Saturday, January 06, 2007


The road to Maysaloun is today a six-lane motorway; Azmi's tomb lies almost hidden in a grove of trees to the south. When I arrived there on a cold November evening, I found only his grave and a group of broken houses on the main road that appeared to have been destroyed by shells. Up on the hillside, however, was an old man who had faint memories of the battle, Hamzi Abdullah, who could not remember his own age but who had a clear recollection of a boyhood in which he spent weeks picking up the cartridge cases and shell fragments after the hopeless, doomed Arab cavalry charge of 1920. Hamzi was unshaven and wore an old kuffiah headdress. "The French came down from Wadi Nemsi with their Algerian and Senegalese troops," he said. "There were aircraft too and we didn't have any chance."

Hamzi held his right hand and wobbled it from side to side like a bi- plane caught in an uprush of air. "It was all over in hours and the French killed almost everyone they found. My mother was taken prisoner and put in a house just over there. Youssef Azmi and another of our leaders was tied up and the French decided to execute them. My mother has been dead 27 years but I remember her telling me how she saw Azmi led to a telegraph pole to be executed. He threw his kuffiah at her and the other women and said, 'This is for you to remember me.' My mother said the women were crying but they threw it back to him, saying, 'You are the hero and you are the only one worthy of wearing these clothes.' He was tied to a post over there and the French told the French Algerian troops to shoot him. But they refused. They were good Muslims. So the French told their Senegalese colonial troops to do it. And the Senegalese shot him as he was tied to the telegraph pole."

Extract from an article by Robert Fisk, The Independent, January 19, 1997

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