by Lizzie Phelan
Many of you will have followed my previous blog Lizzie’s Liberation during the time I spent in Libya over two trips, the first time on a peace delegation and the second time as a journalist.
I was in fact the only journalist in Tripoli working for a news station that was allowed to move around the city freely and was not required to stay in the Rixos Hotel where all other such journalists were obliged to. This was for a variety of reasons. At the beginning of the crisis journalists had been allowed such freedom, but as some time went on, it became clear that their agenda was solely to confirm the NATO narrative that the Libyan people were being oppressed by a crazy dictator whom they needed protecting from by so-called “precision bombing” of military installations, in order to take out the government’s military capabilities. The fact that this is entirely illegal under international law did not seem to phase these journalists, neither did the mass rallies in support of Muammar Gaddafi, the virtually absent police and army presence in the streets (despite the city being portrayed as a police state where no-one could breathe a word against Gaddafi), or the fact that far from “precision-bombing” of military installations, many civilian lives and infrastructure were being destroyed by the abhorrently named NATO mission to “protect civilians”.
In addition to that, it is well known that the mainstream media is under oligopoly control by the ruling class and so any pretence to a free and independent press is a farce. It has been well documented throughout the history of the west’s imperialist wars how this intimate relationship between the media and the ruling class allows the latter to use “reporters” as its eyes and ears on the ground. In Libya, this was no different and some independent researchers and journalists on the ground unsurprisingly uncovered evidence that when “journalists” were taken to visit bombing sites, instead of reporting the infrastructural damage and loss of civilian life accurately to the global public, they were merely there to take note of what had not been destroyed. And one can only conclude that this was to report back to intelligence services so that the site could be re-bombed (as they more often than not were).
In such circumstances, you could be forgiven for being surprised that western journalists were at all allowed into the country. But the then Libyan government came to a compromise and allowed mainstream journalists into the country provided that they stayed in the Rixos Hotel where they could be kept an eye on, and were allowed out only from the vicinity with an approved escort.
I would often myself visit the Rixos mainly for press conferences and it was under those circumstances that I found myself there the day that NATO began bombing their rabble of rebels into Tripoli.
There are a few things that I would like to clear up about that time. Just as the first reports were coming through on Al Jazeera and other mainstream channels that the rebels had “taken” Tripoli, I was driving through the capital myself heading eventually to the Rixos. My friend had received a phone call that a couple of rebels had popped up in Souq al Juma where sleeper cells were known to be based, but as I could see for myself around me, the city was very far from “taken”.
I am sure it bemused many that on the first day when the fighting began in Tripoli I was insisting that everything was fine and then within five days the Libyan government had been completely forced out. Of course very quickly, which my reporting also showed, things changed for the worse.
I must stress three things, first of all as I have stated, it took five days of resistance almost purely by volunteers (as you will see shortly why) for the battle to be decided on the ground. Secondly (and here is a lesson learnt for me) while I never trusted NATO to have any conscience whatsoever, I did underestimate the lengths that they would go to in order to achieve their goals and in this video here (from 16.48), I describe how the media portrayed “fall” of Tripoli without resistance, was in reality an immense battle whereby thousands of people resisted the onslaught and were ruthlessly massacred by NATO apache helicopters and bombs. As the then government spokesman Dr Moussa Ibrahim frantically warned the world’s press on the first night before he himself was forced to flee: “They are killing anything that moves.”
And finally, as is with the nature of betrayals, no-one expected perhaps the most fatal betrayal of all, that of Gaddafi’s own cousin, General Albarrani Shkal. Shkal was in charge of a large army unit in Tripoli and had been working with the rebels for some time. He had manipulated his staff rotas so that thousands of soldiers, that would have otherwise have been ready to defend the capital on the day that the assault began, were scheduled to take a holiday or to be in another location. This left the task of defending the capital largely to the thousands of ordinary men and women residents, particularly the heroic people in the city’s poorest district of Abu Salim. To this day despite that their homes and streets have been decimated, they still have not surrendered and rebels can only enter the area with large armed convoys.
Prior to that week, my personal experience of Libya was filled with highs and lows. The lows were this constant dread which marked everyone’s faces that what surrounded us was highly likely to be destroyed at any moment, which the endless bombing would not allow you to forget. But the first high that struck me, before I got to know the people, was just the sheer beauty of the country and of Tripoli itself. A modern, relatively developed well functioning country, where as a woman the first sights that struck me were the female soldiers and volunteers stationed on some of the checkpoints on the way to the capital and the many women out driving with their friends. I have recounted some of these experiences in other blogs and vlogs.
Of course the greatest high was the honour of being able to witness the defiance of a people’s spirit under attack by the most powerful force known to man. This I witnessed at its most potent in Majer, Zlitan, hours after several houses in the village had been repeatedly bombed by British planes massacring at least 33 children, 32 women and 20 men. My visit had not been at the same time as the dozens of other mainstream journalists, and so I can vouch that some of their despicable allegations that the scenes of emotion they saw were staged, were pure lies. After paying our respects at the mass graves where the endless bodies were being carried in by the village’s men, I with a Libyan camera crew turned on our cameras and I will never forget how the families of the victims and the people of the village, young and old flocked in desperation to make the world listen, that they wanted NATO gone and Muammar Gaddafi to stay. I no longer have those tapes as since the onslaught on Tripoli I have not heard from that camera crew and know nothing of their safety.
But these media distortions and lies that I refer to have been at their most abhorrent when it has come to the coverage, or should I say media silence, on the systematic persecution of Black Libyans and Black migrants. I talk about this in the video linked to above and Dan Glazebrook before me goes into more depth about it. But for anyone to suggest (as it is often suggested) that this phenomenon is merely an unfortunate and distasteful consequence of the Libyan conflict, has already deceived themselves so greatly as to the very nature of the conflict, that you must be lead to seriously question with whom their loyalties lie in this world, and it certainly is not with truth and justice.
The rebels attacks against Black people is an unleashing of their inherent racism that has been kept in check by the pro-African policies and example of Muammar Gaddafi and is the beginning of the reversal of his pan-African policies for an independent Africa. Far from being an unfortunate aspect of the rebels character, this is precisely where the rebels racist interests converge with the west’s racist interests. The best analysis on this has probably been produced by journalist Gerald A. Perreira (this article is just one example).
The lowest point, as it would have been for many millions of people around the world, was the martyrdom of Muammar Gaddafi himself. The brutal nature of his killing and the shamelessness with which it was carried out by both the rebels and their imperial masters such as Hilary Clinton, epitomised the whole war on that country. Just as with every attack on a Libyan town, the killing of Gaddafi was lead by an American drone, followed by a French airtstrike on his convoy opening the way for the cowardly rebels to finish the job.
That this was a war that so viciously and relentlessly criminalized the leader of an African nation, even in his killing their plot to dehumanise him to the greatest extent possible, knew no pause. But as Fanon would have said, it is these acts which only dehumanise the oppressor and his accomplices even further and lead them to dig a deeper more tormenting grave.
And for those millions of Libyan people who knew their Leader well enough that no amount of media fabrication could confuse them, and for those who have been able to battle through those fabrications and find the real Muammar Gaddafi, he died a hero. Always true to his word, and like his national hero Omar Mukhtar, he died fighting, in his birthplace, refusing to leave his people’s side. He lives on in the hearts of millions.
There is a lot that I would like to say about individual people who I met who had a phenomenal impact on me, but even though some of them have since been killed as a result of this war, I am unable to do so at this time because such is the hostile nature in Libya to anyone who is remotely associated with supporting the Jamahiriyah, that to speak about them would be likely to put them and their families in danger.
But in addition to those people who know who they are, I would send my warmest greetings of solidarity to the Libyan people who over these last months became the latest victims of imperialist aggression.
And I would like to say a brief word about the tens of thousands of political prisoners who have been scattered across the country, their crime being that they did not support the NATO onslaught or the counter-revolution in their country. The fact that the shameful treatement and torture of highly regarded figures such as Dr Abuzaid Dorda, Imam Khaled Tantoush, sister Hala Misrati and Dr Ahmed Ibrahim is well known, having been broadcast across the rebel channels and YouTube, puts to bed any farcical claim that these people or their western backers have the slightest concern for justice or human life.
On Sunday, I will be travelling to Syria, where as someone said recently on my facebook, what played out in Libya, is in many ways playing out in Syria, but much more slowly.
At a time when we have been shown so recently that what is fed to us in the media is very far from the reality, as a journalist I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to personally speak to Syrian people to hear about how they feel about the western and Arab media portrayals of their country during this conflict.
I hope you will continue follow me during this journey!