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  • Author: Ismael Sheikh Hassan, Sari Hanafi
  • Publication Date: 09-2010
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Journal of Palestine Studies
  • Institution: Institute for Palestine Studies
  • Abstract: This article examines the intersection of the Lebanese state's post-conflict security policy in Nahr al-Barid refugee camp and the reconstruction of the camp, which was destroyed in a battle between the Lebanese army and the militant group Fatah al-Islam. The significance of the government's security focus derives from its intention to make Nahr al-Barid a “model” for all the other camps in the country. After discussing the Lebanese security context, the characteristics of the pre-conflict camp, the arrival of Fatah al-Islam, and the ensuing battle, the authors focus on the urban planning process for a reconstructed Nahr al-Barid, highlighting both the state's militarization of the process and the local grassroots planning initiative which, in partnership with UNRWA, managed to secure some concessions. Also analyzed is the government plan submitted to donors, which conceives of “governance” as community policing without addressing the status of the Palestinians in Lebanon. IN THE SUMMER OF 2007, the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Barid, the second largest of the fourteen United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) camps in Lebanon, was totally demolished. This was a result of a battle between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, an Islamist fundamentalist group, predominantly foreign, that had implanted itself in the camp only six months earlier. After its destruction, the camp remained a strict militarized zone, imposing additional hardship on a post-disaster community of refugees struggling to rebuild their lives. Various security-based projects and policies affecting the camp's urban form, governance structure, and legal status that were planned, negotiated, or approved by the Lebanese government signaled a new era in Lebanese-refugee relations. With the events of Nahr al-Barid, the Lebanese state entered the realm of the camp, and security concerns and practices assumed new forms that would potentially affect the future lives of Palestinian refugees in all Lebanon. The camp remains a military zone to this day. More importantly, the Lebanese government's plan to make Nahr al-Barid a security model for the other Palestinian refugee camps in the country brings the issue of security more urgently to the forefront of the debate about Palestinians in Lebanon. Nahr al-Barid also fits into a wider security discussion relating to Palestinians in the host countries in the context of the “war against terror,” with issues relating to the status of camps becoming intertwined with the correlative themes of good governance, refugee rights, human security, and integration for the benefit of international donors and development agencies, even as policies on the ground disregard and sometimes contradict these concepts. This article is based on two years of fieldwork and action research in Nahr al-Barid camp. Our involvement included participation in local community post-conflict initiatives, in-depth interviews with Nahr al-Barid residents and community leaders, and up-close observation of various Palestinian and Lebanese actors in the reconstruction planning process. Our aim is to contribute to the debate on the role of “security” in dictating state policy and actions during and after the battle. The fact that government policies are still in flux makes reflection and debate on these events all the more urgent. CONTEXTUALIZING SECURITY WITHIN PALESTINIAN REFUGEE CAMPS A variety of themes and discourses at the local, regional, and global level intertwine as a backdrop to a discussion of the heightened security measures for Palestinian refugee camps in general and Nahr al-Barid in particular. One of these is the state's traditional fear of refugees as a potentially threatening and disruptive political force. Ironically, this fear—and the security measures it engenders—is shared by those who produced the refugee problem and the host states that suffered its consequences; indeed, some disturbing parallels have been drawn, mutatis mutandi, between measures against Palestinians enacted by Israel and Arab states in the name of security. Thus, whereas historically the violent conflicts between the Palestinian movement and various Arab regimes were attributed to ideological differences and power struggles, the current situation seems to be heading in new directions. Today, what has become a seemingly universal obsession with security and fighting terror increasingly infiltrates Arab slogans to validate various practices against Palestinian camps and neighborhoods (not to mention against their own citizens). These practices affecting citizens/refugees and cities/camps alike are empowered by largely uncritical international military, financial, and political support for the “war on terror.” As a result, massive urban destruction has been wreaked on densely populated communities with scant consideration for civilian populations, with the suspension of civil liberties and imposition of siege now standard procedures validated by security-based arguments for Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Jenin/Nablus in the West Bank (2002), Lebanon (2006), Nahr al-Barid (2007), Gaza (2008), and Yemen (2009).
  • Topic: Islam, United Nations
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon