Beirut- Between the two books of the book “The Mills of Desire”, marked with the names of 15 women from the families of the missing and forcibly disappeared during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), we turn the pages of revealing the feelings of women who experience the act of writing for the first time in a life that we spent more than 40 years waiting for, so “ We did not live, we are just waiting,” says Wadad Halawani, head of the Committee for the Families of the Missing and Kidnapped in Lebanon.
In wars and their aftermath, families of missing and kidnapped victims are often asked about any new information about their fate. However, is there anyone who asks them about their psychological conditions, their lives in their homes, and their relationship with their children and acquaintances?
Tales in memory
What we read in “The Windmills of Desire” is a pure revelation of a personal and emotional side in the memory of waiting. It includes 15 short stories entitled as follows:
- “This is my story,” Fatima Ali Jamal.
- Hope Remains, Ferdous Agha.
- Ask Me, Sohad Karam.
- A Journey into a Painful Past, Suad Abu Nakad.
- Shanai – From Love to War, by Wadad Halawani.
- From Behind Mirrors Come Stories, Laila Harfouche.
- A Storm Within a Body, Maryam Saidi.
- Reality Beyond Imagination, Nibal Matar.
- My Beggar Mother, Suad Al-Herbawi.
- Without Farewell, Mai El-Sayed Ahmed.
- An Unforgettable Past, the life of my past.
- “I will continue,” said the teacher.
- “He’s not back yet,” Yolla Farhat.
- Steps and Impact, Sawsan Kawash.
- “Behind every door is a story,” Nihad Al-Jurdi.
The book, consisting of 147 pages, was published in three versions: Arabic, French and English, by “Nelson House” in Beirut. Its release coincided with the 48th anniversary of the Lebanese war, which resulted in about 100,000 dead and about 17,000 missing, according to official estimates.
Each story, under its title, was accompanied by the name of the missing participant, the time and place of their loss, and an expressive drawing designed by Tania Radwan, embodying the meanings and forms of the life of waiting.
On its back cover, the Lebanese artist, Omaima Al-Khalil, commented: “Who will comprehend the terrible reality of these stories, in which even the imagination does not dare to repair the fragments of hearts?”
Over the course of a year, the participants underwent workshops on creative writing, with the Lebanese writer Fatima Sharaf El-Din, funded by the International Center for Transitional Justice, and in cooperation with the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Missing in Lebanon, which was established by them in 1982, and its aim is to find out the truth and reveal the fate of All the victims who went missing and kidnapped during the war.
The committee says in the introduction to the book: “It is true that we were able, after a long and arduous struggle, to extract a law that enshrined our right to know the fate of our relatives… as if we were found in this world to be missing families, and for our children to be missing children… The tragedy has prolonged, and it has become necessary for us to reveal it.”
And in the “Dar Al-Wardiyeh” in Beirut, in early June 2023, women gathered at the launch and signing ceremony of the book, which was filled with dozens of attendees who listened to the testimonies of influential authors, and revived the wounds of the Lebanese who lived through the horrors of civil and sectarian war and its repercussions.
On the sidelines, the women sat down to sign the book, and expressed their pride in the achievement despite the pain that left its mark on their faces, and they agreed – in an interview with Al-Jazeera Net – that writing their stories was tantamount to overdue psychological treatment.
Fatima Ali, who lost her sister Halima with her six children from her home in the Nabaa area in 1977, tells us how gunmen from a Lebanese militia entered and kidnapped her sister three days after she was born. And what she says in her story, while she was barely able to read and write: “I will keep dreaming until my smallest dream comes true, which is to know the fate of my sister and her children, whatever this fate may be.”
In front of her, Hayat Madi, who lost her father, Muhammad Najib, was sitting in Aley on April 14, 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and expressed the bitterness of searching in vain. She documents the moments of his abduction from their home before their eyes, and she says in her story: “My father tried to resist, but the gunmen gathered around him and fired bullets between his feet…”, before they took him by force, and she added: “Out of extreme excitement, the stick fell from my grandmother’s hand, and she fell to the ground.” passed out.”
In the midst of the women sits the Palestinian refugee Sawsan Kawash, who lost her brother Muhammad Kawash while he infiltrated with a group from southern Lebanon into the occupied Palestinian territories to carry out an operation on December 24, 1980, and his body remained missing there. And she tells us in her story: “My brother was twenty years old, and I was seven. He came from our uncle in Jordan to southern Lebanon to find a bride for him, but he became a martyr on the road to Palestine.”
This psychological treatment in writing does not negate the fact that the fate of the missing and kidnapped remained unknown, according to Suhad Karam, who lost her husband Salem Gerges Karam in 1983, in the Jabal War, at one of the Lebanese militia checkpoints, and continued to suffer in search of him with her three children. And she addresses him in her story by saying: “I do not want to imagine anything but that you have returned. You could be leaning on a stick, or you have lost your teeth and emaciated a lot, and your face has become many wrinkles.”
The book “The Windmills of Passion”, chose its title as the head of the committee, Wadad Halawani, who tells Al-Jazeera Net her experience, when she thought that the war would not approach her and her family, but she entered her home. She quickly recalled: “On September 24, 1982, at one o’clock in the afternoon, two armed Lebanese militiamen stormed our house in the Nabaa area at the seam line between what was known as East Beirut and West Beirut. They pulled my husband, Adnan Halawani, under the pretext of investigating a car accident, but he did not return.”
She remembers her husband when he was a leading civilian member of the Communist Action Organization, and his main activity – according to her speech – was to “secure flour for bakeries and open the doors of high schools to teach students, to prevent their exploitation in war.”
About two months after his kidnapping, she used her voice by virtue of her position in public education, as she says, and made a radio appeal to those who have missing persons with the aim of gathering and exerting pressure on the state, so she was surprised by the large numbers of families, and since then this committee was established.
Halawani regrets that the great struggle of the committee was verified after 36 years, in 2018, by extracting a law from Parliament that enshrined the right of families to know the fate of the missing only. As a result, a national commission was formed whose sole mission is to track down the missing and determine their fate, but – according to Halawani – it did not provide the minimum requirements stipulated in the law of its formation in 2020.
In “The Windmills of Passion”, in which she narrated her story with a documentary plot of the events she lived through, she finds that the book introduces people and those who have forgotten the issue to the meanings of a life of eternal waiting.
She talks about a mother she knows who has been refusing to leave the house for about 20 years, claiming that she is waiting for her kidnapped son, and that she wants to open the door for him when he returns.
Halawani says, “Our mourning is frozen until today, and we do not have graves to visit.”
An exceptional experience
During the meeting, writer Fatima Sharaf El-Din – to Al-Jazeera Net – who is trained in creative writing, spoke about her experience with the women in a group workshop that started in May 2022, as well as individual workshops with each woman.
One of the challenges she faced was pushing the women to think about their own experience in isolation from their identity regarding the kidnapped or missing person and his story, in order to liberate their feelings. Sharaf El-Din talks about the challenge of teaching writing to women, some of whom have not read a book in their lives as a result of the circumstances of the war and its aftermath, and because the story has arts, conditions, plots and provisions that are not easy to acquire in a workshop.
Sharaf El-Din finds that the most important goal is to document the stories of women in a case that faces attempts to obliterate, and to work to keep it alive and open, so that their testimony enriches the collective memory.
And justified the reason for selecting women exclusively, given that most of the kidnapped are men, and in order to feel comfortable expressing themselves, because most of them come from conservative environments.
Sharaf al-Din had previously worked in a similar workshop with women from Mosul in Iraq, in Sulaymaniyah, when it was besieged.
This type of writing – in her opinion – is an invitation to reconsider dealing with the families of the victims, because they are also victims, and owners of a self-contained identity. Away from the traditional language of sympathy, “it is necessary to give them a platform in an Arab world drowning in wars and blood, and its memory full of painful events.”