Live From Nahr El Bared

Yesterday, the Lebanese feminist collective Nasawiya organized an exhibition/evening/debate around what is currently happening in the northern Palestinian camp of Nahr El Bared.

The event, Live From Nahr El Bared, was aimed at not only raise awareness on the situation in the camp, but also to give Palestinians a platform to give their insight of the situation and to allow for participants to experience a bit of what it’s like to be living under military rule.

The Nahr El Bared camp has been under military rule for the past five years, following the conflict that took place in 2007 between  the salafist group Fateh El Islam, composed of members of many different nationalities where, contrary to what the media had said, Palestinians were a small minority , and believed by Seymour Hersh and others to have been backed and financed by the US through some Lebanese political parties to counter Hezbollah. The conflict started as the Lebanese Army was looking from Fateh El Islam members who had robbed a bank in the northern town ofAmmioun and who were holed up in the camp. The Fath El Islam militants then proceeded to ambush the Army positioned at the entrance of the camp, killing two soldiers. This led to heavy retaliation from the Lebanese Army, whose artillery and machinery completely destroying what had once been one of the most thriving camp in Lebanon, catching Palestinians in the cross fire. While it was said and repeated by Palestinian officials that Fateh El Islam had nothing to do with the Palestinian agenda, around a hundred Palestinian civilians died, their houses reduced to rubble, and tens of thousands had to flee the fighting and find shelter in the neighboring Baddawi camp or inTripoli.

Since 2007, and even though it was made clear Palestinians had next to nothing to do with the Fateh El Islam militants, the camp has been living under siege and only a small part has been reconstructed. Only between 800 to 1200 families have been able to return home (the camp used to house over 30 000 people) and previous and current residents, along with Lebanese citizens, need authorizations from different public and military authorities, while people have to wait for hours to get it or get in the camp, if they ever do. Journalists are forbidden to enter the camp. While Nahr el bared is an extreme situation, all Palestinian camps are treated as if they housed “the enemy” and therefore are monitored not by civil police or gendarmerie, but by actual military power, in charge to monitor international borders.

The residents of Nahr El Bared are currently undertaking a daily sit in following the death of two residents earlier in June. Ghassan Makarem, in his interview to Ziad Abu Rish in Jaddaliya, explains what happened on the 16th of June:

“What happened last week was that there was a young man who was on his motorcycle. As is typically the case, anyone going down the street is not going to carry all of his identification papers and certifications with him while he runs to the grocery store or runs a short errand on his motorcycle. This young man did not have the registration of his motorcycle with him [when he was stopped by the army]. When asked about his registration, he told them that he did not have it on him. They did not allow him to go to his home [so as to retrieve the registration], which was perhaps a minute away from where they stopped him. They insisted on arresting him and taking him and his motorcycle to the nearby military post. This is the situation that instigated somewhat of a confrontation with the people that were in the area, especially since—according to eyewitnesses—the mother of this young man was at the scene and she herself was subjected to harassment on the part of security personnel. This of course added to the anger. So there was a provocation, the army fired shots into the air, and then they arrested two young men.

After the arrest of the two young men, a group of young men organized a sit-in to demand their release. During the sit-in, the army fired shots and killed one of the participating young men whose name was Ahmad Qasim, who was sixteen years of age.”

The second death happened during the funeral of Ahmad Qassim. People attending the funeral noticed the presence of the army and started throwing rocks against the military presence. The Army answered by firing live ammunition against the crowd, killing two, injuring seven and arresting eleven. According to Makarem, “Just recently, the army issued a statement assuring the people these detainees’ cases would be looked into and promising their release. This produced a certain level of calm in the camps over the past few hours. However, the strike is still ongoing from about a week ago. Still though, there is calm right now and there might be an initiative from the army to resolve the problem.”

Skyping with Director Sandra Madi

The Live from Nahr El Bared event also showed the movie from director Sandra Madi “Nahr El Bared Detention Camp”. In her movie, the Palestinian Jordanian director depicts the dire conditions in which Palestinians are living, the daily racism and violence they have to face, the violations of their basic human rights. She collected testimonies from men and women who have lived through several catastrophes and displacements. Madi has been shortly arrested a couple of days ago by the military intelligence and asked questions about what she was doing. Yesterday evening we were able to Skype with her and she told us that she had been detained for an hour or so, and that although officers were respectful and polite, they was a hint of a threat that she might be arrested again if the Army’s image was not preserved in her next movie.

Skype with residents from the camp was the final straw for me: we spoke with two young men who were participating in the open sit in, and who were explaining what their demands were: the cessation of the military rule over the camp and thorough investigation with regards to the dead and injured. If these aren’t the most reasonable demands I’ve even heard, I don’t know what is.

One of the young men choked under the emotion of seeing us, under the anger of having to demand those basic rights, under the frustration of having to endure such racism and violations, under the weight of a People’s plight. I left the event heavy with grief and anger, as the Lebanese media and political elite continue their demonization of a people that has suffered enough, shifting the public’s focus and blame from the horrifying shortcomings of the government and public powers, to a community that has been oppressed since 1948.

There will be a sit in this Friday in front of  the Gamal Abdel Nasser monument to support our brothers and sisters, and more activities to state squarely the truth: we’re all one.

6 Responses to “Live From Nahr El Bared”
  1. amany says:

    Beautiful Testimony, powerful narrative – in support always, Amany

  2. I wouldn’t have known about it if it wasn’t for this article, to be honest with you. I enjoyed your writing, though, very understandable and powerful. Thanks for spreading knowledge.

  3. adelnehmeh says:

    The palestenians (refugees) living in Lebanon definitely live under hte most inhumane and unfair conditions. No infrastructure, no proper development, barely any electricity, no right to work, no passport…..

    One has to look beyond the nationality and the history of the existence of the palestenians in Lebanon and simply put one’s self in their shoes. Is that a decent living?

    All these reason,s and much more, drive palestenians residing in the refugee camps, to seek sources of funding that may be fundamentalist in their nature which makes those camps harbor terrorist and religiously fundamentalist groups.

    How to seperate betwen the peaceful residents and the militants inside the camp? This is the question. The army cannot simply feel with the palestenians and diregard the illegal weaponry coming out. The army cannot simply let a guy with no papers on his motorcycle just go back home and fetch his papers. The palestenians might need to act against the stereotype and avoid hostile reactions.

    It is definitely a complicated situation, where the palestenians, after losing their homeland, end up mistreated in thier host coutnries but to put it simply as if the refugee camps are treated unfairly is a simplification of the true issue here…

    • Adel, first of all thank you for reading and commenting on this post, it’s important that we talk about this issue, especially in light with the news black out currently happening on Nahr El Bared.
      To answer to your claim pertaining to the Nahr El Bared war between the Fateh el Islam and the Lebanese Army: it was proven that the vast majority of the Fateh el Islam faction was not composed of Palestinians, but rather, of a myriad of nationalities. However, the conlfict was used by the media to fuel the already ever present racism against Palestinians. Besides, the Army has a responsibility under the IV Geneva Conventions to protect civilians in times of conflict and to only wage war against miltary targets. In the present case, civilian homes were raided and looted, as shown in various documentaries, including Sandra Madi’s, civilians were counted amongst the casualties and the whole camp was destroyed, violating the principles of protection of civilians and proportionality
      As for the recent events, what is wrong with letting a young man on a motorcycle go home to fetch his ID? Do you carry all your papers with you every time you step out of your house? The Palestinians of Nahr el Bared are asking for thourough investigations with regards to the deaths: this is their basic human right. They’re also asking for the end of the military rule they’re living under: why should they keep paying for something they had little to do with in the first place?
      Lebanon was one of the key States that helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948: how about we uphold what we helped create?

      • adelnehmeh says:

        As I said in my previous post, no human being should be treated and “hosted” the way the Palestenians are hosted in Lebanon. I refer from using the word refugees since a vast majority of them have been born here and this is their homeland….

        Going back to the topic, it may well be that the majority of the Fatih Al Islam were not palestenians, and I am aware of that fact, but it obvious where they decided to take their base and for what reasons. I am not blaming the palestenians for the actions of that fundamentalist organization, but they are balmed fro harboring them and providing a hotbed for their prosperation. And here, we have to seperate between the Palestenian people and the militias existing and controlling the power in the refugee camps.

        We cannot deny the fact that the palestenian camps were and still are hotbeds for illegal arms and weapons, something that unfortunately the average palestenian residing in the cmap suffers from, unjustly. But this is the case with any other group, anywhere in the world. Sunni civilians are targeted in areas where Sunni miltias exist, Christians were targeted in areas where Christian militias existed and the whole south is targeted and civilians are killed by Israel because of the resistance in the south and people harboring the resistance.

        There is no reason for not improving the living conditions of the Palestenians in the camps.
        There is no reason for not providing them with their basic human rights.
        There is no reason for no formal and just investigation in the unjust killings of palestenians.

        On the other side, there is no reason for the persistence of illegal arms and weapons in the camps.
        On the other side, there is no justified reason for hostility against the Lebanese army who is banned from entering the camps in the first place.

        I hope it is clear that I am differentiating between the average palestenian residing in the camps and the militant palestenians and palestenian factions. Because of the latter, the former is suffering.

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