It has been eleven days since the Lebanese Armed Forces shot and killed young Ahmad Qasim, an 18-year-old Palestinian resident of the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp, after he was detained at a checkpoint on June 15 and asked for his personal identification papers. Whereas security sources report that the incident resulted from a standoff between local residents and the military, Rabih Salah, an eyewitness to the incident, gave the following explanation: “They stopped a young man on a motorbike, asked for his papers. Weirdly enough he gave it to them, and told them it was all legal [his papers]. On the spot a military officer shouted at him and told him to respect the officers when they talk to him, he seemed to have answered back; another soldier jumped over him and hit him with the bottom of his rifle.”
Amnesty reported that the soldiers then went into Qasim’s home and harassed a family member. The incident enraged local residents, who pelted the army with stones. During the ensuing clash, the army opened fire, reportedly killing Qasim and wounding seven other camp residents.
The incident has sparked tensions between the Lebanese military and camp residents, reigniting the long history of conflict within the camp. Nahr el-Bared, a Palestinian refugee camp located 16km north of Tripoli in North Lebanon, was almost completely destroyed during a three month siege by the Lebanese Armed Forces in mid-2007. According to UNRWA, aerial bombardment intended to flush out members of an extremist group, Fatah al-Islam, destroyed an estimated 95 percent of all buildings and infrastructure and displaced around 27,000 Palestinian refugees. Over 400 people died in the siege. Many fled to nearby Al-Beddawi camp and, to this day, 5,900 families remain unable to return to their homes in Nahr el-Bared. Much of the camp’s reconstruction remains incomplete and the Army retains tight control over the area.
The killing of Qasim has led to continued protests from residents of Nahr el-Bared as well as other Palestinian refugee camps, including its closest neighbor Al-Beddawi. Al-Akhbar has reported that news of Qasim’s shooting spread quickly among the other camps. By June 16, clashes had erupted between the army and the residents of Ain el-Hilweh camp, killing a 20 year old Palestinian man and injuring eight others. Lebanon’s Interior Minister, Marwan Charbel, however, insists that the incidents at Nahr el-Bared and Ain el-Hilweh are unrelated.
Residents of Nahr el-Bared and other camps are continuing their protests and demanding a swift investigation into the killings, attention to the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared, and an end to military rule. Information emerging out of the camp, however, remains scarce as the area is reportedly under a media blackout.
Letter from a Camp Resident: the Reality of Nahr al-Bared
by Yousef Mohammed Ali*
Considering the misinformation and blackout in much of the media, and since the events were presented solely from the perspective of the main perpetrator in the crime of killing the innocent in Palestinian camps recently, I would like to state the following facts for
those who are searching for the truth about what happened, and what is still happening, in the Nahr al-Bared Camp:
1. There have not been weapons in the Nahr al-Bared Camp since 2007, and it has been under military siege since then. The siege is so intense that no one can enter the camp – or leave it – except through the Lebanese Army. All the talk of confrontations proving the presence of weapons used by the Palestinians against the Army are lies, defamations designed to plant hatred in the hearts of our Lebanese brothers.
2. No Palestinian is allowed to enter the camp, even if he or she lives there, without securing permission from the Army. None of their relatives can visit them at the Camp without permission from the Army. This is because the Camp, since 2007, has been a militarized area, so military rules and regulations are applied there. Any Lebanese person, however, can enter the camp by simply presenting their personal identity card, even if they do not live in the Camp or even in Lebanon. Even the old cemetery [in the camp] is under military control, and entering it is only allowed on religious holidays and, even then, only with permission from the Army.
3. The Lebanese Army can only open fire with the permission of a political decision, no matter against whom, as is the case in Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, even when the Army are under attack. We all saw how the Army stood by watching in Tariq al-Jdideh during the recent events. Yet, the Army needs no such political decision to open fire on Palestinians. The reason is quite simple: the Palestinians have no one defending them, even if only with words.
4. Let no one be convinced that merely throwing stones at the Army or shouting insults at the soldiers can justify their opening fire on a group of youths, the majority of whom were under the age of 20. And for those who do not know, the youth that was killed on June 15 in the Camp was only 16 years of age, and he was killed by a direct shot to the head. (He was just standing on a street corner in the Camp.) Another youth also died from similar injuries. And the other youth, who died in Ein al-Hilwe Camp, was not killed by a knife, as reported by LBC, but killed by a shot to the neck from an M16.
Excuse me if I have dragged on, but we are fatigued from years of humiliation and searches and oppression and besiegement in the Camps.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
*Yousef Mohammed Ali is a Palestinian refugee from Tabaraya, living in Ein al-Hilwe Camp.