Sunday, May 27, 2007

Just one little cheese sandwish

The Nahr el Bared Relief Campaign( organized a small convoy yesterday May 26 to the Beddawi refugees camp. It included essential foodstuff, clothes and medicines in 4 cars. The Lebanese army checkpoint of Batroun stopped only one of the cars, and requested the papers of the two people who were inside. One of them, S.B. is a young Palestinian graphic designer and human rights activist who has inherited his refugee status from his parents. Like many Palestinians in Lebanon, his only identity papers are a euphemistically termed “laisser passer”. Euphemistic because the mere fact of showing it at a check point is sufficient reason to have you stopped, checked, searched, retained, and often detained. For this reason, many Palestinians prefer to circulate without it, counting on their luck, their simulated Lebanese accent, and their knowledge of side roads to avoid being arrested at Lebanese army or Internal Security Forces Check points.

S.B. chose to show his “laisser passer”. He was asked to follow the soldier to the headquarters. We pulled over and a group of us including the local representative of a German NGO, a writer friend and myself followed him. We found him standing at the door of a small room, surrounded by a number of soldiers in aggressive interrogation mode. We declared our identities and affiliations and asked for his release. The army obliged, and SB walked free. Our German partner took a peek in the room. She saw on the floor two young men in their early 20’s, handcuffed behind their backs.

In the camp, I told this story to one of our counterparts from the civil society groups. He laughed and said: he got off lightly, because his place of birth does not indicate any one of the camps of the North. Otherwise, you would not have seen him. I asked whether these incidents were frequent and he said that this was common place. I asked to meet someone who was arrested. I did, and this is the story I heard.

R. is a 20 years old young man. When I saw him, he looked like a “dude” from a university campus in the US: clean shaven, baseball cap, polo shirt, faded jeans and loafers. A few days ago he was circulating at night on a moped with a friend on the outskirts of the Beddawi camp when he was arrested by a Lebanese army patrol. He did not have his papers, but his friend did. The patrol allowed the friend to go and fetch R’s papers. Before his return, they took R to the army secret service (mukhabarat) headquarters in Tripoli. They put him in a 2x3 meters cell with 17 other people. They were forbidden to speak to each other. The goal was insalubrious and foul smelling. There were a few bottles which they used when they needed to urinate. His friend brought him his ID, and then left. Most of the others jailed in the cell were like him, not sure what they were doing here. There were many Palestinians, but also some Lebanese and some Syrians. One of the Palestinians was a 16 year old who was arrested in an internet café while browsing a Jihad site.

In the morning, they took him out, handcuffed him behind his back, and blindfolded him. They then beat him heavily, interrogated him about his links with Fateh al Islam, removed the blindfold and made him sign some papers. He could not see what he was signing because the interrogator covered the paper with his hands. He said that he considered briefly not signing, but then saw another person being beaten because he had questioned the contents of the papers, so he signed.

He was then taken to Beirut with 5 other people handcuffed and blindfolded laying on the floor of a pick up truck. As soon as they arrived, they beat them without control, while showering them with verbal abuse, then took him to the doctor for a check up. They took him to the jail, which is a long corridor with cells on either side. As there was not enough space in the cells, they kept him with others on the floor. They were seated, handcuffed, blindfolded and had to look to the floor. He said that the back pain from staying in the same positions for hours was excruciating. Each time one of them would doze off and fall aside, he would be beaten into waking up.

In the middle of the second night, one of the prison guards called his number and told him that he had been granted permission to sleep. He lay on the floor tiles. He woke up next morning shivering and with severe stomach pain. He was taken to the doctor who gave him medicine, gave him a mattress and a blanket and let him sleep for a couple of hours.

He was then taken to the investigator where he was subjected to heavy psychological pressure, and asked what he described as silly questions about the weapons he has at home, the date of his joining Fateh al Islam and other questions to which he had no answer.

He was then taken back to the corridor, where a new guard welcomed him with further beating. Apparently, each time a new guard takes over, the first thing he does is beat the prisoners.

As night fell he was put again in the pick up truck and taken to Jounieh. He knew it was Jounieh from the conversation among the soldiers. He was beaten for half an hour, then placed back in the pick up and taken back to Tripoli.

There, things improved for him. He attributes this to his father’s efforts and contacts made to release him. The officer took him to his office, removed his blindfold and his handcuffs and gave him water.

He was sent to the Military Police jail. It was near midnight, and he was told he would be released in the morning, upon the arrival of the officer. There, they made him sign a paper saying that he was caught driving a moped without registration papers.

The next morning hours passed, and there was no sign of any one. He banged on the door, and someone opened, looking surprised, and asked him what he was doing there. He told his story.

An hour later, an officer arrived, took his papers, repeated the questioning, and put him back in the cell.

Another hour passed before an internal security officer came, listened to his story and then signed his transfer papers. He took him out of the jail and told him to go home. He also gave him a $50 fine for driving a moped without papers.

During his 3-days ordeal, he was given water twice and a small cheese sandwich once.


Anonymous said...

hi uncle ,you know who im. your blog is amazing like u!!!!!!your're a good journalist like my dad....the arguments are very interesting, i hope that every more people see your fantastic blog!!!!love ya by me!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Zurayk... Im from London and to be honest I dont understand much of what is going on at the moment in Lebanon.. however, what I do know makes my heart ache...