Postcard from...Beirut


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The Independent Online

Iskander Zakharia was 26 in May 1985, when three armed men came to his family’s home to “ask him some questions”. “We’ve not seen him since,” says his sister Lina, “but we believe he is still alive.”

This is a story familiar to thousands of families in Lebanon, who, during the 15-year civil war, saw fathers, mothers and children, disappear from their homes, places of work and the streets.

A new documentary, Sleepless Nights, on show in Beirut is yet another reminder of the estimated 17,000 people declared as “disappeared”.

It follows the stories of two people, one on each side of the situation: Assaad Chaftari, a former head of intelligence for a Christian militia, and Maryam Saiidi, a mother whose son Maher Kassir disappeared during a gun battle in 1982. He was 16 years old.

Chaftari, despite being in a position where he oversaw the exchanges or killings of Lebanese, evades directly answering any questions about missing people, with answers like: “Some secrets are not mine alone”, and “I don’t know anything”, even when coming face to face with the weeping Saiidi.

For families like the Kassir’s and Zakharia’s, answers can’t come soon enough and, sadly, with walls of silence like Chaftari, they could be waiting another 25 years.