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.