ania Dabrowska, who was inspired by the previously unknown, personal collection of photographs belonging to Diab Alkarssifi, a former photojournalist from Lebanon.

The collection consists of his work, family albums, and photographs from studios in Beirut, Damascus and Cairo and covers over one hundred years of cultural and political history of Lebanon and the Middle East. It documents Alkarssifi’s student years in Moscow and Budapest, the Lebanese Civil Wars and local events in his home city of Baalbeck, close to the Syrian border.

The images were taken and collected by Alkarssifi over a lifetime: thousands of photographic prints, and negatives, including his numerous photographic assignments and images of everyday life.

This unique collection offers an insight into daily family and professional life, cultural celebrations and political moments at a time in Lebanon’s recent history when many archives have been destroyed or lost in repeated conflicts and civil wars. Alkarssifi came to London in 1993, bringing part of this archive with him.

2_Ania Dabrowska_ALebaneseArchive_Om Ashad_Diab Alkarssifi_1984/photo © Diab Alkarsiffi, A Lebanese Archive, Ania Dabrowska/

A chance meeting at Arlington (a London hostel for homeless men and women where Dabrowska had a SPACE residency in 2010-2012) led Dabrowska to conceive a project through which Alkarssifi’s collection might be preserved, re-presented, made accessible to the public and become a catalyst for consideration of archives in contemporary context.

Her interpretation and arrangement of the archive with her own imagery and assemblages has led to a fascinating layering of the work inspired by their conversations on history, photography and personal memory – much of which was published for the first time.

Arranged as Archival Stories, Cycles, and new compositions, A Lebanese Archive comprises of photographs from the archival collection and new works by Ania Dabrowska, punctuated by short exchanges between Dabrowska and Alkarssifi on the history and making of the images and stories collected in the book. The project is introduced and reflected on in new texts by Ania Dabrowska and Akram Zaatari.

lebanese/photo © A Lebanese Archive, Book Works/

The project includes the book published by Book Works, exhibitions, an archive to be established as part of the Arab Image Foundation Collection in Beirut and a public engagement programme documented on Lebanese Archive website. Enjoy it all!

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art of resistance, Syria

Syrian Refugees | Lost Family Portraits.

dm//photo © Dario Mitidieri/Cafod//

Lost Family Portraits is a heartbreaking photo project by the great photographer Dario Mitideri. Mitieri took photos of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and in every photo there is room left for family members lost in the war.

He photographed ten families and in some cases there was a very high chance that the missing person was dead – families just don’t know what happened to them, everybody and everything is still torn apart.

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dariomi

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syriaref//all photos © Dario Mitidieri/Cafod//

• • •

For more photos and individual family stories, visit Cafod.

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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, Morocco

Remembering Leila Alaoui: The Moroccans.

moroccans/The Moroccans, © Leila Alaoui/

It seems way too early to pay respect to Leila Alaoui, talented French-Moroccan photographer, in MER’s Remembering sessions. After all, she entered 2016 full of power, only in her thirties.

Unfortunately, Alaoui succumbed to her injuries sustained in the Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) terrorist attacks, only couple of days ago. She was among those (at least) 56  wounded and now joined those more than 30 killed.

Alaoui was born in Paris in 1982 and studied photography at City University of New York (CUNY) before spending time in Morocco and Lebanon.

Her work had been exhibited internationally in recent years, including at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, and was featured in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times and Vogue. Last couple of years she lived between Marrakech and Beirut.

One of her most beautiful projects was The Moroccans. About it, she wrote: “Morocco has a specific position in this backstory of photographers using the culture – particularly elements from native costume and architecture – to construct their own fantasies of an exotic ‘other’ world.

Souk of Boumia, Middle Atlas, 2011

Souk of Boumia, Middle Atlas, 2011

Foreign photographers often depict Westerners in Morocco when they want convey glamour or elegance, while framing local people rustic or folkloric, reiterating the patronizing gaze of the Orientalist.

My intention was to counter this in these portraits by adopting similar studio techniques to photographers such as Richard Avedon in his series ‘In the American West’, who portrays his subjects as empowered and glamorous, drawing out the innate pride and entitlement of each individual person.”

Alaoui embarked on a road trip through rural Morocco to photograph women, men and children from diverse ethnic and tribal groups including Berbers and Arabs. This on-going project served as a visual archive of the Moroccan traditions and aesthetics now disappearing with globalization.

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In one interview, Alaoui discussed the relationship many photographers have with Morocco: “A lot of negative experiences have given Morocco a very specific relationship to photographers, or people taking photos.

The Moroccans have the feeling their culture is being used – particularly when it comes to native clothing and architecture – and the photographers are trying to turn them into their own fantasy of an exotic ‘other’ world.

That’s one reason. But superstition and witchcraft also play a role here. For example, the collective consciousness still contains the idea that cameras rob people of their souls.”

Alaoui did her best to portray Moroccan people in a different way, allowing them a choice and taking her time to get to know them and their approach towards life and world.

Chefchaoun, Rif Mountains, 2010

Chefchaoun, Rif Mountains, 2010

It’s extremely sad that the world has lost Alaoui. I didn’t know her, but I knew her work. And through her work, it’s easy to see how she was one of those souls who always tried to bring people together, to raise awareness – make us look at each other and understand each other.

She participated in exhibitions aimed at raising money for those suffering in Syrian war, she was involved in the work of activists, journalists and human rights organisations working to improve the situation of migrants and refugees in Morocco (and other countries).

featured_Portrait-Leila-Alaoui-2/Leila Alaoui, photo via Tamyras/

Alaoui was interested in dignity, in humanity. She gave herself to that struggle. I hope she will remembered for that – it’s the greatest legacy one can leave.

//all images © Leila Alaoui//

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Mahdi ‘Amel: The Importance of Resistance

Remembering Samir Kassir: Life as Courage, Death as Silence

Remembering Hassan Fathy: To Build With The People

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure

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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.”

shatila 2 ivana

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.

shatila ivana

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.

shatila3 ivana

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.

shatila 5 ivana

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.

shatila 7 ivana

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

The Book To Read: The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine.

blog_OP_bubbles_hakawati/illustration by Ayloul, for the article ‘The Hakawati, a story in pieces‘, The Outpost magazine/

“A hakawati is a teller of tales, myths, and fables. A storyteller, and entertainer. A troubadour of sorts, someone who earns his keep by beguiling an audience with yarns. Like the word ‘hekayah’ story, fable, news, hakawati is derived from the Lebanese word ‘haki’, which means talk or conversation. This suggests that in Lebanese the mere act of talking is storytelling.”

Lebanese writer Rabih Alameddine has had a good number of notable works by now, but this is his first book I (finally) managed to read. The rain was pouring most of the days last week, so I sat on my little balcony, letting myself go where Alameddine takes me. It was a good journey – I was bewitched and wanted more with every page.

In its essence, The Hakawati is an hommage to all the great storytellers of the Arab world and the art of storytelling itself. It is a story about the magic of stories and it was done so well it became magic in itself. And really – where would we be, what would we know, how would we feel – without stories? There’s no life, no memories, no history without stories. Like Alameddine writes:

What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.”

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/The Hakawati, photo via Leonard Shoup/

The Hakawati is a mixture of stories that unravel throughout the book –  it is a historical novel and a family saga, and an impressive short story collection told at the same time. It takes its inspiration from everywhere – old Arab folktales, the Bible, the Qur’an, modern Lebanese storytellers, etc.

Music also pulls its strings here – particularly the oud, an instrument that was so important for Osama (the main character). And there’s more than one reference to the great Umm Kalthoum and the notion of tarab – known in Arab music as a musical ecstasy, the merger between music and emotional transformation.

The book is also a sort of a love letter to Beirut and Lebanon. Which doesn’t mean their relationship is perfect – like all great lovers, they went through a lot of turmoil. Osama returns to Beirut after many years in America to stand vigil at his father’s deathbed. The Beirut he finds is a shell of the Beirut he remembers, but he and his friends and family take solace in the things that have always sustained them: gossip, laughter, and – stories. Alameddine writes:

“Like all cities, Beirut has many layers, and I had been familiar with one or two. What I was introduced to that day with Ali and Kamal was the Beirut of its people. You take different groups, put them on top of each other, simmer for a thousand years, keep adding more and more strange tribes, simmer for another few thousand years, salt and pepper with religion, and what you get is a delightful mess of a stew that still tastes delectable and exotic, no matter how many times you partake of it.”

You’ll come to know the diversity of Beirut through this book – there’s Elie, the neighbourhood bully and a militia leader, Osama and his half-Druze family (his mother is Christian and his sister Lina too), Jewish childhood friend Fatima, and a lot of other striking characters.

They are all lost – being the young generation during the Lebanese civil war – like their lives have been on hold for too long and now it’s hard to press the play button again. But if there ever was and is comfort, it is found in stories. Osama digs through the stories of where he came from – at times it is to know that he was and is at all, and at times it is to know where he can go or that he can go (on) at all.

And that is the beauty of stories – no matter how lost you are, you can always find your place and your people there. It is the eternal shelter –  you can just sit there and wait till the storm passes.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

Anti-Arab Racism in the USA

A Tale of Love and Darkness

Afghanistan, Were God Only Comes to Weep

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

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art of resistance, Lebanon, Palestine

Elias Khoury: Gate of the Sun.

The following is an excerpt from Elias Khoury’s novel Gate of the Sun (translated by Humphrey Davies). Drawing on the stories Khoury gathered from refugee camps over the course of many years, Gate of the Sun has been called the first magnum opus of the Palestinian saga.

gate-of-the-sun

Umm Hassan is dead. I saw everyone racing through the alleys of the camp and heard the sound of weeping. Everyone was spilling out of their houses, bent over to catch their tears, running. Nabilah, Mahmoud al-Qasemi’s wife, our mother, was dead. We called her mother because everyone born in the Shatila camp fell from their mother’s guts into her hands. I too had fallen into her hands, and I too ran the day she died.

Umm Hassan came from al-Kweikat, her village in Galilee, to become the only midwife in Shatila – a woman of uncertain age and without children. I only knew her when she was old, with stooped shoulders, a face full of creases, large eyes shining in a white square, and a white cloth covering her white hair. Our neighbor, Sana’, the wife of Karim al-Jashi the kunafa  seller, said Umm Hassan dropped in on her the night before last and told her her death was coming.

“I heard its voice, daughter. Death whispers, and its voice is soft.”

Speaking in her half-Bedouin accent she told Sana’ about the messenger of death. “The messenger came in the morning and told me to get ready.” And she told Sana’ how she wanted to be prepared for burial. “She took me by the hand,” said Sana’, “led me to her house, opened her wooden trunk, and showed me the white silk shroud. She told me she would bathe before she went to sleep: ‘I’ll die pure, and I want only you to wash me.’ “

Umm Hassan is dead. Everyone knew that this Monday morning, November 20th, 1995, was the time set for Nabilah, Fatimah’s daughter, to meet death. Everyone awoke and waited, but no one was brave enough to go to her house to discover she was dead. Umm Hassan had told everyone, and everyone believed her. Only I was taken by surprise. I stayed with you until eleven at night, and then, exhausted, I went to my room and slept. It was night, the camp was asleep, and no one told me. But everyone else knew.

No one would question Umm Hassan because she always told the truth. Hadn’t she been the only one to weep on the morning of June 5, 1967? Everyone was dancing in the streets, anticipating going home to Palestine, but she wept. She told everyone she’d decided to wear mourning. Everyone laughed and said Umm Hassan had gone mad. Throughout the six long days of the war she never opened the windows of her house; on the seventh, out she came to wipe away everyone’s tears. She said she knew Palestine would not come back until all of us had died.

Over the course of her long life, Umm Hassan had buried her four children one after the other. They would come to her borne on planks, their clothes covered in blood. All she had left was a son called Naji, who lived in America. Though Naji wasn’t her real son, he was: She had picked him up from beneath an olive tree on the Kabri-Tarshiha road and had fed him from her dry breasts, then returned him to his mother when they reached the village of Qana, in Lebanon.

Umm Hassan died today. No one dared go into her house. About twenty women gathered to wait, then Sana’ came and knocked on the door, but no one opened it. She pushed it, it opened, she went in and ran to the bedroom. Umm Hassan was sleeping, her head covered with her white headscarf. Sana’ went over and took her by the shoulders, and the chill of death flowed into the hands of the kunafa-seller’s wife, who screamed. The women entered, the weeping began, and everyone raced to the house.

I, too, would like to run with the others, go in with them, see Umm Hassan sleeping her eternal sleep and breathe in the smell of olives that clung to her small home. But I didn’t weep. For three months I’ve been incapable of reacting. Only this man floating above his bed makes me feel the throb of life.

For three months he’s been laid out on his bed in Galilee Hospital, where I work as a doctor, or where I pretend that I’m a doctor. I sit next to him, and I try. Is he dead or alive? I don’t know – am I helping or tormenting him? Should I tell him stories or listen to him?

For three months I’ve been in this room. Today Umm Hassan died, and I want him to know, but he doesn’t hear. I want him to come with me to her funeral, but he won’t get up. They said he fell into a coma. An explosion in the brain causing permanent damage. A man lies in front of me, and I have no idea what to do.

I’ll just try not to let him rot while he’s still alive, because I’m sure he’s asleep, not dead. But what difference does it make? Is it true what Umm Hassan said about a sleeper being like a dead man – that the sleeper’s soul leaves his body only to return when he wakes, but that the dead man’s soul leaves and doesn’t come back?

Where is the soul of Yunes, son of Ibrahim, son of Suleiman al-Asadi? Has it left him for a distant place, or is it hovering above us in the hospital room, asking me not to go because the man is immersed in distant darknesses, afraid of the silence? I swear I’ve no idea. On her first visit Umm Hassan said that Yunes was in torment. She said he was in a different place from us.

“So what should I do?” I asked her.

“Do what he tells you,” she answered.

“But he doesn’t speak,” I said.

“Oh yes, he does,” she said, “and it’s up to you to hear his voice.”

And I don’t hear it, I swear I don’t, but I’m stuck to this chair, and I talk and talk. Tell me, I beg of you, what should I do? I sit by your side and listen to the sound of weeping coming through the window of your room. Can’t you hear it? Everyone else is weeping, so why don’t you? It’s become our habit to look out for occasions to weep, for tears are dammed up behind our eyes. Umm Hassan has burst open our reservoir of tears. Why won’t you get up and weep?

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