Sunday, 10 October 2010


The difference between a revolutionary and a mercenary? Fairuz's new album unearths Ziad's Tell el-Za`atar

  • Sunday, 10 October 2010
  • Fouad GM
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  • Tell al-Za`atar was an UNRWA-administered Palestinian refugee camp home to some 50,000 to 60,000. The camp was located to the north-east of Beirut, Lebanon. The camp fell within what would become the Christian canton of the right-wing Phalanges and the Lebanese Forces. Consequently, the camp's inhabitants became the victims of one of the most atrocious mass murders in the country's brutal Civil War (1975-1990).

    After controlling Karantina in another atrocious massacre earlier that year, Tell al-Za`atar was besieged for months according to a plan elaborated by General Michel Aoun, commander of the army at the time. The Phalanges, Guardians of the Cedars and Tiger militias, along with the Dekwané-based Maroun Khoury militias attacked Tell al-Za`atar on August 12, 1976. The camp fell after two months of artillery shelling which damaged the camp and killed many of its inhabitants.

    Estimates put the number of those massacred during and after the fall of Tell al-Za`atar somewhere between 1500 and 3500 refugees.

    Anyhow, the massacre itself is not my issue today. The revolutionary and sentimental cultural heritage aroused by the massacre is intense. Most prominent amongst these is the epic poem by Iraqi-born poet, Mozzaffar al-Nawwab in which he described "the fall of the capital of poverty," the "murder of the revolution in the womb of Palestinian women" and the "bazaar of Oriental organs at the doors of the Vatican."

    Tell el-Za`atar, by Mozzaffar al-Nawwab

    The surprising thing was, the Rahbani musical and theatrical heritage didn't produce anything in response to the massacre. Or so I thought/think. Fairuz's new album revealed a Rahbani answer to the epic massacre which left a stain on contemporary Lebanese history. The 4+ minute instrumental composed by Ziad Rahbani, Fairuz's son from the late `Assi al-Rahbani, takes its audience back to the refugee camp and recreates the apex of the massacre through music in a very moving, albeit short, track.

    This was in stark contrast to Marcel Khalifé who performed a piece dedicated to the memory of Tell al-Za`atar two years ago. Khalifé performed Mahmoud Darwich's poem "Ahmad al-Za`atar" or "Ahmad al-Arabi". In his performance, Khalifé "presenting it as a disinterested artistic affair" as a friend of mine put it. The performance coincided with the 32nd anniversary of the massacre, and yet Marcel Khalifé made no mention of the epic event 32 years earlier nor did he tell his audience of the link between the event and the piece he performed.

    According to Ahmad, whose disappointment and sarcasm are hard to tell apart, Marcel "was too busy socialising with Walid Jumblatt."

    Commenting on the release of the new song, Ahmad said:

    "Ziad el-Rahbani did not miss to dedicate a musical piece to Tell el-Za`atar. Respect! Two years ago, Marcel Khalifé was performing a piece that was originally written for Tell el-Za`atar, and the date of the performance happened to be on the memory of Tell el-Za`atar, and Marcel Khalifé didn't speak a fucking word about [the massacre]. I guess that's the difference between a real revolutionary and a mercenary."

    Thanks Ahmad. You're always an inspiration.

    2 Responses to “The difference between a revolutionary and a mercenary? Fairuz's new album unearths Ziad's Tell el-Za`atar”

    Anonymous said...
    23 March 2011 at 05:20

    The massacre was initied by people of Sin el-Fil with cooperation of some others from Tell el-Mir.
    GMA wasn't behind this, but Dany Chamoun, yes (and later in the massacre, kataeb).
    Wikipedia's wrong.
    If you understand french, I encourage you to read the Tell ez-Zaatar chapter of "Beyrouth l'enfer des espions".

    But good post, I just regret that Fayrouz doesn't sing about that, she never made a great song about Tell el zatar ...

    Anonymous said...
    23 March 2011 at 07:08

    not Tell el-Mir, sorry, I meant Jisr el-Bacha

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