REFLECTIONS ON LEBANON’S CIVIL WAR, IN MEMORY OF ROBERT FISK

I shared the first eight years of Lebanon’s civil war with Robert Fisk. As the keeper of the hearth I was the heartbeat of my family when war broke out in April 1975. I was the mother who comforted her children after a bomb blast shattered their bedroom wall, the wife who consoled her husband after he spent his mornings treating wounded civilians and sending mangled bodies to the morgue, the housewife who dealt with water shortages and daily power outages and supervised her children’s homework by candlelight at the kitchen table while I prepared the evening meal while Robert Fisk was in the street, reporting on what was happening outside my little world. He kept track of the daily death toll along the infamous Green Line that separated East from West Beirut. I relied on him to tell me if I should send my children to school after a night of bombing, or if I should prepare to evacuate my apartment before the next round of fighting or whether I could take a day off and spend it with my children at the beach.  

He would not have known anything about my apron, a long fuchsia one that hung on a hook behind my kitchen door, or that after a particularly long night of fighting, I found a hole right through its middle or that on the floor, nearly mangled and hardly looking like a bullet at all, I discovered a three-9nch machine gun slug but he would have known who had spent the night shelling our neighborhood and who was responsible for firing that bullet through my kitchen window. And while I now live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where aprons hang safely on hooks and bullets rarely shatter kitchen doors and those battles were a long time ago, I will never forget how important Robert Fisk was to my family’s survival for he chronicled a war that not only shattered a country, he monitored the centers of power, called out our inept leaders for failing to dissuade the various political factions from turning into vicious militiamen who whether through personal greed, political inflexibility or sheer ineptitude failed to save a nation they were trusted to preserve.

On one particular occasion, Robert Fisk and I shared a breakfast meeting at the Hotel Commodore in West Beirut. As soon as he sat, and without so much as addressing the rest of us, he turned to the PLO representative and excoriated him for Arafat’s insistence that the road to Palestine lead through Beirut. While Fisk was right to have called out such a selfish act, it was also Fisk who reported on June 24, 1982, three weeks after the Israeli invasion and the carpet bombing of Beirut, that Arafat was finally willing to compromise. He asked only for an honorable exodus from Beirut. Former Prime Minister Saeb Salim tried to broker the deal but Arial Sharon, Israel’s Defense Minister and architect of the Israeli invasion, refused, insisting on a humiliating defeat for Arafat. In Washington, Alexander Haig, then Secretary of State under President Reagan, subverted the plan before it even reached the White House, prolonging the siege of Beirut by forty-nine days.

The Israeli bombing of Beirut ended on August 21, 1982, exactly three minutes after Alexander Haig resigned as Secretary of State. As Fisk reported: “Haig had given tacit approval for the Israeli invasion in conversations with Ariel Sharon. Throughout the summer the Saudis had sent a series of urgent messages to Washington imploring President Reagan to put pressure on the Israelis. Reagan never received those messages; Haig blocked them at the State Department.” According to Fisk, “King Fahd of Saudi Arabia warned that his country would withdraw all its investments from the United States at once and impose oil sanctions against the West within hours if the Israeli army was not brought under control. Reagan was at last made aware of the gravity of the crisis and Haig forced to resign.” Arrangements were then made for Arafat and his PLO to leave Beirut, his soldiers dispersed to Syria, Jordan, South Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Only unarmed women, children and the elderly would stay behind in the Sabra-Shatila camps.

On September 18, 1982, between fifteen hundred and two thousand men, women and children were found massacred in the Sabra-Shatilla camps. The massacres began on the night of September 16 when about two hundred militiamen sent by Ariel Sharon entered the camps.

Robert Fisk revisited the Sabra-Shatilla massacre in a 2003 article for The Independent. After spending several weeks in Israel, he became fascinated by Ariel Sharon’s repeated reference to the Palestinians as ‘murderers, terrorists.’ He had heard Sharon use these words before. “I called up an old friend with a talent for going through archives. I gave her the date that was going through my head, September 15, 1982, the last hours for up to two thousand Palestinians who were about to be murdered in the Sabra and Shatilla camps in Beirut.” She was able to locate the September 1982 Associated Press release. “Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, in a statement, tied the killing of the Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel to the PLO, saying that it ‘symbolizes the terrorist murderousness of the PLO terrorist organization and its supporters.’ A few hours later, Sharon sent the Phalangist Christian militiamen into the camps. Fisk goes on to say, “Reading this release again, I felt a chill come over me. There are Israelis today who feel as much rage towards the Palestinians as the Phalangist all those years ago. And these are the same words I am hearing today, from the same man about the same people. Why?”

Could it be because we still have no leader wise or courageous enough to sit the warring factions down and demand some sensible humane solutions? Without Robert Fisk’s voice, without his willingness to monitor the centers of power and hold them accountable, I fear we will see no solution anytime soon.

Robert Fisk, your voice, your honest reporting, your willingness to go against mainstream media, to report the truth across the war-ravaged Middle East, will be sorely missed.

A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War, as well as my other books, can be found on Amazon.

Robert Fisk, Veteran Foreign Correspondent, Dies at 74

by Naharnet Newsdesk 2 days ago

THE DEATH OF ROBERT FISK IS A GREAT LOSS TO HONEST JOURNALISM

Veteran British journalist Robert Fisk, one of the best-known Middle East correspondents who spent his career reporting from the troubled region and won accolades for challenging mainstream narratives has died after a short illness, his employer said Monday. He was 74.

Fisk, whose reporting often sparked controversy, died Sunday at a hospital in Dublin, shortly after he was taken there after falling ill at his home in the Irish capital. The London Independent, where he had worked since 1989, described him as the most celebrated journalist of his era.

“Fearless, uncompromising, determined and utterly committed to uncovering the truth and reality at all costs, Robert Fisk was the greatest journalist of his generation,” said Christian Broughton, managing director of the newspaper.

“The fire he lit at The Independent will burn on,” he said.

Born in Kent, in the United Kingdom, Fisk began his career on Fleet Street at the Sunday Express. He went on to work for The Times, and was based in Northern Ireland, Portugal and the Middle East. He moved to Beirut in 1976, a year after the country’s civil war broke out. Until his death, his home was an apartment on the Lebanese capital’s famed Mediterranean corniche.

From his base in Beirut, Fisk traveled across the Mideast and beyond, covering almost every big story in the region, including the Iran-Iraq war, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the war in Algeria, the conflict in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Arab Spring and Syria’s civil war. His reporting earned him awards, but also invited controversy, particularly his coverage of the Syria conflict.

A fearless, bespectacled and cheerful personality bristling with energy, Fisk was often the first reporter to arrive at the scene of a story. He shunned e-mail, smart phones and social media, and strongly believed in the power of street reporting.

In 1982, he was one of the first journalists at the Sabra and Chatila camp in Beirut, where Israeli-backed Christian militiamen slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian refugees. Earlier that year, he was also the first foreign journalist to report on the scale of the Hama massacre in 1982, when then-Syrian President Hafez Assad launched a withering assault on the rebellious city in central Syria, leveling entire neighborhoods and killing thousands in one of the most notorious massacres in the modern Middle East.

Fisk was in love with Beirut, the city he called home, sticking with it during the most difficult days of the 1975-90 civil war when foreign journalists fell victim to kidnappers. Back then, he used the offices of The Associated Press to file his stories during the war, where colleagues called him “the Fisk,” or “Fisky.”

In his book chronicling the war, Pity the Nation, he describes filing his dispatches by furiously punching a telex tape at the bureau, which he described as “a place of dirty white walls and heavy battleship-grey metal desks with glass tops and iron typewriters” and a “massive, evil-tempered generator” on the balcony.

“So sad to lose a true friend and a great journalist. The Temple of truth is gone,” said Marwan Chukri, director of the Foreign Press Center at the Information Ministry in Beirut.

Fisk gained particular fame and popularity in the region for his opposition to the Iraq war – challenging the official U.S. government narrative of weapons of mass destruction as it laid the groundwork for the 2003 invasion – and disputing U.S. and Israeli policies.

He was one of the few journalists who interviewed Osama bin Laden several times. After the Sept. 11, 2011 attacks and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Iraq, he travelled to the Pakistan-Afghan border, where he was attacked by a group of Afghan refugees.

He later wrote about the incident from the refugees’ perspective, describing his beating by refugees as a “symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy war.”

“I realized – there were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others, of us – of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war,” he wrote.

His most controversial reporting, however, was on the conflict in Syria in the past decade. Fisk, who was often allowed access to government-held areas when other journalists were banished, was accused of siding with the government of President Bashar Assad and whitewashing crimes committed by Syrian security forces.

In 2018, he cast doubt on whether a poison gas attack blamed on the government had taken place in the Damascus suburb of Douma in 2018. The global chemical weapons watchdog later said it found “reasonable grounds” that chlorine was used as a weapon.

His deep attachment to Lebanon and its people consistently came through his writing. Following the massive explosion that tore through Beirut port on Aug. 4 and destroyed large parts of the city, he wrote a scathing article that summed up the country’s curse and corrupt political class.

“So here is one of the most educated nations in the region with the most talented and courageous – and generous and kindliest – of peoples, blessed by snows and mountains and Roman ruins and the finest food and the greatest intellect and a history of millennia. And yet it cannot run its currency, supply its electric power, cure its sick or protect its people,” Fisk wrote.

Fisk wrote several books, including “Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War” and “The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.”

He is survived by his wife, Nelofer Pazira, a filmmaker and human rights activist.

SourceAssociated Press