[iraq-supporters] Ready to return with nothing
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Wed Sep 12 05:57:19 PDT 2007
UPDATE FROM THE
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Ready to return with nothing
By Matthew Cassel writing from Baddawi refugee camp, Live from Lebanon, 11 September 2007
(webpage includes several images)
4 September 2007
It took over three months, but in the end the Lebanese
army claimed victory over Fatah al-Islam, the previously
unheard of non-Palestinian, al-Qaida-inspired group that
had established itself in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian
refugee camp in northern Lebanon. On Tuesday, 4 September
2007, outside the entrance to the destroyed camp the
Lebanese army massed together to begin what would be a
10-hour-long parade from Nahr al-Bared to Beirut just over
50 miles away.
Meanwhile, Palestinian refugees displaced from Nahr
al-Bared staying in the nearby Baddawi refugee camp
watched the parade live on television. Many cursed the
images they saw of the Lebanese army celebrating their
achievement. A young medical volunteer entered the room
and as he watched the TV said, "You know, two Palestinians
from Nahr al-Bared were taken yesterday by the army and
beaten when they were near Nahr al-Bared. They're in the
hospital now." It was said that they were arrested when
they went back to survey the damage done to the camp. The
details were unclear but some of the Palestinians in the
camp were preparing to visit the hospital to check in on
As they explained this a couple of Lebanese army
helicopters flew close overhead. A group of children
displaced from Nahr al-Bared staying in a UN school in the
camp congregated and clapped, excited by the loud chopping
7 September 2007
"Where is Abu Yasser?" One of the men who runs one of the
social centers in the camp summoned a younger boy to go
and find Abu Yasser. It was Friday afternoon and Baddawi
camp was calm. People were resting in their homes or out
buying last-minute groceries in preparation for dinner.
Kids, as always, roamed the streets, chanting, clapping
and playing their usual games.
"Yalla, go see where Abu Yasser is and tell him to come
As the boy left he stopped as another young man turned the
corner and walked towards us. He wore a light jumpsuit and
dragged his feet as he walked with a bashful smile on his
face. "Abu Yasser, come show these people what they did to
He came over and quickly shook hands with everyone before
sitting down to unzip his jacket to show us the wounds on
his back. Lashes zigzagged across his back, like those
inflicted upon black slaves by white American slaveowners.
Abu Yasser showing where he was beaten and whipped with
metal chains by the Lebanese army.
Abu Yasser showing the scars on his wrists where the army
attached metal bracelets and electrocuted him.
Like most from Nahr al-Bared, Abu Yasser left the camp
soon after the fighting escalated between the Lebanese
army and Fatah al-Islam. Since then he had been staying in
Baddawi camp. Two months ago he found work close to Nahr
al-Bared painting homes and other buildings; it's common
work for Palestinians in Lebanon since it's one of the few
trades not forbidden to them under Lebanese law.
Each day he traveled from Baddawi by taxi to his work,
passing through many checkpoints without problems from the
army. The road took him right next to the fighting, where
he could look out of the taxi's window to see the
destruction of the camp that grew more severe each day.
The fighting was said to be over on Sunday, 2 September
2007. The following day violence reignited briefly when
some surviving Fatah al-Islam militants in Nahr al-Bared
attacked the army. It was on this day that Abu Yasser was
stopped on his way to work.
At 9:30am Abu Yasser was traveling in a taxi with a
Lebanese driver close to Nahr al-Bared. The army had been
patrolling the area in search of militants who had escaped
from the camp as the fighting wound down. The taxi was
stopped and the soldiers asked for Abu Yasser's ID. He
showed his Palestinian identification papers and the army
handcuffed and blindfolded him without explanation. He
would spend the next 12-and-a-half hours under Lebanese
"They beat me with my hands, feet and neck tied together
so I couldn't move. They used chains to whip my back, and
they hooked up electricity to my wrists and electrocuted
me ... they also did things to my sensitive areas." They
asked Abu Yasser about Fatah al-Islam but they knew that
he and most Palestinians had no relationship to the group.
"They wanted me to cry, and because I didn't cry they kept
beating me." As he lay on the floor of the interrogation
center, bleeding and his limbs tied tightly together, Abu
Yasser's torturers told him, "'Let this be a message to
the other Palestinians.'"
Since the conflict began tensions have arisen between
Palestinians in the camps and the Lebanese army and
civilian population. There have been many reports of abuse
at checkpoints; Palestinian and international activists
documenting the human rights abuses by the Lebanese army
estimate that around 130-160 Palestinians arrested during
the conflict remain in Lebanese prisons. Many were beaten
and two were killed at a June demonstration during which
Nahr al-Bared residents were attempting to return to the
camp were beaten and shot at by Lebanese civilians and the
Abu Yasser was released at midnight. He took a taxi back
to Baddawi where he was immediately taken to a camp
hospital where he would stay for the next two days.
As he told his story a crowd had gathered to listen.
Someone commented how the Lebanese army was treating the
Palestinians just like the Israelis. When asked if there
was anyone who had lived through the 1948 Nakba -- when
Zionist forces expelled Palestinians from their homeland
-- as well as the latest crisis in Nahr al-Bared, everyone
turned to an old man engaged in conversation with another
and told him to come over.
The old man came over and joined in the circle of white
plastic chairs. Mousa al-Ali, or Hajj Mousa, was
10-years-old in 1948 and remembered clearly how his family
left their homes in a village near Safad in what was then
"We left Palestine in 1948 with nothing the same way we
left Nahr al-Bared. But the Nakba was easier when we left
Palestine. Then, we knew who our enemy was. Now, we don't
know who is our enemy and who is our friend."
Hajj Mousa said he couldn't recall his age exactly.
Judging from about how old he was in 1948 we figured he
was 69. Someone shouted to him, "Hajj, are you 69?"
"Sure, that sounds about right," he smiled with his arms
folded across his stomach, looking around to the rest of
As we sat a group of young girls walked by in the street
and shouted, "Abu Yasser! Abu Yasser!"
Abu Yasser's face turned a shade of red as he waved back.
I watched the girls giggle and run away and turned to Abu
Yasser and asked, "Abu Yasser, how old are you?"
"Eighteen," he replied quietly with that same shy smile.
Despite all he had been through in the previous days, it
was as if he still knew that he was young and his story
was but a small part of the greater Palestinian struggle
that has gone on for decades.
Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the year when
750,000 Palestinians were forced from their historic lands
and ended up in places like the Nahr al-Bared refugee
camp. Still unable to return to their homeland, the
refugees from Nahr al-Bared are probably the only people
in the world demanding the right to return to a refugee
The discussion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict is narrowly focused on the issue of the
occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. The rights of
Palestinian refugees have almost entirely dropped off the
radar. It's clear that Israel, unwilling to even give up
its illegal settlements built on Palestinian land in the
West Bank, will certainly not acknowledge or grant the
Palestinians' right to return despite numerous UN
resolutions reaffirming this right.
The destruction of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee
camp is reminder that it is time to refocus the discourse
and include the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967,
when as many as 250,000 Palestinians were displaced, many
for a second time. Their human dignity not respected,
Palestinian refugees are and have been vulnerable to
treatment like that which Abu Yasser suffered while
detained by the Lebanese army. They enjoy no rights, have
no representative government, no passport, no home in
which they can comfortably live. They have only one right
to which they cling -- the right to return to Palestine.
As Hajj Mousa explained, "If we could return to Palestine,
all of us [in Lebanon] would leave everything we have here
and return with nothing just as we came here in 1948."
Matthew Cassel is Assistant Editor of The Electronic
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