The stone base that initiates the process of rebuilding the camp of Nahr al-Bared was laid on Monday, March 9 at a ceremony organized by the Lebanese Government and the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA, 18 months after that the camp was completely destroyed by the Lebanese army during fighting against militants of the group Fatah al Islam.
Invited to the event were persons in charge of the agencies involved in the process of reconstruction, journalists, diplomats, as well as a selected and limited Palestinian representation.
In a improvised tent, and under the direct supervision of the army and the intelligence service of the government of Lebanon, Tarek Mitri, Lebanese Minister of Information, Abbas Zaki, the Palestinian Authority Ambassador in Lebanon, Khalid Makkawi, chairman of the Committee for Dialogue Palestinian-Lebanese and Karen Abu Zayed, General Commissioner of UNRWA in Lebanon, expressed their thanks to all those involved in the process of rebuilding the camp and the efforts that they have been making to assist more than 40 thousand refugees whose homes were razed after they were forced to flee from them, ultimately taking refuge in the neighboring Beddawi camp. Only 17,000 of them were able to return and resettle in fragile emergency shelters built by UNRWA.
The exponents, in turn, agreed that the start of reconstruction of the camp is a clear indication that terrorism had failed and that joining efforts should be taken to prevent that acts of vandalism, like the ones that occurred in 2007, would not repeat again in any other Palestinian camp on Lebanese soil.
It is expected, therefore, that after the reconstruction of Nahr el Bared this becomes the only Palestinian refugee camp which is under direct control of the Lebanese state, which is thought to be a model for the other 11 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
What was not mentioned in any of the speeches was the absence of the refugees themselves, the ones who were constantly mentioned, the same that Zaki and Makkawi thank for their patience and dignity faced during the huge military offensive that lasted 3 months, in which they lost all their belongings, including their homes - those which were built with sweat and effort 60 years ago after being expelled from their homeland by the Zionist terrorist gangs that occupied Palestine in 1948 - and the shortage of humanitarian aid that they have had to live with during these past 18 months.
It was not mentioned either that many refugees still are not allowed to return to what has been called the "new camp" since access to the camp requires permission from the army and the Lebanese security services. Many have been unable to obtain the necessary permits that would allow them to pass through the many checkpoints where the Lebanese forces control movement, both within and outside the camp.
The camp has been completely leveled, leaving no trace of any houses, an important and necessary step for the Lebanese government to begin the reconstruction process. But no vestige either was left of any atrocities committed by the Lebanese army there, who, like birds of prey, raided the homes, destroying everything in their paths, and that not being enough, spraying the walls with flammable liquids, but not before recording their presence with offensive graffiti against the Palestinians. Nothing of that is there anymore, it has been erased, as well as part of the collective memory of a people, the memory of a people who created in this narrow square kilometer a home for 60 years while struggling to return to their own.
A few meters from where the event was taking place, hundreds of Palestinian residents of Nahr el Bared, were crowded into areas cleared for them by the Lebanese army, surrounded by barbed wire and under strict control of soldiers with guns in hand. Not only they were denied access, but they were required to be in rows, on each side of the street, watching the passing of foreign delegations, authorities and curious, who, since they were not Palestinians, were allowed to enter. They looked like they were on a nice weekend tour in the countryside, while the refugees were prevented from seeing its ruins, sitting on them and crying. These refugees whose dignity and courage was praised within the tent by representatives of various government authorities were being beaten after trying repeatedly and unsuccessfully to enter the square kilometer that had been their home for 60 years.
Without journalists with lenses that could capture what was happening, the soldiers took the opportunity to once again abuse a civilian population that does not require anything other than their right to be treated as human beings, does not demand more that their right to see with their own eyes what happened, to save something if there was still something to save, to be able to return there, return to their second homes.
Women and children, old and young, all crowded on the other side of the fence, and separated from the special guests by a barrier of soldiers, shouting slogans against the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas and inviting him to come and witness with his own eyes what his people is passing through, the same people that he repeatedly mentioned in his speeches, but according to many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, he has completely forgotten.
"My parents came here in 1948 after they were expelled from Palestine by the Zionists. I was born, a few months later, in a tent provided by UNRWA, I have lived here all my life, but always dream of returning to my homeland Palestine. I've seen Lebanese forces massacre my brothers and sisters in Tel Zaatar Refugee Camp, then they did it in Sabra and Shatila, as they did it again with all our houses razed here in Nahr el-Bared, but here I am, standing in front of them, shouting at his face without fear, that they may take away our lives, they may bulldoze our homes, but they will never break our spirit of resistance," said Um Mohammad, who along with her 3 daughters and 2 grandchildren joined the crowd in protest.
The Lebanese and Arab media have broadcast the ceremony, ignoring what was happening on the edge of the enclosed space, as if the Palestinians did not exist, as if what happened to them was not what really matters. Not even those media related to the resistance, the ones that every day and every second launch their attacks against the Zionists and become part by their words, in public and abroad, of the Palestinian cause, fighting side by side with the Palestinians against the Zionist occupation, but when things happen at home, when an opinion is expressed that may cause them loss of votes in an election, or even worse, when they cause political trouble that makes them lose some seats in positions of power, they prefer to remain silent and look the other way.
What is clear after this opening ceremony is the patent intention of the Lebanese government of trying to cover with a media blanket rumors about the future of the camp, the possible construction of a military base in the area, the deployment of permanent military forces inside the refugee camps in Lebanon, and therefore the future of over 450 thousand Palestinian refugees who have once again been silenced at gunpoint.
Editor's note: prior to publishing it, the author and I had a brief email exchange on it, and I would like to share with you her views.
Nadia Hasan is a Palestinian activist who was born in Chile and who lives between various nations of South America and the Middle East. Her site is Palestina Resiste! and she dreams of the day when all Palestinians can exercise their Right of Return.
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