Tags Posts tagged with "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.






The Lebanese and International Red Cross are currently exhibiting a series of images, recordings and interactive installations chronicling the devastation of Lebanon’s multiple wars and relief workers role in reacting to them.

The exhibition features both unseen Red Cross archives as well as the work of prominent local photographers who lived through the fighting such as Jamal Saidi.


Jamal told me he shot the image above in the 1980s near Mathaf. He also shot this image below of two militiamen around the same period.


But Jamal and some of the other photographers would not say which militia these men belonged to, explaining that they could be found on any street, from any of the parties that were tearing up the country.

Such anonymity was also a theme of the exhibition with few of the images containing captions that describe the time or place of what was shown in the picture.

For example, in the series below, many of the images come from the wars of the 1970s and 1980s yet the bottom left image from the 2006 war:


One of the organizers said the idea was to emphasize the ubiquitous violence experienced in Lebanon over the past 40 years, which is not confined to one geographic area, group or time period.

This photo near downtown Beirut was particularly haunting.


As well as the looks on these young captives faces:

Abbas Salman


I was also able to meet Red Cross worker Abdul Raouf Salem, who points to the ambulance he was ridding in as they passed through rubble strew streets of a Palestinian refugee camp that was nearly flattened in the fighting.


Abdul Raouf told me the story of how one militiaman put a gun to his head while driving the ambulance when he was stopped at a checkpoint. It was only a few days later that he found himself saving the life of the same militiaman’s mother. “He didn’t even recognize me,” Abdul Raouf said.

The rescue worker was also eager to share his family heritage of service, with an image of him and his daughters also on display:


The exhibition features some 40 images as videos and recordings, testimonies of survivors and rescue workers:


Among those stories is that of the ambulance hit with an Israeli shell during the 2006 war:



You can explore more of the images and stories over the next 10 days at the exhibit which is being held at Villa Paradiso in Gemmayze, itself a restored fragment of a troubled past:



Check out the Facebook page for more details and directions. It runs from April 17-26.



Israeli TV is on all Lebanese channels as we wait for Israel’s expected response to an attack on one of its convoys in South Lebanon. Hezbollah is saying the attack is retaliation for the killing of several of its men a week ago by Israeli warplanes.

It’s hard not to feel reminded of those days in 2006 when soon after an Israeli convoy was attacked, Israel’s military began shelling south Lebanon as is happening right now. At the time, I remember a colleague in my office laughing it off, while I worried things would get much worse. Sure enough, things escalated over the next few days when Israel warplanes destroyed highways, bridges, airport runways and eventually leveled several villages and parts of south Beirut in a month long war that left over 1,000 Lebanese civilians dead.

Is this Deja Vu or have things changed? This time around, Hezbollah is already involved in a war in Syria and some believe its forces are stretched too thin for a second war. But on the other side we have Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is considered one of the most hawkish Israeli leaders, far more so than his predecessor in 2006, Ehud Olmert.  Some say Israeli elections are upcoming in March and a war won’t help him win. Or will it?

The ironies are already starting to pour in. Today a former Lebanese warlord was warning current Lebanese warlords about the dangers of in war:


If he’s worried, should we worry? Or is a large part of this media theatre, with all sides trying to score propaganda points?

You’ll notice the Western media frequently calls Israeli attacks retaliations, but will almost certainly frame any action by Hezbollah as offensive. Hezbollah also claims the Israeli soldiers were occupying Lebanese territory– rather than peacefully minding their own business in Israel. That’s another detail you probably won’t hear much about in major Western media outlets.

On the other hand, Hezbollah media are broadcasting call-in congratulations from various officials and they just aired a report on a handful of cars near the border, claiming these spectators proved that ‘people are not afraid.’

“No one is scarred,” said one pundit on Al Manar. ‘On the contrary, people had been waiting anxiously for the resistance to respond.” Meanwhile Arab media are reporting up to 15 dead Israelis, while Israeli media only report “medium to light” injuries.

All we know for sure is that it started out as such a beautiful morning…


Yet now my only hope is for a massive storm. Maybe a deluge will wash away some of the belligerence.

Follow me on Twitter for updates.


UPDATE: More evidence not to worry? Al Jadeed TV just posted a video of Lebanese smoking arguileh (hookah) near the border.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 5.05.22 PM



For years now, construction has slowly been moving forward on the National Library project in Sanayeh. Now with the landscaping in progress, could we see the opening some time soon?

The glass facades have been completed in the last few months:


The library is located in the old red-roof Sanayeh buildings, which housed an arts school built by the Ottomans in the early part of the century (thus the name) nearby the Sanayeh Park, also build by the Ottomans in the early 1900s.

Over recent decades, the buildings were used by the Lebanese University until the refurbishing began, following a $25 million grant from the Emir of Qatar in 2005.



The buildings are accessible on Hamra street as well as the street facing the park. Naturally, I got harassed by an undercover policeman (on a scooter) for taking this picture.  When he verified I was not a threat (after simply asking if I was Lebanese and scrolling through my previous pictures) I asked him if he knew when it would open. “God knows,” he said, before speeding away.

So what will the library contain?

At its peak before the 1975 war, the national library possessed some 200,000 books and manuscripts, according to its website, which offers great historical pictures like this:


But the stacks were badly damaged during the war and some 1,200 of the most valuable manuscripts “disappeared,” the site says, without further detail.

The library was eventually closed in 1979 and the books were boxed up and moved around to various government offices, until the restoration plan was agreed in 1999 with the help of French experts. The books–some 150,000 remain– are now stored at a building in the Beirut Port. Recently, the premises were opened to the public during the archive weekend earlier this year.


There was some fascinating stuff on display, including old library cards:


Records of the old librarians and how the reading rooms looked:




Several ancient texts:






This one was printed in various directions, I can’t remember why:


And plenty more contemporary books and illustrated novels:



Even some vintage sexy collections:


I’ll have more on this collection as well as the super interesting regional newspapers collection in a future post.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before you are able to see these with your own eyes. It’s only been about 10 years since the construction began and 17 years since the project was started in 1999. Could it possibly take much longer? According to the official website, the opening will be in 2014.

In the meantime, you can have a look at the painstaking restoration process:


UPDATE Nov. 6:

LBC correspondent Dalal Mouawad got in touch on Twitter after reading this and linked to her recent report on the National Library. In it, she interviews the culture minister who claims the library may not open any time soon because the cabinet has yet to appoint an executive board and director.

I probed Dalal further on this issue, which she said was affecting many appointments. The question now is: why are these appointments being stalled and can the law or public pressure get lawmakers to start appointing?

UPDATE: Nov. 12, 2016: Two years after the post was published, The National Library has finally opened its doors, but only for one month! The reading room has been opened for a temporary exhibit but the collections have not been moved. Check this new post to see the gorgeous interiors. But again, how long will it take for this great space to actually open and be used by the public?

Lebanese TV channels are often at war with one another and the battles go far beyond ratings. They range from routine verbal insults and propaganda attacks to actual war as some channels were physically shut down during the 2008 clashes between rival forces allied to various stations. 
That’s why it was really surprising to see all 8 Lebanese channels united in a call for solidarity with the people of Gaza, with nearly 600 now killed as a result of Israeli bombing, shelling and neighborhood pulverizing.  The broadcasters aired coordinated video packages and read a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
It was especially surprising to see the arch rivals Future TV and Al Manar TV in a side-by-side anchor reading session: 

Future TV was actually burnt and shut down by supporters of Al Manar during the 2008 Beirut clashes, as I reported for Variety at the time.
Burnt Future TV offices in 2008. Photo: Menassat.

Gunmen with Amal, which is associated with NBN TV, take over Future TV offices in 2008. See full post.
Watch yesterday’s rare joint solidarity broadcast here.