A ‘cosmic stink’: Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, 40 years on | Opinions

The front cover of the 1982 yearbook of the University of Beirut (AUB) USA features a black and white sketch of a campus building, with dozens of students colorfully cut and pasted in the foreground. Some of them are outstanding sportswear from the 1980s; some centered around an orange juice vendor.

Open the yearbook to the first page, and the scene becomes much less sane. An image of the AUB’s main gate – emblazoned with the university’s motto in English and Arabic: “That they may have life and have it more abundantly” – is placed over a photograph of rising smoke from apartment buildings. The AUB Proceedings Committee explained in its introduction that, while they planned to devote the first 16 pages of the book to the theme of “restored student representation,” that plan has been derailed. when, on June 4, Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon.

Lebanon has been through a bloody civil war of 1975-90 for seven years, but the Israeli invasion has taken it all to another level of barbarism. Israel’s siege of “West Beirut” – the shortened wartime label attributed to Lebanon’s so-called “Islamic” half-capital, where the AUB is located – lasted from June to August 1982, causing people have no food, water, electricity, or fuel. The term “West Beirut”, the Yearbook Committee notes, has “become a word for disaster”.

And even “disaster” is a shorthand, as evident in 16 pages of photos of air strikes, collapsing buildings, rubble, burning vehicles, babies with ice heads. bundle, an elderly woman on a hospital bed and one hand lying on the ground separate from its body. The United States, of course, gave the green light to the invasion.

One day I was looking at the 1982 yearbook at the home of a friend of mine, an AUB alumnus, in Beirut – where I happened to be on the 40th anniversary of the Israeli invasion. Before the pandemic, I was a regular visitor to this country since 2006 – coincidentally the year of another Israeli invasion, when the Israeli military similarly mocked the idea that people in Lebanon should “have more life and abundance”.

The 1982 incident, which the Israeli government markets as “Operation Peace for Galilee”, is believed to have taken place in retaliation for the assassination of Shlomo Argov, Israel’s ambassador to the UK. Years later, the Guardian will observe: “Not since Archduke Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo in 1914 that a successful combat group was capable of such a war.” PLO – The Palestine Liberation Organization has its headquarters in Beirut.

Never mind that the PLO condemned the assassination plot – or that there would never have been a PLO in the first place if Israel hadn’t massacred 10,000 Palestinians and made another three-quarters of a million refugees 1948.

In her memoir about the Lebanese civil war, Beirut Fragments, Jean Said Makdisi – a Beirut Palestinian writer and scholar and sister of the late Edward Said – recalls that, in the early days of “Peace for Galilee”, one has heard much about Argov, the designated casus belli. But such conversation was ultimately short-lived: “After a while, no one mentioned the ambassador anymore, until – a few tens of thousands of people died afterwards; several hundred thousand refugees later; after large parts of Tire, Sidon, Damour and Beirut, not to mention dozens of other towns and villages were destroyed – there was a small entry in the newspaper that he survived and was discharged from the hospital”.

At one point, Said Makdisi wondered if the horror of the siege could be conveyed in words, as she described the “orange sky with the unusual glow of exploding phosphorus bombs; the frantic screams of the jet planes rushing to kill people”. On August 4, her son whispered to her: “Mom, we will die today; surely, we will die”.

The horror continued. Families unable to go to the cemetery were forced to dump the bodies of loved ones in the sea by intense shelling, and the AUB hospital crematorium could not keep up with demand. The launch of the Beirut vacuum bomb saw an eight-story building in the Sanayeh neighborhood with everyone in it be ground into powder. On August 12 – the day of the cease-fire, after successful negotiations for the imminent evacuation of the PLO from Beirut – Ms. Makdisi stood on her balcony as the Israeli army continued to bombard: “It looks like as the Israelites… gained a fierce hatred; a frenzied, destructive urge to kill, to obliterate all living things, with nothing left standing, to obliterate the city”.

Of course, this is not the last example of Israeli-sponsored violent hatred. The next month, from September 16 to 18, there were several thousand unarmed Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. massacred in the Beirut refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila by the Israeli-backed right-wing Lebanese militia. Israel’s armed forces surrounded the camps and used flares to light the way for the killers. As documented by Bayan Nuwayhed Al-Hout in his book Sabra and Shatila: September 1982, the killing of children and fetuses was “common” during the massacre – with militiamen stabbing pregnant women in the stomachs. and tore the fetus.

Israel finally withdrew from the Lebanese capital at the end of September 1982, although the army would continue to preside over the heavily tortured occupation of southern Lebanon for another 18 years. After Beirut withdrew, Makdisi said, residents of the city began to hear about the “most distinctive aspect” of the occupation, which was the fact that Israeli soldiers defecated everywhere: on books, on clothes. , carpets, furniture, desks, you name it. it.

Then, in the place of death and indiscriminate destruction, a “massive pile of dung” remained – a “cosmic smell” that served as a memorial to the siege. Now, 40 years after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon – when Israel persisted with frenzied urges murder in Palestine and beyond – the stench is still quite cosmic.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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