Should the Beirut port blast site be turned into a place of remembrance?

Special Should the Beirut port blast site be turned into a place of remembrance?
Flooded with natural light, the sound-healing therapy building would offer meditation and cognitive behavioral sessions. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 29 January 2022

Should the Beirut port blast site be turned into a place of remembrance?

Should the Beirut port blast site be turned into a place of remembrance?
  • A design project envisions a museum, sound-therapy space and amphitheater where the deadly explosion occurred in 2020
  • Sultan El-Halabi was inspired by New York’s 9/11 memorial to imagine a place of remembrance for Lebanon

DUBAI: For Sultan El-Halabi, Aug. 4, 2020, began like any other day in Beirut. He was driving with his mother from their hometown of Chouf to the Lebanese capital, where they checked into a sea-facing hotel to rest.

But shortly after 6 p.m., El-Halabi’s mother said she felt a strange rumbling sensation. El-Halabi crossed the room to the balcony to investigate the cause when all of a sudden, the entire window frame flew off, collapsing right in front of him. They were both lucky to escape uninjured.

“No one could have expected that to happen,” El-Halabi, a 23-year-old architecture graduate, told Arab News from his base in Dubai, more than a year on from the Beirut port blast — a disaster that killed over 200 people and left some 300,000 homeless.




The scars from the blast remain visible on the city skyline. (AFP)

“I remember the view of the city afterward. They were warning people at the hotel to stay indoors because acid or chemicals could be in the air. The sky started changing color. It was more reddish. It was like a war zone. Everything, in just one second, was completely gone.”

More than a year later, the scars remain visible on the city skyline. What is less visible are mental scars the blast has left on those who survived and who lost homes, businesses and loved ones.

“In Lebanon now, you should just live your day as if it’s your last,” El-Halabi said. “Always stay connected with your loved ones because you never know what could happen.”

The tragedy motivated El-Halabi to base his senior graduation project at the American University in Dubai on restoring the devastated port, transforming it into an accessible, multi-functional and job-creating site that can be “given back to the people.”

His project, named “Repurpose 607,” envisages replacing the five damaged warehouse plots with a memorial museum, a sound-healing therapy space, an amphitheater and an underground parking area.




“Everything, in just one second, was completely gone,”  said Sultan El-Halabi, referring to the port tragedy. (Supplied)

The site would also feature a library, offices and a cafe, while a raised, circular footpath would offer visitors an overview of the port.

Flooded with natural light, the sound-healing therapy building would offer meditation and cognitive behavioral sessions to help those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the blast.

“For many people, until this day, if they hear a slight bang or any weird noise, they would always refer to the explosion or take cover,” El-Halabi said. Sound therapy could help many traumatized Beirut residents find calm and closure.

The proposed memorial museum would include a timeline of Beirut’s history up until the day of the blast and the names of its victims engraved on a large triangulated stone.




The tragedy motivated Sultan El-Halabi to base his senior graduation project on restoring the devastated port. (Supplied)

El-Halabi likens this tribute to how Americans honored the dead in New York following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“They did not rebuild where the Twin Towers were located,” El-Halabi said. “They dedicated that plot of land to the people and they transformed it into a beautiful memorial place to make sure that people’s memories would live on forever. It kind of inspired me to do something similar, but for Lebanon.”

The proposed site would have pedestrian paths as well as greenery and seating areas to offer space for quiet reflection away from the city traffic. A basement area would also be built to include a gallery for Lebanese artists to showcase their work.




The proposed site would have pedestrian paths as well as greenery and seating areas to offer space for quiet reflection. (Supplied)

Aesthetically geometric and bold, it is a place designed to benefit the people, to help them “to overcome the trauma and for them to see the beauty in the site rather than always fearing it,” El-Halabi said.

In his design, only one crucial element of the site remains untouched and preserved — the massive grain silos, which experts claim shielded the city from further damage. “It symbolizes strength and empowerment,” El-Halabi said. “It’s proof to the world that we could overcome any obstacle that we face.”

The young architect acknowledges it could take time for traumatized residents of the Lebanese capital to feel emotionally ready to visit a renovated site. “Of course it could be controversial,” El-Halabi said.




Aesthetically geometric and bold, it is a place designed to benefit the people. (Supplied)

“Many people have different opinions and you can’t change them so easily. Everyone has their own freedom to view things the way they’re supposed to. But, I am able to at least enlighten them with the advantages behind this proposal.”

As a student embracing cutting-edge digital technology, El-Halabi admired the ideas of pioneering architects like Antoni Gaudí and Frank Gehry, and especially Santiago Calatrava, who designed the falcon wing-shaped UAE pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.




The idea has been called “clever and thoughtful.” (Supplied)

Having lived almost all of his life in Dubai, El-Halabi says he has also been heavily influenced by his ever-evolving urban surroundings — considered one of the world’s most dramatic and experimental cityscapes.

“It all started with dunes,” he said, reflecting on Dubai’s astronomical growth over recent decades. “They were able to convert the UAE into a heavenly place. It inspires me a lot. It shows that, in such a short time, nothing is impossible.”

He also subscribes to the notion that architecture is more than its stylistic elements, and should ultimately work to enhance people’s lives.




Sultan El-Halabi likens this tribute to how Americans honored the 9/11 terrorist attacks victims. (Supplied)

“It’s about finding the missing satisfaction of what people need and trying to provide it to them,” he said. “Architecture is more than just designing or placing a building. You need to take into consideration the people and provide facilities for them. It also needs to fit in perfectly with its surroundings.”

In October last year, as part of Dubai Design Week, “Repurpose 607” was among 60 submissions that made it to the MENA Grad Show, where graduates from across the region present their “design meets purpose” projects that address social, health and environmental issues.




“It’s an architectural solution that goes well beyond architecture,” said Carlo Rizzo. (Supplied)

Carlo Rizzo, the show’s 2021 edition editor, praised El-Halabi’s project, describing it as one of the “top entries.”

“Repurpose 607 struck me first of all for its empathy,” Rizzo told Arab News. “It’s an architectural solution that goes well beyond architecture. It looks at the built environment as a platform for building resilience in our communities and takes mental health and wellbeing as a starting point.




“Repurpose 607” was among 60 submissions that made it to the MENA Grad Show. (Supplied)

“To remember the victims and transform the site into a place of healing is not just a clever and thoughtful idea, but an urgent solution addressing a very real need.”

El-Halabi, who currently works for a Dubai-based architectural firm, still hopes to see his Beirut port project brought to life some day.

“I’ve been to Lebanon two times since the explosion,” he said. “Every time I pass by the port, I always picture how it would look in real life, trying to see my project being built there. It could have potential.”

Twitter: @artprojectdxb


Lebanon fails for 9th time to elect a president

Lebanon fails for 9th time to elect a president
Updated 08 December 2022

Lebanon fails for 9th time to elect a president

Lebanon fails for 9th time to elect a president
  • Only 105 of parliament’s 128 lawmakers showed up for the vote

BEIRUT:  Lebanon’s divided parliament failed to elect a new president Thursday for a ninth time, despite the damage the political deadlock is doing to efforts to bail out its bankrupt economy.

Legislators will again meet next Thursday to attempt to fill the vacancy, according to a statement on Lebanon’s News Agency (NNA).
Parliament is split between supporters of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its opponents, neither of whom have a clear majority.
“Holding a session every week won’t change anything,” said lawmaker Alain Aoun, of former president Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).
Hezbollah opponent Michel Moawad, who is seen as close to the United States, won the support of 39 MPs but fell well short of the required majority.
Only 105 of parliament’s 128 lawmakers showed up for the vote and as many of them spoilt their ballots.
Some MPs wrote in mock choices for the vacant presidency, with one vote cast for late South African leader Nelson Mandela.
Moawad’s candidacy is opposed by Hezbollah, whose leader Hassan Nasrallah called last month for a president ready to stand up to Washington.
Parliament speaker Nabih Berri reiterated calls for dialogue among lawmakers to find a consensus candidate to prevent the process dragging on for months.
Aoun’s election in 2016 followed a more than two-year vacancy at the presidential palace as lawmakers made 45 failed attempts to elect a president before reaching a consensus on his candidacy.
By convention, Lebanon’s presidency goes to a Maronite Christian, the premiership is reserved for a Sunni Muslim and the post of parliament speaker goes to a Shiite Muslim.
A cabinet meeting on Monday exacerbated divisions between Hezbollah and its main Christian ally the FPM, which says the caretaker government should not meet until a new president has been named.
Lebanon can ill afford a prolonged power vacuum as it grapples with a financial crisis dubbed by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history, with a currency in free fall, severe electricity shortages and soaring poverty rates.
The country’s caretaker government has limited powers and cannot enact the sweeping reforms demanded by international lenders to release billions of dollars in bailout loans.
Parliament will convene for a 10th attempt to elect a president on December 15.


Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu moves closer to coalition deal

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu moves closer to coalition deal
Updated 08 December 2022

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu moves closer to coalition deal

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu moves closer to coalition deal
  • Deal announced overnight promises the Shas party five ministerial jobs in Netanyahu’s incoming government

JERUSALEM: Israel’s prime-minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party Thursday on allocating cabinet jobs in a key step toward forming a government ahead of a looming deadline.
The deal announced overnight promises the Shas party five ministerial jobs in Netanyahu’s incoming government, which is expected to be the most right-wing in Israel’s history.
“We have achieved another step toward forming a government,” said Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, whose victory in a November 1 election set him up to retake power after just 14 months in opposition.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party has already signed coalition deals with three controversial extreme right parties — Religious Zionism, Jewish Power and the virulently anti-LGBT Noam.
Likud’s agreements with Shas and another ultra-Orthodox bloc, United Torah Judaism, are provisional, not binding coalition deals. Additional pacts will be required before a government is announced, the parties have said.
One complication is that Shas leader Aryeh Deri has been convicted of tax offenses, which, according to Israel’s attorney general, bars him from serving in cabinet.
Israel’s parliament, where Netanyahu and his allies now control a majority, may seek to pass legislation allowing Deri to serve in cabinet before firming up a coalition deal.
Under the Shas-Likud deal, Deri will be both interior minister and health minister in Netanyahu’s next government, in addition to being named deputy prime minister.
If confirmed, Deri would become Israel’s first ultra-Orthodox Jewish deputy premier.
Last month’s election put Netanyahu and his allies in a position to form a stable, right-wing government, ending an unprecedented period of political deadlock that forced five elections in less than four years.
Some Israeli political analysts had forecast that Netanyahu would move to announce a coalition days after receiving his mandate from President Isaac Herzog on November 13.
But the coalition talks have proved complex, with Netanyahu forced to give sensitive portfolios to controversial figures, including Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been promised the national security ministry with responsiblity for the border police in the occupied West Bank despite his fiercely anti-Arab rhetoric.
Netanyahu’s 28-day mandate from Herzog expires at midnight (2200 GMT) Sunday.
He is widely expected to seek a two-week extension, as several issues remain unresolved, including the allocation of portfolios within his own Likud party, according to Israeli media reports.


Iran executes first known prisoner arrested in protests

Iran executes first known prisoner arrested in protests
Updated 08 December 2022

Iran executes first known prisoner arrested in protests

Iran executes first known prisoner arrested in protests
  • Iran accused the man of blocking street and attacking security officer with machete

DUBAI: Iran said Thursday it executed a prisoner convicted for a crime allegedly committed during the country’s ongoing nationwide protests, the first such death penalty carried out by Tehran.
The execution comes as other detainees also face possible death penalty for their involvement in the protests, which began first as an outcry against Iran’s morality police and have expanded into one of the most serious challenges to Iran’s theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Activists warn others could be put to death as well soon since activists say at least a dozen people so far have received death sentences over their involvement in the demonstrations.
The “execution of #MohsenShekari must be me with STRONG reactions otherwise we will be facing daily executions of protesters,” wrote Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the Oslo-based activist group Iran Human Rights. “This execution must have rapid practical consequences internationally.”
Iran’s Mizan news agency reported the execution. It accused the man of blocking a street and attacking a security force member with a machete in Tehran.
The Mizan news agency, run by the country’s judiciary, identified the executed man as Mohsen Shekari. It said he had been convicted in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which typically holds closed-door cases that have been internationally criticized in other cases for not allowing those on trial to pick their own lawyers or even see the evidence against them.
Mizan said Shekari had been arrested Sept. 25, then convicted Nov. 20 on the charge of “moharebeh,” a Farsi word meaning “waging war against God.” That charge has been levied against others in the decades since 1979 and carries the death penalty.
Iran has been rocked by protests since the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being detained by the country’s morality police. At least 475 people have been killed in the demonstrations amid a heavy-handed security crackdown, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been monitoring the protests since they began. Over 18,000 have been detained by authorities.
Iran is one of the world’s top executioners. It typically executes prisoners by hanging. Already, Amnesty International said it obtained a document signed by one senior Iranian police commander asking an execution for one prisoner be “completed ‘in the shortest possible time’ and that his death sentence be carried out in public as ‘a heart-warming gesture toward the security forces.’”


Israeli forces kill 3 Palestinians, including militant, in West Bank raid, Palestinians say

Israeli forces kill 3 Palestinians, including militant, in West Bank raid, Palestinians say
Updated 27 min 32 sec ago

Israeli forces kill 3 Palestinians, including militant, in West Bank raid, Palestinians say

Israeli forces kill 3 Palestinians, including militant, in West Bank raid, Palestinians say
  • The Israeli military said that soldiers had operated around the city of Jenin to arrest two Palestinian men suspected of involvement in "terrorist activity"
  • Residents said two of the dead men were known in the city as armed fighters

JENIN, West Bank: Israeli forces killed three Palestinians, including at least one militant, during a pre-dawn raid in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, Palestinians said, as a months-long wave of violence continued.
The Israeli military said that soldiers had operated around the city of Jenin to arrest two Palestinian men suspected of involvement in "terrorist activity".
During the arrest raid, it said soldiers were "targeted with direct fire and responded with live fire, hits were identified".
The Islamic Jihad claimed one of the men killed as a member and his body was seen wrapped in the militant group's flag at his funeral.
Residents said two of the dead men were known in the city as armed fighters, although they were apparently not the suspects the military had been seeking.
The third man was a civilian who was passing by at the time of the shooting, residents said.
Ghassan al-Saadi, who said he witnessed the incident, told Reuters he saw Israeli snipers shoot at cars ahead of him. He said Israeli forces also fired at ambulances when they arrived at the scene to remove two men who lay prone on the ground.
The Israeli military said it was not aware of such reports.
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have deteriorated sharply this year, with Israeli forces staging repeated raids in the West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis that killed 19 people in the spring.
Israel seized the West Bank in 1967 along with Gaza and East Jerusalem. All efforts to secure lasting peace and the creation of a Palestinian state on occupied territory have failed, with no prospects of negotiations resuming any time soon.
According to the Palestinian health ministry, more than 210 Palestinians have been killed this year. The tally includes militants and civilians, as well as deaths in Gaza during a brief conflict in August.
In the same period, Israeli authorities say 23 civilians and eight security personnel have been killed in Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank.


Iraqi security forces kill two protesters in the south

Iraqi security forces kill two protesters in the south
Updated 08 December 2022

Iraqi security forces kill two protesters in the south

Iraqi security forces kill two protesters in the south

BAGHDAD/NASSIRIYA: Iraqi security forces shot dead two protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya on Wednesday after using live ammunition to disperse an anti-government protest, police and medical sources told Reuters.
At least 16 protesters were wounded, mainly by live bullets, when security forces attempted to move them away from bridges and a central square, the sources said.
Police said protesters threw stones at security forces, wounding 17. A Reuters witness said crowds subsequently gathered outside a hospital morgue, demanding the release of the two bodies.
Around 300 people took part in the demonstration which was called to protest against recent arrests that targeted activists in the mainly Shiite city of Nassiriya.
Protesters took to the streets against a court ruling this week sentencing Hayder Hamid Al-Zaidi, 20, to three years in prison over alleged criticism of state-sanctioned militias.
Zaidi, 20, who was active in popular anti-government protests that began in October 2019, was sentenced Monday in a criminal court in Baghdad over comments on Twitter that he maintains he did not write. He had been charged under a penal code section that outlaws publicly insulting any government institution or official.
Al-Zaidi was arrested over the tweet in June and released after 16 days on bail. He has maintained that his account was hacked.
It was the first such deadly demonstration since a new government was formed by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani in October. 
(With Reuters and AP)