Nahr al Bared camp, Tripoli, LEBANON — The killings of three Palestinian refugees this past week—including Ahmad Qassim from Nahr al Bared (‘cold river’) camp near Tripoli and 15 year old Khaled al-Youssef from Ein el Helwe (‘ the beautiful eye’) 30 miles south of Beirut in Saida—and the wounding of more than a dozen others by the Lebanese army were not, as some Lebanese politicians are claiming, “accidental security incidents”. They were avoidable negligent homicides as much so as Zionist occupation forces and settler/colonists in Palestine regularly commit.
It is true that Lebanon’s army, like the country itself, is confessionalized and as it has done before, the army will likely fracture if a civil conflict erupts. It is also undertrained, weak on discipline, and ill equipped. But from this observer’s experience and learning from friends in the army, the least that can be said on its behalf is that it is no worse and is probably more humane than some others in the region.
Some in the Palestinian community fear that the recent killings of refugees by the army represents a revival of what in the Lebanese army it has often meted out to Palestinians and that it may be intensifying 30 years after the massacre at Sabra-Shatila.
Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are the worst 12 of the 57 UN established camps in the Levant including Jordan, Syria, Gaza and occupied Palestine in terms of problems of poverty (65 per cent of Palestinian family living in camps in Lebanon live on less than six dollars a day), health, education, general living conditions, discrimination, isolation, joblessness, shanty housing and a lack of proper elementary and secondary schools, a legal ban on enrollment in state colleges, lack of adequate clinics, hospitals and sewage systems as well as essentially no potable water, little fresh air or sunlight in many areas of the camps, rising respiratory diseases, domestic abuse and psychological health issues. Contributing to all of the above is the outlawing of Palestinians enjoying the elementary civil right to work or the own a home.
During a recent visit to the camps, Muhammad Farwana, a member of Hamas’s politburo described the Nahr al-Barid camp in which “around 38,000 people are living in deplorable conditions and unfit for humans.” He added: “I visited Nahr al-Bared and no human being can lead a normal life in it. Not even animals can have a normal life in it.”
No refugees on earth are so targeted and discriminated against as Lebanon’s Palestinians and only some political help and negligible economic assistance sporadically arrives from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Not even the employees at the Embassy of Palestine in Beirut have been paid their salaries for the past two months due significantly to US and EU aid shrinkage aimed at forcing yet more concessions from the PA in favor of the Zionist occupiers of their country.
Every camp Palestinian family in Lebanon can recount cases of arbitrary arrests, beatings, false imprisonment and harassment from the army’s Military Intelligence unit, the supposedly disbanded Deuxieme Bureau. This Stasi-type organization—supposedly reformed—hunted and terrorized Palestinians following the PLO departure from Beirut in August of 1982. According to long time PLO representative in Lebanon, Shafiq al Hout, in his wonderful book, My Life in the PLO, the Deuxieme Bureau was a major factor in 70,000 departing Lebanon just in 1983 via Beirut airport.
The army initially suspected that the motor bike riders it stopped at Nahr al Bared camp had no ID. This was a reasonable assumption because thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have no ID because the country where they were born, Lebanon, refuses to provide them an ID, thus depriving them of even the few rights given their fellow Palestinian refugees.
Most Palestinians, for example, who arrived in Lebanon after being expelled from Jordan in 1970 never registered with Lebanon’s barely functioning bureaucracy and, despite a quarter century of promises by politicians here to remedy “the non-ID problem”, it’s been just more idle talk with not action being taken.
Once more the non-ID issue has become a deadly one and officials promising yesterday to solve the problem. Lebanon’s politicians will likely do nothing unless they see some significant personal benefit. Hence non-ID Palestinians will remain subject to arrest at any time, not able to register their marriages or get ID’s for their children or achieve a score of other civil acts that require a government issued ID.
While a meeting was held between a number of officers, including the head of Army Intelligence, Edmond Fadel, with a delegation of Palestinian factions, in order to restore calm in the camp, there is little confidence that much was achieved except another pledge on behalf of Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji to uncover the details of the crime “through a swift investigation that will determine the perpetrators and prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future.” Given past experience, few believe the investigation will be serious or even completed.
Compounding these problems is a number of politicians who lack the political will to provide a simple available solution. Lebanon’s Interior Minister on June 20 told Akbar al-Youm news agency that “the disturbances” (army killing of Palestinian civilians) that occurred lately in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein al-Hilweh were not related to what had happened in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. “What happened in the two Palestinian camps has nothing to do with the security situation in Lebanon. They were just coincidence. The problems inside the camps have been resolved by the Lebanese army.”
This gross mischaracterization of what occurred at the camps this past week is inflaming passions even more. Every 9 year old anywhere in Lebanon knows that the “incident” in Ein el Helwe was a direct and predictable result of the army’s killing in Nahr al Bared. What is remarkable is the restraint shown by refugees in the other 10 camps and dozen ‘gatherings’.
Taking the opposite view from the Interior Minister, the Speaker of Lebanon’s Parliament chimed in with the observation that: “The incidents at the Palestinian camps and the targets against the Lebanese army are not coincidence and not innocent and call for concern. A foreign plot is present but there is an internal participation in it,” he warned, reiterating that the security incidents from the North to the South are not a coincidence.
Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn’s declaration on June 20 “that attacking Army posts is dangerous and does not serve the interests of the Palestinian brothers at all” raised a question whether he was even aware what had happened at either camp. At least he rejected the foreign plot thesis designed to undermine Lebanese Army accountability.
What is clear is that local politicians will skew the facts to suit their political instincts and are incapable of analyzing the events objectively and that the killings at Nahr al Bared and Ein el Helwe are not the result of the Syrian chaos. It is perhaps remarkable that the camps have to date not exploded into violence while exercising their legitimate rights to protect themselves against those, including the Lebanese army, perceived as killing their children and families.
Were Lebanon politicians sincere in their hand-wringing claims to be seeking a solution to Army attacks on Palestinians they could make an immediate differences by implementing the following:
- Conduct a full transparent investigation of the army killings of refugees and amnesty for camp residents who have protested the past week unless it is proved that the refugees committed any crime by exercising their right of free speech.
- Take measures to remove army provocations, insults, and harassments of entering and exiting camp residents that are causing distress to the Palestinians in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp and to respect the refugee’s dignity and humanity.
- Pull the army from inside Nahr al Bared, where it acknowledges there are no weapons, and withdraw to two kilometers from the entrances to the other five camps it surrounds thus removing the likelihood of bored and or malevolent troops harassing camp residents.
- Withdraw military deployment among the residents of the camp. End the army’s system of permits, which refugees are forced to secure in order to enter and exit their camp authorized originally in 1949 by the United Nations.
- End the practice, such as is the case at NAB camp of sending in Mabarrat (intelligence) personnel with every camp visitor to monitor conversations between the visitors and camp residents.
- Immediately order the army to vacate the camps public spaces including Nahr al Bared’s graveyard, the football field, and all residential buildings annexed by and currently occupied by the army.
- Release the foreign and domestic aid donated to Nahr al-Bared in order to rebuild the camp, after five years since its needless and vengeful destruction and to stop the media campaigns and fabricated news that are helping in igniting sedition and increasing tension to create “fake instability.”
And perhaps most fundamental and crucial:
- Take a few hours during a current Parliamentary session to repeal the racist 2001 law outlawing home ownership for Palestinian refugees and grant immediately grant Palestinian refugees the internationally mandated right to work.
The American government also has a special obligation to remedy this crisis given its work to prevent the refugees from returning to their country. The White House should enforce the provisions of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act and cut aid to Lebanon, including its army, until it complies with international law in its treatment of refugees. The US would do well to desist from piling sanctions on Iran and Syria and apply a few to Lebanon until it grants civil rights to its unwanted guests from occupied Palestine.
Unfortunately when US Secretary of State Clinton telephoned Lebanon’s Prime Minister Miqati last week to lobby for Lebanese support against the Bashar Assad government in Syria, she omitted, as always, the insistence that Lebanon comply, as a condition of future US aid, with its internationally mandated obligations toward its Palestinian refugees.
The ball is in the Lebanese Parliaments court. Time is running out for impunity relative to Lebanon’s refusal to grant elementary civil rights for their sisters and brothers from occupied Palestine.