Letter From Beirut
By Bill Templer
Political Media Review
The War of 33 tells the story of the 33-day Israeli attack on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 through a series of blog letters written by Beirut journalist Hanady Salman, an editor with the Beirut paper As-Safir. Hanady knew the worst images of that war would not be shown by the Western media or television. So she decided to dispatch regular email updates to a group of friends and colleagues, relaying her personal accounts and many very graphic photographs from around Lebanon. Hers became one of the most powerful voices emanating from Beirut during the war. This documentary film is the later product of that, in part a cinematic monument to the power of people’s blogging in the midst of war’s carnage, and the will to resist (1). Hanady’s original 2006 blog is here: http://beirutjournal.blogspot.com/ .
The poignant narrative is coupled with still shots and video of the widespread carnage and destruction, often expressing Hanady’s own bewilderment and anxieties, trying to protect her tiny daughter from the catastrophe enveloping the country. Hanady strings together many real stories of ordinary Lebanese, their struggle to maintain sanity, their sumoud (grit) in the midst of this nightmare. On August 9th, she writes:
Under the rubble, one village after the other, one house after the other, memories take their owners along. Ashes. Pity the living, pity those who are left behind. Pity those who are dreading the day when it will be their turn to run down the streets, screaming, collecting the legs and arms of their loved ones, calling their names so loud their voices would reach the skies.
The 35-minute film is a moving tale of indiscriminate bombardment of the innocent, and their resistance and will to survive, as Hanady puts it: “the story of a great people, one that never lost faith despite all the crimes, pains and injustices […] and how we prevailed.” It is singularly iconic for our era, as similar scenes of horror perpetrated by a state military bombard us day after day from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Gaza, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, constructed as a ‘war on terror.’ It echoes profoundly the core theme of the classic Fourth World War http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms4C0LPNPpI (also from Big Noise Films).
The War of 33 film won the Juried Award for Best Short Documentary at the Ashland Film Festival in Oregon in 2008.
The documentary can be combined with geographer Derek Gregory’s trenchant analysis of the geography of the ordinary citizen in the ‘war on terror,’ focusing on this same Israeli attack: “Targets, Civilians and Late Modern War,” THE ARAB WORLD GEOGRAPHER, Vol. 9(2), 2006, available in full online: http://tinyurl.com/cgmp3h . Gregory notes that nearly a million Lebanese were displaced by the fighting, and hundreds of thousands more were “trapped in the indistinction between combatant and civilian.” Human beings were “reduced to spectral figures in a shattered landscape where they could be killed with a click or a shrug […] They were targets, shields, terrorists; often less than that” (p. 102).
As a filmic supplement to Hanady’s work, a 6-minute documentary on the impact of the 2006 Israeli attack seen through the eyes and lens of a young woman trapped in her small Beirut apartment is Absent Spaces, by Lebanese filmmaker Laila Hotait Salas: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/hotait020509.html . Show it together with Hanady’s film, as I will do here in Malaysia.