Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

A Rare Victory for Lebanon’s Palestinians


Yarmouk Refugee Camp, Damascus.

Known simply as  “the General”, Michel Naim Aoun was born in a peaceful mixed Christian-Shia area of Haret Hreik, now a core Hezbollah zone. He rose from poverty to become the head of Lebanon’s newly created Eighth army following the September 1983 battle of Souq el Gharb against Palestinian and Druze forces.  Six years later he served a forcibly truncated term as President of Lebanon. Since returning in 2005 from a 15-year sojourn in France, he is widely believed to be intending to regain that office. A current outspoken member of Lebanon’s parliament, Aoun has many supporters and detractors, being variously referred to a brilliant, cunning, honest, corrupt, obstructionist, mercurial, mentally ill, Napoleonic, and Hezbollah’s most important political ally.

The past couple of months have seen the General’s popular support shrink a bit and one of his recent antics led to Hezbollah signal its concern since the leaders of the Resistance   were getting political heat they did not need nor felt they deserved. This current problem began on August 13, 2009 when the key Hezbollah ally and ambitious leader of the Free Patriotic Movement sought and was immediately granted from Lebanon’s highest administrative Court, the Shura Council, an injunction freezing any and all reconstruction of Nahr al Bared (Arabic:  Cold River) Palestinian Refugees camp which had been destroyed two years ago in a three month battle between the salafist group Fatah al Islam and the Lebanese army. The renewable injunction was initially for 60 days and it instantly   froze UNRWA’s $445-million rebuilding project for the complete rebuilding of Nahr al Bared by the projected April 2012 completion date.

Aoun’s injunction added to the skepticism over the reconstruction among some Nahr al-Bared displaced residents, who have long voiced fears that the state would never allow them to rebuild their camp, and feared the fate of the disappeared Tell Zaatar camp leveled during the 1975-90 Civil War.  Specifically General Aoun had petitioned the State Shura to halt backfilling in the camp, a method of rebuilding on top of archeological ruins which secures and preserves them for future exploration.

Are there limits to bashing Lebanon’s refugees?

Aoun argued that he was just trying to protect Lebanon’s heritage. Hezbollah did not immediately respond to queries of ‘what gives?’ from the Sabra Shatila Foundation and others who assumed that Aoun would not have acted without their ok.   Few in Lebanon, and no one in the Lebanon’s 12 Palestinians camps and 10 gatherings, credited him with a sudden pro-environmental epiphany as they reminded each other that when the General was head of the Lebanese army and during battles in 1989-90 he savagely destroyed plenty of Lebanon’s heritage including ancient ruins, places of worship and museums if they were located in areas controlled by his adversaries. Some analysts have pointed out that  Aoun  surely knows, that Lebanon is a giant historical layer cake, the lower slice of stone “cake” being  Canaanite –about 5,000 years old along with Greek, Roman, Crusader, Omayed , Ottoman and European strata. Wherever one puts in a shovel and digs a few feet, chances are ‘antiquities’ will be close to the blade. Many suspected that Aoun in expressing concern for ancient ruins had more than  archaeology  in mind since his petition, if sustained by the State Shura Council would mean that UNRWA would have to rebuild much of the camp on a different site, meaning many of Nahr al-Bared’s more than 31,000 registered residents would never return to their homes.

Government representatives have stated that it would be impossible to rebuild in the area adjacent to the camp, as Aoun proposed, because there is no land available in the area within miles of Nahr al Bared. According to Ammar Saadedine, an urban planner with the Nahr al Bared Reconstruction Commission, Aoun is trying to use the Palestinian issue to send political messages to friends and foes.  “We don’t want to get involved in internal Lebanese issues. We are just demanding our rights.” Many Christians and other Lebanese still fear that the reconstruction or granting basic human rights, would promote the assimilation of Palestinians, skewing the Muslim-Christian balance by encouraging naturalization. These sentiments appeared to be echoed initially by Hezbollah’s   spokesman on the Palestinian question, Hassan Hodroj, who explained: “The threat of tawtin is genuine. It is one of the ways in which Israel, backed by the US, is endangering the region.”

What Lebanon can learn from Syria about human rights for Palestinian refugees.

According to progressive Lebanese MP Ghassan Moukheiber, “our official policy is to maintain Palestinians in a vulnerable, precarious situation to diminish prospects for their naturalization or permanent settlement”. What some supporters of Lebanon’s Palestinians are pushing for from the next government is a simple law patterned after the 1956 Syrian one that grants Palestinian Refugees “the right to employment, commerce, and national service, while preserving their original nationality.”  Such an enactment in Lebanon would create immediate civil rights for refugees but not give them citizenship.  In fact few of Lebanon’s Palestinians would accept naturalization (tawtin). Others accused Aoun of shameless pandering to embittered Akkar residents who lost sons fighting Fatah al Islam as a majority of the 175 Lebanese army soldiers killed were from their community opposite Nahr al Bared Camp.  Still others accused Aoun of trying to carve out some of  Samir Geagea’s  more right wing Christian base.  Geagea, who is promoted in some circles here as the Obama’s administration’s only remaining reliable operative in Lebanon as a result of three years of clumsy US-Israel interference  in internal political disputes ( Comment: one is reminded of the 25th anniversary at the October 24, 1983 explosion at the US marine barracks  which was a direct and foreseeable result of  the Reagan administration joining the same Phalange party against the Sunni, Shia and Druze population)  is making a move to corral Lebanon’s  Christians under his leadership.

Broad based opposition to Aoun’s injunction

More than 2000 people rallied in downtown Beirut on October 20 in a show of solidarity with the displaced residents of Nahr el Bared. More than 40 different community organizations, including the Washington DC-Beirut based Sabra Shatila Foundation, joined the protest organized by the Nahr el Bared Advocacy Committee.  Lovely Palestinian children from camps across Lebanon arrived for the protest and some had built small cardboard houses to illustrate their worries over becoming displaced and homeless. A majority of the destroyed camp’s 31,000 refugees are packed into ‘temporary’ housing including garages or metal storage sheds where in summer the inside temperatures can soar beyond 140 degrees F. and in winter plunge below freezing. Some are indefinitely warehoused along the tall grass perimeters of the camp, the same grasses from which Fatah al Islam fighters crawled to carry out their initial slaughter of Lebanese soldiers in May of 2007. Beirut’s Daily Star quoted one of the Nahr al Bared demonstrators:  “It’s very hot in summer and very cold in winter,” said one of the children’s  fathers, Ziad. “We want to see the reconstruction started before looking for any food or water or anything else.  We don’t have a house. I want a house to live in, so the first thing we need is the reconstruction.”

Simultaneous demonstrations protesting Aoun’s injunction took place inside Nahr al Bared and at Beirut’s   Shatila and Burj al Barajneh  camps as  well as in the Ain al-Helweh, Al-Buss and Burj Shemali refugee camps down south.  In Saida’s Ain al-Helweh, some Islamist groups discussed ominous and threatening contingency plans if the rebuilding ban was not lifted.  Decades of exclusion and marginalization has incubated among some young Palestinians millenarian ideas associated with al-Qa’ida. Some of the young men have been organizing attack units. They pose as the protectors and guardians of international Sunni Islam.   As is well known in Lebanon one of the 9/11 hijackers dedicated a poem to Ain al-Helweh jihadists in his videotaped will and dozens of Palestinian fighters from the camp have joined al-Qa’ida in Iraq.

One Hezbollah source told this observer after several attempts to explain the party’s position in Aoun project: “No way does Hezbollah control the General, only his wife can do that!” he said with a grin.  “We in Hezbollah consult regularly with his staff but frankly we benefit more from our alliance that he does and there are limits to what we can press him to do.  I personally think Aoun made a mistake with his Nahr al Bared case and it appeared he was bashing the Palestinian refugees for immediate personal political gains.  Honestly, all parties in Lebanon have been guilty of doing that including us I am sorry to say, but I would insist we have done it less than others.  But that’s my view and it may or may not be that of our leadership. There are many strongly held opinions within Hezbollah. Contrary to Zionist propaganda and what some in the West believe, we are very democratic within the party and we are always analyzing and debating events and ideas.  If a party member comes up with a sound idea it has a good chance of being implemented. In that sense we are different from the Lebanon Ziam (tribal leader) system still dominant in so many of the 18 Confessions here. But I believe the party has insisted that General Aoun drop his case”.

Following talks encouraged by Hezbollah between Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Palestinian factions just before the October 20 demonstrations, an FPM representative was sent by Aoun to the protest to show solidarity with resuming work at Nahr al Bared.  Aoun’s representative stressed that the FPM still remains opposed to the naturalization of Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees.  So do an estimated 95 per cent of the refugees who want to live in Palestine not Lebanon but they need some civil rights until their departure.  For some of the surprised demonstrators, seeing Aoun’s representative was a good sign. Another positive sign for the Palestinians   came when Aoun could have submitted reminders asking the Shura Council to extend the rebuilding ban past the original two-month suspension. Although expected by many to do so, he did not and let the deadline lapse.

A request from Hezbollah’s Shura Council to Lebanon’s Shura Council?

This was confirmed to this observer on October 11, twelve days before the Shura’s injunction was widely expected to be renewed. During a conference in Damascus on the Golan Heights, which subject is also of concern to Hezbollah,  a good friend and member of Hezbollah’s delegation and one of the brains behind Hezbollah’s spate of successful German aided prisoner exchanges, came to my room.   Knowing of my often expressed concern, he embraced and said, “It’s over, Aoun will abandon his actions against Nahr al Bared.”  Without pressing my friend for details, I concluded that Hezbollah did not approve of preventing the camps rebuilding and instructed Aoun to back off because the Resistance did not need the heat. Sure enough, on October 23 caretaker Prime Minister Fuad Siniora gave the good news to Palestinian representatives that he had instructed UNRWA to immediately restart the reconstruction of Nahr al Bared, despite the possibility that theoretically the Shura Council might still decide for a permanent halt to the rebuilding. Hezbollah sources advised this observer that there will not be any similar delays by Aoun or others regarding Nahr al Bared.  A collective sigh of relief could be heard all the way deep inside the Yamouk Palestinian Refugee Camp in Damascus from Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee community.  For their friends know well the paucity of breaks they receive these days.

FRANKLIN LAMB is Director of the Sabra Shatila Foundation.  He is reachable at


Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. He is reachable c/o

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases