KatalystProductions

Posts Tagged ‘war crimes’

“Alzawiya len tenhani”

In Libya on August 18, 2012 at 18:19

December 2011:  I had been talking to a young, dynamic Libyan woman named Issraa Murabit about her family’s recently launched NGO “Voice of Libyan Women.”  The Murabit family were an educated, liberal family who had lived for many years in Canada, but had returned back to Zawiyah their home town, about a 30 minute drive from Tripoli.  Sitting in the makeshift offices of VLW in Tripoli, Issraa told me about the dilemma Libyan women now faced.  She told me of her frustration that Libyan women were too often happy to sit back and let others decide their fate, “but they must learn that they have to demand their rights – their rights aren’t just going to automatically come to them, they must ask for them, and fight for them!”  She told me about a series of workshops VLW were conducting in Zawiyah in the coming week.  “Zawiyah?” I said, “the site of the massacre that took place back in March?”  “yes, she said, my brother and my father were involved in that protest and my father spoke to the international media about it – he’s ‘Dr M’ she said.  It turned out that her father was the infamous “rubber bullet Doctor,” who had spoken anonymously to the world’s media during the brutal crackdown of Zawiyah by Gaddafi’s forces.  It was during an interview with the UK media when asked if Gaddafi was using live bullets or plastic bullets, that Dr M (his face now being shown) – incredulously responded “are you joking, these are real bullets!”

I had watched the horrific reports of the brutal massacre of Zawiyah on the news during March 2011, and I wanted to meet Dr Murabit and see for myself what had happened there.  I was fortunate enough to bum a ride with Dr Mohamed Murabit and his family driving to Zawiyah where Mohamed showed me around Zaiwyah Hospital and Martyr Square where the mosque itself was attacked.  It turned out that his son Ferras Murabit had met Alex Crawford and the Sky News team as they were all taking cover from live fire.  Ferras had joined the protestors who were attempting to march from Zawiyah’s Martyr Square to Tripoli on Friday March 4 2011, before they were attacked by the Khamis Brigade.  Ferras himself was in the ambulance with Alex Crawford and her team as they were fired upon en route to Zawiyah Hospital.  “Later on I could see bullet holes in the ambulance that were like inches above my head from where I was sitting – that was pretty scary,” he said.  It was at the hospital that “Dr M” met Alex Crawford and her team and he helped them in their incredibly brave efforts to expose the brutal crackdown in Zawiyah.  Dr Mohamed joked with me that “maybe in other countries protestors would be met with rubber bullets – but in Libya it’s the real thing or nothing.”  He showed me around Zawiyah Hospital pointing out the numerous bullet hole marks that had been hastily plastered over.  I could see the same green ceramic tiles on the walls that I had seen on all the TV reports.

We met a doctor who had been inside the mosque in Zawiyah’s Martyr Square when it was attacked.  Dr Koum told me “that was a terrible day; we all thought we were going to die.”  Later when they saw the mobile phone footage of captured Gaddafi soldiers laughing at the attack on the mosque he said “I couldn’t believe that, that people could laugh and attack a mosque like that.  They are Muslims I can’t imagine that they would have done that” he said shaking his head in disbelief.  But for Gaddafi it seemed, it was routine to attack mosques.  Nothing or no one was spared his brutal assault.

Dr Fouad Koum at Zawiyah hospital

Mohamed himself was arrested three times by the Mukhabarat (the secret police) and was tipped off at a checkpoint that he was on the wanted list for further arrest, and so he had to “lay low for a while.”  A warm, generous and humorous man, Mohamed wryly joked with me, “When the intelligence police say ‘can you just come with me for 5 minutes’ – it can turn into 10 years … or in fact death.  So when someone says ‘just come with us for five minutes’ you know you’re in trouble.”

Later, Mohamed took me to Martyr Square in Zawiyah town centre.  All around the square were bombed out buildings, still after nine months the evidence of a terrifying assault was obvious.  Nothing had been repaired.  Mohammed showed me the site where the mosque had been razed to the ground – I remember so well seeing news reports of the mosque disappearing – a symbol of resistance that Gaddafi’s men were keen to erase.  Mohamed said they had to demolish the mosque as the damage was so bad.  He pointed to a make-shift tent and said “this is where they are praying now. For sure they will rebuild the mosque, no doubt about it.”  He later showed me the burial mounds were martyrs had been hastily buried.  Ferras said “when Gaddafi retook this square, they exhumed the bodies; they dug up the bodies and threw them in a landfill.”  Mohammed said “you know even in death Gaddafi gave us no dignity – in life or in death.”

Dr Murabit at the site of Martyr Square Mosque

In Martyr’s Square was a “museum” a mausoleum of a kind dedicated to the Zawiyah massacre.  In a cordoned off section was a horrifying array of 15 calibre bullets, grad missiles, mortar shells and ammunition.  “This is Gaddafi’s gift to the people of Zawiyah,” said the museum attendant.  They later talked about Alex Crawford, the Sky correspondent and her team who had cowered in the mosque with them, as it came under a relentless attack and who had bravely reported on the massacre.  “Everyone thought they would die that die.  She didn’t need to be there, it wasn’t her battle, she is a hero in Zawiyah” they said.  Rare praise from a Libyan man indeed.  All along the walls of the museum peered back row upon row of martyr’s faces – woefully staring out, lovingly framed.  Mohamed pointed out the face of one martyr.  “This was a friend of ours who cooked us dinner that night when Alex Crawford and her team took refuge in a hotel in the square.  He sadly died a few days later.”

“Dr M”

After the square, we were met by Issraa and her mother Nejat.  Nejat along with her daughter, Aala Murabit and other family members, were the driving force behind the Voice of Libyan Women, and as we drove along the streets of Zawiyah they pointed out the bullet holes in many of the buildings.  Then we pulled up outside a farm yard stop.  They were barbequing joints of sheep on a spit-fire roast.  We pulled up some chairs and sat in the farm yard itself.  We were to have dinner Libyan style, with chunks of chargrilled meat from the very sheep right from the farm itself.  Thankfully being a kiwi and sheep being the national icon, I was not a vegetarian and felt right at home!

Over dinner, sitting amongst the palms and cobbled mud walls of the farm, there was more talk of Gaddafi, of his demise and what this meant for the future of Libya.  There was a lot of talk of the hypocrisy of Gaddafi, and of the security situation which now had to be resolved.  “You know during the time of Gaddafi it was illegal to own a gun, you couldn’t even have one single bullet!”  But of course Gaddafi and his men all had guns.  Now ironically, Libya was awash with weapons – too many weapons – and this was their number one concern, to get the militias under control, demobilise and get the weapons – particularly the big anti-aircraft guns I had seen around Tripoli – off the streets.  “There have been too many deaths now to celebratory gunfire and to petty disputes that have now been resolved through gun fights.  This must stop if Libya is to be secure and peaceful,” everyone around the table agreed.

But the fight was worth it.  “You know,” Mohammed continued, “We originally came out in protest to support Benghazi.  Benghazi are our brothers and we all came out to protest against what was happening there.”  Then the Khamis Brigade commanded by Khamis Gaddafi came back, (their barracks were only 15 km away from Zawiyah) – and a new slogan emerged “Alzawiya len tenhani” – “Zawiyah will never bow.”  And Zawiyah never did.

You can also watch my film of the Zawiyah massacre on The Guardian here.

 

%d bloggers like this: