Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi and his monumental drawing commemorating the Sabra and Shatila camp massacre of 1982

Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi and his monumental drawing commemorating the Sabra and Shatila camp massacre of 1982

News comes from Madrid that Picasso’s iconic anti-war painting “Guernica,” in all its lonely grandeur, may soon be joined by a twin. It’s being created in a 300-year-old tapestry factory at this moment, and will take an honored place on the wall of Spain’s Reina Sofía Museum.

Visually, the expected new arrival appears much like its (80-year-old) older brother. Based on colossal ink and crayon drawings by Iraqi artist Dia al-Azzawi, it will be meters across and approximate Picasso’s brand of Cubism. Al-Azzawi picks up the same grayed palette, shot through with reds. Injustice and violence are the central themes of both, although in different continents and times. Similarities end there.

Dia al-Azzawi created the drawings in response to what he claims were “massacres” of Palestinians in Lebanon in 1983. Specifically, he charged that “Christians” murdered defenseless people in cold blood in Sabra and Shatila camps for Palestinian refugees. This is a commonly accepted narrative in Muslim lands, and al-Azzawi and his patron Ramzi Dalloul (a Palestinian businessman) are working to make the rest of the world believe it as well.

The only problem is, it isn’t true. It may be historic, but it has nothing in common with the tragedy in Guernica. Let us count the ways.

Picasso’s art was an honest response to a true war crime, where civilians were deliberately targeted by armies in his home country of Spain. Bombs were dropped by the Luftwaffe, with help from Spanish and Italian Fascists. The Axis were thrilled with their “work” and never denied it. The world roundly condemned what happened in Guernica.

Dia al-Azzawi is an Iraqi Muslim (b. 1939) who has supported PLO terror campaigns since 1967. About that time, Arafat convinced the PLO to assume the label “Palestinians” and worked to convince the world Jews had no rights in Israel. As an Iraqi, al-Azzawi has no dog in this fight.

The PLO wasn’t invited into prime real estate in downtown Beirut; they just seized it, as they did much of Lebanon. They didn’t come for peace, but used it as a launch pad into Israel and the rest of the world. The PLO hijacked planes, killed hostages, ambassadors, old men on ships and young girls in schools. For this, Arafat was re-elected, given billions, invited to speak to the UN, and honored with a Nobel Peace Prize. A flurry of sad poems and songs continued to commemorate their plight, from the region’s most honored artists.

Arab people have a true genius for exquisite and moving poetry, yet it’s often contaminated by a sickly sense of entitlement and histrionics concerning Israel. Earlier, Al-Azzawi illustrated work by the poet Muzaffar al-Nawwab, who wrote poems such as “Jerusalem is Arab Nationalism’s Bride.” He couldn’t be clearer in their claim to all Israel and surrounding territories. The hearer is led to never question this, only to seethe along in righteous indignity and ululation.

Downtown Beirut before and after PLO and Islamic militant invasion

Downtown Beirut before and after PLO and Islamic militant invasion

Brigitte Gabriel: I survived the PLO

Prompting the myth of unjust Christians and Jews, and a gentler PLO, is a central theme in al-Azzawi’s work, although he wasn’t an eyewitness in Lebanon in 1983. But Brigitte Gabriel was there the entire time. Buried alive under the rubble of her home in Southern Lebanon (1975), Brigitte lived to tell exactly what Arafat and the PLO had been doing all those years: jockeying for power, launching continuous raids on northern Israel, killing politicians and attempting to annihilate Lebanon’s Christian communities.

Brigitte recalls a suddenly hellish childhood when PLO “refugees” sacked at least 60 Christian towns. About 850,000 fled, and uncounted numbers died – much like Syria and Iraq today. From 1974, Israeli soldiers slipped into Southern Lebanon by night, bringing relief supplies to besieged towns. They trained men to fight the well-armed Palestinians. Brigitte recounts how at 13 she dressed in her Easter dress, because she “did not want to look ugly” when she died. Christians had good reason to fear and fight.

Lies and hyperbole

In 1982, Israel pushed the PLO and assorted militants beyond Beirut. Sabra-Shatila were PLO camps in Beirut, and the attacks happened in the middle of a genocidal spree. Elie Hobeika, who organized the raid on the camps, lost his family and fiancée in a city sacked by the PLO. Was this revenge? It’s hard to believe, because the raids began the day after Lebanon’s Christian president, Gamayel, was assassinated, along with many officials.

The New York Times bemoaned an “unnecessary massacre,” but not for the cities laid waste or for a slain president. Decades of bloody PLO campaigns went unmentioned in the West. Now a redacted Palestinian history is being woven in the Royal Tapestry factory in Madrid. In their version, any PLO loss was a “massacre of martyrs.”

Twelve hundred death certificates were issued for victims of Sabra-Shatila, although the IDF insists fewer died. Contrary to hype, they were nearly all men, and they weren’t there for nature hikes. Some were likely innocent. A few years later, Muslim militia attacked the Shatila refugee camp again, and the UN death count was 635, with 2,500 wounded. No anguished poems poured forth, and nary a word from the New York Times.

When Israel overran PLO bases in 1982, they found astonishing stores of weapons from almost every nation that ever manufactured them: Britain, China, the U.S., Japan, France, Germany, Libya, the Soviet Union, Sweden, and even leftovers from Vietnam. Some came with the 5000 to 6,000 mercenaries the PLO paid, from as many nations. It was a virtual UN of Death aimed at Christians and Israel.

Fedayeen from Fatah in Beirut, Lebanon, 1979. Male and female they came. Photo by Tiamat & re-up by Jaakobou, Wikipedia

Fedayeen from Fatah in Beirut, Lebanon, 1979. Male and female they came.
Photo by Tiamat, re-up by Jaakobou, Wikipedia

There is another similarity between the two assaults: lies. After bombing the hell out of Guernica in April, 1937, Franco blamed the attack on their Republican opponents! With photographs of German planes and survivors telling another tale, this was never believed. Eighty years later, deception is easily swallowed whole. Not satellites, nor real-time recordings, nor witnesses seem to budge the mythology surrounding Palestinian politics from the minds of leftists.

Rescripting history of the Middle East

Patron Ramzi Dalloul has big plans for this tapestry piece. He introduces himself as a Palestinian – synonymous with poverty and oppression – yet he is a very educated and wealthy man. Dalloul held high posts in the UN, created policies for Arab states, and was chairman and CEO of several organizations. He has monster investments in almost all Western financial institutions, and many corporate investments. Dalloul advises “several countries” in the Middle East and Africa on the petrochemical industry. Possibly he could give Soros a run for his money.

There are many powerful Palestinians like Dalloul. Together they could possibly end poverty for all displaced Palestinians on earth. But that’s not the plan.

Surely al-Azzawi’s work will be beautifully crafted at the Royal Tapestry factory in Madrid – almost as meticulously as the lie that it propagates. It is expected to be finished in about a year, and will grace the world’s most renowned galleries. Art critics will carefully tread around the real meaning of the 21 square meters of propaganda. They will discuss the Tate’s acquisition and what that means (but not seriously). Added rhetoric, Arabic imperialism and revisionism, comes gratis.

Sabra-Shatila happened. It was ugly and it was real – but it wasn’t true. Not the heroes, nor the villains, nor al-Azzawi’s tapestry. The PLO has never apologized for the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Lebanon. These are the people Al-Azzawi, Dalloul, the Tate Museum, and the Reina Sofía Museum intend to honor. The rest of the world awaits breathlessly for its unveiling.


Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.