“Don’t shy away from your own history and collective memories; confronting the past is the key to prevent a relapse into violence and war”, said Philippe Lazarini, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.
Lazarini was inviting the audience attending a panel discussion on “Oral History and Memory of the Lebanese Civil War” in Beit Beirut on 15 May, 2018 to face and understand their past. Same comment was shared by Dr. Michael Reuss, Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in Lebanon. According to Reuss, “someone who doesn’t know their past will not have a future.”
On the opening night of the “Nazra” photo exhibition on memory and war, a panel discussion session was organized by UNDP Lebanon in partnership with Lebanese Association for History, Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon, Fighters For Peace NGO, and International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), with the generous funds of Germany.
“The problem with oral history is that everyone doubts it because everyone can make it, but it has to be realized that official history is also made and can be manipulated. There is a need to document oral history”, said Dr. Maha Shuayb, Director of the Center for Lebanese Studies at the Lebanese American University.
Commenting on Maha’s words said, Nour El Bejjani, International Center for Transitional Justice representative in Lebanon, highlighted the fact that history books in Lebanon end with the period of the country’s independence. “That’s problematic”, she said. What is problematic for Ziad Saad, President of the Fighters For Peace NGO is that everyone believes they own the truth. “We, as ex-fighters, were brave enough to say that we are working on redeeming our mistakes”, he added.
The session was not only an opportunity for everyone to engage in conversations about the past, remembrance and individual memories, but also a platform for organizations working on history and memory to highlight the importance of oral history documentation and feed in the historiography of the civil war, according to Nayla Hamadeh, education activist and President of the Lebanese Association for History (LAH).
It was in this context that Wadad Halawani, Head of the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon, shared her personal experience of how her own personal search for a disappeared family member turned into a shared search for the disappeared and kidnapped of Lebanon.
The need for dialogue between victims, perpetrators and bystanders on one side, and with the government on the other side to activate the truth-seeking process in the case of the disappeared was the highlight of the session.
“I witnessed every single detail of the war, all the different phases and cycles that shaped our behavior and memories”, said a lady at the beginning of the playback theatre performance presented by Wasl Troupe.
Attendees were asked to share their personal story of war and watch them enacted immediately by the ensemble of actors. After hearing stories from the “war generation”, some of the younger people shared stories they had heard from their parents.
The session ended but the truth-seeking process started in the minds of all who attended the discussion session in Beit Beirut that had served as a forward control and sniper base during the war and now turned into a dominant symbol of the Lebanese Civil War.