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Hassan’s Tale, Part 8 – Tel-Az-Zaytoon



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When I gave Daniel the order to head for Tel-Az-Zaytoon, he raised his eyebrows but asked no questions. Fired up the Jeep and off we went.

I patted the breast pocket of my overshirt. I kept Lena’s drawing there as a good luck charm. I would need it, I was sure.

As we sped through the wide square at the heart of the Green Line, a shot rang out and a cloud of dust kicked up in front of the Jeep. Sniper! I withdrew a pair of mini binoculars from a belt pouch and scanned the surrounding buildings for the shooter. No sign of him. Daniel floored it and we sped along the weed-grown, cracked pavement, weaving randomly. Another shot, and the Jeep’s windshield shattered. The sniper was getting closer, but I’d spotted the muzzle flash. In a building to the west, five floors up, I saw the head of a Muslim woman in her twenties, her suntanned face framed by a black hijab. A long rifle rested on a stack of sandbags as she peered through the scope with one eye, looking at me as I looked at her.

Two years earlier I would have lifted my rifle and put a bullet in her other eye, and I wouldn’t have missed. But that darkness had gone out of me. I lifted my hand and flashed her a peace sign. In response, another shot rang out, and I felt the wind as the bullet ruffled my hair in passing. Then we turned a corner and were out of the sniper’s field of fire. Daniel said, “Goin’ soft, cap?”

I did not reply.

By the time we arrived at Tel-Az-Zaytoon, the sun was going down. The main road out of the hilly camp had been barred with a cement truck, so that only pedestrian traffic could pass. A mobile HQ had been set up in front of the main gate, with communications equipment set up under a portable awning. Sandbags were manned by gunners with 50 cals. As Daniel and I pulled up someone fired a dazzlingly bright flare over the camp, illuminating it as if it were daytime. I heard the distant rattle of automatic weapons fire coming from the camp.

I asked who was in charge and the men looked me over lazily. One nodded toward a flatbed truck. These 2nd Battalion men were under the direct command of Boulos Haddad. They were mostly older, battle-hardened veterans. I knew they wouldn’t accord me much respect, even if they knew who I was.

A knot of senior officers stood on the flatbed, studying the camp through field glasses. I was glad to see that one was Saber. I called to him and he hopped down off the truck, radio in one hand and field glasses in the other. His uniform was impeccably clean and creased, but his face was lined and his eyes were tired.

Me, Daniel and Saber. It was the first time in years we’d all been together. For a moment I remembered the many training sessions we’d had in the yard of the Boulos mansion. We’d joke around, and sit in the shade together after practice, eating Gala’s homemade hummus and tabbouleh.

If circumstances had been different we might have embraced and shared a few martial arts moves, but I felt eyes watching us, so I saluted Saber stiffly, as did Daniel.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Saber looked past me, not meeting my eyes. He spoke quietly. “Rumors of a weapons cache in the camp, belonging to the PFLP. Also foreign fighters hiding out.”

“Come on,” I said. “Foreign fighters? In a Palestinian camp? What’s it really about?”

Saber glanced around, then lowered his voice to a whisper. “Money. We got intel that the PFLP left behind a cache of currency. Maybe millions. This war is ending, Simon. That means no more protection money. No more drugs. Boulos wants that money.”

I stared at him. I’d heard rumors about Phalangists running protection and drug rackets of course, but I hadn’t known if they were true. I curled my lip in disgust. “Where is Boulos? I want to talk to him.”

Saber nodded toward the camp, still not meeting my eyes. I couldn’t read him. “He and Sami are inside,” he said. “Running the op.”

“Can you take me to him?”

Saber shook his head. “You don’t want to go in there.” he said. “Trust me.”

I nodded toward a covered truck nearby. “Supplies?” Saber nodded yes, and I turned away. He grabbed me by the shoulder. His big hand was like a vice. “It’s a horror show,” he said. “Walk away.”

A horror show? What had I been doing the last five years? Making pancakes? I shook off his hand and turned to Daniel. “What do you want to do, corporal? You can stay out here if you like.”

“Ain’t afraid o’ no horrow show, me,” he said. “Use my Lebanese martial arts.”

“What Lebanese martial arts?”

“Call it Shoe-do. Hit ‘em with a shoe, then kick ‘em when they down.”

I shook my head. “Come on, then.”

We went to the supply truck and loaded up. Rifles, sidearms, combat knives, bandoliers, flak vests, flashlights and grenades, There was a heavy DShK machine gun mounted to a tripod. A Russian gun that people called a Sweetie. Daniel said, “Come to papa, Sweetie.” He detached the Sweetie from the tripod, hooked a carrier strap onto it and slung it over his shoulder. I happened to know that the Sweetie weighed 34 kilograms – that’s 75 pounds – and Daniel lifted it like a baby. It was two thirds as long as he was tall. With his short stature and curled mustache he looked like a cross between a dwarf, a circus strongman and Rambo.

“Leave the Sweetie,” I told him. “We need stealth, not firepower.”

We walked around the barricade and into the camp. No one tried to stop us.

When people hear “refugee camp”, they think of rows of white tents with red crosses on them, or prefab huts surrounded by fencing, with hungry people peering out through the chain links. Maybe some camps are like that, but the Palestinian camps in Lebanon had been there since the Nakbah – the catastrophe of 1948, when the Zionists took Palestine. They looked more like urban slums than camps.

There were narrow little streets with barely room for one car to travel, and even narrower alleys where only pedestrians and motorcycles could pass. A profusion of electrical and telephone wires crisscrossed overhead like cobwebs. There were four and five story cement buildings with peeled paint and crumbling facades, many pockmarked by gunfire or shellfire. Smaller houses with corrugated tin roofs. Empty lots full of rubble and weeds, and yes, some tents. Shuttered stores with hand-painted signs. Banners with pictures of Yasser Arafat. Clothes hung out to dry on the balconies. Shadows flickering on the walls as flares arced overhead. Screams in the distance, and gunshots.

These people were the poorest of the poor. But where were they? No one was out in the streets. Normally at this time of the evening, just after sunset, everyone would be visiting the cafes, shopping for groceries, or heading to the mosques. Something in the air tensed my muscles, causing me to rest my finger on the trigger of my rifle, After a moment I realized that behind the mingled smells of sewage and jasmine, there was a metallic tang in the air. The camp smelled like blood and offal. It smelled like a slaughterhouse.

We turned a corner and came across a scene from the depths of hell. Fifty or more women and children lay piled atop each other in an alley, dead.  The women had clearly been raped. There were boys and girls, and even babies. Most had been killed with knives or machetes. Many were mutilated. I won’t describe the details because I don’t want to put those images in your minds. Their wide eyes and open mouths betrayed the terror of their final moments. The stench of blood and human waste was horrendous and overpowering.

I’d seen shocking things in war, but never anything like this. My mouth fell open and I began to shake. I heard Daniel say, “Maron save us, dear God.” I turned away, fell to my knees and vomited.

I wiped my mouth and spat, then stood and looked at Daniel. He stood rigidly, gripping his rifle with white knuckles.

“We best leave,” Daniel said. “Get back to our platoon.”

“Why?” I demanded.

“Ain’t no fight here. Just a massacre. Best if we was never here.”

“No.” I felt a furious, burning anger in my belly. I already knew what I would do, but I didn’t tell Daniel. I clicked off the safety on my rifle, moved carefully around the bodies – trying to avoid looking at them – and walked on. Daniel followed without a word.

As we made our way deeper into the camp we encountered further atrocities. I will not describe them. My rage grew until it burned white hot. I wanted to wipe the men who had done this off the face of the earth. I didn’t care if they were Phalangists, Christians, or men from Mars. I wanted to destroy them. I’d thought the darkness and rage were gone from me, but now they were back with a vengeance.

I heard shouts and followed the sound to a suq near the center of the camp. It was brightly lit by an overhead flare. In the garish light I saw a squad of nine soldiers doing something heinous that I won’t describe. I did not call out to them to stop. I issued no commands and fired no warning shots. I shot them all, firing rapidly and targeting their heads, tracking them as they tried to take cover, and avoiding the surviving civilians. The last two managed to get a few shots off but the bullets went wild. It was over in seconds.

I do not apologize for what I did. No one can judge me who did not see what I saw. I still see the faces of the dead women and children. Sometimes I’ll be reading a newspaper, or just riding along, and something reminds me of Tel-Az-Zaytoon, and the bodies and faces float up into my mind like the risen dead. I’ll never be free of that day.

Daniel stared at me with wide eyes, his face gray as ash. “You killed our boys,” he said. “You ain’t give ‘em a chance.” His shoulders were tense and for a moment I thought he would attack me.

“They were monsters,” I said. “I did what I had to do.”

“What we do now?”

“I’m going to finish what I started. You can walk away.”

Daniel’s eyes remained wide, but his shoulders relaxed and he shook his head in resignation. “Been followin’ you long time, Cap. Ain’t leavin’ now. But next time you try talkin’ first, alright? Tell ‘em to stand down.”

I agreed. We moved through the camp, following the sounds of gunshots and screams, the streets alternately dark, then brightly lit when flares burst overhead. We came across a knot of four soldiers who had lined a group of old men up against the wall of a mosque, facing the wall. The old men trembled. Some mumbled prayers, and a few had wet themselves. As we approached, one of the soldiers drew a machete from a sheath and slashed at one of the old men, cutting him deeply across the back. The old man screamed and fell to his knees.

I shouted, “Stop!” The soldiers whirled, guns at the ready. I saw that some had painted their faces in blood, while others had blackened their faces with charcoal. They looked like beasts.

“What the ***?” one exclaimed. He was a thickly built sergeant with a shaved head.

“You can’t do this,” I said. “Let these men go.”

The soldiers laughed. I don’t think they knew who I was. “How’d you get in here?” the sergeant said. “Go back to daycare, boy.” He turned to finish killing the old man who had crumpled against the wall, bleeding profusely from the wound in his back.

“Me and you, sarge!” I shouted. “You think you’re a man?” I proceeded to insult him. I wanted to provoke him, get him angry enough to attack me. I said, “You and me, machete to machete. First cut wins. If I win, you let these men go.”

The sergeant nodded to one of his men, who tossed me a machete, blade first, no doubt thinking I’d cut myself trying to catch it. I snagged it out of the air by the handle, and without preamble the sergeant attacked, slashing diagonally from his shoulder, putting his weight behind it. He wasn’t fighting for first cut. He was trying to open me like a fish. Fine. That’s how we’d play it.

He never stood a chance. I’d practiced these moves thousands of times with Saber and Daniel, and had continued since then, rehearsing on the pavement of the barracks during lulls in the fighting. I parried his thrust and and dipped the point of my machete straight down, skewering the top of his foot. He screamed and tried to back step. I pulled my blade out of his foot and drove it straight up toward his belly, thrusting with my legs, putting all my body weight behind it. The blade sunk almost a foot deep into his torso, entering at the belly and slicing toward the heart. The sergeant made a sound like, “Huhhh,” and fell down dead.

I thought that would be the end of it – that his men would withdraw –  but they brought their guns to bear. Without pause I sidestepped and hacked one man’s hand off at the wrist, then spun in a circle and struck another in the side of the neck, severing his carotid artery. At the same time I heard shots ring out as Daniel felled the final two soldiers.

The old Palestinian men had dropped to the floor, covering their heads with their hands. I told them to rise and help their wounded friend. “Find a place to hide,” I said.

The man whose hand I’d chopped off was on his knees, gritting his teeth and gripping his own wrist tightly, trying to stop the bleeding. Daniel shot him in the forehead.

“No witnesses,” Daniel said. “Boulos find out, we dead as dust. We in to the hilt.”

I did not object.

Daniel rummaged through the pockets of one of the men and found the charcoal. “Put this on,” he instructed. “Nobody recognize us.”

I refused. I didn’t want to look like these monsters.

Daniel and I made our way toward the fringes of the camp. The electricity had been cut, and no flares illuminated this district, so that it was sunk in darkness. As we went, we encountered Phalangists in squads or half squads. Sometimes we exchanged greetings and moved on. If they were engaged in atrocities, or if they boasted of killing civilians, or if they wore trophies – body parts, I mean – we killed them without warning.


“It was you?” Jamilah breathed.

Hassan regarded Jamilah in silence.

“What?” Muhammad said. “What did I miss?”

“There have been many massacres of Palestinian civilians,” Jamilah said. “In most, the attackers suffered no losses. The mystery of Tel-Az-Zaytoon is how 200 Phalangist militiamen ended up dead. That was you, Hassan?”

“Two hundred?” Hassan said. “No. Some of the refugees fought back against the Phalangists.”

“How many then?”

Hassan’s mouth was a grim line. “I don’t know. Does it matter?”

Jamilah lifted her head and looked at Hassan. “I guess not,” she said. “It’s just that it’s one of the mysteries of the civil war, and now the answer is sitting in front of me.”

“I’ll tell you something,” Hassan said. “Years later, in another country, I met a teenaged street vendor who had white hair like an old man. The contrast was shocking. I asked him about it but he shook his head. I knew from his accent that he was Lebanese. Every day I’d buy fresh orange juice from him on my way to work. One day he seemed depressed. I told him to cheer up – that the future held good things for him. He said, ‘Do you know what day this is?’ I thought for a moment, and realized it was the anniversary of the Tel-Az-Zaytoon massacre. Suddenly it clicked in my head. The Quran says about the Day of Judgment, ‘Yawman yaj’al ul-wildaana shaybaa.’ A Day that will make the children white-haired. This juice seller had been a child at the time of the massacre. What had he seen that turned his hair white? What had he experienced? I nodded my head, and he saw that I understood… If you haven’t been there, then you can’t grasp it, and you can’t judge.”

“I wasn’t – “ Jamilah started to say, but Hassan interrupted her and continued.


“When we reached the lowest, darkest part of the camp we heard voices. We approached slowly, keeping to the shadows. We saw a small group of men at the end of a closed alley, in front of a shuttered snack shop. Their voices were raised in argument. One had a flashlight pointed at the ground, but the light was dim and I could not make out their faces. We crept still closer, and my breath caught. It was Boulos, Uncle Sami, a bald officer in his thirties who I didn’t recognize – it was he who held the light – and Mr. Black, Boulos’ personal bodyguard. Mr. Black wore camos as well, and looked like an ordinary soldier except for his impeccably styled black hair and the purple scar across his throat. The snack shop window was shattered. I guess they’d broken in, because Boulos was calmly eating a chocolate bar.

Sami spoke in angry voice. “This is unacceptable, Boulos. The world will condemn us. We’ll be outcasts and criminals.”

Boulos laughed. “What happens here will be forgotten tomorrow, except by the Palestinian roaches. Do you know how the Jews drove them out of Israel in 1948? They went into Palestinian villages like Deir Yassin and threw grenades into the people’s homes. They didn’t have to kill all the Palestinians. Only wipe out a village here and there, and the word spread. The Palestinians abandoned their villages by the hundreds of thousands. We must do the same, or Lebanon will never be rid of them. As for being outcasts, we will say the Palestinians killed each other. PFLP against Fateh, or some such.”

I chose that moment to peel away from the wall and walk forward to the edge of the light.  Daniel tried to pull me back but I shook him off. The officer put the light in my face. I was blinded, but I stood straight and didn’t flinch.

I heard Boulos’ gravelly laugh. “Well,” he said. “A family reunion. Simon, you are naughty. You weren’t invited to this party.”

“Is that what you call it?” I said. “Your men are killing women and children.”

The light jumped several feet to my side and I saw that Daniel had taken my flank.

“You are meddling,” Boulos said, the jovial tone gone. “Return to your company and I won’t have you demoted.”

“Did you kill my parents?” I demanded.

I saw the bald officer reach for his holstered sidearm with his free hand. I sighted my rifle on his chest. Mr. Black produced a pistol as if by magic and raised it, aiming at Daniel. Only Uncle Sami did not move. He seemed paralyzed by indecision.

“Stop!” Boulos shouted. “Black, Serge, lower your weapons. Simon may be a meddling child but he’s the best shot in Beirut.” He smiled. “My dear nephew. Someone has been feeding you lies. I loved your father. As for what is happening here, we are rooting out terrorists.”

“So men who kill women and babies are violating orders?”

“Yes, of course. If such a thing happened.”

I flashed an empty, hard smile. “Well then. You’ll be glad to hear this. I found many traitorous men murdering civilians. But don’t worry, I killed them all.”

Boulos’ eyes narrowed. “Are you serious?”

“Oh yes.”

“Are you insane?” the bald officer shouted. “Don’t you know what they did to our people at Damour? They deserve to die. As do you!” He drew his sidearm but Uncle Sami seized his gun hand and barked, “No! That is my nephew.”

The bald officer yanked his hand free and raised his gun toward me. I shot him in the left eye and put another in his heart before he had time to fall.

Uncle Sami stumbled backward in shock and fell.

The dead officer’s hand still clutched the flashlight but now it pointed into the sky, its illumination lost to the stars. The alley was plunged into gloom, the men in it little more than shadows.

“Simon!” Boulos’ deep voice wavered. It was the first time I had ever heard fear in his voice. “You are family. We can overlook this matter.”

I started to say, “Did you kill – “

In the middle of my sentence Mr. Black fired his gun. The muzzle flashed and Daniel fell. I sighted on Black but he slipped to the side like an eel in the darkness and came straight toward me, angling from side to side, never giving me his full profile. I had never seen anyone move this way. Between the darkness and his slippery motion, I couldn’t get a bead on him.  It was like trying to shoot a ghost. I fired and missed.

Operating on instinct I ducked and weaved just as he returned fire, the shot whistling past my ear. I pulled the trigger again and saw Black’s silhouette rock as the bullet hit home, but he didn’t stop and was now almost on me. Unbelievable. He closed the distance between us, pushed my rifle barrel to the side and put the muzzle of his pistol directly against my chest.

I knew in that moment I was a dead man. Lena’s phrase came to my mind – the Muslim incantation, as I thought of it then – and I whispered it. “Laa ilaha il-Allah.”

I don’t know if that can be considered the moment of my shahadah. I knew little about Islam but I understood the words well enough. No God but Allah. Not party nor country. Not platoon or battalion. Not Jesus, Mary or Muhammad. Only Allah, the One. I got it. Was my shahadah perfect, or knowledgeable? No, but I leave it to Allah. He knows my intentions.

I’ll tell you something. Up to the instant when I said those words, I had killed more men than I could count. But from the moment that I pronounced that monumental phrase, standing there in that humid alley, surrounded by evil and pain, I have never killed another human being.

Mr. Black stared into my eyes and I saw everything I had experienced that day – death and genocide – repeated in those eyes, ad infinitum.

Boulos strolled toward me, a satisfied look on his face. He raised a huge, pearl handled Colt 45 – it was a beautiful gun – and put it to my forehead. “Drop your weapon,” he commanded.

I dropped my rifle and it clattered on the asphalt.

“All your weapons.”

One by one I dropped my pistol, two grenades, and a knife. The entire time, Mr. Black stared into my eyes like a cobra, unspeaking and unmoving, his gun still pointed at my heart.

“I’ve heard they call you Lucky,” Boulos said. He laughed. “You just rolled snake eyes, kiddo.”

Uncle Sami hurried up behind him and said, “Boulos, have you lost your mind?”

Boulos regarded Uncle Sami with contempt. “What is it with this family? Am I the only one with father’s backbone? He was a hero. What was Kamal? A whining philosopher, scribbling verses and pumping gas. I gave him what he deserved. And this one.” He pressed the barrel of his gun into my forehead. “Kills his fellow soldiers because some Palestinian scum were mistreated.”

“No, Boulos,” Uncle Sami breathed. “I don’t believe that you killed Kamal. You wouldn’t.”

“Maybe this will convince you,” Boulos said curtly. He swung his Colt 45 away from my forehead, pointed it at Uncle Sami and fired twice, striking him in the chest. The gun boomed like a cannon, the force of the projectiles lifting Sami in the air. His body crashed to the ground several feet away.

Boulos turned back to me and raised his gun to my head again. The next instant, Boulos and Black tumbled to the ground as Daniel tackled them both, his arms outstretched. In a flash I picked up my rifle and clubbed Mr. Black in the head as he began to rise, knocking him out cold.

I helped Daniel to his feet. His chest was crimson with blood, and bloody bubbles frothed from his mouth. He’d been shot through the lung, I knew. I’d seen it many times. I pointed my rifle at Boulos, who sat on his knees on the dirty ground. He’d dropped the 45 and it had skittered several feet away to rest in a puddle of muddy water.

“Please,” he said.

I trained my rifle on his heart. I knew I should kill him. He had killed my parents. He might have killed Charlie as well. Charlie, my dear, happy little brother. And if I let Boulos live, he would hunt me forever, I was sure. My finger tightened on the trigger.

I couldn’t do it. He was my uncle. My father’s brother, kneeling before me, unarmed. If I killed him, then how was I different from Boulos himself?

“Don’t come after me,” I said. “You and me are quits. If I ever see you again you’ll regret it.”

I stumbled away down the alley, carrying most of Daniel’s weight, keeping my eyes on Boulos, who remained on his knees like a supplicant, though the look in his eyes was not beseechment but undiluted hatred.

I didn’t know what to do. Daniel would die if I didn’t get help. But Boulos would alert the soldiers surrounding the camp. Maybe I could bluff my way through. I had to try. I dragged Daniel through the alleys, moving toward the main gate, hearing his gurgling breath grow fainter, having to carry more and more of his weight.

Finally he stopped walking. “Let me down,” he said. “Gotta lie down.”

I lay him on the ground, then took off my overshirt and made a pillow for his head.

“I don’t know what to do, Daniel,” I said.

“Nothin’ to do.” His voice sounded watery, as if he were drowning, which he was. “I’m gone, Cap. Knew I shoulda brought that Sweetie.”

I began to weep. Daniel was all I had. There was no one left.

“Don’t do that, Cap,” he said. “Get… out of Lebanon… I’m going… to dance with Fairuz. Taljak… al mahabbi…”

His voice faded into nothing and his wheezing breath became silent. I was devastated. I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. I closed his eyes and rested his hands over his chest. I smoothed his mustache, curling the ends up the way he liked. Reaching beneath his shirt, I found his dogtag. I lifted his head so I could pull the chain off, and I clasped the small metal tag in my hand.

Then I dropped my rifle and stumbled away. As I walked I stripped off all signs of my identity as a soldier. I removed my ammo belt, boots and camouflage pants, dropping them in the street. I kept only my underwear and my undershirt to hide my tattoos.

I wandered aimlessly through the alleys, moving away from any noise that I heard. I passed a small neighborhood mosque and heard the sound of a bolt slide. The door opened and someone called out to me in a loud whisper.

“Here! Come here, boy.”

An old man with toothless gums gestured to me from within the dark doorway. I went to him and he pulled me into the mosque and shut the door. There was a small group of old men and young boys in the mosque, all armed with old rifles and kitchen knives.

“What are you doing out there?” the old man said. “If the Phalangists see you they will -”

He stopped talking and stared at me, and I recognized him as one of the old men who had been lined up against the wall by the sergeant. If he revealed my identity, the others would tear me apart, I was sure. I clasped Daniel’s dogtag and chain tightly in my fist, hoping no one would ask me to show what I held in my hand.

The old man stared at me a moment longer, then nodded almost imperceptibly. He said, “Someone take care of this boy.” A young man about my age brought me a pair of pants and I put them on, slipping Daniel’s dogtag into the pocket. Then he took me to the basement and laid me down in an old cot. I fell asleep right away.

I stayed in that mosque for two days. The old man brought me food and water, and asked no questions. We knew the massacre was over when reporters and aid workers began appearing in the streets outside.

Only later did I remember that Lena’s sketch of the mountain had been in the pocket of the overshirt that I’d placed beneath Daniel’s head. The thought gave me some comfort. Daniel hadn’t died resting his head on a dirty street in a slum of a camp, but on a work of art. He died with his head on a mountain meadow. God rest his soul.


“You said you kept your shirt to hide your tattoos,” Muhammad said. “I didn’t know you had any. What are they?”

“Yeah.” Hassan looked abashed. “Stupid things I got when I was young. One on my chest that Sarkis talked me into. The other one I got to imitate him. He had a snake on his upper arm, and without telling him I had the same thing done, thinking that it would make him like me better. But it only made him angry.

Anyway. I used to wonder why Boulos hadn’t simply killed me from the start. Why had he tolerated my presence for five years? I’m only guessing, but I think I presented a puzzle. I was so strong, so fierce, that on some level he respected me. It’s easy to order someone killed, but it’s more interesting to send them into a maze of fire and see what happens. Imagine Satan as a scientist, and human beings as the lab rats. That’s Boulos. Maybe a part of him even hoped I could become his heir. But when I accused him of killing my parents, and then saw him murder Uncle Sami, that was the end of the maze. The experiment was over.

I had to get out of Lebanon. I thought of Lena’s words. Go to Homs. Her uncle. A theater in the Hamidiyyah district.

I left Beirut and never looked back.


 Next:  Hassan’s Tale, Part 9 – Caught


* Footnote:  The Tel-Az-Zaytoon (“Hill of Olives”) massacre is fictional, but is based on the real-life Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982. Christian Phalangist militiamen, supported by the Israeli Defense Forces under the command of Ariel Sharon, entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut and massacred an estimated 2,000 Palestinian elders, women, children and babies. The nightmarish brutality of the massacre was well documented in reporting and photos. Although Ariel Sharon was found by the Kahane Commission to be personally responsible for the massacre, he was not tried for war crimes – in fact, he later went on to become Prime Minister of Israel. As for the Lebanese, all participants in the civil war were given amnesty at the war’s end. As one former militia leader said, “For God’s sake if you prosecuted for war crimes here we’d all be in jail.”

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Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including,, and He teaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.



  1. hassanzawahir

    June 4, 2014 at 1:31 AM

    Deep into my Heart
    Stuck like a Dagger

  2. Learn Quran Online at TarteeleQuran

    June 4, 2014 at 3:07 AM

    Nice and heart touching!

  3. Safa

    June 4, 2014 at 5:58 AM

    Sadly, the war scenes are not st native to the world…its what happened in the Bosnia war, Rwanda Genocide, Burma Killings, Iraq .. & now the brutality in Syria

    But thank you for reminding us of the ugliness that exists and giving it life in a personal way through Hassans eyes. I hope never to see such darkness firsthand

    Im glad the pages of this series are finally turning . Felt submerged the entire time with my head under the water , lungs exploding – and now can finally come to the surface and take a breathe of air. No more madness, no more war just Hassan as a normal being living once more…Istanbul/Syria here we come!

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 4, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      Safa, me too. I’m glad to be done writing war scenes, and moving on. This chapter was very heavy and not easy to write.

  4. Bint Rashid

    June 4, 2014 at 6:51 AM

    Salam alaikum

    loved the imagery once again. Was transported to those alleyways in the refugee camp, and saw what Hassan saw. Having read quite a bit about the Sabra and Shatilla massacre, the scenes in my mind were all too familiar. Whatever you plan to change about the story, once you publish it in book form, please don’t sacrifice the descriptive way Hassan tells his story! It is really well done, mashaAllah. And I like the way Daniel speaks too. Brings a bit of lightness to the heavy scenes, like the way Muhammad’s jokes do.

    May Allah save us all from having to witness, experience (or worse, perpetrate) the atrocities described, ameen.

  5. Sarah B.

    June 4, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    Subhan’Allah what a sight for Hassan to see. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to encounter such a horrific scene even though I know many see horrendous atrocities like this more frequently than anyone should ever encounter in a lifetime.
    I didn’t know about this massacre so thank you for informing us of it via a fictionalized story and the addition of information at the end of the real event.
    It’s heart wrenching to know such evil exists in this world. At least we can take heart knowing Allah punishes the oppressors in this life and the next.
    Looking forward to finding out how Hassan will make it out of Lebanon and hopefully, insha’Allah, starting a new life away from the horrors of war.

  6. Ramiz Ali

    June 4, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    Now the wait for next week :/

  7. BintB

    June 5, 2014 at 5:27 AM

    MashaAllah you are very talented brother, tabaarakAllah. It is quite difficult to image these scenes though, even more so after realizing some of this has actually happened.
    My only critique here is the fact that Daniel’s character is made to speak broken English. Isn’t the original language Arabic? Is it a way to show that he is not literate?

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 5, 2014 at 10:26 AM

      Daniel speaks a very colloquial, broken style of Arabic that is uniquely his own.

    • Amel

      June 8, 2014 at 4:14 AM

      I also found Daniel’s accent odd because it sounded like he was from the American south, which made me wonder if I had missed something in the plot.

  8. Reader

    June 6, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    I missed reading about Jamila’s reaction, especially when Lena came up. It must be news to her that Hasan had a wife/love before, does that not bother her?

  9. SC

    August 8, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    thank you for memorializing this terrible part of history in this manner. It’s so important to have done so – it makes it accessible to a lot more people. Eulogizing it thus allows us to keep it in our minds and not be forgotten as if it didn’t matter anymore. it’s another way of digesting the reality and mourning and praying. Palestinians have been denied the opportunity to tell their story in this way, to the world, and having their right to mourn acknowledged.

  10. Osama

    September 11, 2014 at 6:47 PM

    I don’t understand mr black where did he learn to move like that??

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      September 11, 2014 at 7:21 PM

      Osama, that has not been explained. However, my assumption is that he is one of the Kopis – the special assassins trained from childhood at the secret camp in the Bekaa mountains.

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