Tags Posts tagged with "civil war"

civil war

Before and after pictures were at the heart of the project to rebuild downtown Beirut following the Lebanese war. These images filled the pages of promotional material, coffee table books and photography exhibits hosted and commissioned by Solidere, the private real estate firm that undertook the project. Some of these images can still be found displayed at the airport today, 25 years after reconstruction began:

Credit: Ayman Trawi
Credit: Ayman Trawi

Even holograms have been made to showcase the transformations.

But then there are the before-and-after pictures you don’t see-those that cover the vast majority of  neighborhoods in the old city reconstruction zone, which were not restored but demolished.

Take this image that was recently uploaded to Facebook by Gabriel Daher. (If you like old Beirut buildings, you should definitely be following him.)

Photo: Gaby Daher

You might recognize the large Capitole building on the right, a former cinema that still stands today and is more recently known for hosting nightclubs like the now defunct Buddah Bar and its current rooftop lounge. The Riad Solh statue would later occupy the empty space in the corner, which seems to be still under construction here.

While Capitole–and the corner building just left of it (formally used by Pan American Airways) are often seen in old photos of the city,  what is less often seen is the neighborhood in the foreground.

Here is another shot of the neighborhood as posted on the same Facebook thread by another great archivist, Kheireddine Al-Ahdab. This time the perspective is from above the Capitole building (left) revealing a large swathe of buildings across the street, bordering the Lazarieh tower on the far left.

Al-Ahdab identified this neighborhood to be known as Ghalghoul. So what happened to it?

I was able to track down this photo of Ghalghoul from 1991. Many of the buildings appear to have survived the war:

Photo: Rene Burri

But during reconstruction, the entire area was eventually leveled.

In this picture from 2013, we can see Ghalghoul has been reduced to a series of parking lots. All that remains is the double arched building in the photo above. Its blue canvas roof now replaced with red tiles.


The big hole in the foreground was supposed to be a mall but that project was stopped when ruins were found on the site and a public pressure campaign began not long after photos of the excavations were leaked to the public. You can read more about those discoveries here.

In this shot we can see that the Capitole building on the far right has been restored, but now faces a large void where Ghalghoul once stood.

Dozens if not scores of buildings were razed, leaving barely any trace of the neighborhood.

Here is an aerial view showing the extent of the destruction in between El Amir Bachir street and the Fouad Chehab highway ( Route 51) and in between Syria street and Cheikh Toufik Khaled-nearly all flattened as parking lots.

In fact the only time Ghalghoul saw life again in the postwar period was during the protests of 2006-2009, when a tent city was established in its parking lots by opposition parties calling for the resignation of the government.

Photo: Richard van der Graaf

I tried to find more about Ghalghoul but the only results seem to be images of its destruction shot in the early 1990s, such as this 1995 series by Fouad Elkhoury. Many of the buildings were still standing:

Fouad Elkhoury

Until the bulldozing began:

Fouad Elkhoury
Fouad Elkhoury

It’s often said that more of Beirut was destroyed by the bulldozers of reconstruction than through the shelling of the war. In fact, some 80 percent of the old city was reportedly demolished under the Solidere plan. So while there are plenty of pictures of the 260 odd buildings that were restored, you won’t find any trace of the hundreds of buildings that were leveled, entire neighborhoods and streets erased, not only in Ghalghoul but everywhere large parking lots are found today such Martyr’s Square, Saifi, Zeitouni and others. Wadi Abu Jmel, Beirut’s old Jewish quarter is among these. I was lucky enough to document some of the last buildings and meet the Wadi’s last resident before she died in this piece a few years ago for Al Jazeera.

How many other untold stories are out there from people and neighborhoods that were left out of Solidere’s vision?

If anyone has any memories of Ghalghoul or other razed neighborhoods, please feel free to share in the comments below and I would be happy to update the post.




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.



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.”

Source: Blog Baladi
Source Nadja Lind

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.


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. 


For those of us who grew up after the civil war, it’s hard to imagine what Beirut once looked like. But lost among the skyscrapers, you can spot a bit of the old city if you look close enough.

These buildings on Sidani street, near Jeanne D’Arc, are barely noticeable from the street and serve as a car park.

All are abandoned and in pretty bad shape:

The front door was open and it looks like squatters had been here:

Judging by all the skyscrapers coming up around them, these buildings probably won’t be around much longer. A fleeting look at a past that is probably too painful for many to remember.


    So you want to save on building materials? Fill an old oil barrel with rocks, plop some cement on top, and you have half a wall. Simply fill in the rest, and well… who’s going to notice!

    I wonder if this quick DIY job was a result of the war (to get it done before the shelling resumed) or just because the person who built it wanted to save on concrete blocks.


      A few blocks away from where the civil war started in 1975.

      If only Jesus, bikinis and Iran could get along more often– maybe we won’t have a second one. 


        Yesterday, LBC interrupted its regular programing to bring us a live speech by Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces.

        Much of his monologue was devoted to mocking retired general Michel Aoun, his arch rival. Incidentally Aoun gave his own speech a day earlier, which LBC also brought us live.

        Aoun and Geagea have been fighting since the 1980s, when they led rival forces during the bloodiest chapter of the civil war– a period when tens of thousands of Lebanese were killed, maimed or paralyzed for life.

        It’s hard to believe that after all that death and destruction, either of these two men would be fit to lead the country to brighter times. Neither has been held accountable for the violence they orchestrated.

        Yet both Geagea and Aoun continue to dominate Lebanese politics and their every word is automatically carried as breaking news by channels like LBC.

        But why do these two men get so much air time? Technically speaking, neither holds a significant position in government. Aoun was elected to parliament but is not a member of cabinet. Geagea did not even run for elected office.

        In fact, it seems much of the two mens’ power is derived from the media platform and the aura of authority it grants them. Of course both run propagandistic news channels or have friends that do, which doesn’t hurt. But even the unfriendly stations help elevate their respective paymasters’ rivals by covering them incessantly as enemies of the state–and ‘breaking news’ at that.

        But I wonder. If Aoun, Geagea or any other politician gave a speech in a forest, and no TV station carried it, would anyone hear him?


          Like many abandoned Beirut mansions, this one in Clemenceau is covered in a jungle of weeds.

          I wonder what this place would look like if they were cleared away.

          As is often the case, some of the window frames appear to have been stripped on the top floor, perhaps sold on the antique market. The balcony rails as well.
          Remarkably though, a couple of the windows (top center) seemed to have survived. Considering the amount of shelling that went on, I’m always fascinated to find pieces of glass in tact in bombed out buildings.
          But this one doesn’t look too bad. There are barely any shell markings. In fact, the pillagers seemed to have done more damage than the war. Perhaps the owner had some “wasta” i.e. connections?  

          So who lived here?

          A long time Ras Beirut resident who saw this picture immediately identified it has the home of former Prime Minister Takkieddin el-Solh

          But after a quick internet search, I found that el-Solh’s home is reportedly a few blocks away on Spears Street–at least according to this incredible blog post by photographer Craig Finlay who snuck in and took this photo:
          There are a lot more great photos on the page.
          I wonder if similar treasures could be find in the Clemenceau mansion I’ve featured here. Unfortunately it is very close to a major politician’s house, so sneaking in may cause a national emergency!
          Please comment below, especially if you know anything about it. 


            Sometimes we notice things before they are gone. A few days ago, I was passing by Roma Street in Hamra when I noticed the sign above: “Au Peche De Vigne: Restaruant Francais” 
            It was attached to the red and white building, which has been abandoned for years: 
            I heard a lot of sledge hammering going on inside, so I figured it would be a matter of time before it was gone and decided to take a closer look:
            The central sign was in better shape than the side one. I wonder what was inscribed on it. Plats du jour? 

            I asked an old man at the tire shop across the street if he remembered anything. He only said it was an apartment building with a French restaurant. 
            “A lot of foreigners used to eat there,” he said, vaguely. 
            Like many old apartment homes in Hamra, the building is also marked by a giant palm:

            And a less common giant oak:

            I asked another older man in a small shop up the street about the French restaurant story, but he said it was not true. When I told him this contradicted the account of the previous man across the street, he replied: “He’s a liar! There was nothing there, just apartments.”

            But the white paint seemed to indicate that the second floor contained something different from the rest of the structure. It also had ornate window panes that seemed somewhat unusual in the neighborhood:

            The bulldozers had already begun leveling another structure in the rear:

            And sure enough, when I came back a week later that building was completely gone– and with it–  part of the old fence attached to the restaurant building:

            Two floors had already been chopped off the top, and the building was cloaked in green dust net:

            The front entrance was cordoned off and blocked:

             The lower floors inundated with collapsed rubble:

            I met a woman in an old wig shop nearby named Ivan. She confirmed it was indeed a French restaurant and frequented by staff of the old French embassy or consulate, which she said was located just down the street at what is now the Ecole Superieur Des Affaires.

            Ivan said a French/European couple had opened the restaurant sometime in the 1960s or 1970s.

            She claimed the building was much older, around 150 years, and said it was built or owned by the Gemayel family from Aleppo.

            Ivan said the family name was orginally Jamil, but they had changed it to Gemayel to fit in with, or borrow influence from, the eponymous Lebanese political dynasty. 
            Here is a view from the back side, revealing the growing pile of rubble:
            With two floors destroyed in two weeks, I doubt there will be anything left by the time I return from the US in a week.