Getting physically assaulted today at District S site

Getting physically assaulted today at District S site

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My chest and wrists still hurt from the arms of the men who tackled me, twisted my hands behind my back, and tried to rip my phone out of my hands this afternoon. They were enraged because I refused to delete a photo of ancient ruins I shot on their construction site.
“Lock the door,” one of the foreman said earlier today, and moments later the giant doors of the site were sealed. I was surrounded by 5 to 6 men looking at me menacingly–prepared it seemed–to do anything to shut me up.
Here’s how it all went down:
At around 4PM today, I heard ruins were being removed from a major construction project in Beirut. The site is known as District S, a multi-million dollar luxury apartment project situated on a massive plot (right) near Martyrs Square and the Mohammed Al Amin Mosque:

As I pulled up to the site around 5PM, a crane pump was being slowly hoisted over the excavation site, ready to fill the foundations with cement. I thought time was running out, so I hurried to find a parking spot and walked over.

My photos were all deleted today. This one courtesy of Skyscraper City

I saw a hole in the fence and tried to take a few shots. Nothing was visible but bulldozers. A man with a walkie talkie saw me and yelled that photos were prohibited. He sent me to the main door. There two men stood, one with greased hair, a white shirt and a metal cap visible in his mouth.

I asked if I could see the site and he refused. “This is private property, no pictures.”

“But this is our history. How can it be private property? There are ancient ruins there.”

He apologized and repeated that I could not access the site.

Another man appeared, easily the tallest on site with light, almost pale skin. He was built like a bouncer.

“You see this fence,” he pointed behind him. “This is private property.”

“I love history,” I said. “I think it should be shared.”

“You want history? Go look over there.” He pointed to the downtown area.

“I want to see what is here,” I said.

“Do you want to have coffee,” he asked, with a smile.

“Sure, but I want to see the ruins first.”

“There are no ruins!” he said, repeatedly. “There’s nothing to see here.”

The site door opened behind him and I tried to get look. “Close the door,” he shouted.

“What’s the secret,” I said. “Are you hiding something?”

One of the men standing behind him was radioing back-up. Soon “the boss” showed up.

He was wearing suit pants and a silky button shirt, slightly opened–gray or grayish hair. Clearly not the type to get his hands dirty.

“There is nothing here,” he said parroting the previous response.

“If there is nothing, than why won’t you let me see it,” I asked.

“Fine, you want to see? Look,” he pointed at the open doorway.

He ushered me inside and stood in front of me. All I could see was a big pile of dirt and rocks to my right. And in the distance, to the far left, I could see a foundation being laid.

“You see there is nothing,” the boss said.

“What about over here,” I said, pointing to the middle area that was not visible from our standpoint.

“Can I go over there?”

“Sure,” the boss nodded, hesitantly.

As I walked down the small dirt hill, an ancient rock wall structure appeared before me. The rocks were  rectangular, dark, almost grayish from what I can remember in that moment. They were about 1-2 feet in length and carefully fitted together. I glimpsed a small team of men moving them out of place using a small crane.

Without hesitating, my first reflex was to take a shot on my camera phone.

“No pictures,” the boss said.

“Why, this is history.” The boss was not impressed and stared dead on.

“Erase the pictures please.”

The light skinned foreman, the tall bouncer-like guy, stepped in. “Erase the pictures now!” The other men –there were about four of them, looked on.

“I would like the owner of this project to tell me that. I know he is a prominent man. Would he let this happen?

“Erase the pictures,” the boss said, his patience wearing.

“I would like to talk to my lawyer,” I told them. “I want to leave now.”

“Close the door!” the bouncer man said. “Don’t let him leave!”

The men surrounded me. They continued to press me to erase the photos, their tone getting louder and louder.

Out of nowhere, one of the workers standing nearby grabbed my phone and I bent down, holding on to it for dear life. He squeezed my wrists, wrestling me.

As I struggled, I could feel another pair of hands around my chest, the nails digging in. Still holding my phone, he wrestled my hand backwards. Finally, fearing they would crush my phone, I gave up.

“Fine, I will erase them, I will erase them!”

The boss looked on, cooly.

I swiped open my iPhone, and began to punch in the access code. As I was doing this, I began to complain about how they had treated me. Suddenly the dark worker man tackled me again, this time his nail dug into my wrist. I struggled until the boss told him to stop.

“I’m doing it,” I screamed. “I have to unlock the phone!”

He let me go and the big tall guy looked on. “Erase everything.”

I erased the two pictures I took of the rock wall. “Erase everything,” he repeated.

He looked at the pictures I had taken outside of the site–mainly of the wall– before I entered.

“Erase everything!”

Then he saw the shots I had taken previously through the wood fence.

“Look at what he did,” the foreman exclaimed, alerting another site staff member, with a walkie talkie and a very dark complexion.

“Maybe he is a spy,” the other staffer suggested suspiciously. “The police are going to come and arrest you.”

He pushed his phone in my face to show he had called the police.

“Fuck you and your history,” the foreman added.

The men continued to curse at me. Finally the boss left.

“Are you proud of yourselves,” I asked, out of breath.

“Keep him here till the police come,” one threatened.

Two young construction worker boys blocked the door again.

“Let him go,” the bouncer-looking guy said.

The boys were not moving, so I began to pry the door toward me.

“Let him go, let him go,” the foreman said.

I made my way to my car and noticed one of the worker boys had followed me.

Some of the men who roughed me up or watched, congregate outside moments after I left. I took this picture from my car.

When I got home, I went to report this event to the local police station near my house.

“Forget it,” the officers in charge said after explaining my story. “It’s your word against theirs. You have no witnesses, maybe they will make something up about you.”

They were right. If the men on site were willing to beat me up to please their boss, they would certainly lie for him. And I was sealed in, no one from the street could witness how they had repeatedly assaulted me.

I left the police station feeling that Lebanese citizens have no protection under the law. The wealthy developers can smash us like ants, if ever we dare to upset them.

***

UPDATE: Apparently District S is owned by a Lebanese firm called Estates and the planning was done by London-based Allies and Morrison Architects. Will these fine companies accept the violence perpetrated by their contractor’s staff?

UPDATE 2: See what District S was hiding and how their PR staff tried to troll me. Luckily my story has since received a lot of attention from local and international media.

UPDATE 3: Over one year after this post, new pictures finally reveal some of the ruins that were removed from the site.

40 COMMENTS

  1. Next time, get an internet subscription on your smart phone, and make sure the photos you take get automatically uploaded online.

    Alternatively, you can buy a remote control airplane and record a video of whats inside.

    Then, go ahead and blackmail the builder to pay you a large sum of money for your silence, because if you try to give any proof to the lebanese authorities, they are likely to do the same.

    You also might have stumbled upon something much bigger than history, perhaps they were trying to hide something else.

  2. Who knows Anon, it does seem suspicious that there were flipping out over a stone wall. Is there an app that uploads the pics? My iCloud didn’t catch them unfortunately.

  3. i posted but saw nothing….

    there’s an app that uploads pics as soon as taken. pretty popular in the US with civil disobendience groups.

    Also UAVs sell for ~800 on amazon

    Email me for more wandrguy77 at gmail

  4. What we should try to get is some pressure over politicians. Of course, in lebanon, people and manifestations don’t have enough weight, so we need something bigger…

    How about contacting foreign media agencies. Having an international political pressure might help.
    You could also try to contact the lebanese UNESCO. They have a world heritage conservation program (well, if they actually work properly in lebanon, of course :S)

    I just sent some emails to UNESCO head office. let’s see if we get any response.

    What do you think of these ideas ?

  5. Lebanon ratified the World Heritage Convention of 1982.
    http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/

    “States Parties have an obligation to regularly prepare reports about the state of conservation and the various protection measures put in place at their sites. These reports allow the World Heritage Committee to assess the conditions at the sites and, eventually, to decide on the necessity of adopting specific measures to resolve recurrent problems. One of such measures could be the inscription of a property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.”

    The reports of Lebanon led UNESCO to present this State of Conservation (SOC)
    http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/?action=list&id_search_state=90

  6. Mr Habib Battah can I ask you if you have a smart phone or a simple one?
    there is multiple ways to get back erased photos and videos. you have to see someone that know how to use a special program or do it yourself and it’s not difficult at all . On this link you can find a good program to download http://www.commentcamarche.net/download/telecharger-34055403-recuva

    On this other link there is several other programs http://www.softonic.fr/s/recuperation-photo-gratuit

    We need to move effectively and try to find more infos. I think that our journals archives have a lot of info that we can use.
    I started sending and contacting the presidency throughout tweeter and facebook and email
    I will keep you update.
    you can contact me on kiriqou@hotmail.fr

    • Thank you. Unfortunately I plugged my phone into my computer when I got home and downloaded pics I had taken previously that day and then hit the “erase from phone” button. You think it might still work? Also my phone is not jail broken.

    • If your photos were registered on your SD card you can always find them back by using the program. It’s like for a computer even if it crashed you can have back your data.

  7. I have retreived photos deleted from my phone before. I would offer other software if the ones suggested did not work.

    As for the bigger cause, there is only so much u can do on ur own. U should get in touch with the heritage preservation activist group and rally with them. Media coverage is easy to gey in lebanon and they probably can put more pressure on showing what is inside.

    As for Anonymous, what is the app u suggest for postingnpics right away used in civil disobedience movements?

  8. You can use dropbox or google drive to automatically upload pics u takr. They’re nearly instantaneous with a decent connection.

  9. i think u should contact the british company Allies and Morrison Architects. you will maybe be invited to see it , u can just warn them that u will publish the story about them in the UK and their practises in the ME and if you do not get access you would go further 😛 i promise you might get more respect from the british side especially if it is something to do with ruins etc, old stuff as you can say they r stealing it and taking it out of lebanon to put it in their museums 😛
    TRUST ME ON THIS ONE > TELL ME IF YOU ARE INTERESTED AND AM HAPPY TO HELP !

  10. Hi Habib,

    I did not go through all the posts. One thing you may be able to do is unerase the pictures if they are stored on the memory card granted that they were not overwritten.

  11. Well I just have a question for you sir… “Has your influence decreased on Lebanon?” I know it is a bad place to live, some say it is a cradle of darkness, but hey don’t take that as an offense. What I mean is “Hasn’t your reputation towards Lebanon decrease?”
    And another question… “Why is the government ripping off its own history and culture?” ruins Can attract tourism and can effect the economy of the country! I am really sorry that no authority helped you. And my last question is… “Why did you insist on keeping the photos?” (No Offense)

  12. BUT I THINK U INSISTED TOO MUCH TO GO THROUGH A PROPERTY THATS NOT URS AND TAKE PICTURES !! AND OF COURSE THEY’RE GONNA DO THAT , I THINK PEOPLE HERE ARE OVEREACTING AND TAKING EVERYTHING PERSONALLY , TRY TO SEE SOMEONE GOING INSIDE YOUR HOUSE AND TAKING PICTURES AND WE WILL SEE WHAT R U GOING TO DO THEN…

    • They allowed you to go on-site and take a look at what is going on. Why were you insisting on taking pictures? it is their right to protect their privacy, which i believe you invaded.
      I agree with you, we need to protect our history and our heritage (which according to the Minister of Culture, this is what they are doing, they are not destroying it), but taking a picture of “ruins” is not protecting anything. i guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    • Ancient history is not private property, it is a treasure of knowledge that should be shared with the entire world. I believe the Lebanese and global community has a right to see the ruins ‘in situ’.

      Photography is a form of documentation. The public has a right to know what is being removed or destroyed and why. The public should have a role in the decision-making process. Is it a transparent process?

  13. well it is very simple next time don’t go along bring a few people along
    but make sure they are armed and you will not have a problem that is how i see it
    because the type of filth that are ruining our country can not be dealt with in another way then that

  14. Hi, great job on your courage. What if a bunch of us go down there for the second time? What would happen then?

  15. Media Media Media Please go to Media. There are many shows that love to intervene auch as INTA HORR and ZAVEN and TEH2i2 and BEL JORM EL MASHHOUD

  16. I really doubt the workers would know anything if there was something to keep hidden to the outside world.. Its more like they were following order not to allow pictures and that’s it. Even if there was something there to be kept hidden, security would certainly not know about it.. But this is just my opinion! Great article though!

    • Why are you so sure they are being destroyed? They are being reintegrated into the project later on, that’s what the Minister of Culture said.

    • Nothing has been “made” here. Citizens have the right to see the ruins in my opinion, as they were found. If everything is being preserved, than why have they banned photography?

      How do we know which ruins were there and which part will be preserved on site and how that decision was taken? Many activists and academics I have spoken to are skeptical about the process.

      I’m highlighting this story to ask for more transparency and more access to citizens. This is true not only for archeology but for many other sectors in Lebanon were public data is scarce. I also don’t think corporations should be allowed to take the law into their own hands (they are not the police) and I don’t think photography of ruins should be considered a crime. As journalists it is our duty to share information with the public, especially when it is being shrouded in secrecy.

  17. You can recover erased picture (as long as you don’t take other pictures – which you did, or use your phone too much). It’s difficult for phones though (very easy for computers).

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