Remembering Karantina… who does?

Remembering Karantina… who does?

Today Karantina is home to the massive concert and frequent rave venue “Forum De Beyrouth,” where Snoop Dogg, Arman Van Buuren, Cirque Du Soleil and dozens of other acts and celebrities have performed over recent years.

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It is also the location of one of Lebanon’s most famous night clubs BO18, an underground venue voted among the “top 25 clubs to visit before you die.”

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But how many clubbers and performers know about the massacres that took place on these grounds 40 years ago this week?

Although there is no memorial to be found, the Facebook group “La guerre du Liban jour au jour (The Lebanese war day by day)” has posted chilling archival footage of the massacre that left hundreds of dead at the hands of Kataeb militiamen on January 18, 1976.

The 19 minute video is not easy to watch. At times the young men are gleefully loading up their heavy machine guns and shooting up the slum where impoverished Palestinian refugees had settled. One woman rushes out carrying a baby, begging the militants not to fire by holding up a white handkerchief:

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Other civilians were less lucky. You can watch the full video here:

 

When the pillaging ends, the excited young fighters (terrorists?), celebrated with a bottle of champagne.

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They then proceeded to bulldoze the area, destroying the poor residents’ meager belongings and vehicles, tossing one elderly person aside like a rag:

 

You can see more of the demolitions and torching of homes in this French news package, which includes testimonies from poor Lebanese who were living there, not just Palestinians:

 

We find out why they were bulldozing and clearing the area in this British television report which came out later that year. One of the christian militia leaders, Dany Chamoun says it was not a massacre, merely a “concise military operation” to reclaim private property.

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No it wasn’t ruthless, they were just asked to give up their arms and go out of here peacefully, ” he tells the incredulous correspondent. “They didn’t. A very concise military operation was taken and they were given free access and transportation out of here. What made it seem ruthless because we cleared the shanties out of here. This is private property and now it can be used for development. We are desperately short of land and I’m sure the people will use it for proper development.”

Watch the full video here, which follows the Chamoun interview with a testimony of a child who survived the killings, who says the Karantina refugees were offloaded from a truck and the men were lined up and sprayed with bullets.

I guess the “proper development” Mr. Chamoun was talking about was night clubs and concert venues, because who needs poor people?

The Karantina massacre would be avenged by armed Palestinian factions a few days later in Damour on January 20th, leaving homes burned and hundreds of civilians in the Christian mountain village dead.

Here is a less journalistic youtube video looking at that massacre:

And in this ITV newsreel, we can see the Palestinian militants burning and looting homes, as dead bodies lie in the streets, in an eerily similar fashion to the images in Karantina:

 

The Damour massacre, documented in horrid detail here by Robert Fisk, was followed by more assassinations of Christian militia leaders and more massacres at Palestinian refugee camps killing thousands more such as the infamous Sabra-Shatila massacre. When I reported on remembering that massacre 30 years on in a 2012 piece for Al Jazeera, I asked Nadim Gemayel, a current member of parliament and son of the late Kataeb party leader associated with a number of war-time atrocities, if he thought the dead should be remembered or if there had been any reconciliation efforts, three decades later.

“A lot of crimes happened on both sides,” he said ” I think admitting that it happened from both sides can help.”

Gemayel even proposed a wall honoring Lebanese war victims of all faiths, but he cautioned that this would not include Palestinians.

But why not? Why are our memories of the war still so polarized that we are able to forgive some crimes and not others?

The politicization of memory has become an increasingly relevant with the recent agreement between ex-war commanders and once extremely violent rivals General Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea who have now decided to form a sort of political alliance and support Aoun’s bid for the presidency.  Many, particularly those close to the leadership or big businesses, suggest we celebrate this ‘initiative’ and move on from the war. But if the warlords are still in the highest positions of power is the war really over to begin with? If we don’t have spaces to remember those who have gone, to pay tribute, to reconcile, to make peace with the past, how can we chart a new future and ‘start fresh’? How can we forgive, if we have already chosen to forget?

I think the Lebanese academic Maya Mikdashi put it best in a still very salient piece she wrote last year about the importance of exploring our memories and understanding the memories of others. She says: “during the war, one child’s nightmares were populated with another child’s heroes. ”

Perhaps it’s time not just to remember Karantina and Damour and all the other tragedies, but also to acknowledge each other’s pain, to help us begin to empathize and thus humanize one another, regardless of nationality, religion or ethnicity. Facebook groups may have provided a starting point, but there is much more to do.

Mikdashi concludes:

In the absence of any formal reckoning with the legacies of the civil war, public memory and narration grow increasingly important. This is particularly true when there is no agreed upon narrative of the past, a condition of building a political community oriented towards a common future. Lebanon is a long way from this, but only when the fractured memoryscape is actually mapped out in all its registers will it be possible for these memories to inspire new futures. We should recognize the traumas that we experienced and inflicted upon each other during the war, and the traumas that we continue to experience through the imposed silence of the “post civil war” era. 

 

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Lets remember that the mission of Palestinians in Lebanon was to deport its Christian population to resettle in their place. Palestinians were planning to do to Lebanese Christians what Israel did to them.

    Lets not forget Arafat’s infamous saying: “The road to jerusalem passes through Jounieh”.

    This selective victimization of Palestinians while portraying Christian parties as aggressors is a long lost fable promoted by now defunct left leaning British TV stations and Baathist terrorists, and now apparently by your website. For the sake of your website and the sake of it remaining relevant, please stay impartial.

    • Hi TC,

      This post was never intended as a definitive history of the war (not that any blog post could be expected to do that); it was merely an observation that felt relevant to me and those of my generation who use places like BO18 and Forum without knowing what went on there a few decades ago and thus provides a point of departure for looking at how memory is erased in the postwar period, as a whole. I’m not sure if you have read the full post but I also use two videos and an article to document the massacre of Christians by Palestinian forces in Damour. The conclusion is that we need mutual acknowledgement of atrocities and actually the idea there is to avoid one-sided empathy. I’m curious to know what part of the post feels problematically impartial to you?

      • Habib,

        Thank you for responding. I had several problems with this narrative. Compare the general vindictive and judgmental tone in the first part of the article with the cause/effect relationship you draw with the subsequent narrative of the Dammour massacre. This is followed with an excerpt of a modern Christian politician still having a “christian-militia-mentality-attacking-innocent-Palestinians’-memory” mindset.
        In the specifics, Christians in this article were explicitly portrayed as terrorists and the Palestinians as defenseless “poor refugees”. As if Palestinian militiamen weren’t using the refugee camp to attack the surrounding areas and kill innocent women and children. Even in the Dammour narrative, the atrocities weren’t sensationalized as much as those in the Karentina one first. The article did not mention the victory dances of Palestinian “terrorists” on the bodies of innocent Christian women and children. Add to that, the Palestinians are “poor” “innocent” “refugees” in the Karentina massacre while the Christians are “dead bodies” in the Damour massacre.
        Drawing the Karantina/Dammour massacres as having a cause and effect relationship, removed from the general conflict also plays into the general impartiality of this article. The article as if gave a There was no mention of the massacres the Palestinians were committing against Christians in the South, Bekaa and Beirut? There was no mention of Palestinians using the Karantina “refugee camp” to attack innocent men and women in the Karentina area.
        Habib, the narrative in this article follows Baathist rationalization; always victimizing the Palestinian and vindicating the Lebanese Christian. Whatever the circumstance, sequence of events or historic context, any analysis and interpretation of past or current events exclusively occurs through that premise.

    • Considering that many of the most prominent Palestinians in Lebanon were Christian – including leaders of prominent PLO factions – your assertion that the mission of the Palestinians in Lebanon was to deport Lebanon’s Christian population is beyond absurd. Moreover, who are you defining as Lebanon’s ‘Christian’ population? Right wing Maronites? The PLO had plenty of Lebanese Christian allies, even Maronites.

      Arafat’s statement about the road to Jerusalem passing through Jounieh was a fleeting reference to the fact that Palestinian factions were battling the Kataeb, which had effectively allied itself with Israel, had tremendous support in Jounieh. The mission of the Palestinians in Lebanon was three-fold. 1) To survive as a people after the Naqba 2) to establish Palestinian national institutions in exile 3) to use bases in Lebanon as a point to launch operations to liberate Palestine, which would in turn allow refugees in Lebanon to return home, and have institutions that had already been established in Lebanon be transferred to Palestine.

      Obviously, the PLO got caught up in the maelstrom of the Lebanese Civil War, partially as a way to defend Palestinian civilians and their political allies, partially as a way to extract revenge for brutalities they suffered, partially as an attempt to gain political advantage in a corroding country. PLO militias did some terrible things, just as other militias. Certain PLO leaders, as were leaders from other factions, were terribly corrupt. Political/strategic alliances shifted, often to brutal results. Recall that Syria’s initial intervention into Civil War was precisely to keep the Palestinian/Lebanese National Movement forces from winning, a result that would have drawn Israel fully into Lebanon. Of course, Syria and the PLO cooperated later, that is, until they didn’t.

      Pointing out that Palestinians were massacred in Lebanon is not ‘selective’ victimization, especially when the massacre at Damour is specifically noted. Numerically speaking, there is no doubt that Palestinians suffered on a greater scale than other communities, but that is really beside the point. No matter if she is from Jounieh, or Shatila, or Zahle, or Sidon, or Bhamdoun, or Tripoli, a mother grieves for her children the same way, with the memory of the loss remaining deep, deep inside. That’s why an article like this is so important. It reminds us that, despite the music, terrible issues must be acknowledged and dealt with before Lebanon can ever enjoy the party.

      • Thanks for this thoughtful and specific comment, Jar. It elucidates and contextualizes a narrative of the PLO presence in Lebanon we are not used to hearing or understanding in popular contemporary discourse. Hopefully it will help us understand how things went so wrong in reality and also how universal the conceptions of self-preservation and loss were among the combatants and victims on all sides.

      • This reminds me of a tactic used by Hezbollah. In order to defend themselves from being accused of marginalizing the Sunnis in Lebanon, they state that they have Sunni allies (probably less than 20) in Saida.

        The only absurdity that exists in this interaction is the one sided narrative that you have been conditioned and wired to believe in. The facts are there. It is your choice wether to believe in them or not. Christians were the first to welcome Palestinians into Lebanon and resettle them into camps when the Nakba occurred. These same Palestinians will later turn out to be an invading force, set to displace the Christians, the same people that welcomed them, to naturalize their own displaced population. What was portrayed in the media was that a of Palestinian self-victimization-with-a-righteous-leftist-populist-cause. At first it was Jordan and the Jordanians as a substitute nation, but King Hussein quickly evicted them. In Lebanon the only opposing force to that dream were the Christians. They thought that was an easy target given “le coptism” (in french) that is rampant in the Middle East and their small dwindling numbers.

  2. Nothing explain these atrocities other than the sadistic intentions of it perpetrators. Nothing !
    these brutes killed defenceless woman and children and they are still living among us now.
    we still have murders and rappers living in our neighbourhood and flashing their hatred to other races and ethnicities. some are even on tv analysing current events and future prospects of things.
    shame on such a mediocre country. who ever believes this place will be home for peace and coexistence is as stupid and naïve as a squirrel who jumps out for the first signs of spring. and to add insult to injury some are still raving about the old good days of the war! pathetic ! I only wish is to leave this place for ever . this is a mental hospital not a country to live !

    • I understand your frustration Gass but I think having discussions about the past is an important and necessary step toward making a possible transition from the war, which as you note, is still alive in many ways. I’m not sure shame is helpful or even justified for many who have faced serious trauma themselves or have not had the luxury to see things from a different perspective. Not everyone has a choice to pack up and leave but I think those who do bear an added responsibility to contribute what they can to an idea of reconciliation, no matter how small.

  3. What is happening today to the Christians of Iraq and Syria would have been the exact same fate of the Christians of Lebanon if they didn’t defend themselves back in 1975. The ISIS of today had different names in history, among them was the PLO. Karantina battle was an inescapable operation done by poorly equipped, poorly trained and desperate Chrisitina militias to rid what was left of their country from the many states within the state that gave refuge to gunmen, criminals and rapists. That is the true and undeniable reality of the two years war in Lebanon (1975-1976), may all the innocents from all sides rest in peace.

    • Please bear me the Christian Muslim stupid rhetoric. I hate Christians as much as I hate Muslims, because most of the so called believers are hypocrites and evil. Why can’t we have a simple national identity without a sect tag on it? Why turkey with its 99% Muslim population made it to be a modern secular state and we couldn’t? Because locally there’s a minority war lords who don’t want this to happen and lose their grip on their partisans. These are the same who want to use these partisans as a combustible for a new war.
      Who cares if you’re Muslim or Christian in the west? For them we are only ARABS! You stupid Christians should wake up and see. You always believe that everyone wants to exterminate you? I am Christian on paper and think that Christians have been exterminating themselves for decades in Lebanon, because of their foolish greed and wannabe! Christians in the Middle East (especially Levantines) are the most arrogant, tribal, and least spiritual and wannabe I’ve ever encountered.
      You are ARABS, that’s all. You think ARAB, Speak ARAB, Act ARAB, Eat ARAB and SHIT ARAB

  4. I will never accept or understand why should we have allowed Palestinians to use our land… no matter what their reasons where.. let’s now allow Syrians to use our land to free their country!!!! …. i don’t understand politics … but i also don’t grasp what were Palestinians doing in Koura????? all this logic and objective explanation to justify PLO behavior in Lebanon is not acceptable

    • I myself don’t understand politics neither here, but came to a conclusion: the politics in this country are soo self-centric and personal to an illuminati feudal leader that it doesn’t make any sense to anyone and you can’t understand a thing from it! Lebanese politics has always been business and cash back to every political position these illuminati feudal leaders/zou3ama make.
      At that time, KSA was the main backing country to the PLO after they operated under its umbrella for many years. Local leaders embraced this cash flow and somewhere they changed politics to whomever payed more. For instance Amal, went all the way to fight Hezbollah when Syria asked her for. Aoun declared war to Syria when Saddam asked him. Lebanese forces were backed by Israelis then Iraqis at some point and then lost the war when Saddam vanished. This was the outline of business to every single militia or group. Those who were not loyal to the organization were smashed internally. It’s a modus operandi of any mafia in the world.
      If you ask any normal citizen in this country why the war ended suddenly and why we had Taeif they would day: the International powers agreed to stop the war. BS! THE REGIONAL POWERS agreed to stop the cash flow of $$$$ into the country because they have other wars to spend money on! Feudal illuminati Warlords are more than to start a new one if they had the proper financing for it!

      Lebanese sucks so bad that they are even dishonest to themselves on the most crucial life events!

  5. For those interested, there is an animated discussion of this piece on Facebook. I think the reaction to the post — particularly the fear of associating the club wit the massacre and the panic about being denied access to the club which is defined as a symbol of modernity– is quite illuminating to the challenges social and economic we are facing in the post war-period. See: https://www.facebook.com/Ginoraidy/posts/10156480718765080

  6. This is a very ill informed post. Read Anthropologist Michael Johnsan and political scientist Theodor Hanf, Arafat funded the proliferation of Sunni militias, street gangs and racketeers who were reaking havoc in the coastal towns and Beirut from 1969. PALESTINIAN GUERRILLAS ESTABliSHED BlACK MARKET TRADES, USING their arms to cartelise the lebanese economy. The working class Maronite neighborhoods that sat up against the the Palestinian run areas witnessed this chaos reign prompting their party, the Kataeb to campaign for refugee demilitarisation. Stop spreading PLO propaganda and look at peer reviewed academic sources which are the best of their kind. Read Farid El Kazen who demonstrated that the war began in 1969, not 1975.

  7. I’ve seen a lot of articles somehow blaming the kataeb party for the massacres it held in the past and the somehow “cruelty” it showed but I don’t get why people forget the reason these people did this.
    You believe that it would’ve been just fine to let the Palestinians live happily ever after in our territory but you forget that if we didn’t take action against them, they might’ve replaced Lebanese in Lebanon. Palestinians also committed crimes and killed and PLANED TO TAKE LEBANON FOR THEMSELVES! They killed our grandparents and uncles and fathers and friends and all people see nowadays are the consequences of the massacres while they forget the CAUSE that created the CONSEQUENCE. Sometimes someone has to make hard decisions for the best and if some things didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be here now. I am not denying the cruelty some decisions led to but as you said in this article, THEY WERE GIVEN A CHOICE, they were offered free escort but didn’t accept it claiming this territory as theirs and acting so as well .
    Remember, it was them, or us.

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