Irony, is the real catastrophe in any Tragedy
A Guide to Laws and Official regulations in Nahr el bared Refugee camp.
Al-Safir newspaper – May 12, 2010
By Ismael Sheikh Hassan
Notes on the translation : This article was the reason behind the arrest of Ismael on the 18th of August 2010 and later on the 10th of February 2011, by the Lebanese army in a clear breach of his freedom of speech.
This article was first published in Arabic in a local newspaper (Safir) in Lebanon. The tone of the article is originally satirical and critical of the conditions in Nahr el bared. This is not a literal translation of the text, as many of the Arabic meaning and puns would be lost. The endnotes were not orginally part of the article, but are included in the translation to give the background of the article.
They say that Tragedy + Time = Comedy,
When the residents of Nahr el-Bared camp discuss their situation amongst themselves, they agree with the observers, workers, and activists in the camp that the scene has become more of a sarcastic comedy. For despite the large numbers of petitions and reports raised to the authorities regarding the situation in the camp;
despite the numerous protests and demonstrations that were organized and
despite the persistent efforts requesting the responsible officials to take action : the situation in the camp remains the same.
The problem in Nahr el bared does not lie in the lack of financial resources, nor to technical difficulties. On the contrary, the fundamental problem lies with the Lebanese state policies towards the camp. It is a responsibility that is directly shared by all states branches that are involved with the reconstruction ranging from executive, legislative, and military which includes ministries, governmental departments, official committees, administrative officials, leaders, and appointed consultants.
Three years have passed and nothing has been rebuilt, with the exception of the columns and roofs of the first floors of 30 buildings out of 1900 buildings that have been destroyed in the battle. What has been described as the “ongoing” reconstruction is in fact continuously blocked, postponed or delayed by an assortment of laws, procedures, complications and bureaucracy. Meanwhile, UNRWA emergency funds for renting the temporary residency of the 30,000 homeless refugees awaiting reconstruction has started to run out. Moreover, the residents of the camp are still prevented by the military from entering into the site of the camp and prevented from rebuilding their own homes or even from setting up tents on the lands where their houses used to be. They are also prohibited, by the Military and its security siege in and around the camp, from running their businesses and practicing their daily routines and normal social life. .
What is really depressing, is that even if the states policy towards Nahr el-Bared suddenly changes, and a “real green light for the reconstruction would be given”: the completion of the reconstruction of this huge and dense urban mass will take from today yet another 3 years. At the current pace however, it would impossible to conclude the reconstruction in another 5 years. During all this period, the residents of Nahr el-Bared continue to depend on the aid and rent reimbursements, which are running out day by day.
After three years since the demolition of the camp – the period which was originally given for the completion of the reconstruction – UNRWA announces the diminishing of resources available for rent reimbursements which cost around Six million US dollars per year. However, Lebanese state officials are clearly not worried and bothered by the financial impacts of delays and complications caused by their bureaucracy and red-tape. This is for one simple reason : it is donor countries that are bearing the financial burden of the reconstruction. Where as the daily political, security, social, and humanitarian bill is being paid by the refugees of Nahr el-Bared.
The main priority for Lebanese officials handling the reconstruction is the accurate and exact enforcement of the law (which is discriminatory against the Palestinians in Lebanon) within the militarized state of the camp space. There is a clear incomprehension and disregard to the concept of emergency post war and humanitarian condition in Nahr el bared Camp. Today, and after three years of the demolition of the camp, it is time to publicly announce and admit that something is fundamentally problematic with Nahr el Bared’s reconstruction and the state’s policy towards the camp. The only thing that is being constructed today is yet another negative model of the relationship between the hosting Lebanese state and the Palestinian refugees on its land.
The refugees of Nahr el-Bared find themselves today stuck in a very difficult and strange place : Between the state of the law (red tape) and the suspension of the law (militarization), between the exception of the law ( the suspension of basic civil rights in Lebanon) and the absolute implementation of the law in the reconstruction. Today, the refugees of Nahr el bared describe the condition in Nahr el bared before its destruction as “very good”. That is despite its historic poverty and an assortment of social, political and spatial ills. That is despite the fact that this community has been living in a state of exile and displacement from their homes in Palestine for the past 60 years. Before the destruction of the camp, the Palestinians in Nahr el bared camp who were suffering from economic and social discrimination in the Lebanese state, had only the camp space to freely work and improve their socio economic conditions. What is happening today, after the state has been implementing its absolute control over the camp, is that the state is not only unable to solve the problems of the camp and cure its ills, but also forbids its residents – through a bunch of rules and procedures, from trying to stand up on their feet again.
This is the story of the loss of Nahr el bared.
This is how the goal in Nahr el bared is lost and how the cause of this camp gets diffused.
The fog of the unknown settles over the head of the refugees.
No one knows what to do anymore, where to go and to whom to complain.
All that we have is ourselves, so we fight each other inside the “cage of Nahr el Bared”. Unfortunately, we decide to object to everything, for objection seems to be the last form of resistance that we employ today…
The Palestinian responsibility
In lieu of all that, there can be no denial of the Palestinian responsibility towards what happened and is still happening in Nahr el-Bared. How will Palestinian factions and political leaders be judged by history ? How have they stood up to the challenges that this camp has faced and is facing everyday? When is the time and place to overcome internal splits and squabbles if not now and here in Nahr el bared? Based on their competing claims as representatives of the Palestinians what are their tools of participation with the Nahr el bared community in forming the future of their destroyed camp? How else can this camp confront negative and imposed political, planning and security projects from above ? Furthermore, in the absence of a Palestinian vision, what is the role of the refugee and the Palestinian civil society towards these internal and external challenges?
In the absence of the local vision, the state’s clear Top-down and security imposed vision becomes the most viable project in Palestinian refugee camps, based on the model of Nahr el bared.
What about the various activist and civic movements that try to confront the state’s vision (and who are supported by Lebanese civilian activists for the camp’s cause) that we keeping hearing about? They lack long term strategies and are continuously obliged to respond to immediate challenges and emergencies. Similarly serious local initiatives with strategic objectives are continuously disintegrated and scattered internally within the camp by internal Palestinian squabbling and insecure traditional power brokers.
From and To the refugees of Nahr el-Bared
Since there is no lack of technical reports written on the case of Nahr el-Bared case, since Nahr el bared what Nahr el Bared needs at this stage is not yet another architectural design, since it is useless to write yet another petition and organize yet another demonstration in hopes that some official might feel ashamed of what is happening :
it seemed to me that it might be more beneficial to write a letter from and to the refugees of Nahr el bared. And let it be a sarcastic letter, based on the local Arabic proverb : “Irony, is the real catastrophe in any tragedy”
After the demolition of the camp (thank God) and the imposition of the authority of law to Nahr el-Bared (at last), I would like to share with the residents of the camp a guide of laws and regulations that concerns their camp. And as proof of our “good will” towards the state, we as “good” refugees should participate willingly in applying these regulations and circulating them.
I put forward herewith “The Guide of Commitment to Laws and Official Procedures in Nahr el-Bared Camp”, asking respectfully from all the refugees of the camp to commit to all its articles and to take full responsibility for it.
Note: this guide is also very useful for the other camps in Lebanon, since these laws and regulations will be applied in them in the near future.
Article 1: It is forbidden for Palestinians (since June 2007 until the present) from entering the camp.
That is to ensure the safety of the ancient city of Artozia from theft, and to ensure the safety of the camp residents from the latent mines that were installed by “Fath sl-Islam”. We can only express our deep gratitude to all the officials, military individuals and international workers who risk their life every day through out the past three years when they “freely” walk over the ruins of the camp regardless of these “dangers”.
We also send special thanks to the companies that worked very hard over the past three years to remove these mines, and the debris in exchange for meager amounts of money (this process cost over 17 Million US dollars. It is important to note that the cost to remove one cubic meter of rubble usually cost between 8 and 10 $, where as in Nahr el-Bared the cost reached around 27$)
Article 2 : It is forbidden for Palestinian refugees from retrieving their belongings from his demolished homes.
Each family was allowed to enter the camp only once for a period between half to one hour to the camp before bulldozing the entire camp. Family entry was allowed under the close ‘guard’ of the military (for the family’s protection of course) in case a Super-Fateh-Islam member emerges from underneath the tons of rubble and attacks the poor refugees of the camp.
Of course we do not need more than half an hour to look for our belongings, papers and valuables and retrieve them. For we are refugees, and we did not own much of anything in the first place. In fact, it is better for us as refugees to remain suspended in the temporal and liberate ourselves from physical belongings. All such materialistic objects will only serve to distract us from our main cause … Palestine. As for our official papers that have been lost in the war, we can of course easily replace them through sending an email to Lebanese General security website or by a simple SMS message to General Security Free Toll number service.
Article 3: It is forbidden to call the area adjacent to the camp as : “Camp” nor as “New Camp”.
We thank the officials in the Lebanese government and the military for their continuous announcement and clarifications on this issue.
The title of camp should be indeed limited to the boundaries that the state and the UN identified in the 40s of the past century when Nahr el bared hosted 3000 refugees. For the camp is ultimately a geographic boundary on the map – and not a political state and part of a more complex dynamic. The writer Amin Ma’louf must have been definitely mistaken when he said “All our houses are tents, even if they were made out of stone …”
Article 4: It is forbidden for Palestinians to reconstruct their own home in Nahr el Bared.
We cannot always understand all the rules and regulations that are under implementation. We sometimes have to (blindly) trust those who know better : technically, legally and politically on particular issues. Surely, there are legitimate and beneficial reasons for such a rule.
We just have to trust the logic that entails the continuation of the camp to be a closed military site, with the very alert soldiers keeping their eye on contracting companies who are waiting for very slow funds and protecting one very dedicated archaeologist still searching for the remains of Artosia.
The reconstruction process is indeed a complicated technical process, so it is better not to confuse the residents of the camp and pressure them with building their own houses. Let them just ‘take a summer holiday’ in the tin barracks of temporary shelters and enjoy the luxuries of aid, while being educated by Community Policing programs.
Since the project is so huge, and the funding is foreign and will not affect the deficit treasury of Lebanon , it is absolutely alright for the official contractors to sub, and sub-sub-contract the project, and in prices that are 30% less from the original price.
Note: the residents of the camp can work at the bottom of the sub-contracting ladder as workers. However, the owner of the house cannot work in the reconstruction of his own house. Local contracting teams from the camp are also not allowed to participate in the tendering process (the tenders are offered only for ‘classified’ contractors only).
Article 5: It is forbidden to allow any funding or donations for the reconstruction of homes in the New Camp/Adjacent Area.
This rule is intended to punish the outlaws of Nahr el bared who did not respect the Lebanese laws that prohibits them from buying and registering lands in Lebanon. Despite of this law, they had ventured and bought such lands informally and built their homes. Funding for reconstruction of such homes should prevent any violation of Lebanese law.
We can only thank the Technical head of the Nahr el Bared Reconstruction Cell at the Council of Ministers for his perseverance in preventing any funds from getting to these refugees. Thanks to his determination in the implementation of “lebanese law” , funds allocated to damaged buildings repair cannot be used for destroyed apartments on the upper floors of the building.
He should be congratulated for diverting any funding available for this area to ‘legal’ infrastructure projects that will serve over 1000 undestroyed –and illegal- buildings. These are very effectives measure to maintain the face of Law in the camp. We should respect the flexibility of this law that allows the provision of modern infrastructure to illegal and destroyed homes.
We wish all the best to the huge efforts directed to finding a legal solution for the reconstruction of the destroyed houses in the next years, and, we ask the owners of these houses to be patient until such a solution is found that would definitely take their humanitarian and emergency needs into consideration.
Article 6: It is forbidden for Palestinians to pursue commercial activity in the camp.
This would of course stop all smuggling activities that used to take place in the camp and which was the only commercial activity that took place in the camp anyway. Once smuggling is stopped our negative image will be transformed and the camp will become a safer and more secure place. The prevention of commercial activity in Nahr el bared will of course succeed in finally putting an end to the entire drug and arms business in the whole of Lebanon.
We have to thank the security policy makers in succeeding in complicating the entry of all Lebanese citizens who want to enter the camp under dubious claims that they want to buy clothes or fix their car. Surely these people have other dangerous intentions such attacking the camp’s helpless refugees or smuggling goods. The negative economic impact of such ‘protection’ is negligible since we don’t have to depend on any income from commerce anymore. After the demolition of the camp each family gets 70$/month in aid from the UNRWA, what else do we need more than that ? Neither do we need any money for medical assistance, for the international community provides UNRWA with enough painkillers to make, this headache called, “Palestine” disappear. Surgeries are not necessary, as it would only serve to increase the number of Palestinian refugees that continuously increase the stress level of Israel. Maybe if our numbers decrease a bit, Israel will allow us to return. And if not, we would still be a lesser burden on Lebanon.
Another benefit of this intelligent policy can observed when a group of students/researchers from the American University in Beirut were prevented from entering the camp even after waiting for half an hour at the gate (they were sent to a military base half an hour away from the camp to wait another half an hour before finally receiving a permission to a 1-time-entry-only permission with the protection of a military intelligence officer.) Such ” simplified” security procedures are very effective in preventing such students, who could be more dangerous than the Fatah al Islam terrorists, from attacking the helpless refugees of Nahr el bared.
I would rather not discuss the impact of the checkpoints of pregnancy cases, funerals and weddings. For I would prefer not to mess the image of the military.
Article 7: It is forbidden for all Palestinian NGOs from pursuing activities in the fields of education, relief, reconstruction, and health in the camp.
This rule aims at giving equality to the Palestinians in Nahr el-Bared with all the other Palestinians everywhere in Lebanon. Why to allow ourselves what is banned for others? That way all the Palestinian doctors, engineers, lawyers etc. who are prevented from working in Lebanon can also be prevented from working in the camp as well.
Article 8: It is forbidden for Palestinians from dealing with politics in Nahr el bared.
Palestinians refugees do not vote in Palestine, in the PLO, nor in the camps. Meanwhile, the international community is very pre-occupied with “resolving” the Palestinian refugee problem and with “depoliticizing” the camps. It seems that indeed politics is the origin of all our problems. Maybe instead of the Palestinian revolution of 1969 we should have gotten funding for a “workshop”, and solved our problem by becoming ” de-politicized”
Today resistance is terrorism and prohibited. Meanwhile Palestinians, who is not allowed to work in Lebanon, have no other choice except to work in UNRWA – which prohibits its employees from being involved in political organizations and participation in demonstrations. We hope –god willing- to depoliticize Nahr el bared before its reconstruction, that way we can start with a clean slate.
Article 9: It is forbidden for Palestinians to demonstrate about the check points and the military entry permits.
It is truly strange that we never stop demonstrating against all these laws and regulations, instead of putting a sincere effort in adopting them and enjoying their clear benefits. Why are so many camp vandals (in coordination with suspicious Lebanese characters) continuously urging Nahr el bared refugees to object and demonstrate ?
Officials have described these demonstrations as disruptive and barbaric. Thankfully, there are still individuals in the camp who do not participate in such acts. For surly the future of Nahr el bared is bright with all those dedicated and hardworking officials looking and guiding the progress of work.
We must thank all security officials who “gently invite” organizers of such demonstrations to” have a nice chat” and provide them with “valuable advice” regarding such actions. These security officials must take all preventive measures to stop such incidents in the future, and we commend their brave efforts at ensuring our safety and maintaining discipline and order at the gates of the camp.
Lastly: I would like to emphasize that not all regulations are prohibitive – some regulations are facilitative. For example, there are orders that “allowed” the establishment of the community police stations in our “chaotic” camp. Let us also emphasize that this form of policing is bieng pioneered in Nahr el bared and will soon be established in the rest of Lebanon. We hear that the US is ensuring the most developed training and techniques are being applied to the community police that have been developed and applied in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza. Such training will sure have the standard 1-year guarantee as all American products.
We must apologize from the rest of the citizens of Lebanon, for having such programs in Nahr el Bared before its application in their villages and towns. We also must deliver our gratitude to the Council of Ministers for their brave and visionary decisions to establish military and naval bases within Nahr el bared – to always ensure the safety of the camp against lurking terrorists.
Residents of Nahr el-Bared Refugee Camp,
These laws and regulations were established for our own good. All the other Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the other camps are impatiently waiting for the entry of the state into their camps in order for such regulations to be enforced upon them as well. Nahr el bared is privileged to be the first camp in Lebanon to receive this honor.
Let us keep in mind that the total compliance with such regulations will definitely enable and empower us to achieve our right of return to our homes in Palestine.
I will leave the final conclusions of this article to the reader. However, the goal of this “letter” was to attempt and answer a difficult question that was repeated to me every day: “What is going on today in Nahr el-Bared?”
This, in my opinion, is what happened yesterday, what is happening today, and what will happen tomorrow in this ‘model camp’. As for the rest of the details and events that are mentioned in the newspapers, they are merely results and details. Let us discuss the causes first…
 A third of the Palestinian refugees of nahr el bared have expanded beyond the borders of the official camp into the adjacent areas from the 60 and 70s onwards after the orginal camp was completely saturated. They viewed the original camp and its expansion as one urban and social entity. However, with the destruction of the camp and the entry of the state differentiation of the two entities started to be announced. Military and government officials would continously announce the non-camp nature of the old camps extensions.
 On the eve of the commencement of the reconstruction of Nahr el bared in the fall of 2009 – 2 years after the destruction of the camp – a Lebanese judge ordered the halting of works on the site. The reason was the claims of the discovery of a historic ancient city of Artozia underneath the camp more than a year before. The prime minister had then issued a ministerial order to protect the archaeology by backfilling it and covering it and reconstructing the camp over it. A parliamentary objected to this decision and took this case to court on which a judge ordered the halting of the reconstruction pending further deliberation. Public protests over this issue and political pressures to resume reconstruction helped resuming of the construction works. For more on the background to this issue see : http://www.albared.wordpress.com