Journals of the Lebanese Civil War

09 August, 2017

One can always find a reason to write a book about a war, and Dalal Al-Bizri's Journals of the Lebanese Civil War, published in June, 2017 by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (216 p.p) as part of a wider series made up of memoirs set in the contemporary past. Al-Bizri insists that these writings are not as happy as they were in the years preceding the war. "But their tragedy is limited, just as the Lebanese civil war was limited geographically, never spilling over the Lebanese borders. This is in contrast to the Syrian war, a misery with no end, and no geographical boundary in sight. "

In the first five chapters of her book, al-Bizri recalls the days of Beirut's division between "East" and "West". She talks about her struggles in the Faculty of Education and in her political party, giving us glimpses of the comradery which typified the early stages of the war. The following four chapters are given over to stories exploring daily life as a partisan in the Lebanese Civil War. Beginning with the tenth chapter, the author discusses the details of the civil war and the memories of checkpoints, searches, sand bag barricades, underground shelters, battered town squares and combat across the frontlines. This setting is swept away with the entry of Syrian forces across the border.

Al-Bizri goes on to conveys storie of the shelters that recall the wounds of Lebanon and the personal tragedies during this sectarian war. She remembers the typically Christian names of neighbors who would curse the Christian-isolationist fighters while hiding in the shelter, and Abu Yazzan, who was sympathetic to them. The details are presented before she discusses the siege of Palestinian refugee camp at Tel al-Zaatar. This is told through the tragic testimonials of its inhabitants during the siege and barbaric shelling by right-wing Lebanese militia and the Syrian forces.

In the 20th chapter, Al-Bizri writes of the assassination of leftist Lebanese leader Kamal Jumblatt (1977) and his complex personal qualities, his persona which combined elements of spirituality, secularism, feudalism and socialism, leading him to stand out from the mass of political contradictions, which were only exacerbated by the Israeli occupation of 1982. Al-Bizri invokes the calls of the resistance and its preachers in the face of the invasion, and recounts the Sabra and Shatila massacres and tells the anguish of her husband, who was accused of conspiring to assassinate Bachir Gemayel.

Buried within these grander narratives are recollections of Al-Bizri's personal life, such as her discussions with French political scientist Michel Sora who married a native of Aleppo and spoke Syrian accented Arabic his adult life, passionately embracing everything Arab. She stops to revisit his death, possibly an assassination at the hands of Islamic Jihad who had kidnapped him. She goes on to recount the kidnapping of her own son, Hammam, whose own release was secured without the need for a ransom and after prolonged negotiations. Al-Bizri closes her book with the recollections of a mother looking back at the close of a war in which she had to learn to coexist with her own countrymen. She leaves time, also, to speak of the war with some level of nostalgia, in the sense of a romantic yearning by young people for a renewed country.


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