Baddawi Refugee Camp: In the Line of Fire
By: Robert Abdallah
Published Monday, June 4, 2012
The Palestinian residents of Baddawi refugee camp in northern Lebanon are increasingly being caught in the crossfire, sparking fears that the camp could be drawn into the sectarian fighting taking place in Tripoli.
With each round, Tripoli’s bloody clashes get closer to the outskirts of Baddawi Palestinian refugee camp. The residents of the camp did not sleep on Saturday night due to the loud explosions on the Rifa-Mankoubin front nearby.
Although shells did not fall on the camp like last time, what happened was worse. Camp resident Suheir Taha al-Sadiq was hit in the eye by shrapnel. A young girl of 11, Mirna Mohammed al-Mohammed, was shot in the back.
Baddawi was then thrown into the media frenzy when the head of the Arab Democratic Party (ADP) Rifaat Eid mentioned the presence of “Syrian terrorists setting up roadblocks in Ayrouniye and Baddawi.”
Official sources in the camp contacted by Al-Akhbar refused to comment on Eid’s statement, so as not to take sides in the conflict. But they insisted that neither side had fighters in the camp.
“His statement could have been referring to Jabal Baddawi,” the sources said, indicating that it does not fall within the camp and is under the authority of the Lebanese state.
Tension prevails in Baddawi, although political and security leaders in the camp emphasize that the camp is keeping its distance from the events around it. Still living through the tragedy of displacement during the Nahr el-Bared war in 2007, camp residents fear that a similar fate is awaiting them.
Abu Mohammed lives in Baddawi camp while he waits for the promised reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared so he can return to his home. He is haunted by the “horror of repeating the Nahr el-Bared experience... Even though we have nothing to do with the current situation.”
But can the tragedy be prevented from happening again? Last time, “trouble” entered Nahr el-Bared “even though it was being monitored by the security services,” Abu Mohammed replies.
He sits in his small grocery shop that he opened after he sold his car. But the security situation is hurting sales. “Workers who are not able to go to work cannot buy what they want,” he says. He does not sell by credit, “I was dealt a blow in Nahr el-Bared because I could not collect what people owed me.”
A house painter who preferred to remain anonymous cannot reach the site of his work in Halba, Akkar. “Everyone considers us terrorists... They use Palestinians to let off steam at every occasion,” he says.
Sarcastically, he explains how the camp’s road is now the safest in Lebanon. He wishes that “they would close the road permanently so there would not be any trouble with anyone and the camp would not be accused. They want to pull the camp into another mess like what happened with Nahr el-Bared.”
Retired schoolteacher Mahmoud Saeed expressed the same anxiety. “Our hands are always on our hearts, not knowing where the next disaster will come from,” he says. But he knows that “everyone is watching the thugs” and the the agreement between “the PLO and the Alliance [of Palestinian Forces (Hamas)]” ensures that there will be no security breach in the camp.
He goes on to say that he is part of an almost regular meeting of camp elders who discuss issues related to the camp and “have leverage on all factions.” They have always managed to prevent clashes in the camp.
So, it seems the agreement between the PLO factions and the Alliance protects the camp from the madness outside. But what does this agreement entail and how can the camp avoid being pulled into the security situation surrounding it?
Al-Akhbar met with the secretary for Fatah and the PLO factions in the North, Abu Jihad Fayyad, in his headquarters in Baddawi. He says that Baddawi will not be pulled into the the conflict by any side, “neither in the name of the Sunnis, nor in the name of resistance.”
He is referring to the two sides of the conflict between Bab el-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen and their backers. Palestinians believe that “a stable Lebanon will be a stronger supporter of Palestine.”
Fayyad believes that as long as the Palestinian consensus continues, the camp is capable of avoiding being pulled into any internal Lebanese conflict.
As for the Baddawi camp itself, the commander of the Baddawi Martyrs Brigade, Ali Abou al-Shoq, intercedes to insist that the agreement with the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (which is opposed to the PLO) is being realized on the ground through a joint military committee.
The Alliance announced a similar position prior to a joint meeting held in Hamas’ offices in Baddawi. According to a Palestinian military commander in the North, Abu al-Abed Shams, “We live in a conflict zone stretching from Wadi al-Nahle to Mankoubin.”
The Alliance secretary and Hamas commander in the North, Jamal Chehab, considers “what is happening around us to be an internal Lebanese matter.” With the exception of some individual attempts, no Lebanese side has yet tried “to pull us into the internal conflict.”
On Hamas’ religious and doctrinal position on the events in the Arab world and their impact on Lebanon, Chehab insists that “the Palestinian cause is our entry point to any struggle and resistance project.”
“We are one with all other Palestinian factions in the direction of serving the cause... Our presence in the camps is temporary and we are guests of the Lebanese people until we return to Palestine,” he says, concluding that they are “not concerned with Lebanese differences.”
These political assurances are put into practice by the factions in the camp, according to a joint security plan they devised. A high-ranking commander of the force explains that it is formed of members of 16 Palestinian factions from the PLO and the Alliance.
Those “arriving into the camp” will have to fill out a form for each family that wants to live in the camp or any person who wants to remain permanently.
The forms are updated every three to six months (depending on the situation). The joint force accompanies the popular committee when visiting people who have filled out the form, even the older ones, to validate the information. Anyone wanting to rent inside the camp and reside there will need an advance approval from the joint force.
When clashes erupted in the vicinity of the camp, the security officer explains that they remained vigilant night and day. Mosques in the camp called on residents not to react.
During the clashes, the camp was hit from several sides. Nevertheless, “we decided not to announce it to keep the balance of our relations with our neighbors,” Chehab says.
The camp’s main street suddenly became a major route for army vehicles, large numbers of Lebanese security forces, and people from Akkar. Cars belonging to camp residents were moved to the side streets to facilitate the flow of traffic. Everything was strictly monitored to keep the camp safe.
“We have a double concern: the camp’s security, and not interfering with anyone unless it is absolutely necessary. Protecting relations between the camp and its neighbors is a crucial matter,” Chehab insists.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.