Tel al-Zaatar: the siege of the Hill of Thyme

I remember Vanessa Redgrave coming to Brisbane in 1977 to launch a film about the siege of Tel al-Zaatar (Arabic: حصار تل الزعتر‎) in northeastern Beirut. The siege occurred in August 1976, 44 years ago.

Remembering Tel al-Zaatar
The stories of the survivors still live in memory. Only the very old and some women survived, they were shell shocked, malnourished and dehydrated. One of the oldest told the story of the siege to the film cameras and all the people in the room wept. I was sitting in the old Regent Theatre in Brisbane and I cried when I heard the old man’s account.

This was an armed siege of Tel al-Zaatar (Hill of Thyme), a fortified, UNRWA-administered refugee camp housing Palestinian refugees forced out of Palestine by the apartheid state of Israel.

The siege was carried out by Christian Lebanese militias led by the Lebanese Front as part of a wider campaign to expel Palestinians, especially those affiliated with the radical wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), from northern Beirut. They were assisted in this by the Syrian Army led by Hafez al-Assad who received strong criticism and pressure from across the Arab world for his involvement in the siege.

In the year after the siege Redgrave accepted an Academy Award for a role she played in an anti-fascist film … this is what she said to boos from some members of the academy about the zionists who stole the land from the Palestinian people in 1948.

Sadly the civil war that produced such suffering may return to a once thriving Lebanon.

Ian Curr
14 August 2020