Child Of Wars
I realized one day just like that, that Beirut was the child of wars. Beirut was a small city during the Ottoman Empire, because the whole region was called Syria. And when the French and the English divided the region, Beirut in 1922, ’23 became a capital. And that gives it importance, because embassies settle, people found jobs, a new identity started growing. And so, Beirut started becoming important in a different way, because of World War I.
Then, World War II, there were foreign armies all over the Arab East, like people from Australia, New Zealand, the Free French, the De Gaulle army, British, Greeks, because there were some Greek battalions; Free Greeks. So, then Beirut became, like they say, a shelter. All these people had headquarters in Lebanon, and that brought money. And not just money, opened up young people, so for the first time in my life I saw English people, and there are new westerners, if you want, all over the place, and in the swimming places. So, Beirut made a lot of money in World War II. And not only money, it became cosmopolitan. Some of these people stayed there. It gave it international importance.
So, this is the Second War that profited and made Beirut bigger and more interesting. Then there was the 1948 war, the creation of Israel, brought in Palestinian refugees.1 Most of them were poor, but some were rich and educated. And they contributed in Arabic because they were speaking in Lebanon, opening newspapers, and organizations.
Then, 1967, a new flood of refugees arrived. And that was ambiguous. The Lebanese started feeling afraid, because they had 400,000 Palestinians, means 10% of the population. So, that was ambiguous. It did bring business and movement to Beirut, but it also announced trouble.
And then, eight years later, which isn’t much, from ’67 to ’75, the Lebanese Civil War started. And that destroyed Beirut. So, that war — other wars helped Beirut become what it was, the fourth one destroyed Beirut. When you have civil war for 15 years in a city, it’s amazing that few buildings remained. So, that destroyed Beirut, and it’s certain Beirut has died. Beirut, which was visually pretty, was carefree, was open to the world, and to its own diversity, the Civil War divided the communities, which used to live peacefully together; Muslims, Christians, et cetera. So, that was disastrous.