Palestinians in Lebanon Struggling for Neutrality
By: Qassem Qassem
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2012
After the deaths of two Palestinians in North Lebanon at the hands of the Lebanese army, the Palestinian factions are struggling to keep the camps away from Lebanon’s combustible internal disputes.
Five years have passed since Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp was destroyed. For the last few years, the camp has been in an abysmal state, with only 20 percent of it having been rebuilt. Its inhabitants live under harsh restrictions.
The old cemetery in the camp is off-limits to civilians because the army has classified it as a military zone, thereby restricting cemetery visits to religious holidays or at the times specified by the army.
The army actually took part in the development of the master plan for the camp’s reconstruction. The officer involved in the planning “fought” to ensure that the roads in the camp be wide enough to allow for the passage of military vehicles. The army also requested that sewage pipes be narrow enough to prevent them from being used as tunnels and trenches.
For the people of the camp, all this ultimately means little compared to the policy of military permits. Residents of the camp are barred from entering without such a permit. This piece of paper issued by the army has thus become more important than an ID card for the majority of the people of al-Bared.
All of this has led to clashes between the Lebanese army and Palestinian youths at al-Bared and Beddawi camps in North Lebanon, resulting in two deaths and dozens of injuries.
The residents of the camp used the bloodshed that ensued as an opportunity to raise their voices to demand an end to the militarization of the camp.
The Palestinian camps showed their solidarity on Tuesday with the residents of al-Bared and Ein al-Hilwe Palestinian camp in Sidon, and declared mourning for the victims, after Khaled Youssef, who was wounded in Ein al-Hilwe, died on Monday night.
Youssef had been hit by a bullet that entered his head and exited from his neck — the identity of the shooter remains unknown. The army stressed that it had not fired, and there are suspicions that a third, unknown party was involved.
In Ein al-Hilwe, the Islamist factions and PLO faction al-Kifah al-Musallah put all their details on alert, and formed a barrier between the army and the mourners. Despite this, the mourners threw stones at the army checkpoints in al-Taamir and Darb al-Sim, on the outskirts of the camp.
Regardless of the refugee camps’ attempt to pursue a policy of “dissociation” relative to the developments taking place in their surroundings, some of the camps’ residents have often found themselves involved.
For example, at the peak of Lebanese political polarization following the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, all the parties in the conflict tried to entice the Palestinians into joining their respective sides.
Some did so in the belief that the Palestinians could become “the Sunnis’ army” in Lebanon, and therefore should be on the side of the Future Movement.
Hezbollah, on the other hand, sought to shield the refugees from getting involved, based on the idea that “we all share one cause.” But in spite of the decision taken by the Palestinian factions to refrain from interfering in Lebanese affairs, some developments forced them to become involved, as was the case in the Nahr al-Bared camp at that time.
Palestinian factions reluctant to get drawn in insisted that “we the Palestinians must not become involved in any internal Lebanese conflicts,” as Marwan Abdel-Al, member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told Al-Akhbar.
“We, as factions, must keep the camps neutral vis-a-vis what is happening. This is our general attitude in Lebanon and Syria,” Abdel-Al said. However, he did not hide his concern that a certain party may decide to “exacerbate the existing tension in Lebanon [by targeting] the weakest faction in the country, namely the Palestinian camps.”
Meanwhile, Abu Imad al-Rifai, the representative of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Lebanon told Al-Akhbar, “On the Palestinian level, there is now a consensus that did not exist before, except during the events of 7 May 2008, that says we need to be strict about dissociating ourselves from what is happening around us.”
Rifai also stressed that “disputes are not in the interests of the Palestinian people,” adding that, at present, everyone stands to gain from “calm and from preventing the camps from becoming involved in any internal disputes.”
Currently, the Palestinian factions are seeking to form a follow-up committee to better communicate with one another, as during the events of 7 May 2008, to prevent any involvement of Palestinians in internal Lebanese conflicts, especially as it seems that “the summer in Lebanon this year will be very hot,” according to a senior Islamist in Ein al-Hilwe.
The same official confirmed that during his meeting with the Islamist factions in the camp, he was told by the factions that they would not be a party to the internal conflict in Lebanon or even in Syria.
For instance, when Hizb ut-Tahrir in Nahr al-Bared tried to raise the flag of the Syrian opposition during the funeral of Fouad Lubani, the organizers took it down, “because we do not want to be part of what is happening in Syria,” according to one participant in the funeral.
That procession marched through the alleys of the camp, before Lubani was buried. The residents also opened the blocked roads in the camp but decided to leave a sit-in tent at the edge of the road until their demands are met.
What happened recently in Nahr al-Bared and Ein al-Hilwe also had a significant impact on the question of Palestinian weapons in the camps. Some officials in the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (opposed to the PLO) believe that recent events have proven that “Palestinian weapons protect us,” and said that they intend to prevent this issue from being raised or discussed from now on.
Some officials express resentment at the way the army has conducted itself, citing the fact that during a meeting with the Lebanese head of intelligence General Edmond Fadel, he said that the army is being drained and that the soldiers are tense, adding that the army’s main job is not to police the interior of the country.
But the officials in the alliance commented on Fadel’s remarks by saying, “Should we suffer daily casualties because the army feels tense?”
They then affirmed that at this stage, “We will not communicate with the army because even though we have been running after them [trying to communicate], they seem uninterested.”
“However, they do not know that things have started to get out of our control,” they warned.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.