Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (left) meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in France, October 2005. (MaanImages)
I write to you as a Lebanese citizen with pressing concerns. Today, on the 27th of October 2007, I, along with a group of ten American University of Beirut students, made the journey north to Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. We went there with the purpose of carrying out a clean-up campaign for the homes of returning refugees. What we found in the homes made our heads spin.
The houses we worked in were located in the so-called new camp. They were mostly villas with three or more bedrooms. Evidently, they were spaces that not so long ago housed large families. We found on the floors tiny Reebok shoes, dolls and toys. We found gardens and we found orange trees. But the little Reebok shoes were torn and weathered, the dolls had disembodied heads and limbs, the gardens were not green and the orange trees did not bear oranges.
We found mountains of rubble where there should have been refrigerators. We found harrowingly blank spaces, Mr. Siniora, where there should have been stoves, tables, beds and sofas. We found that the walls of the children rooms were covered with anti-Palestinian slurs and imprecations so vile that I cannot reproduce them on paper. When we were at the gates of the camp, we were told that cameras would not be allowed into the camp and we were searched scrupulously for them. I did not understand why this was at first, but now I do, because now I am feeling disillusioned and angry and I know that had the rest of the world seen the images that my peers and I saw today, the rest of the world would feel disillusioned and angry, too.
Mr. Siniora, I would like to know why it is that mass looting and mass vandalism has been allowed to take place under the nose of an army that the country has for the last four months uniformly rallied behind. I would like to know this because I was one of the hundreds of thousands who stood on Martyr’s square on the 14th of March 2005 calling for a sovereign, democratic Lebanon. I was one of the hundreds of thousands who demanded democracy, and democracy as I know it means that all those that are under the rule of government be treated equally and fairly. What my peers and I have witnessed today defeats that very notion.
The Palestinians of Nahr al-Bared — that we who claim to be democratic have the responsibility to protect — have been stripped of their wealth and, more importantly, their dignity for something that they were never responsible for. And you, Mr. Siniora, were the first to say this. What happened to the Palestinian-Lebanese brotherhood that you championed in your letter to the Palestinian community on the first week of the Nahr al-Bared impasse? What happened to democracy? I did not see any of it today and I am deeply disheartened because I truly believed we would become a democracy on the 14th of March, 2005 when a nation was supposed to have been born. The beyond palpable oppression of the Palestinian community in Nahr al-Bared has been perpetuated in my name as a Lebanese citizen and that is what distresses me the most.
Mr. Siniora, this is not an attack on the government or on the army. To me, the war in Nahr al-Bared is a nebulous haze; its onset, its protracted ending and everything in between raises many questions in my head and I will not broach the topic. What I know is what I saw today and it has disturbed me beyond belief. Thus, I ask you, as a citizen asking a public servant, to look into the current treatment of refugees and end the oppression in Nahr al-Bared. I ask that you bring to us the democracy that you have promised us.
Tamara Keblaoui is a Palestinian-Lebanese student at the American University of Beirut. She is a member of the Nahr al-Bared Relief Campaign which organizes for relief and civil action to end the violence and offer aid to those injured and displaced from the conflict in Nahr al-Bared.