I might get round to putting some more of my writing from my 2 months in Lebanon in 2007 here soon… in the meantime look at the bottom of this page for more recent info…
First published in New Internationalist, December 2007
In late May when the Lebanese Army first attacked the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr El Bared, officially aiming for 2-300 Fateh El Islam militants who had quietly moved in there, they did not allow the approximately 35,000 civilian residents to leave until three days had passed. In this time about 23 civilians died (43 in the overall conflict) and many more were injured. Two Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance workers were killed when they attempted to reach the wounded.
When evacuation was finally allowed, most residents, with a plastic bag’s worth of belongings, passed through army custody and began an open-ended exile in overcrowded temporary accommodation in the schools of neighbouring refugee camp, Beddawi. Yet a month later, 3000 Palestinian civilians still remained in Naher El Bared, braving the continuous shelling, because of a lesson they learnt to their cost once before: if you leave your home, you might never see it again.
During those weeks, human rights organisations began to collect testimonies that only make sense when one considers the fact that many Lebanese people – united behind their army as little else unites them – believed they were fighting a war against Palestinians. When a non-violent demonstration from Beddawi demanded the army act to protect civilians during the on-going attack, soldiers opened fire on it, killing two Palestinians and wounding 35, including five women and seven children.
Inside Naher El Bared, civilians were not only in danger of shells, but were being arrested by the army, and in detention were suffering psychological and physical abuse, were being denied adequate food and water and medical care, and in some cases were being tortured.
18 year old Abdullah was a student in Beirut, home in Naher El Bared for the holidays. Injured by shrapnel on the third day of the attack, he was taken by the Lebanese army to be given emergency treatment, he thought. And he was indeed taken to a hospital ostensibly run by monks, but the basement was a stifling prison under army control. “I was cuffed and blindfolded for most of the next months,” he says. “They only ever questioned me for one hour, when they accused me of being a Fatah El Islam fighter.”
The rest of the time, Abdullah was regularly beaten, occasionally because they wanted him to sign a piece of paper which they would never let him read, but more often for no apparent reason. A Red Cross worker was permitted to take his name but not to question him. His dressings and colostomy bag were rarely changed. His cellmate, who had remained in Nahr El Bared because he was the only person who knew the trick of working a semi-functioning water pump, died of bloodpoisoning when his bandages were left unchanged for a week.
After 106 days, Abdullah was released. His mother waited for him until midnight. But the Lebanese soldiers found a back door for him, telling him “See, your family doesn’t care about you.” Unable to walk unaided, he fell and broke bones in his foot.
Now Abdullah and his family wait in their allotted room of Beddawi school. Some of its residents have thrown themselves into grassroots organizing, making sure they have a voice amidst the NGOs and officials drawing up plans for their future. Some run activities for the bored children who are overdue for school. Women with mops try to keep the echoing corridors to the same standard of cleanliness they kept the homes that are now rubble.
In early October, 800 families were allowed to return to Nahr El Bared, to begin rebuilding. But the rebuilding of trust between Palestinian refugees and their Lebanese neighbours will require Lebanon to face up to institutionalized racism and breaches of international law against the refugees they are supposed to protect. In the country’s current fragile state, it is hard to believe this will happen soon.
March 2010: From friends I met during my time in Lebanon, who have been consistently supporting Palestinian refugees there to document their return to Nahr El Bared ever since:
Nahr al-Bared refugee camp has still not recovered from the devastating war in 2007 during which it was destroyed. The Lebanese army has been keeping a tight grip on the camp and the 20.000 displaced Palestinians that have returned so far. The army’s siege seriously hampers the camp’s economic recovery, as access is restricted and the area was declared a military zone. A recent survey found that the army’s presence and measures
are considered a difficulty by 98 per cent of Nahr al-Bared’s business owners. The army meanwhile justifies its presence as necessary to the preservation of the safety of the people.
The 30-minute film documents various consequences of the siege on Nahr al-Bared. Merchants and artisans explain their specific problems and the UNRWA project manager, a project coordinator of the Palestinian-Arab Women League, the president of Nahr al-Bared’s Merchants’ Committee and a researcher provide their views and thoughts on the issue.
The short documentary can be watched and/or downloaded here.
The autonomous media collective ‘a-films’ has been documenting Nahr al-Bared’s post war developments over the past two and a half years. We have published various reports and produced about a dozen short films, all of which are available on our website: