Sep 23, 1999

report: "Nahr al-Bared's reconstruction in limbo"

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Since the end of August, construction machines in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared are resting. The Lebanese State Council granted a two month moratorium for the reconstruction of the destroyed camp.

Nahr al-Bared, the most northern of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon was totally destroyed in a summer-long battle in 2007. Although a master plan for the reconstruction was already compiled by early 2008 and approved by the Lebanese government, the beginning of the construction works was delayed again and again. When in spring 2009 an archaeological site was discovered below the rubble of the former camp, hardly anyone among the refugees believed the reports. For the last two years they've been hearing too many – often flimsy – justifications for repeated reconstruction delays.

However, the archaeological findings turned out to be a fact and the Lebanese Directorate General for Antiquities (DGA) got involved. Along with the UN Works and Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and the responsible office of the Lebanese Prime Minister, a solution was found: Before the different packages would be backfilled and the concrete foundations be laid, the DGA would excavate and document the archaeological findings.

In the end of June – most refugees could hardly believe their eyes – reconstruction works in Nahr al-Bared finally started. The master plan designed a staged process. The works began with Package 1. According to UNRWA, backfilling works in Package 1 were almost finalized by the end of August and concrete works were about to start, when the Agency was ordered by the Lebanese government to halt construction.

What had happened? Already in spring, the leader of the oppositional Free Patriotic Movement, Michel Aoun, had filed a plea against the government's decision regarding the backfilling of the camp. On 18 August, the State Council granted a moratorium for the time being. A definitive decision is expected by October.

Thousands of inhabitants of Nahr al-Bared reacted on 31 August with a massive demonstration at the entrance to the construction side and protests were staged in various other refugee camps in Lebanon. Criticism not only targeted the halting of construction but again also the siege of the camp, which isolates the camp, its residents and their market from the outside world. On 16 September, the refugees took their protest to the streets of the north Lebanese city of Tripoli. They were joined and supported by Lebanese sympathizers.

Representatives of the Nahr al-Bared's reconstruction committee accuse Lebanese politicians of using the archaeological findings once again for scoring political gains. The committee points to a complementing discourse demanding the transformation of the archaeological site into a tourist site.

In the last two years the inhabitants' protests were mostly limited to non-confrontational demonstrations and gatherings. Their caution is rooting in vivid memories of a demonstration in the end of June 2007, when three protesters were shot dead and many others got wounded. In a press conference, activists from Nahr al-Bared hinted at launching a series of civil, non-violent yet escalating protest actions. They may even go as far as challenging the army's permit system by a massive boycott.

This report was written by one of our activists. It was originally published in German by al-sharq.