On the first of September in 1982, 15 days before the 48-hour massacre of Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, artist Abdel Rahman Katanani’s parents escaped to Beirut’s Ain El-Mreisseh neighborhood. The Israelis had reached the Lebanese border, terrifying many in what culminated in an invasion. “There were rumours about something happening in the camps,” explains Katanani, whose maternal grandfather refused to flee. He had left his home in Haifa in 1948 and, according to the artist, wasn’t prepared to “regret the same mistake twice.” The Israeli Defence Forces surrounded the camps, while their allies, the Lebanese Christian right-wing Phalange party, carried out the slaughter, with intent to eradicate Palestinian Liberation Organization fighters. “We are still not sure what happened to two of my aunts’ husbands,” says Katanani. Four months later, the UN classified the Sabra and Shatila holocaust as an act of genocide. Nine months after that, Katanani was born in Sabra and has lived there since.
Amazingly, he is not a bitter or angry man. “Growing up, there was a sort of heroic notion that when you get older, holding a weapon and fighting for ‘the cause’ is one’s duty, but my parents wholly rejected this,” he explains. “It was a tempting notion to subscribe to as a child and I clashed many times with my father who insisted that this was all baseless. I realized that to get out of this sphere, creativity was the answer.”