Saturday, June 16, 2007

Letter from a Palestinian Camp

On April 16, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed white American clergymen who were opposed to his civil resistance campaign that fought against racist, segregationist policies and practices in the U.S. Writing from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he responded particularly to people who would have preferred that African Americans be patient and wait for those rights to come to them rather than to resist:

"For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.'"

For 59 years Palestinians have been waiting to return to their rightful homes in Palestine under UN Resolution 194. They have waited for this right in Palestinian refugee camps in occupied Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon as well as in the diaspora. By comparison refugee camps in Lebanon and restrictions on Palestinians in Lebanon are worse than the conditions in Jordan, Syria, and in some respects to those in occupied Palestine. But for all of these Palestinians King's words ring true; Palestinians have waited far too long for their rights within the national spaces they reside and under international law.

I had the opportunity to address my concerns about the treatment of Palestinians in Lebanon directly to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora last week in a meeting at the Grand Serail with other relief workers from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Palestine Red Crescent, International Committee of the Red Cross, American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC) and a governmental group called the Emergency Relief Committee. Throughout the meeting I had the desire to stand up and read King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" just changing the words to fit the circumstance in Lebanon. Because while Lebanese soldiers have lost their lives in the siege on Nahr el Bared refugee camp it does not mean that Palestinians should be subjected to massacre and gross human rights violations. As King also stated in this letter, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." In other words, Lebanese security should not be formed on the basis of Palestinian insecurity.

When we entered Siniora's office a map of Nahr el Bared refugee camp was laid out on a conference table and he was discussing the rebuilding of the camp with engineers and architects. Throughout the meeting Siniora asserted that he wanted to rebuild Nahr el Bared and create "a model camp." The notion that destroying a camp and slaughtering the people residing in that camp merely to rebuild it is immoral and inhuman seems to be irrelevant here. It does not seem to occur to him that predominant feeling among Palestinian refugees from Nahr el Bared, who are now thrice or twice displaced as many used to live in the destroyed Tell al Za'atar camp in Lebanon, believe that any promise by the government is not in earnest (the part of Nahr el Bared camp where people from Tell al Za'atar lived is now destroyed). They remember all too well the destruction of camps in Nabatiyyeh and Tell al Za'atar which were never rebuilt. They recall their multiple displacements in Lebanon and the current situation elicits memories of trauma and homelessness. But Siniora insists he wants to rebuild and that the people who are now rendered homeless will have to wait until their community is rebuilt--a figure of 18 months is being circulated--before they are allowed to return to the camp.

Of course there are still around 5,000 Palestinians who have remained inside their homes in Nahr el Bared. Around 300 people were able to come out this week, many of whom remain in army detention facilities. Of those who were released from detention facilities at least 84 made it to Badawi to share reports of being stripped naked, harassed, and/or beaten. Their treatment by the Lebanese army compelled them to telephone family and friends remaining inside Nahr el Bared refugee camp asking them to stay there. They did so despite the fact that the army circulated a message to all those remaining inside--Fatah al Islam and Palestinian civilians alike--telling them that all who remain will be considered militants with Fatah al Islam whether or not they are. They did so despite the fact that the army is making it more difficult for aid to enter the camps as a way to encourage people to leave. Palestinians remain inside for a number of reasons: people are afraid of their homes being destroyed; people worry about a loss of cultural identity if they leave the camp; people fear that leaving the camp takes them one step further from returning to Palestine. One older woman from Badawi told me that, "if they came here I wouldn't leave the camp. Even if they destroyed it. If i left I'd lose everything, if I stayed at least I'd die in my house."

The promise that Siniora will make Nahr el Bared a "model camp" is as meaningless to refugees from Nahr el Bared as is his statement that, "We want to reestablish levels of confidence between Lebanese and Palestinians. Let's make this camp a model of re-cooperation and confidence building." In response to this statement I challenged Siniora about his commitment to Palestinians, specifically in light of the contradiction between his idea of "confidence building" and Lebanese security concerns. I remarked that Lebanese security cannot be built on Palestinian insecurity, especially in light of increasing testimonies by Palestinians who have been subjected to harassment, detention, humiliation, and brutality by the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the army. I requested a public statement condemning such behavior. A colleague from the American University of Beirut, who joined me at this meeting, added to my statement asking for Palestinians to be granted equal rights in Lebanon as a more genuine gesture towards building confidence and creating security for all those residing in Lebanon. Siniora's response was weak, if typical: "You cannot change things, there are certain things that require laws that I cannot do."

My colleague and I pressed further requesting Palestinians be granted equal rights with respect to removing the law banning Palestinians from some 70 professions. We posed this proposition in response to one of people at the meeting suggesting that job creation for Palestinians be made a priority, especially with respect to blue-collar work like carpenter training. I argued that prohibiting Palestinians from the freedom to work in whatever profession they choose does not in any way compromise UN Resolution 194; moreover, what type of society will Palestinians build if they are only trained in carpentry? Siniora's response recalls King's words about patience: "I passed through this stage [meaning my point of view]. This will not lead anywhere. You will have all these syndicates of lawyers and engineers who will fight to the last Lebanese. This is not the way to do it. The way is to approach it calmly, patiently, slowly. Some Lebanese tell me, why should we pay for reconstructing the Palestinian camp? You should pay for the reconstruction of Lebanon [from Israel's invasion last summer]. I have to fight that attitude."

While Siniora may be willing to fight the attitude in Lebanon that he should be rebuilding the areas destroyed by the Israelis in last summer's war in lieu of or in addition to rebuilding Nahr el Bared refugee camp, he remains unwilling or unable to fight increasing anti-Palestinian attitudes in this country. Whether these are attitudes or practices that are increasingly adopted by state officials in the army and ISF, we know that none of these will contribute to the rebuilding of confidence Siniora seems intent on if at least rhetorically. And, fortunately, my colleague and I were not the only people in the room who shared concerns about Palestinian treatment in Lebanon. A woman from the UNDP revealed that women who remain inside Nahr el Bared are afraid of leaving because there have been women who have left who were strip searched and humiliated by the army upon their exit from the camp. A woman from UNICEF also remarked that while Siniora's letter to Palestinians a couple of weeks ago felt that the letter was hypocritical given that they way they are being treated by the ISF and the army is "a major contradiction" to the tone of that letter. Siniora responded to these women stating, "We have to cooperate. We have to be pragmatic. Our army is the most disciplined with all the risks they are facing about bombs here and bombs there. Take any example of any army in the world..." He begins to offer the U.S. as an example as I shake my head and respond, "I would not use that as a positive example of how an army should operate." He continues, "My army is not made up of Oxford graduates. I just want you to understand what we are trying to do."

But I don't understand Siniora. I don't understand why there are now at least 41 Palestinians who are being held by the ISF and/or the army; additionally there are now at least 90 Syrian workers who have been rounded up by the ISF and/or the army since this week's bombing that killed ten people in Beirut (billboards already up commemorating the only two lives who seem to count here: an MP and his son). We know from some of Palestinians who have been released from detention that they are being harassed, stripped naked, beaten, and detained without charge. One young Palestinian 16 year old, in particular, whose ear was slashed and who bled for one and a half hours before questioning even began. Will treating all people of a particular group--Palestinian, Syrian, take your pick--make Lebanese people safer? Will depriving them of justice and humane treatment make it easier for Lebanese to rest at night?

The cycle of violence is only bound to enlarge and increase before subsiding if these practices of humiliating, detaining, and beating Palestinians and Syrians does not cease. I still have questions for Siniora, including the many which I excerpted here and which he failed to answer directly. First and foremost: are we willing to sacrifice other people's rights for what we want right now? Does that make it justifiable? When will we understand that what never works is to sacrificing other people's rights--and never our own? When will we learn that these practices of collective punishment and detention merely play right into the U.S. and Israel's hands and do nothing to further a secure Lebanon nor Palestinians' right of return.

شهادة شاب هرب من خراب نهر البارد "فلسطيني متَّهم حتى يثبت العكس

رنا حايك
يكثر الحديث عن انتهاكات لحقوق الإنسان يتعرّض لها فلسطينيون في مختلف المناطق اللبنانية، غير أن معظمهم يخشى الحديث إلى الإعلام. هنا رواية شاب في مقتبل العمر التقيناه في مخيّم البداوي وسرد ما حصل معه «لأني لا أخاف إلا الله»
هرب أحمد، (هو الاسم الوهمي الذي اخترناه له حفاظاً على سلامته) من مخيم نهر البارد في اليوم الثالث لبدء الاشتباكات بين الجيش ومنظمة «فتح الإسلام». إلا أن هربه من موت شبه محتّم لم يعن نجاته من الأذى الجسدي والنفسي الذي أصابه بسبب بطاقة هويته الزرقاء.
هو شاب فلسطيني من مخيم نهر البارد، يبلغ السادسة عشرة من العمر ويتابع منذ ثلاث سنوات دراسته في معهد لتعليم تصميم المجوهرات ويعمل في الوقت ذاته في محل لصناعة المجوهرات.
نزح من «البارد» في اليوم الثالث مع النازحين، ركض حتى الحاجز واستقلّ إحدى الحافلات المخصّصة لإجلاء المدنيين في اتّجاه مخيم البدّاوي. فُتّشت الحافلة ودقق في هويات ركابها عند حواجز الجيش حتى وصلت إلى برّ الأمان حيث احتضن أهالي البداوي النازحين وفتحوا لهم بيوتهم وقاسموهم اللقمة.
غير أن أحمد لم يكن يدري أن الزيارة التي قرّر القيام بها في اليوم التالي لعمه القاطن في منطقة العبدة، ستحمل الدّم والألم.
بدأت القصة عند حاجز العبدة حين أبرز أحمد بطاقته الزرقاء التي استحالت شبهة حين تتالت الأسئلة: «شو بتعرف عن فتح الإسلام؟»، «وين مخبيين شاكر العبسي؟». وحين كرّر أحمد بذهول أنه لا يعرف شيئاً عن هذه المنظمة اتهمه عناصر الجيش بالكذب وسارعوا إلى تكبيله بأسلاك من البلاستيك لا تزال علاماتها واضحة على جلد يديه ورجليه، ثم رموه أرضاً وانهالوا عليه ضرباً بكعوب رشاشاتهم. غابت صور وجوههم عن عينيه اللتين غطاهما الدم.
يسرد أحمد القصة بكلمات متقطعة لشاب لم يستفق بعد من الصدمة. يتابع: «رموني في الجيب، رموا فوقي دولاباً وأخذوني إلى ثكنة استحدثت فور بدء المعارك عند مفرق ببنين. هناك، قال أحد العناصر للسّرية: هيدا فلسطيني، شوفوا شو بدكن تضيّفوه».
وحين أراد بعض المدنيين من سكان المنطقة الانضمام إلى حفلة التأديب تلك متجمعين على باب الثكنة برفوشهم وعصيّهم، منعهم الجيش من الاقتراب وأكد بعضهم أنه كفيل «تكييفه» وحده دون مساعدة.
وعندما توافد الصحافيون المرابطون أصلاً عند مفرق ببنين منذ بداية المعارك، لمعرفة سبب الجلبة، طلب منهم الجيش عدم التصوير مؤكداً أن أحمد هو أحد عناصر «فتح الإسلام».
وبعد مرور قرابة ساعة من الوقت نُقل أحمد إلى مركز للمخابرات بغية التحقيق معه. وتفاوتت جلسة التحقيق بين تهديد صريح: «إذا ما بتقول إنك من فتح الإسلام بدنا نقتلك» وتهديدات باستخدام التعذيب بالكهرباء وأسئلة من قبيل: «ما نوع الأسلحة التي تستخدمونها؟».
ورغم تأكيد أحمد مراراً عدم وجود أية علاقة له بالتنظيم، وحلفانه أنه لم يمسك سلاحاً في حياته، ظل التّشاور بين المحققين محصوراً في إطار التهديد بقتله أو تعذيبه أكثر. عجز أحمد عن الكلام، انهار وبدأ ينزف من فمه دماً غزيراً حين قرروا نقله إلى مستوصف تابع للجيش. هناك، اخترقت جملة أحد الممرضين أذن أحمد كالرصاصة: «هيدا فلسطيني، ما منحكّمه، خلّيه يموت».
عرف أحمد لاحقاً سرّ نجاته ونقله إلى مستشفى «معن اليوسف» في عكار. فقد صودف أن رآه أحد معارفه، وهو ينقل بالجيب إلى المستوصف فاتصل بـ«معلمه» في الورشة، وسارع الأخير إلى نقل قصة أحمد إلى أخيه في الجيش فباشر الأخ اتصالاته لتأكيد براءة الموقوف.
في المستشفى قوبل أحمد بذهول. الطبيب المناوب في قسم الطوارئ قال للعنصر الأمني المرافق له: «شو عاملين فيه لهالصبي؟». نفى المرافق أية صلة للجيش بالإصابات وأكّد له أنهم وجدوه ملقى على الطريق، وأنه وقع على حجارة كانت السبب في تهشيمه. خلّفت هذه «الحجارة» آثارها على وجه أحمد الذي ما زال متورماً: جرح على صدغه التأم بسبع غرزات، أذن اقتطع جزء منها ولَحَم الطبيب ما بقي، وألم عميق من الذل ما زال ينخر في الذاكرة. وسيبقى...

عدد السبت ١٦ حزيران

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Could things get any worse?

I'm exhausted and haven't slept much in the past few days so I'm just going to say a few brief words here. First, although the bombing today happened less than a mile from where I live, I'm fine (we were in the car coming home from Badawi when the bomb went off). Second, for those of you whose media is limited (i.e., in the US) when it comes to this region: the news is more depressing than I've ever seen. We have another high-profile MP killed tonight (I imagine the glossy "martyr" posters are already up around the city) and already his death today is far more important than the numbers of innocent Palestinian civilians dead in Nahr el Bared refugee camp. They don't get names. We don't even get a body count, though we do of the 9 civilians who were killed who remain nameless in the international media. Will they have posters up around the city too? Somehow this Walid Eido's death matters above all others here. There were clashes in Jordan the other day. Iraq is a blood bath as usual. Turkey, like the US, Israel, and Lebanon, thinks that it can just go in to Iraq and start its own war with Kurdish "terrorists." But what breaks my heart the most is this fighting in Ghaza and the knowledge that it is so bad that even the UN has to pull out its humanitarian services which are so desperately needed.

Lebanon: End Abuse of Palestinians Fleeing Refugee Camp

(Beirut, June 13, 2007) – The Lebanese army and internal security forces have arbitrarily detained and physically abused some Palestinian men fleeing the fighting in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, Human Rights Watch said today.

"Lebanese forces can question Palestinians from Nahr al-Bared about Fatah al-Islam, but resorting to physical abuse is clearly against Lebanese law and international human rights standards." Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch

Since Sunday, more than 340 civilians have fled the camp in northern Lebanon, where fighting between the Lebanese army and the armed group Fatah al-Islam has entered its fourth week. The Lebanese army is interrogating many of the men as they leave the camp, and detaining those suspected of supporting or having information about Fatah al-Islam.

In some cases, Palestinian men who fled Nahr al-Bared have told Human Rights Watch that military interrogators ill-treated them in detention and during interrogations, apparently to extract information about Fatah al-Islam.

“Lebanese forces can question Palestinians from Nahr al-Bared about Fatah al-Islam, but resorting to physical abuse is clearly against Lebanese law and international human rights standards,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch.

The army is interrogating some Palestinian detainees at the Kobbeh military base near Tripoli, about 16 kilometers from Nahr al-Bared. Other interrogations have taken place at checkpoints and private houses near the camp.

In one case documented by Human Rights Watch, the Lebanese military detained a 21-year-old Palestinian man from Nahr al-Bared for interrogation at different locations for four days. During the interrogations, he was at various times punched and slapped by army interrogators.

“They put me back in a cell and I slept blindfolded with my hands tied,” he told Human Rights Watch about his third night in detention. “I heard screams from other rooms: ‘My arm! My hand!’” The army gave him food twice in four days, he said.

In another case, the army interrogated three young Palestinian men in a private house near Nahr al-Bared camp. According to two of the young men, members of Lebanese military intelligence subjected them to kicks, punches and beatings with rifle butts.

“They beat me with their hands, feet and even their weapons on the arms, hands back, and even my face and legs,” one of the men told Human Rights Watch. “It lasted, on and off, for about three hours.”

“They threatened me with a knife that they would cut off my toes if I didn’t speak,” he said.

Other Palestinians from Nahr al-Bared told Human Rights Watch how they were detained and questioned for a few hours, but not subjected to ill-treatment, and were then released. They knew of other Palestinian men detained with them and believed that these men remain in detention.

A Palestinian man inside Nahr al-Bared camp told Human Rights Watch by phone on Tuesday that news of abuse by the security forces was a great concern to those who have stayed in camp.

“Some Palestinians who want to flee Nahr al-Bared may stay put for fear of beatings and abuse by the army when they leave,” said Whitson. “The Lebanese government must ensure that civilians can leave Nahr al-Bared safely and without fear of illegal detention or abuse.”

In addition to detaining men as they leave Nahr al-Bared camp, Lebanese security forces have arrested and, in some cases, abused Palestinians at checkpoints in various areas of Lebanon.

In one case, soldiers stopped a 27-year-old Palestinian man as he drove near Nahr al-Bared and beat him near their checkpoint. “They hit me on the back with the butt of a Kalashnikov; I was bleeding from the nose,” he told Human Rights Watch. “And then someone came, saying, ‘your blood will spill like the blood of our martyrs,’ and he kicked me. That’s when my teeth fell out.”

The government should also ensure that no Palestinians are subject to ill-treatment by the security forces, particularly when it appears to occur solely on the basis of their Palestinian identity, Human Rights Watch said.

According to the Lebanese army, 60 soldiers have died since fighting with Fatah al-Islam began on May 20. Eleven soldiers died and more than 100 were reportedly wounded over the past weekend alone.

Human Rights Watch has confirmed that at least 20 civilians have lost their lives in shelling and sniper fire from both sides.

The last two victims were Lebanese Red Cross workers, who died on Monday from an explosion at their first aid post about three kilometers from the northern entrance of the camp. The cause of the explosion remains unclear.

According to the United Nations, more than 30,000 Palestinians have fled Nahr al-Bared, most of them settling in the nearby Beddawi refugee camp. An estimated 3,000 civilians remain inside the camp.

Palestinians displaced from Nahr al-Bared frequently left the camp without their identity cards. Some with identity cards said they are afraid to travel for fear of detention and abuse.

“The Palestinians of Nahr al-Bared are caught in the middle of a terrible fight,” Whitson said. “Just because they have stayed in the camp this long doesn’t mean they are connected to Fatah al-Islam.”

Friday, June 8, 2007

3 Flat Tires

The Nahr El Bared Relief Campaign loaded up a truck from its center in Shatila refugee camp in Beirut yesterday to take a shipment of baby formula, medicine, and food aid to Nahr El Bared refugees in Badawi refugee camp near Tripoli. There were three of us: our driver from Shatila, a Lebanese, and me, and American. The extra people in the car were there, in part, to ensure that our driver would not be picked up by the army and detained at a checkpoint for driving while Palestinian (think driving while Black an American context), which is increasingly becoming a problem. We loaded up the pick up truck and started down the coastal highway. For once there was little traffic so it would seem that the trip would not take as long as usual. But just about a half an hour outside of Beirut we got a flat tire near Jounieh. Our driver had a spare tire so he changed it and we moved on. But not very far. That same tire we changed became flat with the two other new tires we replaced it with on our drive up to Badawi. I asked why our truck was getting flats while the other trucks taking shipments up the highway were not. The answer was simple. Palestinians are not allowed to drive trucks which have two tires on each corner of the vehicle like the regular delivery trucks do.

The laws in Lebanon affecting Palestinians' freedom and mobility (economic or physical) are extensive. It is a favorite argument used by Zionists in the U.S. to argue that Israel is not the only state repressing Palestinians as if that somehow absolves them of their brutal regime and illegal occupation. But it somehow feels more painful here in Lebanon given the discourse of brotherly Arab love that exists side-by-side such laws. This week all Palestinians living in refugee camps received a letter from Fouad Siniora and the Committee for Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue. This letter--which should actually have gone out to Lebanese citizens instead--was addressed to "My Palestinian Brothers and Sisters." It tells Palestinians that "the raid on Nahr el Bared refugee camp is not a raid on Palestinians" and that the army is merely practicing "self defense." It tells them "the Lebanese soldier is your brother" and that he is "only after the terrorist who threaten your security." As if Palestinians need reminding that Fatah Al Islam has nothing to do with the Palestinian civilians from the camps or Palestinian resistance more generally, it reiterates this point, a point that ironically should be made to Lebanese people. The series of ironies spelled out in this letter tells the people of Nahr el Bared that "it is for your protection and your families' protection" that the army is bombing the camp "to stop you from becoming hostages to these terrorists." The letter promises Palestinians will be able to return to their homes in Nahr el Bared and that Lebanon will rebuild the camp with the support of international and Arab support, while stating that their larger cause is to support Palestinians return to their homes in 1948 Palestine. For this reason the letter also makes it clear that as supporters of a just solution to the Palestinian cause, they do not support "naturalization so Palestinian refugees can return to their rightful homes." In so doing, it redirects the current tension between Lebanese and Palestinians stating that we should not "lose sight of our fundamental cause [justice for Palestinians in their right of return] and not get drowned in Zionist aspirations." And yet as an outsider witnessing the level of devastation in Nahr el Bared and the assault on Palestinians within Lebanon at checkpoints I find this rhetoric empty. When will the Lebanese see that granting Palestinians equal rights in Lebanon as something that does not negate al awda (Palestinains' fundamental right of return under UN Resolution 194)? When will Lebanese see that the abject poverty in these camps, which is maintained by Lebanese laws prohibiting Palestinians from various professions, from owning property, from driving proper delivery trucks, as similarly oppressive as many of the Zionist laws in Israel?

The anti-Palestinian rhetoric one hears in Lebanon these days compounds the situation of the Nahr el Bared and now Ein el Helweh refugees moving from camp to camp in search of a safe space. After the massacre in Shatila refugee camp and neighboring Sabra, African American poet June Jordan found it difficult to speak about the unspeakable atrocities she read about in the newspaper in her poem "Moving Towards Home." She ends the poem by telling us she does need to speak, especially about "home" and about "living room":

"I need to speak about living room
where my children will grow without horror
I need to speak about living room where the men of my family between the ages of six and sixty-five/
are not
marched into a roundup that leads to the grave
I need to talk about living room
where I can sit without grief without wailing aloud
for my loved ones
where I must not ask where is Abu Fadi
because he will be there beside me
I need to talk about living room
because I need to talk about home"

These lines from this poem resonate for me as I watch the mass movement of Palestinians in search of a home, in search of a temporary refuge until the right of return is respected and granted. Where can we make living room for Palestinians inside Lebanon? When will Palestinians be able to live without fear of violence, terror, and destruction? Where can Palestinians feel safe? These questions and these lines from Jordan's poems haunt me as I listen to stories of friends and refugees from Nahr el Bared who have been beaten and detained by the Internal Security Forces or the Army in Lebanon. Who are afraid to go to work because they fear this will happen to them. Who are yet again expelled from their homes, who no longer have living rooms or rooms to live in.

A group of unaffiliated youth from Nahr el Bared who now reside in Badawi refugee camp understands this most acutely. Each night they organize candlelight vigils, poetry readings, or discussions about their loved ones who remain in Nahr el Bared. They organized a boycott of aid relief for one day this week during the heaviest bombardment of the camp stating, "We are given food to make us forget the hunger of our families and friends in Nahr el Bared. We are given mattresses to sleep on to forget the sleepless nights of our families and friends in Nahr el Bared." The intense media coverage has died down and seems to have forgotten that Palestinians are still being killed in Nahr el Bared, that tanks are now lined up facing Ein el Helweh, that Palestinians inside Nahr el Bared and around the country are hungry, are tired, are scared, are in need of safe homes. We need to simultaneously remember that Palestinians have a right to safe homes in Lebanon even as we fight for every Palestinian's right of return to their original homes in Palestine.

Letter to all Palestinians

This is a letter sent to all Palestinians living in refugee camps, which, ironically should have been sent to all Lebanese citizens.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Talk Nation Radio Interview

Talk Nation Radio for June 6, 2007

Marcy Newman joins us from the Shatila Refugee Camp in Beirut

Produced by Dori Smith at WHUS, Radio for the People, at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT

TRT: 29:29 (1:02 minutes of music fades at end)
Download 128 bitrate MP3 files at Pacifica’s

Or 64 and 96 bitrate files at See below for URLs

Scholar and humanitarian aid worker Marcy Newman discusses her organization’s emergency relief efforts for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Some 250 families have arrived at the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut where, she says, ‘the poor are now helping the poor.’ More than half of the population of 35,000 Palestinian refugees in the Nahr el-Bared camp fled during fighting there as Palestinians mark forty years since the Six Day War with Israel.

Lebanese troops are bombing the camp and targeting the outside group that has take up residence there, ‘Fateh el-Islam.’ Marcy Newman stresses that this non Palestinian group brought the fighting to the camps but there is a lot more to the story. We hear about who they are, who has been supporting them and raise questions about a ‘proxy’ war as well as a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy involving state actors.

Marcy Newman is coordinator of the Nahr el-Bared relief campaign. She provides a web site Nahr El Bared Relief Campaign for those wishing to contribute to lifesaving aid efforts. The funds will be distributed through American University of Beirut where she is a professor.

Good quality for net listening, fast download.

Good quality for netcasting, LPFM, or standard broadcasting. for transcripts and discussions. to listen live Wed. at 5 PM.

Music is by Fritz Heede.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Blaming the Victims (Yet Again)

We drove up to Badawi refugee camp this morning at the request of the women of Nahr el Bared refugee camp who are now among the thousands of internally displaced Palestinians (IDPs) in Lebanon. They asked Lebanese and internationals to join them in a die-in at the southern checkpoint of the Nahr el Bared refugee camp. We painted our t-shirts with red paint and we made signs in English and in Arabic; each sign had one of the seventeen known names of Palestinians who have died as a result of the Lebanese army's massacre of the Nahr el Bared camp. The action, which was small but symbolic, began with a march to the entrance of the camp and in the distance we could see black clouds of smoke smoldering. When we arrived there were no soldiers around. We stopped a few meters before arriving at the checkpoint and fell to the ground. As we lay there representing the dead Palestinians from Nahr el Bared on the hot asphalt I could feel the vibrations of the bombs going off in the camp and I could hear shots being fired from guns. I wondered how much more Palestinian blood would be spilled onto the streets of the camp.

After about fifteen minutes or so the army arrived with about a dozen soldiers and a tank and they took over the position where we had been lying down. The soldiers began harassing us by taking our posters with the names of the dead Palestinians. One of the people in our group, who is Palestinian Jordanian, was physically harassed by a soldier. Another member of our group, who is Lebanese, was told "if you were Lebanese I wouldn't need to teach you nationalism. If you were really nationalist, you would be on the side of the army." He replied that "there are many Americans who are against the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but they are still nationalist." From the Lebanese army's point of view--and from the complicit media's point of view as well--the only dead who matter are the Lebanese soldiers. These are the people whose names and faces dot the pages of the newspapers, not Palestinian civilians who remain erased from the reality of this massacre. Because the army is the only body reporting dead or wounded we only count the dead Lebanese, not the dead and wounded Palestinians.

The women from Nahr el Bared who rode in my car with me to the demonstration today talked with us about the camp and who they know inside. One woman's husband has been working at the border of the camp and she told us about the people inside and why they have not been able to leave: the handicapped, the elderly, and the sick are those who remain trapped inside not people who support Fatah al Islam as the media would have it. Aid still cannot get inside the camp and journalists are still being harassed by the army and are not allowed to shoot any footage--especially video--from any area near the fighting. Although a few ambulances were able to pick up a few people from Nahr el Bared and take them to the hospital in nearby Badawi camp, inside there remains far more wounded and dead and we can only imagine how dire the situation will be once the fighting stops and we can witness the devastation.
Amidst all of the intensified fighting in Nahr el Bared--and we saw almost forty military trucks filled with soldiers heading in that direction as we drove back to Beirut--new fighting broke out in Ein el Helweh refugee camp in Saida in southern Lebanon today. We heard yesterday that 10,000 Palestinians from that camp fled to Saida over the past few days because of fears that they would be next because of the presence of the militant group Jund al Sham. One member of our relief organization went to assess the situation. He confirmed that these people did leave and that many are living with family in the area. What we found, but did not expect, were 300 families who fled Nahr el Bared who are living in Ein el Helweh. The situation of the Palestinian IDPs is growing worse. And as the residents of Ein el Helweh suspected, they were indeed next. Tonight fighting broke out between the army and Jund al Sham and later between Fatah and Jund al Sham. It seems that these were just minor skirmishes, but fears that the terror being unleashed on Palestinians is spreading over Lebanon.

And it is not just isolated in the refugee camps. Palestinians--especially men--are being rounded up by Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), handcuffed, beaten up, and arrested. We had a close call at a checkpoint with a key member of our relief organization a week ago when we made our second aid run to Badawi camp and the army removed him from the car and took him to their holding area where other Palestinian men were handcuffed and detained. Tonight it happened again to the same man who was on his way to our relief campaign meeting. When he left his taxi, the ISF asked for his papers, saw his was Palestinian, slapped him, handcuffed him, and threw him to the ground while continuing to kick and beat him before telling him to leave.
The repression, violence, and harassment of Palestinians in Lebanon is increasing in every crevasse of Lebanese society. While the state uses its power to intimidate and terrorize Palestinians, many Lebanese remain quiet, acquiescent to the military and media's reporting on the situation while further dividing the country. And in the end (and yet again) the victims are those who bear the brunt of this blame and its physical manifestation.

Friday, June 1, 2007

ال حقيقة؟

For the past 800 and some odd days signs around Lebanon, especially in Rafiq Hariri strongholds, there have been signs counting the days until "the truth" (al haqiqa) is learned about Hariri's assassination (in other words until Syria can be blamed). This "truth" seems to be the only one that matters in Lebanon right now.
Since early morning U.S. weapons have bombarded the Nahr el Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, though no one can get a clear idea about what exactly is happening there. On the news we watched bombs going off every few seconds all day long with huge clouds of black smoke smoldering in the sky. A journalist friend who was trying to photograph the scene called me and asked me to bring him more equipment from his home in Beirut. Since I needed to deliver medicine to Nahr el Bared refugees in Bedawi refugee camp I drove his equipment up to Nahr el Bared where he was trying to take pictures.

I brought one of the Nahr al Bared Relief Campaign workers with me so that I wouldn't be alone. We drove up the highway towards the Syrian border along the Mediterranean Sea. Everything was still and quiet along the highway--peaceful one might dare say--until we heard a bomb go off on the eastern side of the highway. We did not know, at the time, that we had just entered the area along the southern entrance to Nahr el Bared refugee camp. What we heard, and the smoke that we saw, was actually from the Lebanese army shooting across the highway into Nahr el Bared camp. We continued up the highway, passing through an increasing number of checkpoints until we were stopped by the army near a bakery. We saw a crowd of photojournalists who had also been stopped by the army. They were prohibited from shooting film footage of what was going on in the camp and were forced to stay some 2-3 kilometers from the area where the army was directing its new U.S. donated artillery. Some reported being shot at by the army earlier in the day. All of them (Lebanese and internationals alike) complained of the army inhibiting them from telling the story of what is actually happening in Nahr el Bared refugee camp. For a country with signs declaring "the truth" everywhere you look it seems rather ironic that journalists are prevented from witnessing the events unfolding before them.

Throughout the day we heard that two Lebanese soldiers were killed and that twelve "terrorists" were also killed. How they know these figures is perplexing, but what is particularly disturbing is that somehow the fact that 15,000 Palestinians still trapped inside this camp are completely absent from the news coverage of the story inside Lebanon (and I gather outside as well). Somehow the fact that there will be Palestinian civilians indiscriminately killed because of this incessant bombing escapes the media's attention.

The area where we waited for my friend in between the northern and southern border of Nahr el Bared refugee camp, on main highway leading the Syrian border, remained eerily still for the hour we stood there. We watched among the journalists as the bombs flew overhead from behind us into Nahr el Bared camp worried about the Palestinian lives lost in this military mission. The stillness of the early evening hours intensified the sounds, smells, and sights we saw and felt--the black clouds of smoke, the earth shaking beneath our feet, and the fires burning in the distance as a result of the bombardment.

When we finally reached Badawi camp to deliver the medicine we were learned that one refugee from Nahr el Bared camp, who passed through a checkpoint earlier today, was told by a Lebanese soldier, "I hope that we can round up all the Palestinians, throw benzene on you, and light a fire." This is a truth that Lebanon does not want told. These are the stories that must be told and they far outweigh and out number the story of one prominent, wealthy Lebanese leader's international tribunal.