Thursday, June 11, 2009

Palestinian Refugees Continue to Suffer Two Years after Nahr al-Bared

One of the main streets in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp outside of the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, following a nearly three-and-a-half-month-long battle between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, a transnational Salafi jihadi group based in the camp.

The Lebanese army's poor performance and high casualties led them to use another strategy, leveling the majority of the camp with artillery. It still took the army one month to capture the militant group's positions in the camp's outer areas.

The camp's 30-40,000 residents were forced to flee and many continue to live in makeshift housing and face high unemployment rates nearly two years later. Palestinian refugees have long been mistreated in Lebanon and other Arab countries, such as Egypt and the Arab Gulf states.

War crimes were committed by both Fatah al-Islam, including the reported execution and torture of captured Lebanese army soldiers, and the Lebanese army who rounded by young Palestinian men and tortured them.

Eighteen-year-old Abu Yasser, a Palestinian from Nahr al-Bared, shows his wounds from when he was detained and tortured by the Lebanese army, 7 September 2007. (Matthew Cassel)

Tens of thousands of Lebanese army soldiers were tied down from May 20 to September 7, 2007 by approximately 500 fighters from Fatah al-Islam and other Salafi jihadi groups operating in Lebanon. Salafi groups have been supported financially by Sa'd al-Hariri and his Saudi funders, who hope to create a counter to the Lebanese Shi'i political party and paramilitary organization Hizbullah. The Saudi state is notoriously bigoted against non-Salafi Muslims, including Shi'is of all groups. Hariri used sectarianism as a political tool in the recent Lebanese parliamentary elections, as Lebanese Shi'is have long been viewed with contempt and disdain by the Sunni and Maronite Catholic merchant and upper classes.
This documentary shows the continued hardship that Palestinian refugees who once resided in the camp face. Discrimination at the hands of the Lebanese state is rightfully highlighted:

A Sip of Coffee

"In May 2007, the battle between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army broke out in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Amidst heavy fighting, the Lebanese army had systematically destroyed the entire camp by September 2007. Two years later, nearly all the rubble has been cleared from the "old camp", the core of Nahr al-Bared. However, though the displaced residents grow increasingly desperate, reconstruction has yet to begin.

Not only does the Lebanese army keep people away from the old camp, but it also controls movement in and out of the surrounding area known as the "new camp.” Anyone entering the new camp requires a valid permit issued by the army. Refugees and NGOs working to revitalize the once robust economy of the camp face crippling isolation, as the marketplace of Nahr al-Bared is totally cut off from the surrounding villages. A flailing economy and soaring unemployment are only a few of the consequences of the destruction and ongoing siege of the camp.

This 26-minute film follows a father and his son as they attempt to deal with their unemployment. The two have been living in metal barracks for more than a year, waiting to return to their camp. By documenting issues of reconstruction, temporary housing, economy, unemployment and despair, the film touches on the daily experience of life in Nahr al-Bared camp."

Part I

Part II

Part III

Fatah al-Islam militants in Nahr al-Bared

Militant Salafism continues to grow in Lebanon, particularly in the north in and near the coastal city of Tripoli, with financial support from Hariri and the Saudis, as well as in the Palestinian refugee camps, home to over 400,000 people. For a fascinating study based on extensive fieldwork, see Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam among Palestinians in Lebanon by the French Islamicist Bernard Rougier.

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