Thursday, January 29, 2009

Nahr al Barid

The people of Nahr alBarid camp in northern Lebanon near Tripoli, mostly Palestinian refugee families going back to the 1948 nakba, found their houses destroyed when they were finally allowed to return to the camp 40 days after the end of the recent "war" between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, but the government assured them there would be reconstruction.

On January 16, when they were expecting from the government the issuance of a land-holding map as an initial reconstruction step, what they learned was that instead of that the Lebanese cabinet had approved establishment of a naval base in a location either on the lands of the camp, or right next to it.

On January 23, the people of Nahr alBarid camp wrote a petition* to cabinet complaining about the location of the naval base, and the lack of progress on reconstruction. Following publication of that in the newspapers Al-Akhbar and Al-Safir, the Minister of Dialogue issued a reply that said the naval base was to be sited, not on camp land, but on landfill using rubble removed from the destroyed camp.

He said a naval base was being established in that location as part of the extension of Lebanese sovereignty to all parts of the country, but in particular he added this:
The northern region could be a candidate for oil-drilling in the future, and perhaps it is part of the national thinking that starting now, there should be measures to ensure the protection of facilities or platforms that could exist offshore there.
(He didn't mention anything about proximity to a Syrian port used by the Russian navy; or to the Qleiat airport, subject of recent rumors about conversion to an important NATO airbase).

When, on Jan 16, the government approved the plan for a naval base at Nahr al-Barid, it also issued a statement of solidarity with the people of Gaza, under attack from Israel. The people of Nahr al-Barid mentioned this in their petition, and they said maybe the government is not aware of the fact that the conditions they have imposed on Nahr al-Barid (not in so many words, admittedly) are very similar to the conditions Israel imposes on Gaza.

The camp is surrounded by concrete walls with barbed wire (see map attached to the petition at the above link); there is a burdensome system of permits and one-by-one checkpoint-approval for anyone going in or exiting from the camp; the commercial life of the camp is strangled not only by the difficulty of getting in and out by residents, but also by the even greater difficulty of Lebanese neighbours getting in, something that makes any commercial enterprise in the camp economically impossible; not to mention social isolation; and so on. The petition called attention to the fact that the naval base, would be on or next to the lands of the UNRWA shools and adjoining soccer field, obviously both important social institutions. The petition called for a review of all of the military manifestations in the camp (fences, permit-system, checkpoints, naval-base siting, the whole package), and as is obvious from the Minister's reply, that isn't going to happen.

There was another interesting point in the Minister's reply. He said investigations had shown that some of the smuggling of "weapons and goods" into the camp had been done by sea, so establishing naval control of the coastline at that location was in the security interests of the camp residents and Lebanese citizens generally.

While the Israeli blockade of Gaza is obviously the most extreme case imaginable, it is interesting to note what the people of Nahr al-Barid are saying: that the ramifications of the military-security first principle is very similar in the two cases.
You [Lebanese government authorities] are supporters and you speak out against the siege of Gaza and the mad war that has been launched against it. Why then do you not support this people in Lebanon by permitting them an honorable life without military restrictions, and without laws that prevent activity, and prevent [land] ownership [by Palestinians] and ownerhip-succession to our children?
The petition goes on:
We have believed that we were partners, and we rejected the conspiracy theory that says the destruction of the camp was for the purpose of establishing naval and land military bases. But all we have to go on is what we can read from the overall picture that is now before us, in the difficult and inhuman and degrading reality tht we are living.
Asad abuKhalil will tell you about the existence of Lebanese semi-official racism or sectarianism vis-a-vis Palestinians as a factor behind all of this. What I do not understand is this: Given the predictable results of state-racism policies in a number of places--and Nahr al Barid is surely one of them--although Israel is obviously the leading case in the world today, why is it that American liberals, progressives, center-leftists and what have you are taking such an aggressive position against attacking the problem at its base and at its root cause?


*H/t RoadstoIraq


Anonymous Anonymous said...


2:08 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home