30 BEYOND THE GREEN LINE - Lebanon thirty years after the civil war
2020 is a very important date for Lebanon. In fact, thirty years will have passed since the end of the civil war. Despite the elapsed time, today in Lebanon not much is said about it. In many cities buildings clearly show signs of the conflict, and at school it is almost absent from the topics of study. Those who lived the events often face the topic with difficulty, which remains perceived as an open wound. This way, since the end of the war, the gap between new generations and those who suffered the consequences has progressively widened. This prevented the necessary catharsis within Lebanese society, useful in order to overcome the divisions preceding the conflict, and aggravated by its outbreak, and finally elaborate the collective trauma of his tragic memory.
The title of the project refers to the famous “green line”, the former front line that divided the city of Beirut in two sides, with Christians on the east, and Muslims on the west. Both were deeply fragmented within them due to the different confessions that have always characterized the particular Lebanese socio-political structure. The constitution officially recognizes eighteen religions and the political system is organized on confessional basis. This means that the different political charges are divided following the demographic and social relevance of each confession. According to this principle, the President of the republic is a Christian Maronite, the prime minister is a Sunni, and the president of the parliament is a Shiite. The economic crisis has produced an unemployment rate of 37% between under 35s, and the third public debt in the world. Things are being made worse by indirect repercussions due to the Syrian civil war. The high rate of widespread corruption at institutional and administrative level, took almost a third of the population to the streets on 17 October 2019, to protest not only against current political leaders, but also against the Hezbollah movement and its leader Hassan Nasrallah. The ongoing riots have forced Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign on October 29 and, a month and a half later, to the election of a substitute, Hassan Diab, considered by many to be part of the “nizam”, the “system” that Lebanese people are still trying to break down. The importance of this project is not just to create a portrait of memories and places of the Lebanese civil war. Through the experience of those who lived it or has paid the price, we will have a representation of the real meaning of these thirty years and their result. As demonstrated by the uprisings still taking place throughout the country, whose causes are to be traced back over the last thirty years, unresolved issues are still man.
Beirut_ A view of the city from the southern outskirts near Hadeth.
Beirut / Patriarcat_ Mohammed owns a second hand shop inherited by his father (top left photo behind him). During the civil war he fought in the Lebanese army. He lost his right eye when the Israeli army invaded Beirut in 1982. "It was better during the war. In the last few years there are more and more people willing to sell their belongings because of the economic crisis", he says.
Beirut / Wata Aamaret Chalhoub_ Sami never wanted to join any militia, always preferring to work as a taxi driver, which is still his job. In 1982, while carrying some people, he got involved in a clash between the Lebanese Forces and some militias in the east of Beirut. The photograph is taken at the point where the shots of a sniper hit his car, wounding him and causing the loss of the index finger of his right hand. A short distance away, in 1978 occurred one of the attacks against the Falangist leader Bashir Gemayel.
Beirut / Sodeco_ During the Lebanese civil war, a big portion of the famous “green line”, the front line that splitted the capital Beirut ran along Damascus Road (the road crossing diagonally the photograph). Many were the strategic points disputed by the opposing factions. One of the most famous is the Bakarat House, now known as Beit Beirut (lower right building). Before the outbreak of the civil war, middle class members lived in the eight spacious apartments of the building, until its occupation by Christian militias. It became a strategic observation point for snipers who had a wide view of the combat area. The building could ensure the control of the Sodeco crossroad and the surrounding area, thanks to its particular open architectural shape, and its position on the dividing line that separated the warring factions.
Beirut / Saifi Village_ Mons. Georges arrived in Beirut in 1986 at the Church of Sant'Elia (behind him), located a stone's throw away from the front line dividing from west Beirut. His opinion is clear and the war broke out due to the intention of the Palestinian forces to oust the Christian communities from power in Lebanon. Nevertheless, it has never escaped from bringing humanitarian aid to the affected populations of both sides. He has been threatened with death several times in the intent to celebrate mass despite the fights tacking place all around. Today he is Auxiliary Bishop of the Armenian Patriarchal Diocese of Beirut.
Beirut / Chatila refugee camp_ Jamileh comes from the first generation of Palestinians born in Lebanon after the Nakba (the Palestinian diaspora of 1948). She lives in the Chatila refugee camp since she was born. Here in 1982 she witnessed the massacre of a huge number of Palestinian civilians slaughtered by Israeli forces backed by the Falangist militias. Behind her, at the end of the alley, there is the house she escaped from with her family in the evening of the first attack. During the escape, when they bumped into the Israeli tanks, her father is forced to turn back, and she got separated from the rest of the family until the next day. When she returned to the camp, she got to walk among a huge number of bodies scattered around the narrow streets of the camp. Since then, she dedicates her life to the Palestinian cause. Today she is the director of an important association in the Chatila refugee camp, which works supporting families and children in the refugee camps.
Beirut / Manara_ Victor's family has been in charge of Beirut's lighthouse for generations. Today the old lighthouse, the one where he was the guardian for his whole life, is in disuse due to the buildings that have sprung up all around compromising its functioning. In 2003 another one was built, visible in the lower right corner of the photo. During the war, Victor as a Christian Maronite, got isolated in the western part of Beirut that was under the control of Muslim and leftist militias. From 1976 the lighthouse could only work during the day, in order to not to provide the Israeli navy with an easy reference to shoot to the Syrian artillery located in the area around the lighthouse. For his faith, he was kidnapped three times because he was considered a potential spy. The third time he was going to be hanged by some militiamen and he already had the rope around his neck. He has been saved by the respect earned by his family and by the intervention of a high-ranking soldier who knew him personally and that guaranteed for him.
Beirut / Saray_ Despite appearances, Selma is Muslim. She says she dresses like a Christian nun since the moment when, four years ago, Mother Mary appeared to her in a dream ordering her to dress the same way. Time after, God appeared her together with apostles and prophets, ordering her to pray for the good of the world. She has been praying reading the Koran at this same point until now over the last 13 years, from 5:00 to about 17:00. During the war, the same place witnessed some of the most violent clashes due to its strategical position. It was a crossway between Downtown, the Green Line, the hotels area and the Burj El Ghazal, a building originally for offices that during the war became an important spot where snipers could have clear view to the west side of Beirut.
Beirut / Chatila refugee camp_ Ibrahim, Palestinian, has lived in the Chatila refugee camp since he was born. He has already tried five times to reach Europe, unless being regularly sent back. He accuses the European Union of being anti-Palestinian preferring to welcome Syrian refugees. From the outbreak of the war in Syria, the situation in Lebanon's refugee camps is becoming increasingly difficult. Unable to work regularly, a Palestinian was willing to accept to be payed even less than a Lebanese would. Now the Syrians are willing to work for even less, creating many conflicts within the camps, which areas has remained the same since 1948 despite a growing population. In fact, Chatila is built on an area of one square kilometer, originally designed to accommodate three thousand people. Today it hosts about thirty thousand people migrated from other poor countries.
Beirut / Bourj Hammoud_ Within the Beirut’s urban and social fabric, the Armenian community has always been a special case. With the outbreak of the civil war and until its conclusion, Armenians have always kept a neutral profile. Despite this, every family used to keep weapons in order to defend the neighborhood (Bourj Hammoud) from the incursions of the militias. The main target were commercial activities, mostly related to gold and jewelery. The same business Vatché worked in since 1979, when he was seventeen, until 2001. Today he is still living in Bourj Hammoud where he runs a bar, and makes no secret of his passion for weapons.
Beirut / Majidiyeh_ At the moment of this photo, Annuar was in Beirut since only two months, working since just three days for a big cleaning company. Every afternoon he works cleaning a small square located between the modern Beirut Souks and what remains of the former headquarter of the newspaper L'Orient-Le Jour (behind him). Unbeknownst to him, this area is one of the most significant places related to the civil war. Of Bengali origin, like many of his countrymen, he is in Lebanon thanks to a local "sponsor" who has paid the entry visa, becoming de facto dependent by the sponsor's will for his documents.
Beirut / Downtown_ Selim has a long experience as an activist in international associations committed to safeguarding human rights. Four years ago, he started painting as a way to elaborate the violence he witnessed. He decided to share his art during the uprisings that broke out in Lebanon on October 17, 2019, painting murals a stone throw away from the Dowtown district (behind him), where is located the Lebanese Parliament, now guarded by the military. He is now committed to paint to somehow contribute to what he believes is a necessary collective therapy, which he hopes will result in the secularization of Lebanon. Selim was born in Australia in 1973, and at the outbreak of the civil war in 1975 his father decided to return to Lebanon to fight in defense of the Christians and against the Palestinian presence in the country. In 1989 his cousin, René Moawad, who participated in the Ta'if peace Agreement held in Saudi Arabia, and subsequently elected president, was killed on November 22, seventeen days after he returned to Lebanon. The same date the Lebanese independence. For Selim, these revolts are expression of anger of a society still living in a post-war phase. “The Lebanese people have been shocked for years due to the conflict”, he says, “then they have denied everything for thirty years, and now their anger has exploded. Even before of a reconstruction is necessary a real reconciliation between the Lebanese people and their past”.
Beirut / Bachoura_ Hadi is a nineteen years old Hotel Management student. He joined other young boys and girls occupying the streets from the first day of the uprisings. He did it as many others without any funding by any political party, embassy or religious group. His will is firm and crystal clear. He joined the riots to get rid of a corrupted political class that ruled the country over the last 30 years, and to demand the respect of basic rights such as 24/7 electricity, clean water and air, clean sea, less cancers, and more chances through a better economy. He says he will stay in the streets until all demands are fulfilled. Not caring if it will take one, two, three years or more. “I don't know much about the civil war”, he says, “and I don't like to ask to my family about it because it always makes people suffer. It makes me feel bad too. But I know it was a fight between politicians”, he continues. “They created confessionalism to separate us. This revolution is gathering now the Sunnis with the Druze, the Christians with the Shiites and all other confessions. Now people knows that the last thirty years has been used by the politicians to grow up their fortunes, and to control people’s will through the political parties. This revolution is against those parties, and our generation is the one that will make the change”.