Beirut and South Lebanon: Sumud visits memorials of martyrdom and , Part I

Beirut: Martyr memorials and the load of history
Mohammad Aburous
On the morning of Thursday, July 29th, Sumud’s delegation, Nashet’s activists and the young participants of the short-film workshop headed to Beirut, where visits of specific places and Palestinian and Lebanese political forces were scheduled.

The first station was the Market of Sabra. Sabra is a poor district of Beirut, which has merged together with the Palstinian refugee Camp Shatila. In Sabra, the population is mixed: Lebanese of all confessions, Palestinian and other poor foreigners live there. Sabra and Shatila are considered as one and the same place, in particular when mentioning the 1982 massacre.

At Sabra Market one can find “everything”. The deeper you go into the long market street, things become cheaper and more illegal. The delegation headed from there to Shatila. Different than Ein El Hilweh, Shatila camp is accessible. No checkpoints and ID controls by the Lebanese army are present. The camp was demilitarised in the context of the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1991. Nevertheless, the situation of the buildings and infrastructure is not much better than in Ein El Hilweh. Some buildings have remained destroyed since the Israeli invasion in 1982. Palestinian refugees there face the same problems as everywhere in Lebanon: discrimination and deprivation of the right to work.

Entering the camp, one leaves again the Lebanese sphere entering the imaginary of Palestine: flags, banners, posters and logos of all the resistance organisations fill the camp. The delegations headed for a short visit at the “Palestinian Youth Centre”, which belongs to the PFLP youth organisation, where a meeting with a local representative of the PFLP took place. He gave some explanations on the situation of the refugees. On the way out of the camp, the delegation stopped at the mass grave of hundreds of camp habitants and fighters killed during the long siege in the course of the civil war in 1986. Not far away the Sport City of Beirut was visible, which together with the surroundings played and important role in the Lebanese wars from 1975 to 1990, since it is located in the very heart of the West Beirut. Nashet’s activists told the visitors the stories of fights, sieges and massacres, which remain unforgettable in the Palestinian narrative despite of the accumulation of History in this small place.

The next station was the Palestinian resistance martyrs’ graveyard. Thousands of martyrs of all organisations, different ideological and religious backgrounds and of different nationalities are buried there, who fell in the successive battles of the Palestinian movemett. The visitor is overwhelmed by thousands of names, dates of death, nationalities and of course histories of their death in different contexts of the Palestinian movement. Empty symbolic tombs are also there for those comrades, whose bodies could not be recovered from the enemy, as in the case of two Japanese Red Army fighters who died in the spectacular attack on the Israeli Ben-Gurion airport. Prominent leaders are also there: the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Husseini; intellectuals and PLO leaders assasinated by the Israeli in the 70ies and the 80ies. Many of the graves were damaged by sabotage actions, especially removing communist symbols.
The visit ended at the memorial to the victims of the Tal-Elzatar camp siege and massacre, which was the committed in 1976 by the fashist christian militia, who assasinated thousands of inhabitants and totally demolished the camp.

The last memorial station was the collective grave of Sabra&Shatila victims. Under the simple memorial stone in the large empty yard, over one thousand victims of the massacre are burried. In the presense of death, the place sounds very silent despite of the vivacious market outside, where the sellers also occupy the outer walls of the cemetry. Breath gets heavy when the visitor realises what he/she is actually standing above. Touching was the scene when upcoming tears hindered the representative of Nashet and the translator to continue telling the story of the massacre. It was difficult for all present Palestinians to tell the story to the end.

At the office of the Democratic Peoples Party

This mood accompanied the participants to the next station. The breath was still heavy during the meeting with the Lebanese “Democratic Peoples Party”. Ali Hashisho described the role of his party during the civil war and the resistance against the Israeli occupation to the participants. The party fought the civil war within the progressive front on the side of the Palestinian resistance. Hashisho stated that his party is the only Lebanese party who is not ashamed of its role in the civil war and who does not try to take distances or justify its participation. The war was (with some exceptions) a national and class war, which was necessary and also had a positive effect: the birth of the Lebanese resistance. He summarised the difference to the Lebanese Communist Party on three levels: Ideologically, meaning the emphathising of the Leninist way of organisation, and politically in the priority of antiimperialist struggle and in the alliance with the islamic resistance (Hezbollah) in the internal conflict in Lebanon.

After the meeting, the delegation went back to Ein-El Hilweh to meet the representatives of Hamas in the camp. They were expected to visit the Sumud centre in the evening.

Al-Akhbar: professional left wing journalism in Lebanon

While most of the participants were heading to Ein-El Hilweh, a small group accompanied the leftist German local parliament member Bärbel Bäuermann to visit the editors of daily newspapter Al-Akhbar (The News). Founded in 2006 by leftist authors and journalists from different groups, Al-Akhbar is now considered as the second Lebanese daily newspaper (in sales) and the most read (on the internet). The combination of news and political analyses and the position supporting the resistance enabled the newspaper to fill a vaccum in the region’s journalism and made it one of the most popular newspapers in the Arab world.

The small delegation was received by chief editor, Mr. Khaled Saghyeh, who explained the position of the newspaper toward the political life in Lebanon and to the regional developments. A discussion took place on the circumstances of journalism in Lebanon and the way how an independent and high level left wing paper was able to develop despite of the general decline of printed newspapers. The interview with Mr. Saghyeh is to be published separately.

Chilling out after the long impressive day in Beirut, a small welcome party took place as a further participant arrived the camp: Drago, one of the leaders of the 2009 Sumud delegation. On the next day, the delegation will visit South Lebanon to witness the victory of the resistance against the Israeli expansion – to be continued.

Mohammad Abu-Rous