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Maabar Podcast: New Episodes

Preserving Lebanon’s Oral Memory

In Lebanon where a civil war ended without accountability, and the controversial modern history remains a taboo ignored by school textbooks; oral history is a valuable tool to address the troubled past, document its phases to cross into the future.
The producers of the Maabar podcast in front of the audience at Barzakh Coffee shop.
© Jana Khoury

Maabar, a podcast conceived by two Lebanese creative producers Anthony Tawil and Cedric Kayem with the support of forumZFD, traces Lebanon’s modern history through storytelling. After a well-received first season on the civil war, a second release was launched on January 18th 2024 on the voices of journalists and photographers who covered it. 

The event took place at Barzakh, a cultural café in Hamra, Beirut, where a young crowd gathered, eager to engage in conversations about the war. “We didn’t know much about the war. It is a crucial un-talked-about part of our lives,” remarked Anthony Tawil. The elder participants, including a history teacher who used previous episodes of Maabar in her classes, lived through the conflict and are keen not to see it reoccur.

In the war’s dialect, maabar (معبر) refers to a dividing barrier, but the word also means crossing over. This duality encapsulates the essence of the Maabar podcast, aiming to reimagine the past through listening to the stories of anonymous Lebanese affected by the civil war. 

The podcast’s first season, accumulating thousands of views on platforms like YouTube and Spotify, not only showcased Maabar’s ability to breathe life into historical narratives but evolved into an interactive platform that delves into diverse narratives and perspectives beyond the war's confines, resonating with new audiences willing  to explore Lebanese history. That’s the intention of Maabar, crossing  into the future carrying the past’s stories; and the upcoming series will tackle the pre-war period and the postwar till 2020. Quoting Anthony Tawil, it “will cover our history as we go”.


New episodes

Learning from Maabar’s experience in making oral history accessible, the podcast creators engaged in 2023 into collecting new narratives from both Lebanese and foreign individuals thrust into the roles of war correspondents and photojournalists at the onset of the war.

Reflecting on her memories, one female journalist emphasized the challenge of maintaining neutrality in one's country, defining professionalism as reporting facts rather than personal feelings and ideologies. Another admitted being overwhelmed to the extent of not knowing what to shoot; or recalled tearful moments behind the lens.

The inherited trauma that a Lebanese reporter witnessed everywhere even with the former fighters and their children, resonated with the attendees of the launching event. A young woman revealed she has her parents’ trauma without knowing its roots. Anthony Tawil understood his parents’ fears after working on the project. A person who was a university student when the war erupted said the podcast “helps us remember so we forgive and move forward”. Mona Hassouna, from Steps stressed the importance of listening to “a different memory than ours… to cross to the future”.

The episodes shed light on the struggles of journalists and photographers to move around a divided city and country. Sometimes, “you would encounter 600 bombs on your way”. A female reporter said her colleagues flew from Beirut’s airport to the informal one in Kleyaat to reach Byblos, 38 kilometers from the capital. Another recalled leaving by boat at 3 am to Jiyeh to be escorted by Israelis to Deir El Kamar, 38 kilometers away from Beirut.

They had to know “who is who” at each maabar or roadblock. They got media passes from militias, and should present the right one and hide the others “in the socks or underwear”. An Egyptian photographer mentioned it too. Beirut was “a dark fairy tale”, an “absolute madness” with 16 militias.

A Lebanese journalist accompanied a French television team to Tall-al-Zaatar Palestinian camp. She requested the reporter conveys information not disinformation, which he did. She added that many foreign journalists would however spend their days at the iconic Commodore Hotel, “reading newspapers, listening to the news and writing an article in the comfort of their rooms saying whatever they pleased”. The Commodore was mentioned by several foreigners in the podcast. It was “legendary” even for the Lebanese, with non – stop electricity and communication lines.

A French reporter came to Lebanon in 1984 because he was young and “bored” seeking “adventure”. Another thought conservative Christians were fighting progressive Muslims to realize later it was much more complicated. Many admitted they didn’t first understand the war’s “who is who”, nor did their editors. 

The foreigners (ajeneb) admitted having “privileges”, “being able to do things the Lebanese couldn’t”. 



As the interviewees spoke about the war in general, two Lebanese photographers mentioned the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982. One said that as everyone was fleeing Sabra Palestinian camp, he was going there. Another, aged 27 years old then, learned about it from armed kids. Although an escaping woman warned him of being killed if he got closer, he kept moving and saw 15 to 20 accumulated corpses. Years later, a younger colleague brought one of his pictures; he was there, a seven years old child hiding behind a curtain where his parents and siblings were murdered. The narrator is still haunted by “the inconceivable blood”. 

Several members of the audience evoked the Israeli genocide in Gaza, relating the presentation to the hardship of Palestinian journalists. As Tawil acknowledged the vivid sympathy with the Gazans, he urged the Lebanese to consider how they treated the Palestinian refugees, “we were not good to them”; and to review their layered perceptions of “the others, from different nationality”.  

At another incident, a female photographer took pictures of a disfigured body only to learn later it was her cousin. She never looked back at it.

Integrity vs “the business” 

A Lebanese photographer thought that “perhaps if I took that shot, it could stop the war”. Another reflected that “if a picture could halt a war, wars would have ended long ago”. The first photographer stressed that a shot “conveyed the people’s suffering but had to be true without manipulation”. A female photographer built a trust relationship with a girl who lost most of her family members and whose leg was amputated before taking her picture. That shot helped the survivor receive medical treatment abroad. 

A colleague said: “I took pictures that I didn’t publish…There was a debate afterwards, which is more important: the picture or the human being?”. Another burned his shots of mutilated bodies; he didn’t wish to incite sectarian violence, whereas others published similar pictures seeking fame and international prizes.

Some non-Lebanese media figures lacked this integrity. A foreign photographer of Lebanese origin used the term “business” more than once. After he sold his first takes of young fighters for 150 dollars “which was a lot of money”, he was advised to have guns in his shots, “also if you have a child firing a gun that’s better, … but if you have a woman firing a gun…, it will be on the frontpages… So basically, we looked for the most spectacular or cinematic pictures but things don’t look like cinema in real life”. A “star photographer” told him that “fire makes every picture better… If you have to pay a few kids to burn a tire, do it…”. He added critically: “that’s something a photographer should not do but was a code for some. It is not called the newsbusiness for nothing… People made a lot of money in Lebanon”.


End of foreigners’ privileges, locals’ chance

There was a turning point in 1984 when foreign reporters became targets for kidnappers. Local teams had a “chance” to “take important (editorial) decisions”. A photographer made an international scoop being the only one to capture the release of a German captive in Damascus, the most common place to set international hostages free. A female journalist was the first to report the kidnapping of Terry Waite.

A French reporter said: “We didn’t learn how to protect ourselves from kidnapping”. Another recounted that a Druze army general planed his evacuation by helicopter from West Beirut.   

Inspired by the podcast and the power of storytelling, a young female attendee is recording her grandparents’ and parents’ memories, to “unlearn what we have been taught”. Maabar is to another youth “the first step towards a collective un-superficial memory” based on several versions. The podcast made its producers Anthony and Cedric quit the idea of deserting Lebanon. They are staying and looking for more stories to tell, go and have a listen to these captivating accounts at the Maabar Podcast website. 

…The war’s testimonies never end. And that’s Maabar's role: to collect as much as possible, as long as the people involved are still alive. It is a huge task, the alike of a truth and reconciliation commission that the war formally ended without. But Maabar does not belong to its producers anymore, it is owned by those who shared their experiences and the ones who listened, writing Lebanon’s modern history. What should be written next?

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