What happened in Nahr al-Bared?

Since the end of the battle at Nahr al-Bared, the Lebanese press has been suspiciously quiet about the destroyed camp. Journalists, by the way, are still not allowed to enter and the Palestinians who are slowly-slowly being allowed to return, are prevented from taking any pictures, although a few images of total destruction have come out and been published. An article on Information Clearing House by Michael Birmingham, an Irish peace activist who has been mostly based in Lebanon since July 2006, talks about the reasons for this, and for the following:

Amnesty International, the largest human rights organisation 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.

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 tyres. 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.

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


12 thoughts on “What happened in Nahr al-Bared?

  1. I see. So I suppose the 400.000 Palestinians in Lebanon just decided to go on an extended holiday from their homeland for no reason, then? I suppose Israel cannot be blamed for upsetting the delicate political equilibrium between the confessional groups in a 2 year old Lebanese republic by saddling them with a group of new sunnites equalling 10% of the total population? The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians on which the state of Israel was and is founded, is the direct cause of the Lebanese civil war and of every problem facing the Palestinians in the entire region from 1948 on and to this day. And Israel still refusing to comply with UN resolution 242 giving the Palestinians the right of return is what makes Israel, directly or indirectly, responsible now too for anything that happens to the Palestinians in the region outside occupied Palestine. Let’s have a bit of historical perspective here.

  2. To worriedlebanese: indeed, what does historical perspective have to do with any event in the world? Well, everything of course. It allows you to see the event in its context, define the forces that influence it and so understand it. You as a social scientist should know that. It’s not a matter of taking a moral stance, it’s a matter of understanding what led to the event, what caused it to happen the way it did, what the circumstances are that define its characteristics. If you want to see every event that happens as an isolated incident without a history, without circumstances, without a context, then you are indeed left with nothing but victimhood and revenge (or religion) to explain it. That is the CNN approach: isolated little specks happening all over the world for no particular reason. I really do not see how you can isolate anything that happens in Lebanon (or anywhere in the Middle East and far beyond) from the entire history and context of the region.

  3. I’m sorry Zentor for having posted such a brutal comment (blame it on sleep deprivation) but I’m glad it sparked a debate that I’m sure can turn out to be rather stimulating and enriching (with a little help from the blogmaster).
    I am quite an avid fan of history myself. I spent half of my day yesterday reading on the war of roses (don’t ask). I really have nothing against history when it’s well written. I even think it can be an academic discipline even if many historians work a lot on discrediting it through their very biased writings.
    What I’m more sceptical of is the way it is used in political argumentation. And I do so specifically from a sociological perspective.
    You claim that history puts events in context. To start with, I wouldn’t talk about “history” here but about “narratives”, and I do agree that they can have an explanatory side, but it depends on how they are used by the analyst. And as they are “narratives”, I believe that they can only be used as “clues” or “hypothesis” by the analyst unless the actors she is observing is referring to them (in this case one has to try to determine the actors narrative, i.e. how he is views a give period of history). And I honestly don’t see how the Naqba/Independence war can help us understand what happened in Nahr el Bared this summer. For one, the two main actors Fateh el-Islam and the Lebanese Army did not refer to it, and the dynamic is totally new and has nothing to do with the events of 1948. For one, Fateh el-Islam isn’t strictly speaking a Palestinian group!

  4. I see your point on the production of narratives by the different actors involved, but I think it’s dangerous to get too lost in the theoretical discourse on narratives, because it can blind you to obvious truths, such as simple facts ‘on the ground’ which are very real, whatever narrative you care to spin about them or not. And the simple fact is that the Naqba produced the presence of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and the presence of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and the actions they took, and the reactions of the various Lebanese actors, not to mention Israel and Syria, to their actions, has produced the situation in Nahr al-Bared, among many other ‘facts on the ground’. In fact the Naqba, and its continuation up to today, is a main excuse for, if not (one of) the main cause(s) of, the emergence of jihadi islamist groups worldwide, including the branch that forced its way into Nahr al-Bared. And again, it is not a matter of blaming this or that actor, it is a matter of seeing things in their historical perspective, so that you can make sense of them. Is that a subjective narrative? Maybe, but it is solidly based on documented and real historical facts which cannot be denied, and anyway, as you accurately point out on your own blog, worriedlebanese, there is no such thing as objectivity or neutrality. So if you’re gonna have a narrative, the best you can do is ground it in facts and reality and actual context, rather than isolating one event from its history and context and then applying some rigid, starry-eyed academic principles to it.

  5. Hey you guys, to worriedlebanese: I understand your point on dealing with events for what they are and looking at direct causes rather than going so far back to extended (and sometimes seemingly irrelevant) connections. But I think in this particular case we have to consider the wider context and the connection this incident had to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to the status of Palestinian refugees in the middle east and in Lebanon in particular. For one, if you isolate this incident from the wider context and the above – then it can be safely said that what happened is a brutal violation of rights and disproportionate use of force against a civilian population by a host government – punishable of course by international law. The initial reason given by the government was ‘cracking down on armed robbers’, and this doesn’t justify so much bloodshed and brutality. However we all know the nature of activities that took place in the camp prior to the incident and why the army did what it did – and if we want any shot at explaining the other side of the coin then we have to borrow on this knowledge (and go as far back as we need to) in order to come up with a semi-informed judgement on the event. Refugees in general get pretty desperate sometimes and often resort to brutal measures to get their political goals achieved. Lebanon is not the only case where we’ve seen such militant activities in refugee camps. However, refugees are subject to the same laws you and I are –they are also subject to refugee laws which prohibit them from conducting militant activities, political crimes, crimes against the peace etc. It’s always better to call a spade a spade, and to indict them for what they legally are not supposed to do. You’d need all your facts in this case of course – starting from ’48 till now – and at least we’d be giving them a shot at a court decision rather than a katyousha up their pretty-tushies! :-)) Bottom line is: we need facts and analysis to come up with the truth – in all cases the more facts the better.

  6. Hey Cairo-Girl,
    I totally agree with your last statement. We need verified facts and serious analysis to come up with a good understanding of an issue or situation. As for the “wider context”, it is obviously important and interesting to know, but one has to see how relevant it to the particular case she is observing. Going back to 1948 can be important if one is studying the evolution of the palestinian question in Lebanon. But I do not quite see in what way it can help us understand what happened in Nahr el Bared since 2005.

    The good thing about Lebanon is that the society is quite open and the people are very talkative. One never lacks information. In fact one is overburdened by the information load and the need for verification (to distinguish rumour from fact).

    So instead of going back to 1948, I believe one should concentrate on the dynamics and facts that arose since 2005. Two years of data (information and misinformation) is quite a load to work on. And one can learn a lot of things from it: the flow of saudi money, Lebanese Mukhabarat and troop redeployments around the camp, competition between islamist groups (Palestinian and non-Palestinian), Syrian mukhabarat interferences, personal ambitions of Lebanese actors (such as Saad Hariri and Michel Suleiman), el-Qaida…

    I don’t see how 1948 can help us in our understanding of the situation other than remove all responsabilites on the political actors and throw it on Israel. How convenient.

  7. Worriedlebanese, we have been talking on two different levels here. Recognizing the role Israel played and keeps playing, doesn’t mean denying the role other actors play – and all of those you mention above certainly do play an important role, and a more direct one than Israel. But this discussion started with Meryll saying ‘you can’t blame Israel for this one’ – I think in the bigger picture you certainly can: through the historical chain of events as well as the ongoing refusal of Israel to comply with 242, which I both mentioned in my first reply to her comment. And I think it’s important to emphasize this in the current media climate, which rarely offers any historical perspective on anything. But of course that is an indirect role which certainly is part of the (root) causes and part of the ‘why’ – which is what I was talking about – but indeed does not, as you point out, explain the direct circumstances, or the concrete ‘how’ which has shaped the form of the Nahr al-Bared case – which is what you were talking about.

  8. I truly agree with you Zentor that there is a problem in the way the media deals with politics; World media and Lebanese media. And I think this is what Meryll was alluding to.
    Were there a direct link between Nahr el Bared and Israel, you would have had at least a call for an international inquiry and a whole media circus around that terrible issue. The media (and political) interest in the matter would have come from either the strong bias in favour of or hostile to Israel.
    Instead of a media circus, what do we have? Complete silence, no inquiry, no investigation, not even a report sent to the government… nothing. Total silence.
    Not one person is taking political responsibility for this humanitarian disaster, the events that lead to it, and the situation that has resulted from it. No pressure (local or international) is exerted on the Mas2ouleen (how ironic that this word is used to qualify the political and military leadership) so as to deal properly with the issue.

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