Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Moe Ali Nayel

“We’re exhausted from being homeless”: Nakba consequences

“We walked and walked and walked for days until we finally settled on the beach of Damour,” said 80-year-old Um Zohair. “On the beach we fetched green banana leaves together and with bamboo sticks we made a hut that sheltered us for three months on the sand.”

Sixty-six years ago, Um Zohair — Nada Mousa — was one of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their homeland, Palestine.

Moe Ali Nayel posted on The Electronic Intifada from Beirut this May 15, 2014

“We’re exhausted from being homeless”: recalling the Palestinians’ plight on Nakba Day

140515-shatila-camp.jpg

Scene of overcrowded refugee camp with cement buildings and lots of electricity wires

Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. (Yann Renoult / Wostok Press)

That was the first time we were displaced,” Um Zohair said.

Since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, a series of upheavals and struggles has marked Palestinian refugees’nomadic life in exile. A new chapter in this history of dispossession has been added by the violence against Palestinian refugees in Syria.

“Palestinians from Syria are living in sewers. Come and look,” Um Zohair told me.

Recently while I was on a visit to Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, I was told about Um Zohair’s family and the conditions they endure.

Abedlrahman, a young Palestinian refugee from Syria, led the way. At an alley’s dead end, we needed to leap over the reeking water to get into the entrance of a murky dungeon.

Once inside, it seemed like we had crossed into an invisible parallel world — except that the sewer’s stench stang the nostrils as a reminder of the dark reality surrounding us.

A dim, windowless subterranean room, once an underground bomb shelter in the 1980s “War of the Camps” (Against the onslaught of the Amal militias of Nabih Berry?) — and later a storage room — is now home to 8 members of a fragmented family.

Inside sat an old woman surrounded by 4 smiling faces and a fifth whose permanent scowl was hard to break: arms crossed, 14-year-old Mahmoud sat on the edge of a decomposing sofa.

Daily struggle

Um Zohair’s daughter-in-law and grandchildren have fled to Lebanon without their breadwinners, their exact whereabouts in Syria remain unknown.

As Um Zohair watched over her grandchildren, their mother, Um Mahmoud, left her five children (Ahmad, 10; Issa, 8; Haytham, 6; Mahmoud, 14; and Huda, 15) and went around Shatila refugee camp, hunting and gathering, looking for any menial job she could score in exchange for money or food.

The mother’s daily struggle to put food on the table is but one part of the bigger burdens of finding $200 to pay for Lebanese residency permits for each of the four family members who are over the age of ten. As if the Lebanese residency fees weren’t hard enough to find, she also has to come up with rent money for the dungeon that shelters them: $200 per month.

Six-year-old Haitham has stopped going to school because of a new-found intolerance for loud noises and overcrowded places. The eldest boy, Mahmoud, said: “I wish I could find a job; I’ll take any job so my mother won’t have to go out every morning and beg people in humiliation for money and food.”

Mahmoud pressed his lips, his frown tensed to prevent tears from gathering, and hissed, “I cannot find a job in the camp, and I’m afraid to venture outside Shatila. We don’t have residency permits. I do not want the police to catch me. I swear I’ll work at anything.”

The three meter by four meter storage room Um Zohair and her grandchildren rent comes with a faucet and a bucket hanging from it, functioning as a kitchen sink. In the corner opposite the kitchen is the toilet: a caved-in drain in the floor enclosed by a curtain made from a vintage bedsheet. The black hole in the room, a drain/toilet, continuously emits unpleasant smells.

The floor, never having seen tiles, is a clammy, uneven bumpy surface of olive green cement. The beds are but two sponge mattresses no more than five centimeters thick. When there is food to cook, Um Zohair and her daughter-in-law use a little camping stove donated by a sympathetic neighbor.

Failed promise

In 1917, Arthur James Balfour, then Britain’s foreign secretary, proclaimed that nothing should be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. Almost one hundred years later, Zionist settlers continue to degrade the identity, history and wellbeing of the original inhabitants of Palestine.

This failed promise that nothing should be done to prejudice Palestinians’ rights has today developed into what can be safely called apartheid.

Um Zohair, like many Palestinians, is more accustomed to displacement than any human being should be. One year ago she and her family fled war-ravaged Syria. Their last home was in a Palestinian refugee camp near the Damascus international airport.

Um Zohair, who seems to suffer from numerous health problems, held her cane in one hand and rummaged through a plastic bag full of medicine in the other.

When asked about Palestine she jerked her head high and her eyes sparked as she reminisced. “I am from Safed, Palestine; my village and place of birth is called al-Qatiyya. Do you know it? It is right next to Naameh. I was 13, a young girl, when we were attacked, our house burned and later forced to leave by the Haganah [a Zionist militia].

“That day is always in my memory. I remember, before the assault, elders in the village kept warning us about the Haganah gang who were coming to attack us. My father said those were rumors and we should not leave our land and house. Rumors kept increasing about the arrival of European Jews to attack our village and take our homes; this prompted some people to leave, but we stayed.”

Um Zohair went silent for a minute and looked again in her medication bag. Then, as if the memory of her hometown came back to her, she resumed talking.

“Long walk to Lebanon”

“That morning they broke into houses and forced everyone out to the streets. The Israeli Haganah soldiers started shouting for us to go out and gather in the village’s square. I remember our neighbors, they were Jews, those were our friends and we coexisted for as long as I remembered.

“It was not they, our neighbors, who attacked us; it was the nationalist Israelis, the Europeans. They pointed their guns at men who were in the village and led them to the village’s outskirts. My father was taken with two of my uncles and we never saw them again afterwards. Our Jewish neighbors came to our defense at first and I remember clearly how they shouted in Hebrew at the Israeli militants.

“However, our neighbors could not stop the Israeli militants as they started to burn down one house after another in the village. I don’t remember what happened after that but I remember my mother, my two sisters and I, together with other families, stayed put in the village’s square for two days until the European militants came again and forced us to leave. They started shouting, asking why we were still in the village, and ordered us to join the others who fled their villages from the Safed region. We fled and started the long walk towards Lebanon.”

Um Zohair can still remember her home where she was born and raised in al-Qatiyya. She recalled the serenity and simple life she took for granted at the age of 13 in her family’s stone house and her father’s wheat field.

She wished for her grandchildren to return to al-Qatiyya and have a chance to live with dignity.

“Palestinians are there for each other. Those around us in Shatila know about our plight; they too are not in a much better situation but they still share with us the food they cook. Palestinians are exhausted from being homeless for so long.

“In Syria, my sons used to work from morning until night at a brick factory. I had four boys and two girls; one of my girls was killed last year by shrapnel.

“My other daughter is still in Syria; they cannot afford to flee. Two of my four boys have been missing since last year; one of them is the father of these kids with me. Each night as the eight of us gather to sleep we hope that this will be the last night on the floor of this room.”

Being ethnically cleansed means that Palestinian refugees are estranged from their homeland. They move from one place to another, never feeling at home.

Palestine, their homeland, is still occupied and their internationally-recognized right of return is continually denied and violated by Israel.

The urgency and determination to return to Palestine was broadcast to the whole world during the attempt to return while commemorating the Nakba three years ago on 15 May 2011.

Then, more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon headed to the border with occupied Palestine. The vast majority of them were young Palestinians determined to fight for their right to return to Palestine.

In response, as the whole world watched, Israeli occupation forces did what they have been doing best for the last 66 years: they hunted down and killed Palestinians with sheer cruelty, killing nearly a dozen.

Um Zohair’s story is a tale of a lifelong struggle. She is one of millions of Palestinians stuck in exile, banned by Israel from returning to their roots, their villages and orange trees.

Moe Ali Nayel is a freelance journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter:@MoeAliN.

Why aren’t Israeli F-16s over Beirut headline news?

Frequently, you hear sounds coming from the skies over Beirut.  Israeli fighter jets breaking the sound speed trigger unpleasant recollections during the countless Israel preemptive wars on Lebanon

Damned it. Hello, UN general secretary Ban Ki Moon. Beirut is the Capital of a recognized independent State in the UN.

This noise brings with it images and memories from the last war Israel waged on Lebanon, the 33-day war during the summer of 2006. The ominous rumbling of Israeli fighter jets, announcing their illegal incursions into Lebanese airspace, can be heard everywhere in tiny Lebanon.

Moe Ali Nayel, a freelance journalist based in Beirut, posted on  The Electronic Intifada from Beirut  on 24 May 2013

This threatening behavior above Lebanon is non-existent, the Western media corporations would have us believe.

While information-sharing web tools have broken the mainstream media’s monopoly over covering and analyzing world developments, there is still a long way to go. The Israeli politics of dispossession enjoy near unconditional support in the editorial rooms of New York, London and Paris, a bias still undetected by most of the Western audience they claim to serve.

UN soldier atop armored vehicle overlooks Lebanon-Israel border

Israel’s daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty are ignored in the Western press. (Karamallah Daher / Reuters)

On 25 April, these editors saw to it that one story dominated the front pages: Reports of an alleged unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, that flew from Lebanon to historic Palestine, with accompanying reportage and commentary treating information given by Israeli government and military sources as the definitive truth of the incident.

The Israeli Air Force said it shot down a UAV several miles off the coast of the northern city of Haifa after it entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon.

Israel’s deputy defense minister Danny Danon accused Hizballah of sending the drone: “We’re talking about another attempt by Hezbollah to send an unmanned drone into Israeli territory,” he told army radio (“Israel shoots down Lebanese drone,” DefenseNews, 25 April 2013).

Shortly after the Israeli announcement, Hezballah issued a statement denying this was the case (“Hezbollah denies responsibility for drone shot down by Israel,” Al-Akhbar English, 26 April 2013).

This is in contrast to October last year, when Israel said it had shot down a drone over the Negev (Naqab). In that case, Hezballah proudly claimed the drone as its own and celebrated this demonstration of its technological prowess (“Hezbollah admits launching drone over Israel,” BBC).

For its part, a spokesperson with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) announced after the Israeli statement on 25 April: “We learned from the media that the Israeli Air Force has shot down a drone and we’re investigating these reports.”

As part of its peacekeeping mandate, UNIFIL has radars along the coast to monitor Lebanon’s entire airspace, and a few hours later UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said the UN force could not confirm that a drone had flown from its area of operations in southern Lebanon (“Israel shoots down drone off Haifa, Hizbullah denies responsibility,” Naharnet, 25 April 2013).

Inconvenient facts

So Hezbollah denied responsibility and the UNIFIL couldn’t confirm that a drone flew over south Lebanon into Israeli-controlled airspace. But far be it for these inconvenient facts to get in the way of a good story.

This newest threat to Israel burned like wildfire across the pages of major Western media outlets like The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, France 24, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC, which dutifully reported the worries over Israel’s security being breached.

Poor Israel: one of the strongest armies in the world, sitting on a nuclear arsenal.

These news reports demonstrate the systematic bias of Western corporate media when it comes to Israel.

While the reports all spoke of Hezbollah’s violation of Israel’s “borders” and sovereignty and the threat this posed to Israeli civilians, none mentioned the daily Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty and the threat this poses to Lebanese citizens. Without this, a reader might easily mistake the aggressor for the victim.

Then there was the one-sided sourcing of “facts” to back up the story and the rush to judgment.

On 26 April — the day after the alleged drone was downed — the Israeli government itself began to shift its narrative to more ambiguous finger-pointing at Iran, rather than directly blaming Hezbollah (“Israel points finger at Iran over drone from Lebanon,” The Daily Telegraph, 27 April 2013).

Meanwhile, a May 8 story in Lebanon’s daily As-Safir newspaper claims it was actually an Israeli drone that had been intercepted by resistance fighters en route to Lebanon.

According to unnamed sources close to Hizballah and Western diplomatic circles cited by the paper, when the Israeli Air Force noticed that its UAV was out of its control, it shot it down over the Mediterranean. This suggestion seems at least plausible when stacked next to the UNIFIL report and Hizballah’s denial.

But taking this into account or following up on it would have required understanding Arabic, which few foreign journalists do.

Daily terror

Israel inflicts different daily methods of terror on Lebanon: F-16s and F-15s stage mock raids and drones stalk our skies — all in violation of UN resolution 1701. Lebanese citizens are kidnapped near the border, Israeli landmines and cluster bombs continue to await their victims on Lebanese soil, not to mention the Israeli army’s continued occupation of parts of Lebanon.

While the UN occasionally condemns these acts of Israeli aggression, the fact that they continue unabated reminds us in Lebanon that accountability and international law end at our southern border.

And so too does objective journalism, it seems, given that in the past month Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace have heavily intensified, but none of this has made it into the Western press.

As a journalist, I’ve tried to pitch stories to mainstream media outlets on the constant Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty and have been lucky enough, from time to time, for an editor to bother to reply, if only to say that the story is irrelevant.

The adage goes that real journalism is publishing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.

By publishing Israel’s claims as fact, and ignoring the reality on the ground in Lebanon and Palestine, mainstream journalists show how well practiced they are in the art of PR.

Follow Moe Ali Nayel on Twitter: @MoeAliN.

Note: The Austrian government is pulling out its UN contingent from the Golan Heights: Israel is not supposed to be overflying the Syrian territory, but violating Lebanon airspace is agreed upon with the UN?

 

Not at your service: Palestinian refugees

“Are you enjoying filming our misery? Film: it’s fine, you are like the others. You show up in the camp, film, leave, and we are still here.”

But we want to tell the world about your story… And we reply with the same sarcasm: “how much are you getting paid to tell the world our story?”

Moe Ali Nayel posted on The Electronic Intifada this May 17, 2013 “Palestinian refugees are not at your service”

Throughout my time working as a fixer with international journalists, I never understood why people on the sidewalks of the camps’ busy streets always regarded our “humanitarian” mission with skepticism.

Earlier this year, I came to understand this skepticism of Palestinian refugees in camps in Lebanon.

It was a gloomy day and clouds condensed above Sabra, a shanty town adjacent to Beirut’s Sports City stadium, overlooking the Palestinian refugee camp Shatila. (The camp that experienced the Israeli/Phalange massacreof civilians, mostly women and children, for two nights and two days in 1982.)

We walked through a maze of narrow alleys in Sabra, led by Abdullah, a young Palestinian from Syria, doing relief work for his fellow Palestinian refugees who fled violence in Syria and who were now seeking safety all over Lebanon.

I had been hired as a translator for a human rights professor from Harvard University who was working on a project regarding the situation of Palestinian refugees from Syria who have fled to Jordan and Lebanon.

Walking through the dim damp alleyways of Sabra, Abdullah led the way. The Harvard professor and her two students were heading to meet a Palestinian refugee from Syria who had agreed to meet us.

Scene of alley in Shatila refugee camp

Palestinian refugees have seen little benefit from the many researchers who have visited their camps. (Mohammed Asad / APA images)

“We are not here to talk about her son”

“We are going to meet a woman from Yarmouk,” said Abdullah, referring to the Palestinian refugee community near the Syrian capital. “She fled two weeks ago with her injured son who needs urgent medical care. I hope you’ll be able to aid the poor woman.” Abdullah grabbed my elbow, encouraging me to make sure I translated his announcement to the Harvard team.

At the end of a narrow alleyway we stopped at a pile of shoes by the steps of a small apartment; the heap of shoes indicated the many people who were inside. While we added our shoes to the pile the professor and her students murmured: “We are not here to talk about her son, we just want to ask about her experience fleeing from Syria to Beirut.”

And: “fine let’s just give her a quick five minutes to talk about her son and we’ll move on.” The professor decided on the matter and looked at me as to include me in this decision since I was the translator and would be introducing the team and mediating the interview.

Crammed into the tiny apartment of Mariam, a Palestinian refugee who was sheltering two families from Yarmouk, we all sat and sipped on Turkish coffee waiting for Um Muhammad.

Cigarettes were lit, breaking an awkward silence, but when the Harvard team coughed and complained the cigarettes were politely put out.

The silence was broken by Um Muhammad who came rushing in, apologizing for being late, trying to catch her breath while thanking us extensively for the great humanitarian work she thought we were doing: “God bless you and may he give you strength for the charitable work you are doing.”

Introductions and shy small talk were made, while in the background the professor set the scene for her trainees. Questioning would go in turns and each woman carried her list of already prepared questions, the kind used in human rights classrooms.

It became clear to me that the Harvard team led by the professor were here to conduct training sessions on how to document human rights violations in the Middle East. Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria as a training topic.

Um Muhammad, a woman in her late 40s, covered her head with a beige scarf and wore an ankle-length burgundy trench coat. A mother of four, she was born in Beirut’s Burj al-Barajneh camp. She fled to Yarmouk camp in Syria during the 1980s when, as she puts it, “being a Palestinian was enough to get a person in trouble.”

Human rights kit

Um Muhammad smiled politely, trying to hide her agony, and her eyes betrayed the distress and lack of sleep. In mid-December while her youngest son was playing with his friends next to their school in Yarmouk, the Syrian regime’s MiG fighter jets dropped bombs a few meters away from them, she said. A piece of shrapnel hit the 14-year-old boy on his head.

Um Muhammad rushed her son to a government hospital in Damascus: “they wanted me to sign a paper stating that my son was injured by the terrorists but I refused and told them the terrorists don’t have MiGs. Instead I grabbed him and went running to a field hospital in Yarmouk but they were only able to clean his wound and couldn’t perform surgery.”

“I brought him to Lebanon and I have been running around trying to find anyone who can pay for his surgery or treat him,” she added. “But it’s the same response I keep getting, from UNRWA [the UN agency for Palestine refugees] and the political factions in the camps from Fatah to Hamas: ‘we don’t have funds.’

It’s been almost one month since his injury. Pieces of shrapnel are still stuck inside his skull, his health is deteriorating each day; now, he’s starting to lose his speech.”

A Harvard student in her early 20s with a stern manner, ready to take her human rights course from theory to practice, sat opposite Um Muhammad. Her human rights kit was out: a long list of questions laid out, voice recorder turned on and set on the coffee table, different color markers deployed, a bundle of papers next to us on the couch.

The student organized her tools, gave a nod to the professor and the round of human rights questioning started. Her quick-fire questions started with the basics: name, age, marital status, number of children and place of residency in Syria. Human rights documentation training was now in action.

I was told that for accuracy purposes questions need to be repeated more than once to see whether people are telling the truth:

Why did you come to Lebanon?

How long did it take you from your house to the border?

Try to remember exactly how long the trip took you.

How did you get to the border? Did you take a taxi, a car, or a bus? What kind of car? How much did you pay?

Who paid your visa fees to Lebanon?

Where did you get the money from?

Um Muhammad answered and re-answered but she was trying hard to recall details as her mind was not in full focus on her experience while fleeing.

“Try to remember”

“Tell us how long it took you to get from Yarmouk to the hospital the day your son got injured,” one said.

Um Muhammad struggled to be exact as she replied, “The hospital was not far and there were Syrian army checkpoints on the way but they let us pass, so it took us between 20 to 30 minutes.”

“Tell us exactly how long it took you,” the trainee insisted, keen on the minutiae for her records. “Was it 20 or 30 minutes? Try to remember, and how long you waited at the checkpoint. Five minutes? Ten minutes? Try to remember.”

As this routine continued, Um Muhammad’s answers became more vague and troubled, the students desperate for details. I was told to translate that they were from Harvard and they are here to document her experience so it was important for her to remember.

After a two-hour marathon of questions, Um Muhammad shot me looks of astonishment throughout, as if her words were not credible enough for them. As she was made to repeat her answers over and over, she sighed and went on. At one point, answering politely, but tired of the tirade of questions, Um Muhammad lit a cigarette and told me “I cannot remember those minute details ya khalti,” addressing me as an aunt would a nephew.

Smoking ban

“Please tell her to put out her cigarette.” Um Muhammad didn’t need me to translate this one, she instantly noticed the grimaced looks.

The persistent human rights student, here only to conduct her by-the-book interview in the presence of her evaluating professor, continued with her tiring and condescending questioning.

“Tell us: when you got to the Lebanese border crossing how did you know which window you had to go to.”

“There was a window for Lebanese travelers, a window for Syrians, and a window for foreigners this was the one where Palestinians were getting entry permits,” she replied.

“But how did you know this particular window was for Palestinians?”

“It was not the first time I came to Lebanon — I already told you that I was born here and one of my daughters lives here so we visit Lebanon often.”

“When you are at the Lebanese border crossing how do you figure out which window to go to? Was there a sign you read? What did the sign say?”

Um Muhammad looked at me, confused.

“You can’t just talk to her”

The conduct of the student was neither easy nor graceful, papers were shuffled, questions fired. Um Muhammad answered and re-answered in the hope of getting to the part that she came for: to tell her story and find aid for her injured son.

Um Muhammad’s growing frustration became hard to miss: she grabbed at her pack of cigarettes then let go, smiling at us as she remembered that she couldn’t smoke.

Finally, losing her polite manner, she interjected: “I want to talk about my son. I need to tell you the story I’m here for.” She was cut short as her host Mariam arrived with another round of coffee.

Here I took my chance, while the coffee was being served, to tell Um Muhammad about a doctor I know from Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp, a reputable orthopediatrician who I thought Um Muhammad should go to, who treats people for no charge.

The human rights trainee, who couldn’t understand our Arabic and seemed to feel as if she was being excluded, suddenly snapped: “What’s going on? You can’t just talk to her without telling me. What are you talking to her about? I need to know everything that is being said,” interrupting my conversation with Um Muhammad. Further awkwardness filled the air in the room.

Not what they came for

By now, Um Muhammad had lost any remaining patience after three hours of questioning.

Can I talk about my son now?” The question hung in the air, followed by silence and uncertainty from the Harvard team.

It was decided that to bypass her story they would give her “five minutes to tell her son’s story quickly and move on to questions.”

As Um Muhammad told a story of humiliation and anguish, we listened and nodded. My precise translation here seemed unnecessary: I was told to sum it up. This was not what we came for.

No one came to help any one here, it seemed, this was just a professor training her students, the picture now clear for all. Once Um Muhammad’s story was done and she had noticed that the team were not interested, she leaned forward and asked how we could help. The students kept silent, looking at their professor to rescue the awkwardness left by their disconcerted silence.

The professor spoke: “We will include your son’s story in part of the study we are doing, and it will be published by Harvard.” Then, the professor asked me to tell anxious Um Muhammad that Harvard is an important university and when the report was published many people would read it.

Um Muhammad politely smiled, grabbed her bag, looked at me and said: “That’s it?” Her disappointed face was hard to ignore, although she kept smiling and asked: do they still want to ask anything? Yes, there were more questions now that her son’s story was told, came their reply.

The refugee dilemma

After two more questions, a weary Um Muhammad began fidgeting in her seat shaking her legs nervously; she answered with a defeated tone while grabbing her handbag, positioning herself to get up and leave.

The rookie eyes of the Harvard students didn’t notice her signals of departure. I asked Um Muhammad to get going and she asked me if there is “anything at all that these girls can do to help my son.” I apologized and told her not to waste her time with them.

This has been the Palestinian refugees’ dilemma since 1948: watching groups of people from across the globe stroll through the misery of their camps and and then leave. Making their personal plight and stories available to writers and advocates is for them a way to induce change and action and to advance their moral cause around the world.

But humanity is the key here. To tell stories and conduct research, one would do well to remember that refugees deserve our sensitivity when dealing with their hardships.

It’s been 65 years and Palestinians in the camps are still clutching onto whatever crumbs of hope or aid they can. But ultimately they are left awaiting the day they can return to the place where their dignity and humanity can be restored: Palestine.

Moe Ali Nayel is a freelance journalist based in Beirut, Lebanon. Follow him on Twitter: @MoeAliN

This killing field: Any resurgence of terrorist activities in Lebanon?

There is no doubt that Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nigeria are the current dominant killing fields of car bombing mass assassination…There are other region that media have no direct access or fake not to know much of what’s going around there, like north Mali, Mauritania, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia…

It is the way Lebanon was from 1975 to 1989 and after the withdrawal of the Syrian troops in 2005… Is Lebanon being re-immersed in the same kinds of killing fields?

Andrew Bossone published in the Ahram weekly underLebanese killing fields”

“Lebanon could be closing a dark chapter of assassinations, or the latest victim could be the start of a protracted conflict…

Click to view caption
Lebanese mourners light candles during a vigil for Wissam
Al-Hassan and at least five others who were killed in a Friday bomb attack in Beirut


Since a car bomb in East Beirut killed a top state investigator, Wissam Al-Hassan, and at least five other people, gangs took control of streets and highways across the country. The police and army did little to stop young, armed men taking over for days.

“There’s a group of militant men who are speeding up the process of sectarian war between Sunni and Shia,” said journalist Moe Ali Nayel, who witnessed unaffiliated groups of men armed with Kalashnikovs roaming the streets of the Tarik Al-Jadida area on Monday after Al-Hassan’s death.

“Who were these guys shooting at?” Nayel asked. “There was no other side of the confrontation. It was just one angry mob shooting in the direction of Shia areas.”

The day after the explosion, roads shut down with teenagers burning tires and trash dumpsters. Highways and streets emptied as streams of thick black smoke billowed along the coast. Even military personnel had to ask the teenagers controlling a roadblock going south to let them pass.

It was only after Al-Hassan’s funeral, when some of the attendees tried to storm the parliament building, that government security forces finally interfered against mob rule on the streets. Gunshots rang throughout the night of the funeral, however, and continued the next afternoon.

“Militants were in the street, they were visible,” Nayel said. “This hinted to me that this conflict could drag on, and the side that is provoking at the moment is willing to take it to the end.”

Most Lebanese stayed inside for days, glued to national channels playing non-stop coverage of the events, afraid that violence could spread at any moment. They remain haunted by the civil war and by the death of prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri, which lead to Syria’s withdrawal from the country, and also the seven assassinations of Al-Hariri’s allies before Al-Hassan.

Investigators have days of surveillance tapes of the scene to trawl. They also found parts of the car fitted with two bombs, hoping to identify the killer, though the vehicle was likely stolen: Lebanon also has tens of thousands of fake license plates, so tracing the owner of the car could be impossible. If the assassination had been someone other than himself, Al-Hassan would have been the lead detective on the scene.

Ashraf Rifi, Al-Hassan’s former boss as general director of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, said that 100 people like Wissam Al-Hassan will fill his shoes, but everyone knows Al-Hassan is practically irreplaceable. He was expected to take Rifi’s post and there was some speculation that he could have been on the verge of uncovering another plot.

Hassan security should have been stricter. On the day he was killed, he drove down a small street in Ashrafieh with only one guard.

As the top investigator in the Internal Security Forces Information Branch created in the wake of the killing of Rafic Al-Hariri PM, Al-Hassan worked out of the spotlight but may have also made his share of enemies.

In addition to charging Hizbollah members with Al-Hariri’s death as the lead investigator on the International Tribunal for Lebanon, Al-Hassan has been credited with uncovering at least one Mossad network.

But for some, Al-Hassan’s recent discovery of a bomb plot by Michel Samaha ordered from Damascus is enough to know the killer. Even President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati — who are not aligned with 14 March — said it was hard not to see the connection between the death of Al-Hassan and the capture of former minister and deputy Michel Samaha.

“This [security] institution is being punished with the assassination of its leader, Major General Wissam Al-Hassan, because the Information Branch has achieved so much, including uncovering bomb plots where they confiscated explosives and arrested the transporter,” said Suleiman, quoted in The Daily Star newspaper, referring to the Samaha case.

All this is happening as Syria’s capital is in the throes of war with roadblocks spread across it. The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was bombed the day before Al-Hassan’s death, while dozens died in the Damascus countryside over the following days.

One can’t help but feel that the uprising in Syria has finally reached Lebanon. In the last two months the number of Syrian refugees more than doubled to nearly 100,000. They need help for the winter and life has become unsafe after two attacks on Syrian workers at construction sites.

History and conflict have bound the two countries together and both are divided internally. It’s now up to the Lebanese to determine if Al-Hassan’s death ends a string of assassinations and divisive politics or brings back the sectarian specter of civil war.

Lebanese kidnapped in Syria: What kinds of retaliations?

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. Syrian workers are the backbone of Lebanon Real Estates development: When they have to flee back to Syria or go on vacation for the Eid of Adha or Ramadan or…, construction simply stops, and the Lebanese engaged in civil works also take the opportunity to take a vacation…

For example, Egyptian workers mane the gas stations and the health care in hospital and private homes for the elderly

On May 22, news broke of the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese men in Aleppo , of the Moslem Shia sect returning from pilgrimage in Iraq, by a Syrian opposition group. Scores of angry Lebanese men took to the streets, intent on revenge, and they were looking for handy simple Syrian workers in the vicinity.

Fortunately, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah intervened with a speech saying, “The Syrian nationals in Lebanon are our people and attacking them is an offense.” Nasrallah’s words hold much sway among followers and fans, and he saved many from being beaten, or worse.

Moe Ali Nayel published on July 29, 2012 under “Syrian Workers in Lebanon: No Time is Safe...”

 

One of the Syrian workers (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

That incident of mutual kidnapping activities and retaliations is not unique in Lebanon’s history with its Syrian labor force. Whenever Syria-related political unrest threatens Lebanon, the Syrian workers are the first to suffer. As if they were official representatives of the Syrian regime, the workers are an easy first target.

“It’s becoming dangerous for Syrians working in Lebanon,” Jihad, a 29 year-old Syrian worker from Daraa told me.

“My friends were stopped in Ouzai [Beirut suburbs] by thugs who erected a checkpoint in the middle of the street.” Jihad expressed relief at Nasrallah’s appeal: “I was relieved when Nasrallah came out and asked the masses to leave us alone. His call saved us.”

Jihad, who has worked in Beirut for many years, does menial jobs that many Lebanese consider beneath them. This attitude holds true for the vast number of foreign workers in Lebanon — many of them Syrians, Egyptians, Ethiopians,… — who come to work as cleaners, domestic help, construction and agricultural workers.

Lebanon’s labor laws provide a further incentive for Syrians to emigrate here. The interpretation of these laws make it easy for businesses to import foreign labor, thereby avoiding minimum wage regulations and calls by local workers to improve working conditions.

Itani says he would rather have ten Syrian workers than five Lebanese. 

Jihad the foreign workers like him have a continuing sense of instability. For example:

Following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — in which Syria was accused of involvement — there were violent attacks on Syrians throughout Lebanon and many were forced to flee. Today, Jihad explains, “It’s ironic, I’ve been working here in Ras Beirut for 20 years. When Hariri was killed we were attacked by the residents… We had to flee back to Syria. We returned after the hate against us lessened and the Lebanese realized that they need us to get things done.”

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. There has been much focus on the safety of Syrian activists taking refuge in Lebanon, while the safety of Syrian workers has been overlooked. Activists have made their stories heard while a multitude of workers’ stories have gone unnoticed.

Ali Atiyeh a 34-year-old Syrian who has worked in Lebanon for 15 years as an electrician, has experienced daily racism. “Any interaction with the Lebanese people always brings the possibility of a racist encounter. It’s all good until they ask me where I’m from, and when I say I’m from Syria their faces change.”

Atiyeh who speaks the Lebanese dialect adds that he feels slightly different from most Syrian workers. “I have been integrated into the Lebanese way of life. I spend money, go out, and always buy new clothes”. But even with his integration he never feels totally safe. “For example if I’m coming back home from work late at night and there is a police checkpoint and I get stopped, I’m automatically a suspect because I’m Syrian.”

“The latest trend is men driving around at night stopping Syrian workers. The men claim that they are security forces. They mug the worker and drive away,” Atiyeh says.

Racism doesn’t stop there either. According to Atiyeh, “Now that the Syrian revolution is fashionable it has become cool for some Lebanese girls to go out with Syrian activists, while two years ago this was out of the question. I once loved a Lebanese girl and we went out in secret. I knew her family and they treated me as one of them. I decided to propose and asked her father if he agreed to us getting married. After that I was outcast from the family — the mother told me that she would never let her daughter marry a Syrian.”

Many Syrian workers live in extreme poverty; several may share small apartments while others live in tents, shacks, or outdoors on the construction sites where they work. They are therefore visible and an easy target for attacks by Lebanese.

Raed, 17, a Syrian shoe shiner and freelance worker in Beirut — his many other jobs include washing stairs in apartment buildings and delivering food and gas — is scared of being attacked. “Now, since the news about the kidnapped Lebanese, people have warned me not leave this neighborhood because they fear for my safety.”

He speaks about an incident in a stronghold of the Amal Movement. “The other day I was in Hay al-Lija and felt that I was not welcome…A man marched up to me and asked me where I’m from in Syria. I told him Aleppo. I did not dare say I’m from Daraa. Then men gathered and showered me with insults about my sister and mother. I was getting scared and a slap to my face came from nowhere. I pushed them and ran away.”

Raed’s story is not unusual, he says: “Workers can never feel secure in Lebanon. Here, where I live now, our burden is a bit easier than before the Syrian revolution. Now people in this area are seeing us as the sons of one sect. They see us now as Sunnis more than Syrians.” The area that Raed is talking about is traditionally a Sunni neighborhood.

Attacks against Syrians have always crossed sectarian lines. All Lebanese sects have at times been hostile towards Syrians. However, the recent uprising has made old enemies into new comrades.

Supporters of Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik, support the Syrian opposition. “Now,” Jihad says, “these same Lebanese greet us, smile and seem to be fond of us. It makes one wonder what this sudden love for the Syrians is — from the same Lebanese who just a few years ago insulted and looked down on us, as if we were not human.”


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

May 2021
M T W T F S S
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Blog Stats

  • 1,468,147 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 802 other followers

%d bloggers like this: