“Knock on My Grave Upon my Son’s Return”

Nour Sleiman
Lebanese Journalist
Published on 21.06.2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

During Lebanon’s Civil War some 17,000 people were kidnapped or “disappeared.” Most were never heard of again. In the book Windmills of Our Hearts 14 women who stayed behind tell their stories

“I am 82 years old, my death is near, my remaining days are few,” said Mrs. Nouhad El-Jurdi, holding the only photo of her son Ayman Salim, who was abducted at an armed checkpoint in Bhamdoun on June 28, 1982. 

Nouhad has spent half her life telling of her tragedy. Now, her story, along with those of 14 other women, is included in the book Windmills of Our Hearts, recently published by the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon (CFKDL) in cooperation with the International Center for Transitional Justice

The families of the kidnapped and forcibly disappeared have been suffering for decades, during which they have tried every form of struggle while being met with a policy of deliberate and chronic inaction. Now writing has become the latest act of resistance.

Following the end of the Lebanese Civil War, the militias reconciled among themselves and assumed power, granted themselves amnesty for any possible war crimes and sought to obliterate the stories of the kidnapped and disappeared. A first of its kind, Windmills of Our Hearts documents the neverending pain of the women who stayed behind.

Forty Years 

Written by CFKDL, the book’s introduction offers an overview of the “burning disregard” with which the families of the missing have been treated for decades: “No one has asked about how our days pass. No one has come close to hear our heartbeats, to listen to our suffering and the nightmares of our nights.” 

CFKDL was founded by Wadad Halalwani on 24 November 24, 1982, two months after her husband was kidnapped at gunpoint. She still heads the organization. 

“We realized that 40 years had passed since the start of our struggle to find our loved ones,” Halalwani told Daraj at the book launch. “We poured some of our suffering onto the pages to convey that we are ordinary people. We experience joy, as well as sorrow, yet we wish we could live our lives normally, without spending years knocking on the doors to demand officials assume their responsibilities and reveal the fate of our loved ones.”

“We wanted these stories to be documented and remain imprinted in the collective memory of the Lebanese people,” she added. 

“My Beggar Mother” 

My Beggar Mother is the title of Souad al-Herbawi’s story. Her brother Ahmed was kidnapped at a checkpoint in Ashrafieh in March 1975. Souad recalls how the abduction changed her mother’s life forever.

Her mother spent the rest of her life begging for the truth about her son. Souad will never give up on her brother’s case, for she promised her mother before she passed away.

“Do not forget to knock on my grave upon Ahmed’s return, so that my heart may rest and my soul may find peace,” she told Souad.  

In Shanai: From a Haven of Love to a Battlefield, CFKDL founder Halawani describes the circumstances leading up to the abduction of her husband Adnan from their Beirut home on September 24, 1982. 

Wadad and her sons Ziad and Ghassan had been stranded at their summer residence in Shanai, as Adnan had been unable to take them back to Beirut due to the Israeli air raids and escalating war. It was the first time Wadad had been separated from her husband. 

“We must endure, and I must endure this temporary separation from Adnan,” Wadad writes. “It is the first time for the three of us, and for our lonely fourth in Beirut.”

Wadad eventually returned to Beirut, but the separation she feared was not temporary. Adnan was kidnapped and never returned. 

With a little imagination, which she hoped would turn into reality, Laila Al-Shabab wrote Tales Come From Behind Mirrors. Her brother Antoine disappeared on the Zahle-Beirut highway on June 28, 1986. 

In her story, Leila’s room turns into an imaginary courtroom for the warlords. You are accused of kidnapping Antoine Al-Shabab, depriving him of his freedom and causing his disappearance,” Leila asks them. “So what do you say?” 

Anjad Mouallem wrote I Will Never Give Up! It is the story of her father, Abdul-Hadi Mouallem, who was kidnapped from the military Al-Helou Barracks on November 5, 1984. Anjad was strongly attached to her father. She fondly remembers her outings with him and how kind and affectionate he was. 

“I haven’t forgotten you, not even for a moment,” she writes. “Your image is always with me. I hope the days will bring us together again.”

Ink of Pain and Hope

“The women have penned down scenes our eyes were blinded to,” said Nour El-Bejjani Noureddine, Programs Director at the International Center for Transitional Justice in Lebanon and Yemen. “We saw writing as a process of healing for these women, who expressed so many emotions. Feelings of love, longing, struggle, suffering, and most importantly hope.”

Creative writing coach Fatima Sharafeddine thanked the book’s “heroic women” one by one: Souad Abou Nakad, Fardoss Agha, Nouhad El-Jurdi, Fatmeh Jamal, Laila Al-Shabab, Wadad Halawani, Maryam Saidi, Mai Al-Sayyid Ahmed, Yola Farhat, Souhad Karam, Sawsan Kawash, Hayat Madi, Nibal Matar, Anjad Mouallem, and Souad Herbawi.

“It was one of the richest workshops I have ever given,” she said. “I think writing is a way of psychological treatment and self-discovery. As the participants themselves said: writing was a tool to relieve the burden of painful feelings that they have been carrying for decades.”

* The book Windmills of Our Hearts is available in Arabic, English and French. The book’s proceeds will go to the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and the Disappeared.

Nour Sleiman
Lebanese Journalist
Published on 21.06.2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

Subscribe to our newsletter