In the summer of 2019, I took part in an investigation by the Syrian Archive into attacks on medical facilities in Syria, described by the Lancet in 2017 as ‘the most dangerous place on earth for healthcare providers’. The Syrian Archive verified 410 incidents of hospital bombings, and identified with confidence the perpetrators of 252 attacks. Ninety per cent of those were acts of aerial bombardment by Assad’s forces and their allies, in particular the Russian air force. Systematically targeting hospitals was one of their most ruthless tactics, a means to depopulate opposition areas.
Since 2014, I’ve done fieldwork with Syrians who live in the Beqaa Valley, forcibly displaced by Assad’s forces and their allies. When they describe their experiences at the hands of Hizbullah, it’s as brutal as anything committed by an invading army waging a war of aggression: siege, bombardment, massacre, rape. The continuity of the term ‘resistance’ in the museum display at Baalbek is the record of an old word dying.
Last month, shooting began in Damascus on a film produced by Jackie Chan, using the destroyed suburb of Hajar al-Aswad as a backdrop. On the first day on set, the director, Song Yinxi, was accompanied by the Chinese ambassador to Syria. Flanked by men in military fatigues and a style of Arab dress that looked ever so slightly out of place, a banner in CCP red and gold was hung from a tank turret. ‘Peace and Love,’ it said.
It was during a visit to UMAM Documentation and Research in 2014 that I found out the truth about my grandmother’s death. My aunt, Rania Stephan, was making a film about a car bomb planted in West Beirut in 1983. An AP report from 1991 states the bare facts: ‘5 February 1983: Palestine Research Centre explosion kills 19, wounds 136.’ UMAM’s holdings were more substantial. With the help of the archive’s founder, Lokman Slim, we looked through magazines, newspaper articles, photographs of the explosion’s aftermath. The leftist magazine al-Shirā‘ carried the story on its cover: ‘Saturday Massacre: Perpetrator Known!’Everyone who lived through the civil war knew the motive: to destroy what could have become the Palestinian national archives. No one doubted it was carried out by the Israelis.