Bedawi and Nahr el-Bared Palestinian Refugee Camps, Lebanon.
With very intermittent internet access and this ancient pc with one lone wire running from the spaghetti wiring system tied to the ceiling and taped to a single bare light bulb socket, plus 8 toddlers, two babies, crawling over and under this ‘foreigner’ in a 10 x 12 concrete room where 28 or more of us slept on the floor last night, this blurb may never be sent. But if it does get out and for what it’s worthan update on the situation in the Palestinian Nabr al-Bared and Bedawi Camps. Will try to send results shortly of my interviews with 11 Fatah al-Islam fighters regarding who paid them and got them travel documents and weapons and what was their mission. There was no bank robbery by them. That wasa fake story put out by the Welch Club. Sorry I misreported it. BBC was suckered. Also, no, repeat no heads cut off. Where are the medical reports from those who claim it? That was black propaganda to smear Fatah el-Islam. Must leave this building nowmay not be until tomorrow or so.
Bedawi is teeming with new arrivals from al-Bared where there is still no water, power or food. A few NGO’s still negotiating with army for permission to enter. (Still possible to sneak in from the east but getting more dangerous to try it). The problem is not being shot by Fatah al-Islam anymore. They are digging in. And the army is not as trigger happy as on Monday-Wednesday. The “security agents” on the slopes above the army looking down into al-Baled are the main sniper danger. People claim they are Hariri militia but I can not confirm that. The army told the PLO they would stop them but as of Saturday night they are still shooting. They are trying to shoot anyone they see inside or leaving al-Balad. Someone should stop them.
Several hours ago I met a woman arriving from al-Bared who had walked the whole 7 miles with an 18 month old baby and a daughter of 5 who just stares into the press cameras with her mouth open and eyes glazed over. The Palestinian mother told us neither she nor her children have eaten or taken water for four days. The children will be ok. The mother’s husband is in Syria she said and she has no relatives.
One NGO group of three from Beirut left a few hours ago in tears from frustration, sadness and anger from repeatedly being stopped by the army from taking supplies to al Barad. Their cargo of water and blankets abandoned. On Saturday the Palestinian Red Crescent, which for a quarter century has provide the medical service to both camps has been formally and completely banned from al-Bared and told they will be shot if they try to enter al-Bared. I met with the PRCS leadership and drivers.
There is some-near panic in Bedawi caused by many rumors. One rumor, widely believed, is that the Lebanese government plans to demolish al-Bared to make room for the huge US/NATO airbase which is to be built next to the camp. 5,000 of the Palestinians in al-Bared are from the 1975 ethnically cleansed east Beirut camp Telazatter. The PLO moved them to al-Bared at the beginning of the Lebanese civil war (1975-90) and they live close together in one al-Bared neighborhood. Saw women wailing that they may be another Telazatter massacre and destruction of their homes.
Many Palestinian young men are being arrested as they leave al-Bared. An old woman sleeping in the same room as me last night told us that her son was taken as he left al-Bared on Monday and she has not heard from him. There are now 6 check points between Tripoli and Beirut. Many (I was told all but have not confirmed it) Palestinian males traveling to Beirut are being arrested and taken for interrogation. Some from al-Bared are afraid to try to go to Beirut and stay with relatives.
Fear among PLO camp leaders that there could be a blood bath. “It’s the Bush complex,” one German NGO volunteer said. “The Lebanese government wants to be macho like the Israelis to gain some respect. This could be another Waco in the making, for no reason.” The PLO is trying to mediate with the army to avoid a slaughter that would occur if the army tries to enter al-Bared. “What is needed is leadership and for the warlords to keep quiet. The army has behaved very badly but it’s the politicians fault.”
Great fear that the army will try to enter al-Bared.
The army moved the press position to more than one mile from al Bared, “for security”. The army has orders to give no information to the press. Some journalists feel something terrible is going to happen here. Just heard the army has now completely sealed the camp. No access to the wounded still in basements and bombed houses needing help Palestinians activist in Bedawi say that if the army goes into al-Bared and makes a massacre that Palestinian from all over Lebanon will fight. This may be what some here or outside Lebanon are hoping for.
The Welch Club wants the army to “wipe out the terrorists”, and “protect our Palestinian brothers”. Not one Palestinian in either camp or observer I know believes that. Rather the Palestinian community here believes that the whole Fatah al-Islam “very strange case” was designed to assault their 420,000 population here.
School is cancelled in Bedawi because up to 20,000 from Bared are being housed in them. Food and water are arriving intermittently but distribution is not yet well organized. Much angst among the arrivals who come with only what they are wearing.
Joy to find al-Bared loved ones. Statements are heard on the crowded streets such as” why did the army fire on us? There were no fighters in our area?” “Where was their artillery during the July war? Why did they not fight Israel and now bomb us”?
The leader of Nahr al Bared Women’s association accused Lebanon’s envoy Abbas Zaki of not helping the refugees and with cooperating with the government and Israel. ‘He should come here’, one woman said. Abu Ammar or Abu Jihad (Arafat and his deputy Khalil al Wazir) would have come if they were alive”. Fatah is weak in Bedawi and even weaker in al-Bared.
Seven PLO factions operate in both camps. They jointly chased Fatah al-Islam out of Bedawi on September 21, 2006 not long after they split from Abu Musa’s Fateh Intifida which has been based in Badawi since 1983. Fatah Intifada still man’s the entrance to Bedawi but they seem to have only about 100 members left. When one interviews them they are almost apologetic about their step-brothers, Fatah al-Islam. “We expelled them because we did not like their friends (Hariri intelligence staff) they were too religious and acted strange but we did not think things would come to this”) but the al-Barad PLO factions do not have arms or power to confront FAI.
Amazing examples of humanity happening here. There are many family connections between the two camps. Kids distribute and water bread when it arrives in cars from Beirut and elsewhere. Young girls picking up and caring for babies of people they don’t know, helping old people find a place to sit and listen to them when they tell of what happened. I could be wrong but I have rarely witnessed the solidarity among people as I see here with the Palestinians. Clean, smart, patient, charming, funny, and caring toward one another-determined to return to Palestine
Many who have been in Badawi for nearly a week now just want to just go back and die in their al-Bared homes. On 5/25/07 the Palestinian group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine tried to organize a convoy of those who wanted to return to al-Bared. The plan is to go as far as they can and refuse to leave the army checkpoints until they are allowed back in. The convoy did not leave Bedawi yet and the idea may be abandoned.
FRANKLIN LAMB’s just released book, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons in Lebanon is available at Amazon.com.uk. His volume, Hezbollah: a Brief Guide for Beginners is due out in early summer, 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org