War Children, Lebanon 1985-1992
April 5th, 2011

I met light for the first time. I donít remember of course, but it seems to me that it was blinding.

Between a mother who was a poet, an intellectual and a writer, and a father who was an engineer, a man who was sensitive and passionate about nature and hunting, I lived the life of a child for almost eight years.

But in October 1973 I had a date with war.

A blue autumn sky, planes chasing each other between the clouds before crashing to the ground, parachutes, screaming sirens, ambulances on the road to Damascus, fleeing civilians, the smell of charred wood, metal mixed in with earth; this was war for me at the time. All these images that a child sees but does not understand.

Playing, I found not a wonderful toy in an attic, but a gun in a burnt-down flat.

Words and images from the television also echoed in my young head: Vietnam, Israel, conflict, war, the displaced, martyrs and victims. However much my mother explained to me that it was all no more than a travesty, I remained fascinated by what I didnít understand. I sought out the company of the 12 year-old fighters, either children barely supervised by overly-engaged parents, or orphans.

Holidays that should have been carefree were disrupted by the announcement that the young sports teacher that I admired so much had died, a martyr shot down by a sniper. I later learnt that he had been killed in an argument over dividing the spoils of a raid.

Under the midday sun, a bomb assassinated two children just a few meters away from me. My family fled to Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

After our return, we lived through the horror of daily bombardments, the interminable wait for the shell to hit, the relief of the whistling that indicated that this time it was not for us, our illusions about the safety of the shelters, the vision of the bomb that pierced through the ceiling, spun at our feet but refused to explode, the din of the Israeli tanks.

I remember the column of bombed military trucks, their drivers glued to the wheel in frozen grins, as we carried a wounded man. Distracted by the first scenes of looting, we almost ran over a cadaver. When we arrived at the packed hospital, its corridors scattered with bodies and agonised relatives huddled, waiting.

I ended up, without my parentsí knowledge, taking part in neighbourhood battles.

There were surreal images, such as those of fighters who, dead-drunk, awoke startled under a shower of steel as an Israeli attack resumed. The date with war was a meeting with the unbearable, the unutterable, the unrelatable.

These images now exist.

Taken between 1985 and 1992 in West Beirut, the mountains, the Bekaí Valley and south Lebanon, the photographs that I took as part of the War Children series are my feelings and encounters as a child.

They are dedicated to the victims of all wars who died for what they believed was an ideal, in a world where justice, injustice, good and evil intersect in a commerce where innocents pay with their lives.

Samer Mohdad


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