[News] Nahr al-Bared was destroyed, but who noticed?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 26 12:28:47 EDT 2007

Nahr al-Bared was destroyed, but who noticed?

Michael Birmingham, Electronic Lebanon, Oct 25, 2007


A view of the main road in the Nahr al-Bared "new camp" which before 
the war connected Tripoli in northern Lebanon up to the Lebanon-Syria border.

Nahr al-Bared is a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of Lebanon 
which has been home to about 40,000 Palestinian people, most of whom 
are the children and grandchildren of those who left Palestine in 
1948. Some like Abu Mohammad were born in Palestine. He was ten years 
old, and next year it will be sixty years since the formation of the 
State of Israel was achieved through the ethnic cleansing of Abu 
Mohammad and so many others from their home in Palestine. He told me 
this as the two of us sat alone in the pitch dark while rats ran 
around beside our chairs at his house. As I left he went in to sleep 
alone amongst ashes and rodents, with no neighbors around him. Trying 
to believe that he still has something left to protect.

Between May and September of this year, a ferocious battle took place 
between the Lebanese army and a small armed group known as Fatah 
al-Islam. From the first the day, the Lebanese army surrounded the 
camp and fired in artillery, maintaining this course for months. Most 
of the residents of the camp were forced to leave with the clothes on 
their backs within the first three days. As the number of young 
Lebanese soldiers killed and horribly maimed rose through the battle, 
Lebanon became awash with patriotism and grief, any questioning of 
the army taboo.

Something terrible has been done to the residents of Nahr al-Bared, 
and the Lebanese people are being spared the details. Over the past 
two weeks, since the camp was partly reopened to a few of its 
residents, many of us who have been there have been stunned by a 
powerful reality. Beyond the massive destruction of the homes from 
three months of bombing, room after room, house after house have been 
burned. Burned from the inside. Amongst the ashes on the ground, are 
the insides of what appear to have been car tires. The walls have 
soot dripping down from what seems clearly to have been something 
flammable sprayed on them. Rooms, houses, shops, garages -- all 
blackened ruins, yet having had no damage from bombing or battle. 
They were burned deliberately by people entering and torching them.

How many we do not know; it is too large for a few people to 
comprehensively assess. But finding an house or business spared from 
the bombing that has not been torched is very hard indeed.

Why did this happen? Why have the people whose entire life's work is 
to be found in ashes on the floor of these burned out homes, not been 
given any information about this -- not a word? Each day new people 
return to find that this is what has happened to their homes.


A view of the "old camp" where still no residents or NGOs have been 
allowed to enter.

It is not just the burning of houses. Cars that residents were 
ordered to leave behind in the first days of the battle have been 
smashed up. Mopeds and TVs and all that ordinary people value, also 
broken up. Fridge after fridge with bullets through them. All of this 
clearly done from inside the houses, not from any outside battle.

People returning to their homes sit outside alone on the ground. 
Stunned. When you ask them to bring you into their houses, they tell 
you, person after person, of how their valuables were stolen. Even 
where the valuables were well hidden, everything was ransacked and 
valuables found. Explosives were used to get through locked doors or 
to open safes. Items that people have had stolen include everything 
from clothes to cars. That which has not been burned, which was not 
smashed, which was of value seems to have vanished. Where?

This camp was strictly out of bounds to the Palestinian people. They 
could not have done this. Who did this and why must surely be 
investigated before more vital evidence has disappeared. A small 
amount of this may be attributable to Fatal al-Islam fighters. But 
there is clear evidence that some elements of the army acted improperly.

On the inside walls of many, many houses, are written slogans. 
Everything from proud soldiers noting army units, to profoundly 
racist, offensive slogans against the Palestinian people. Many 
families have found some of their belongings in nearby houses. Feces 
are on some mattresses and floors.

Every day that goes by more families return to the camp. Within 
hours, they have swept up and cleared away ashes and debris, so that 
they can try to imagine where to begin again. Mattresses with feces 
are being burned. Journalists are still prohibited from the camp. 
Cameras are illegal there. Human rights groups have not entered. 
Every day that goes by, more evidence is lost.

For those of us who lived in nearby Baddawi refugee camp during the 
battle, this follows months of people from Nahr al-Bared telling 
stories of torture and abuse at checkpoints, and in the Lebanese 
Ministry of Defense at Yarsi. It also follows Nahr al Bared 
residents, who bravely tried to tell the world through nonviolent 
demonstrations what was happening, being shot dead near Baddawi. The 
world ignored completely even their deaths.

Amnesty International, the largest human rights organization in the 
world, was concluding a report on the situation of Palestinians in 
Lebanon during the past week. Its delegation left Lebanon without 
seeing Nahr al-Bared -- before it left holding a Beirut press 
conference which was abruptly ended at the first mention of Nahr al-Bared.

The United States government played a key role in this battle, 
strongly supporting politically and with munitions the Lebanese 
government's decision to seek a military solution. The Lebanese 
offered to Fatah al-Islam the choices to simply surrender or die. The 
European Union and many Arab countries also clearly supported this 
approach. The moral and legal imperative to distinguish between 
combatants and civilians, and not to target civilian communities was 
not a concern. The Palestinians of Lebanon, the subject of so many 
crocodile tears from around the world during infamous massacres in 
the past, once again are without support at the moment when it might 
actually matter.

What happened in Nahr al-Bared? Why does the world not seem to care?

All images were taken on 14 October 2007, and are published anonymously.

Michael Birmingham is an Irish peace activist who has been mostly 
based in Lebanon since July 2006. He has formerly worked on human 
rights and social justice in Ireland and Iraq. This article was 
originally published in Arabic by <http://www.alquds.co.uk/>Al-Quds 
al-Arabi and is republished with the author's permission.

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