Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #17: Alec Collett

I leafed through the Daily Star today, eager to begin my new project of studying Lebanon's main english language newspaper's coverage of Palestinians. I am curious as to how, with the new government pledging a "spirit of unity," and "the abolition of sectarianism," Palestinians will be treated. For, the so-called new government here is made up largely of an old boy network of former militia leaders who have been united at one point or another, in their disdain for the 400,000-plus Palestinian Refugees still living here. In addition to that, they've all had their their guns trained on one another, and have presided over the literal slaughter of each other's men, women and children.

None of the Star's reporting on this new government ever mentions Palestinians, a fact that I find curious, and am not exactly sure what to make of it. They frequently explain how two former mortal enemies met for the first time since the war, but what of the invisible people? The Palestinians? I am just going to scan the paper to see how and when they do talk of these shadows, who comprise 10% of the people living in this little country.

I came across an article that stole my focus though. DNA tests confirm Bekaa body belongs to missing UK journalist Alec Collett . 25 years after he was abducted, his remains have been identified. It's a bitter reminder, to use a hopelessly bland cliche, of how this place was torn to shreds by many of the current governors. In Pity the Nation Robert Fisk describes how, during those days, they posted a list on the AP wall of journalists who were kidnapped. It started with one. Soon it was five feet long. His close friend, Terry Anderson, was held for seven years by Islamic Jihad, and later released in a swap of Shia hostages in Israel's notorious Khiam prison.

Then on 25 March, a British writer was kidnapped. Alec Collett was 64, a freelanc working with the United Nations, writing about Palestinian refugees....Collett possessed two passports, one for Lebanon, another marked with an entry stamp to Israel. He had been writing about the occupied Gaza Strip and had been to Israel. At the Amal [one of the Shia militias] checkpoint, he had shown the gunmen the wrong passport.
....Collett's death was announced next. A video film was released to Reuters in Beirut showing a corpse twisting on the gallows. It was dressed in Alec Collett's clothes.

Fisk also explains that this kidnapping, by the Abu Nidal's anti-Arafat faction which was indeed a terrorist operation with no political direction, was possibly responding to the Reagan Administration's bombing of Libya. Some families of hostages were trying to raise money to pay the captors, but "Libyan agents in Beirut raised more money" to buy hostages, assumedly to have them executed.

He would be 90 years old.

So many questions drive through my head as I think about him. About Beirut. About Gaza. Both places are radically changed since the early 80's, for sure. Beirut for the better (however temporarily) and Gaza for the extreme worse. I have no need to fear meeting Mr. Collett's fate, no need at all, to be sure. But I feel some sort of kinship to him. Some bond with this man, who when he went to do good work was just 10 years older than my mother is today. It takes a really dedicated, committed and open-hearted person to walk into Beirut in the middle of a barbaric war to write about the most vulnerable people in the country.

I can only hope that when I am 64 I have the same dedication, the same love and trust in my heart as Alec Collett.

May he, now finally, inshallah, rest peacefully.


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