From Child Soldier to Je Suis Boat People

The shit was hitting the fan in Lebanon and I’d just been a part of one of the early fuses.

Everybody called the Karantina operation a massacre. Technically it wasn’t. It was a military operation designed to take out the fighting force of the camp quickly (in an afternoon).

Repercussions for the Karantina Massacre

Karantina is the Arab name given to the quarantine area of Beirut Port. It’s the area where imported livestock  (cattle and sheep for meat) are held and processed. There’s also an abattoir there with all the non-existent hygienic facilities you could only expect from Beirut in the early 1970’s – and since.

It’s a grim, squalid, rat and fly infested neighbourhood. If it’s not the stench of the livestock transport ships that docked there, it’s the nauseating stench of the abattoir and the rotting innards of slaughtered beings dumped on the streets while someone figures out what to do with them.

Karantina was an abundant home to every kind of urban scavenger – dogs, cats, rats, flies, mosquitoes, diseases and humans. You couldn’t invent a grimmer place to eek out a life.

This was home a couple thousand or more to the wretched Palestinian families with nowhere else to go.

And the Christian Phalange, who claimed East Beirut, wanted  this little miserable enclave of Palestinian refugees gone.


Like I said, the numbers of fatalities varies widely, as do the dates and the confusion in
reporting about what happened where when. Typical really.

Any case, that was the fighting force of the Karantina refugee cam decimated. I do not believe there were civilian casualties as some reports have it, or that fighters entered the camp and massacered civilians.

All the fighters were now gathered at our check point, I was struck by the discipline.

There were some of those experts we kept seeing around training camps. The experts who looked different and spoke different. The cool, calm and calculating ones.

He thinks it’s one of those guys cold, calculating,
outsiders that eyeballed him many years later in
London and pointed him out to his friends.


I had an inkling but it was years later that I put two and two together.cycling-holiday-in-amsterdam1

This job was planned and directed by those experts from the south. A job like Karantina
was just too clean to be anything else but imported.

Agreements were made, days later the civilians left the camp to other camps around Lebanon, the surviving fighters integrated into different units.

In an afternoon.

We were sworn to secrecy all the time.

From Child Soldier to Boat People

Doubtless repercussions were to come. Oh yes indeed.

So the shit was hitting the fan and my mother decided it was right time to quit Lebanon.

Airport in West Beirut inaccessible, nothing working, we headed to Jounieh, the small port town north of Beirut, deep in Christian hands.


We were about to become boat people, along with thousands of others leaving what
was a country exploding into a blood bath.

Years later, during the 2006 Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, I was covering  the evacuation of thousands of civilians through ports like Beirut and Jounieh, I was struck but how similar it all looked.

More than struck, I had flashbacks. It was all more organised. Foreign navies, or ships chartered by foreign governments, arrived in Lebanon evacuate thousands of their nationals.

Traumatised, scared, ramshackle people pulled out iof the normalcy of life by the high violence of war.

But I digress. Back to 1975.

We’d somehow secured a place on that big green cargo ship over there.

We were about to leave Lebanon for Cyprus when one of these repercussions hit the fan.

The PLO and allies struck the Christian town of Damour in retaliation for Karantina.

Now that was more like a massacre. That made the news.

That scared the shit out of everyone.

Continue reading:  Carnage, Boat People and Cleopatra


Continue reading:  Carnage, Boat People and Cleopatra

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