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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.4 (2003) 809-823

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The Mothers of the Intifada in Liana Badr's The Eye of the Mirror

Brinda J. Mehta

In The Eye of the Mirror, the Palestinian writer Liana Badr chronicles the devastation faced by the Palestinian inhabitants of the Tal Ezza'tar refugee camp in the Christian-controlled section of Beirut in 1975–76 during one of the most repressive sieges in the history of the Lebanese civil war. 1 Subjected to a regime of terror, intimidation, and hardship instigated by the Christian militia, the refugees are engaged in a daily battle of survival in the face of ethnic genocide and cultural annihilation. Anxious to preserve this important period of Palestinian history from political extinction, the author uses a complicated, palimpsest-like narrative that weaves together the threads of fiction, personal testimony, documentation, and oral culture to produce a compelling narrative that seeks wholeness amid chaos and fragmentation in an attempt to highlight the machinations of abjection that confront her characters on a regular basis. Using fiction as an effective instrument of investigation to record, preserve, and re-present the history of her people, Liana Badr produces a novel that is epic in its scope in terms of its characters' heroic negotiations of the quotidian. [End Page 809]

Tal Ezza'tar occupies a particular place in the Palestinian imaginary as a symbol of Palestinian history characterized by genocide, mass migration, cultural and political dispossession, and resistance to oppression. Located in the predominantly Christian-controlled part of Beirut, Tal Ezza'tar also represents the complexity of negotiating identity as an ethnic minority and the tensions that result from such negotiations. These tensions were exacerbated during the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, when Palestinian refugees became victims of political and ethnic scapegoating that culminated in a bus massacre of Palestinian civilians by militiamen. These men were known to belong to right-wing Christian factions such as the Isolationists that comprised the Phalangists, Ahrar, and the Guardians of the Cedars. This tragedy marked the entry of the Palestinians into the Lebanese conflict under the coalition of the Joint Forces or the Nationalists that were made up of members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) militia as well as leftist, nationalist Lebanese militias such as those belonging to the Progressive Socialist Party of the late Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt. Referred to as the "Stalingrad" of the Palestinian refugees, Tal Ezza'tar was subjected to a brutal siege that lasted one year, during which vital supplies, electricity, food, water, and ammunition were cut off in an attempt to isolate and decimate the camp. The camp was ultimately destroyed and "there were about 4,000 casualties and some 12,000 Palestinians fled to other parts of Lebanon. What remained of the camp was razed." 2 Despite the impact of mass destruction and annihilation, the inhabitants of the camp put up a brave front for more than a year. Their survival has become one of the landmark events in the war of resistance, a chapter worthy of immortalization in Badr's novel. She was witness to the demolition of the refugee camps in Lebanon starting with Tal Ezza'tar in 1976 and continuing with Sabra and Shatila in 1982. As a journalist in Beirut and a member of the Beirut Decentrist group that wrote about the "everydayness" of war, Badr was compelled to return to the scene of devastation in Tal Ezza'tar to document the history of the camp through personal testimonies and eyewitness narrations. The subsequent interplay of journalistic entry, historical documentation, and fiction endows the novel with the powerful force of veracity and accuracy that draws the reader into a spellbinding narrative that is at once disturbing and poetically evocative. [End Page 810]

The Double Bind

The Eye of the Mirror demonstrates how the Palestinian fight for a homeland has simultaneously sustained and subverted the traditional paradigm of the war story in which men's "direct" involvement along enemy lines in the form of "active" combat has both reflected...


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pp. 809-823
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Archived 2004
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