Hamza al-Hajj Hassan remembered


Dear Hamza,

How difficult and painful the task at hand is.

It is more difficult than all the exams you had to sit at the Faculty of Media Studies. It is more difficult than the graduate school classes you used to complain about, and its dreary coursework and compulsory attendance. It is harder than the thesis you were preparing about religious television channels, and harder than all you used to laughingly protest, as we stood on the steps at the university, and you asked: How do you reconcile work with studying? How easy your question was to answer compared to the test you have put me face to face with now. As though I can hear you saying sarcastically: Write this news story, with a lump in your throat. Write about my martyrdom, as your heart burns for me.

Write this news story, with a lump in your throat. Write about my martyrdom, as your heart burns for me.

Dear Hamza,

How can I write a story like this? No one taught us how. You have departed too early, beautiful poet, passionate reporter, good friend, esteemed student, and faithful son. It is not me who is saying these things about you, but it is your friends, colleagues, and professors. They were all mourning you yesterday. They were all shocked by the news of your death along with your colleagues Halim Alou and Mohammed Muntish.

Your colleagues at Al-Manar TV did not believe the reassurances that were being carried by news outlets, saying that your crew had merely suffered injuries. Indeed, the confusion that reigned after communication with you was lost meant that everyone understood what really happened.

The director of the news department, Suleiman Zuaytir, had scheduled for you to appear during the 3:30 bulletin from “liberated Maaloula; but the news bulletin did not show your report.

You had suggested to your colleagues at Al-Manar that they should prepare a backup report to be broadcasted in the event they are killed in the line of duty. This is what you told your colleague – and the person who sits next to you at work – Hassan Hamza, after his safe return from Yabroud.

He would tell you about the risks he faced, and you would tell him jokingly that you were waiting for him to die to take his desk and put an end to your never-ending quarrels over the phone charger you shared. That day you told him: “Prepare a report in advance, and if you die, we will edit it and broadcast it.”

The possibility of dying in Syria was expected because of the risks most of those who went there to report have experienced. For this reason, your colleague Hassan, a veteran reporter who covered Syria repeatedly, was not completely surprised by the news of your death on Monday.

He said, “We are often the first media outlet to enter an area after the end of military operations there. The primary concern is usually the explosive devices left by the militants. I recall surviving one in Yabroud. But this is part of the job. We are all aware of the dangers, and we do not go in until we take as many precautions as possible.”

What wasn’t expected, however, was the ambush where Al-Manar’s crew was shot at from a distance. At 3:45 pm, one member of your crew who survived the ambush, Ali Jahjah, reported that communication with you had been lost.

After that, your colleagues learned that Halim Alou, your crew’s technician, had been killed, that you had been injured, and that Mohammed Qassas and Jaafar Hassan were wounded. Later, they learned that Mohammed Muntish had died.

The news of your death was too painful. Everybody’s eyes were swollen from crying, each trying to remember your last words.

Hassan was actually wearing your shirt yesterday, which he got from your shared locker. “What a coincidence,” Hassan was saying to himself the whole time. As he talked about you, he was pointing out your belongings in the office: Your notes where you wrote some appointments and addresses, your cologne, and your camera.

On one of your notebooks, there was a quote from one of the martyrs of the famous battle in Maydoun (May 1988), Zaid al-Moussawi, who is said to have scribbled it on a rock in the battlefield: “We fell as martyrs but we did not kneel down. Heed our blood and continue our mission.”

Everyone who knew you knew how much you revered martyrs. But no one expected for you to become one. Suleiman Zuaytir said, innocently, “I could have believed the news of Abbas Fneish or Hassan Hamza’s death, given how serious they are. But Hamza? I just can’t. It is difficult for me to believe that the man with that permanent smile would have died so early…too early.”

Hamza was remarkably compassionate. He neglected his work and his friends and dedicated himself to caring for his mother.

For your colleagues, you were a man who always smiled, and who never knew sadness except when his mother was diagnosed with a serious illness. Twenty-seven years old, you were the oldest of five brothers. You helped your father, the schoolteacher, and your colleagues describe you as self-made and compassionate.

Everyone speaks about how you stayed close to your mother for the duration of her treatment. “Hamza was remarkably compassionate. He neglected his work and his friends and dedicated himself to caring for his mother,” Mona Tahini says. She remembers how you used to find it odd that she didn’t visit her parents in the south every week, although she had a car, while you used public transportation to visit your parents in Shaath in the Bekaa, long before you bought a car.

To you, Shaath is a town no different than Geneva, as you told your colleagues after you returned from covering the peace conference there recently. You also preferred cold Falita in Syria over Kuwait and the five-star hotel you stayed in there.

You would tell people about your impressions sarcastically, in spontaneous wit and humor. This prompted Mariam Karnib to choose to accompany you to learn about fieldwork, and to discover in you a young, playful, ambitious, and romantic man.

You were also a poet, and did not withhold that talent from your friends and loved ones, as your colleague at university Mohammed Nasser says. Whenever he asked you to read him some poetry, you would oblige, with verses you thought up quickly. This has made Hilal Termos think about publishing your poems in a book.

As your colleagues told these stories about you, this phrase popped up on a screen at Al-Manar TV’s studios: “Those who killed you, Hamza, have nothing to do with strength…To do injustice is to be weak.”

Source – Al Akhbar