Thursday, May 24, 2007

Food for thought: In the Beddawi refugee camp

I just got back from the Beddawi Refugee camp near Tripoli where most of the displaced from Nahr el Bared have found shelter. It is a tiny piece of land, no more than 1 km2, which, until May 22, used to be home to 18,000 people. Now they are 30,000. You can feel it in the streets: impossible to move by car without hitting someone.

I learned a couple of things.

On war

I spoke with a number of youth and not so youth who have arrived from Nahr el Bared yesterday. I also had a long chat with a US photographer who has been spending endless hours waiting to get into the Nahr el Bared camp. I also had a conversation with a comrade from the PFLP, a mother of 6 who had just made it with her kids from Nahr el Bared.

Fateh al Islam is a new group in the camp. They are not more than 120 people, of whom 20 or so are Palestinians from Lebanon, and only 2 from the Nahr el Bared Camp. All the others are non Palestinians, but no one knew what their nationality was: they only knew that they had strange accents. Their base was in the area close to the Lebanese army, and apparently they attacked the army without prior notice. The PFLP comrade told me she saw them say a prayer of one ruq’a with their weapons in front of them, and then they called for the Jihad and then they went on to attack the army check point and kill all the soldiers. I was told that the army camp in a place called Muhammara was attacked and 4 soldiers were take prisoner. The militiamen tried to take them into the camp as hostages but they refused to move, so they killed them and beheaded at least one of them. In another incident, an armored vehicle of the army came close to the camp and fired heavy machine gun. Its engine stalled and it could not retreat. It was attacked by the militiamen and its personnel were killed; some beheaded.

The army went completely mad at the killing of the soldiers and started shelling the camp indiscriminately with very heavy artillery fire, from both the southern and the northern ends of the camp. The photographer told me that he believed that many of the casualties of the army were due to friendly fire, because the two entrances to the camp are so close to each other. The rows of houses closest to the army positions were totally destroyed, and so was a large part of the camp. After the initial mayhem, which went on for several hours, the street were littered with bodies, and there were dozens of injured. The heavy shelling subsided, but the army responded with canon fire to any bullet from the camp. People remained locked inside their houses, and the dead remained in the streets. The residents woke up in the morning to the sound of feral dogs fighting over pieces of dead bodies. There is a video of these scenes, taken with a camera phone.

The response of the residents of the camp was variable. Most stayed put and tried to leave at the first opportunity. I also heard reports of armed Lebanese civilians coming to “help” the army, harassing the refugees leaving the camp. At least one person said he was shot at by armed civilians, without being able to identify which party they belong to. About a third of the camp population is still inside.

On needs

This morning, there were 2,757 refugee families from Nahr el Bared in Beddawi. 537 are sheltered in the schools, while 2175 are sharing houses with friends or relatives. Many houses have 4 or 5 guest families. Houses in the camp are very small, typically 60-80 square meters with 2 bedrooms at most.

The UNRWA clinic is extremely busy, and there must have been over 200 people waiting to be examined by 2 doctors. I sat with the doctor for 15 minutes, during which he examined 4 patients, all of them suffering from upper respiratory tract infections. He told me the majority of the cases he has examined from Nahr el Bared were respiratory problems.

Relief is trickling into the camp, and most of it is missing the neediest. Both Fateh and Hamas are distributing aid. The bulk of the aid is going to a couple of large schools, but nothing is reaching the small schools or the overcrowded houses. Supporting the people in the houses is particularly important because the families hosting them are already poor, and can barely provide for their own needs. The end result will be even more impoverishment in Baddawi.

Among the first Lebanese groups to offer food relief to the large schools was the Future Movement of Hariri. I heard conflicting reports about the effectiveness of the action. All those interviewed agreed on 2 things: one is that Hariri aid is highly politicized, and that only Fateh (PLO) families and groups were benefiting from it. The people I spoke to say this is meant to strengthen Fateh’s influence. One old man, frustrated for having been left out of the distribution, told me: “This is not Fateh Arafat anymore; this is Fateh al Hariri now. What a loss ya Abou Ammar!”

The other thing I learned about Hariri aid falls into the tragi-comic category. I was passing by one of the big schools when a car stopped and started unloading bags upon bags of knefeh and boxes of Arabic sweets (halawet el jeben) from the Hallab shop in Tripoli, and taking them to the refugees. I asked about it and was told that this is part of the aid offered by the Hariri movement. Apparently, half of it is thrown, because too much is given to 1 or 2 locations, and this stuff just doesn’t keep. A school teacher swore to me that yesterday they brought them croissants, but that the kids refused to eat them because they had never seen it before. They asked for manousheh.

There is need for anything one can think of, starting with powdered milk and ending with crutches for the wounded. But people are helping themselves and helping each other. A young woman came to the office where I was staying and asked about milk for 24 children. I asked her if they were hers and her relatives. She said she did not know them, that she was a schoolteacher from Beddawi, and that the kids' parents were refugees in her school from Nahr el Bared. She and her colleagues collected money to feed them yesterday. They had not yet eaten today, but she was looking. When she was given the milk, she broke down in tears.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bless you, Rami Zurayk, and I hope that we hear more from people like you. Has the Lebanese left suddenly become deaf, mute and blind ?

Ms Levantine said...

Outstanding post. I am glad you are bloggimg.

The situation is beyond pathetic and sad. And of course we never learn from our mistakes. Sounds like 73 all over again, complete with your comrades from the PFLP.

Maybe you should get Healthy Basket/Souk el Tayyeb to send something to Beddawi. Might be symbolic but as Lebanese we have to start being involved in all that is happening in our country. I am amazed by how we think we can be insulated from what is happening in our midst.

Keep it up pls.

MM.

Laurel said...

Thanks for your blog, Rami. Especially now, it's good to have an "inside" view of things. I knew you were a good one when you gave Fouad and me the ait al-shab soap when I met you at Christmas, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your observations here.

m. said...

i have to agree with ms. L. and co. this is a great post.

- manar

apokraphyte said...

Yes, thank you for this excellent post (and blog, as well). Would you mind if I linked and copied to our blog? Thanks -- dave

Rami said...

Would you mind if I linked and copied to our blog? Thanks -- dave

Sure no problem

Rami

maha said...

Wonderful blog. Thank you.

aiyipianni said...

Aston Villa rode their luck at Hull City where an 88-minute own goal from Kamil Zayatte saw them leapfrog three points clear of Arsenal and into fourth place in the Premier League wow gold with a 1-0 win.

Villa had to survive Hull penalty wotlk gold appeals for a handball against Ashley Young in time added on, television replays showing that referee Steve Bennett wow gold correctly rejected the claims after consulting a linesman.

Bennett had been involved in controversy after just five minutes when American goalkeeper Brad Friedel looked to have handed Hull the initiative and threaten Villa's return to the Champions League qualifying wow gold zone.

Friedel spilled the ball under pressure from Nick Barmby and stand-in right-back Nigel Reo-Coker turned it into his own net as he attempted to wow gold clear.

But Bennett cut short celebrations at the KC Stadium -- and let Friedel off the hook -- when he ruled out the score for an wow wotlkapparent infringement by Barmby.

Zayatte's intervention from a Young cross bound for wow gold Gabriel Agbonlahor then saw Villa leapfrog Arsenal and draw level with Manchester United on 38 points -- seven adrift of leaders Liverpool and four wow gold behind Chelsea.

Stung by an on-pitch dressing down wow gold by manager Phil Brown at Manchester City last week, Hull showed five changes and a vastly improved performance.

Promoted Hull were looking for only their second win in 11 games while wow gold Villa arrived unbeaten in seven and it looked to be heading for a goalless draw when the home side suffered a cruel late blow.

aiyipianni said...

Dimitar Berbatov buy flyff gold scored the only goal as Manchester United beat Final Fantasy XI gil Middlesbrough 1-0 at Old Trafford on Monday buy cheap ffxi gil to move to within seven points of Premier League ffxi gil leaders Liverpool -- with two vital buy Warhammer gold games in hand.

The Bulgarian Warhammer gold international striker fired home a volley from close-range in the buy Warhammer gold 69th minute to give United the victory, leaving Middlesbrough deep in relegation trouble just one place above Warhammer gold the drop zone in 16th place.

Prior to the goal, United wow po had missed a host of chances as Middlesbrough's wow or defense held firm, but the deadlock was finally broken when Michael Carrick's left-wing cross bounced back off Boro defender wow geld David Wheater into Berbatov's path.

Berbatov, Wayne Rooney, wow geld Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael, wow gold Nemanja Vidic and Ji-sung Park had earlier all squandered chances buy wow gold against a determined Middlesbrough side.

Rooney should have given the wow gold hosts the lead when he sprang world of warcraft gold the offside trap in the 35th minute but inexplicably chose to pass rather wow gold than shoot.

Then, two minutes wow soldi before half-time, defender Chris Riggott wow gold produced a superbly-timed block inside the penalty area to deny Berbatov buy wow gold just as he was about to shoot.

After Berbatov's goal,wow gold Park produced a contender world of warcraft gold for miss of the season when he wow gold somehow ballooned over the wow oro crossbar from just three yards out from substitute wow gold Gary Neville's cross.

But, despite not adding buy wow gold to their tally, the three points were United's wow gold and their next league game is now against second-placed Chelsea, who are just four points ahead wow power leveling of Sir Alex Ferguson's side

ghkj said...

EVEN by wow gold the standards gold in wow of the worst financial buy wow gold crisis for at least wow gold cheap a generation, the events of Sunday September 14th and the day before were extraordinary. The weekend began with hopes that a deal could be struck,maplestory mesos with or without government backing, to save Lehman Brothers, America''s fourth-largest investment bank.sell wow gold Early Monday buy maplestory mesos morning Lehman maplestory money filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has more than maplestory power leveling $613 billion of debt.Other vulnerable financial giants scrambled maple money to sell themselves or raise enough capital to stave off a similar fate. billig wow gold Merrill Lynch, the third-biggest investment bank, sold itself to Bank of America (BofA), an erstwhile Lehman suitor,wow power leveling in a $50 billion all-stock deal.wow power leveling American International Group (AIG) brought forward a potentially life-saving overhaul and went maple story powerleveling cap-in-hand to the Federal Reserve. But its shares also slumped on Monday.

chengja said...

Alex Rodriguez,the playerwow goldwho would restore integrity to baseball's homewow goldrunre cord,admittedwow goldMonday towow goldusing performance-enhancingwow goldwow golddrugs himself.

chengja said...

The All-Star thirddofus kamasdofus kamasbaseman said in an interviewkamas dofusacheter dofuswith ESPN that he used steroids with the Texas Rangers for three years,from 2001-03,in an attemptbuy kamasacheter kamasto justify his status as the game's highest-paid player after signing a 10-year.

chengja said...

Back then it wasworld of warcraft golda different culture,Rodriguezcheap wow goldsaid.It waswow orvery loose.I was young.I waswow power levelingstupid.

chengja said...

He said he quitbuy wow goldcheap wow goldafter 2003,hiswow power levelingdofus kamasfirst of three AL MVP seasons,because I've provedbuy ffxi gilLord of the Rings Online goldto myself and to everyone that I don't need any of that.

chengja said...

When I arrivedwow goldin Texas in 2001,Iwow goldfelt an enormous amount of pressure.I feltwow goldwow goldlike I had all the weightwow goldof the world on top of me and I needed to perform.