Tripoli’s Unseen Faces

[Some of Tripoli's youth enjoying a sunny day on the Cornish, riding an oversized makeshift tricycle. Image by author]

Over the last six years, violence has sporadically burst out in Tripoli’s impoverished neighborhoods. Walking the narrow alleys, one starts to feel the ongoing discontent of angry men who, like glowing embers, constantly flare up in conflict. Whether it is through political-sectarian agitation and/or the work of manipulation by local politicians, people remain hostage to their wretchedness. After years of political violence that has engulfed the poverty-stricken neighborhoods, a broken and alienated youth embittered by their politicians has emerged. Though much was been written to report on the violence in Tripoli, less has been written about the social fabrics and everyday experiences of Lebanon’s second capital.

On 24 October 2014, following Friday prayers, armed militiamen in Tripoli took to the streets in response to calls made by Shaykh Khalid Hubals and Shaykh Tarek Khayyat for an armed insurrection against the Lebanese army. Both shaykhs gave fiery speeches on that Friday accusing the Lebanese military forces of “implementing security only against Sunnis.” In addition, both shaykhs urged Sunnis in the Lebanese army to defect. Following Friday prayers, the armed militiamen spread out holding positions in the fortified streets of old Tripoli. Another prominent Sunni shaykh backed by Saudi Arabia, Da’iyya al-Islam al-Shahal, warned the Lebanese security apparatus against applying emergency security measures in the Bab al-Tibbani area. Instantly, the battle fiercely ignited against the Lebanese army in Tripoli. Later on in Akkar of northern Lebanon, calls for a “Sunni uprising against injustice” exacerbated the situation. The Lebanese army responded by entering the battle in Tripoli and Akkar, dubbed as “the toppling of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra’s emirates in the north.” Three days of clashes left twenty-seven people dead and heavy building damage in the historic market of the city. The battle ended, but the war in Tripoli and northern Lebanon continues to escalate. Local militants from Tripoli who claimed allegiances to Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State disappeared but did not vanish. This was another round of killing and destruction in Tripoli that has grown to be part of the routine in the city for the last six years; each round claiming innocent lives and livelihoods.

The Priest and the Library


[The entrance of al-Saeh, a historic wooden door tucked beneath the arches
in a dim alley in the historic city of Tripoli. Image by author.]

Seen through the eyes of reductive news reports, Tripoli’s image seems distorted. In order to imagine Tripoli and also get a sense of the depth of its culture one needs to dip deep and rub shoulders with its many layers that make up the different communities. Walking through the many layers that make up the different communities, I stumbled upon one of Tripoli’s many treasures. It was there that I walked into the biggest library I had ever seen in Lebanon. The well-carved ancient pathways where I found the library were designed to fortify the old city in the face of invading armies. This might seem the reason why the latest battle with the Lebanese Army originated in Tripoli’s old suq. The loose bands of Islamist militants were protected by the narrowness of the alleys which prevented the entry of armored vehicles and facilitated cover for ambushes… The ancient market is a maze of narrow alleys that melt beneath arches connecting decrepit historic buildings that have been steadfast despite the waves of gentrification disfiguring Lebanon. The interwoven network of alleys leads to Khan al-Sabun (the soap market), and then down to the coppersmith market that stands right next to the street of libraries. Tripoli’s popular market supplies affordable commodities to low-income residents. The integral hustle and bustle of this historic landmark never fully dissipates, but is often dominated with a different kind of hustle in times of armed clashes. Then, the rumble that dominates the market is the sound of bullets by warring factions whose actions and motivations vary (e.g., clans feuding over personal/political interest and allegiances, Islamists fighting the army, sectarian attacks against ‘Alawi-owned businesses). In the absence of functioning state institutions such as army or police people and politicians tend to settle scores their way.

Down at the end of libraries’ street, al-Saeh Library still stands. One of the largest libraries in Lebanon that fell victim earlier this year to a fire of conspiracies that ravaged its vast archive of books (and knowledge) stacked on its shelves. Owned and founded by Greek Orthodox priest Father Ibrahim Sarrouj in 1972, the library shelves held over seventy thousand books of various genres. When I visited the white-bearded Father Sarrouj dressed in a ragged laborer’s outfit stained with splashes of white paint, the dusty bespectacled priest was immersed in the rehabilitation work his library has since been undergoing. We sat between piles of books that reached the five-meter high arched ceiling, one half of which was freshly painted white and the other half of which remained charcoaled. “Before the attack that burned down parts of my library I used to have 85,000 titles. The arson damaged eight thousand titles, but I do not care. We will retrieve them.” The priest said he was full of enthusiasm when people flocked to the library to manifest their solidarity “against this terrorist act.” The library, the “love of his life,” was attacked on 2 January 2014. Two men on a motorcycle shot at Bashir Hazzour, a new employee who had just started in the library. “He was hit and wounded by seven bullets,” said Sarrouj. The evening of that same day, the conspiracy against the library started. A text message circulated on phones in Tripoli with the name of another priest called Father Jarous. “They confused my name with this man [Jarous] who allegedly made some comments against Islam. They also printed and posted the circulating statement in front of Mansouri mosque, one hundred meters away from the library. Provocateurs started agitating by spreading this rumor,” recalled Sarrouj. The library was set on fire soon after. Following the arson, the undeterred priest discovered the actual reason behind the attack on his library. “It was the owners of the building,” he said. “They wanted to sell the building after the municipality classified this building as a historical site. Consequently, the owners could not sell it and had to restore it instead.” In addition, Sarrouj reached out to the Mukhabarat (intelligence service) who arrested one of the five people involved in the arson. “The culprit confessed that one of the building owners gave him two thousand dollars to burn down my library—not only to burn the books but to burn the whole building and destroy it. The owners’ financial interest was one motive for the attack. The other motive I found out about was to create fitna (sedition) between communities in the old city. These two groups found common interest against the library and conspired against it.”


[Under construction inside the library: remnants of the wreckage caused by the arson that
targeted the library in January 2014. Image by author.]

 

Sarrouj says that all kinds of books are welcome in his library:

We have English, Arabic, French, Germen and Italian titles. I have books on philosophy and theology for Muslims, Christians, ‘Allawis, Sunnis, Shi‘is, and all kinds, even astrology books. This library is a space that promotes coexistence between our communities; priests, shaykhs and Marxists come here to buy their books.

The old librarian is one of the few Lebanese who still believe in coexistence between communities in Lebanon. He argues that living together “is a reality and those so called terrorists are a minority—a weak minority among Muslims and Christians.” As for the violence perpetrated by young men in Tripoli, Father Sarrouj knows it is “certainly the work of both political manipulations on top of harsh socioeconomic realities.” He argues that, “These two elements are a recipe for chaos; deprived ignorant youth easily mobilized with few words by some opportunistic representation of Islam. The misuse of some words can easily agitate and spread violence. Put some money on top of it and it is immediate.” Ultimately, he agrees that the main factor is the nonexistent state institutions, “No doubt, we have been neglected by our state for a long time now in Tripoli, Akkar, and all over Lebanon. We do not have real politicians, we have businessmen.”

As well as working to restore his library, the busy old priest also works to restore relations between the various communities that make up the half a million citizens of Tripoli. “We are an authentic community still alive in our Muslim city of Tripoli, coexisting with other Christian minorities such as Maronites, Greek Catholics, some Protestants. There are also Jehovah witnesses.” On the latest media fanfare of the jihadi threat toward Christians in the region, Sarrouj proclaimed: “We have inhabited Tripoli since time immemorial therefore we do not fear the so-called jihad threat. Some Christians exaggerate this threat so they can go to Europe and cry it out in front of the church. There is some concern in regards to Christians in Syria and Iraq yes, but not here in Lebanon.”


[Piles of books stacked in the backyard of al-Saeh Library. They are part of the vast archive
waiting for renovation work to finish inside the library. Image by author.]

The School vs. the Streets

The recent clashes between Lebanese security forces and militants loyal to Jabhat al-Nusra and IS were a foreseen development in Tripoli. Throughout the month of October 2014, mosques in Tripoli called for protests in response to the announcement that Hizballah’s participates in the ongoing clashes between the Lebanese army and militants from IS and Jabhat al-Nusra in Brital and ‘Irsal’s mountain terrain north of the Biqa‘Valley. The “Hizballah-Lebanese army alliance against the Sunnis” has been a mantra for the last three years at least. It was first propagated by Sunni politicians in the 14 March Coalition on the airwaves, and later became a conviction by many on the Sunni street. The figures that initiated and led the war against the army in Tripoli are well-known emerging figures, Islamist firebrands. On a hot summer night, LBCI news channel aired an interview with the emerging two young Sunni enthusiasts. Abu Omar Mansour and Shadi Mawlawi declared, from their stronghold area of Bab al-Tibbani, “We are close to al-Nusra Front in terms of policy, ideology, and practice. We love the al-Nusra Front, but we have not pledged allegiance to it or to the Islamic State.”  Following the interview, many upper class Lebanese—ensconced in their bubble—were baffled and squealed in horror, “Where is the Lebanese government and why do they not arrest them?” However, many Sunni youth in impoverished pockets across Lebanon fired their guns in jubilation and support of the young zealots. That is precisely the difference: the severe poverty in Tripoli has freed young people from caring about “society’s” opinion, pushing them to the most radical of expressions just as money has freed rich politicians’ children from knowledge of anything that takes place outside their bourgeois bubbles. The poor Sunni youth have found an outlet away from traditional Lebanese “feudal” politics of manipulation. They now celebrate Jabhat al-Nusra and IS. To them, it now seems as if the “moderate” days of Hariri’s politics are a bygone era.

The poverty that many Tripolitanians are mired in has made education seem pointless to many of the young. However there are still some who believe in education as a way out of the warring streets. At the start of the school year last September 2014, the main gate of Dar al-Salam—Bab al-Tibani’s public middle school—was wide open for Lebanese parents to start registering their children. Inside the principal’s office, a dim room lit only by weak daylight, teachers used the flashlights on their cell phones as they searched and sorted through bundles of files of students’ records. Tripoli, like most of Lebanon, suffers daily fourteen-hour power cuts, and the public school had no electricity. One teacher proclaimed to an anxious mother there to register her teenage son Muhammad: “Your son is not among last year’s students. Are you sure he attended school last year?” Umm Muhammad Qasim had threaded her way through corridors packed by other parents and stormed into the principal’s office pleading with teachers to get her son back to school. The weary mother breathed heavily, her face dripping with sweat as she wiped her forehead and tucked loose strands of hair back into her navy blue headscarf. She lamented, “I took my son and moved away from Bab al-Tibbani last winter as war intensified. Maybe that is why you cannot find his results. I did not want his friends to lure him to join militants on the streets.” Umm Muhammad pleaded with everyone in the room, even beseeching the principal, “Please do not let my son miss school. I do not want him on the streets.” The principal, Hussam Mir, gave the weary woman a reassuring smile, and comforted her by promising, “Your son will be in class this year.” He further emphasized, “He will remain in school under my own provision.”

The middle-aged public school principal Mir believes,

the underprivileged are overlooked by all sides, especially by those who claim representation of the people of Tripoli. Families nowadays concentrate all their efforts to educate their children in professions that will secure jobs in the [Arab] Gulf. The lucky ones who get a job in the Gulf leave Tripoli and never come back. As for those who do not have degrees, whose families where not able to spend on their education, those are left frustrated and jobless. Many end up hustling on the streets for petty cash. Because many are unemployed, the broken youth of Tripoli find other outlets for their youthful energies and they end up becoming victims of drug abuse, street clashes, politics, and alcoholism.

Outside Bab-al-Tibbani public school, there unfolds a concrete jungle: a stretch of deprived underdeveloped areas of Tripoli where scowling men, young and old, line the streets beneath bullet-riddled buildings. On the walls behind them, glossy pictures of young men “martyred in Syria” are plastered over fading pictures of local politicians, while store shelves stand empty. It is not only the fact that Tripoli is an under-developed city. The problem is compounded by a complete absence of government institutions. Principle Mir has gone above and beyond his duties to try and give support to a disenfranchized youth. He explains, “After I leave office today I will start my yearly visits to philanthropists in Tripoli to collect school registration fees. The majority of families in Bab al-Tibbani cannot afford to pay the minimal charge of 90,000 Lebanese liras (sixty US dollars) per student.” The concerned school principal goes on to explain his people’s plight:

An unemployed father with five children will not send them to school if he cannot find 90,000 L.L. for each child. This is not part of my job and I would rather be at home after school hours but I also do not want people to have the slightest excuse to keep their children off school. Once a child misses one school year, street life takes over and that leads to the disintegration of the child’s personality.

Betrayed and Abandoned by Their Leaders

At the entrance of the school, a young man stands in the parking lot dressed in a yellow shirt and blue jeans, with a substantial amount of gel in his dark hair. Ahmad quarrels as his mother drags him to register for school. “I am getting you back to school whether you like it or not,” his mother snarled at him as he made his last attempts to ditch registration. The young man had missed two school years because of the war between Bab al-Tibbani and Jabal Muhsin, but his mother will not allow that to continue. Ahmad was ten when rounds of communal infighting flared in his neighborhood back in May 2008. Today it is an unavoidable part of his life. The eldest among his six siblings, he has hardened in the absence of his father. When asked why he hesitated to return to school, Ahmed responded with an air of responsibility, “I’m the man of the house now, since they conspired against us [Sunnis] and arrested my father following the last round of clashes [in April].” The past six years of Ahmad’s life have probably already shaped the rest of his life.

Ahmad’s father, like many other men in Bab-Tibbani, galvanized by big promises made by Sunni politicians, took up arms and became a militant for hire. Ahmad’s mother, who is furious about her husband’s arrest, lashes out at her son’s childish hero worship as he flicks through pictures on his phone showing him and his father standing shoulder to shoulder smiling while each holds a Kalashnikov. “Do not even think about becoming like your father. Can you not see how they fooled him, used him, and [then] abandoned him when they did not need him.” Embittered Umm Ahmad denounced the politicians: “Our zu‘ama’ (feudal leaders) lied to us, they betrayed us.” Ahmad’s father, Muhammad Amin, like many from impoverished Bab al-Tibbani neighborhood of Tripoli had been engaged in militant clashes against an equally impoverished neighboring ‘Alawi area of Jabal Muhsin: first as revenge for the 8 May 2008 clashes and later on as an act of (Sunni) solidarity with the Syrian uprising. “My husband gave all we got for Hariri’s sake, and what did Hariri give us in return? Nothing, his minimarket was turned into a bunker on the frontline, and then he started selling our home furniture and then took two pieces of gold I had to buy arms and ammunition”. Like the majority of Bab-al-Tibani’s low-income male residents, Muhammad Amin believed that giving allegiance and fighting for the Hariri-led Future Party would eventually pay off. “Each round of fighting, he sold one more piece of our household. I got angry at him, but he always told me do not fear, Saad [Hariri] will not forget about us. He will take care of us, give us jobs, and pay for our children’s education.”

Like Ahmad, many men of different ages feel betrayed by these promises and are today searching for means to draw attention to their plight. On the last weekend of August 2014, when pictures circulated on social media of a young man from Ashrafiyya (a traditionally Christian area of east Beirut) burning an IS flag, Ahmad’s friends found an outlet for their anger. According to Ahmad, “people saw the words of God being burned. This was a message—a challenge.” On that night (of Saturday 30 August), a handful of boys went to Mina, a Christian area of Tripoli, and sprayed graffiti on churches that read, “The Islamic State is coming.”

This incident with the graffiti is given little weight by Principle Mir, who stressed, “A handful of angry youth do not sum up a city of approximately one million inhabitants.” Another school teacher who was in the room interjected, “In our poverty stricken area of Bab al-Tibbani, many men have gotten used to receiving an income from politicians and today feel abandoned now that local politicians do not need them shooting at Jabal Muhsin and manning the streets. They [thus] take to provocative violent acts as reminders to embarrass the local politician who closed the faucet once he secured his share in the government.”

Many abandoned foot soldiers holding their street corners have found themselves discarded. Their purchasable efforts were once used by “moderate” politicians. In times of wars, they manned their guns. In times of peace, they herded voters to the ballot box. In these impoverished sections of Tripoli, people are forever politicized by the acts of their leaders. Now forsaken by these very same leaders, many are left with no income. They are angry and resentful.

For the last six years, the endurance of poverty-stricken Sunnis has thinned. They now realize that they were not included in political deals made in their names. Betrayed and broke, they turn to the most radical violent expressions available. Their humiliation has empowered the Sunni rhetoric of victimization that has been fed to them for years. Some of these young men do struggle to find a job in the vegetable market or live on daily wages from menial labor. However the long hours for little pay never result in a prosperous and dignified life. In despair, and loathing of those wealthy politicians who used and abused them, a broken Sunni youth in his twenties eyeballs movements or ideologies like those of IS or Jabhat al-Nusra. Islamist radical movements function as the go-to place for vengeance. This is not so much to fulfill the dream of a caliphate or to reach some phantasmic after life. Rather, it is precisely for a lost youth to have a goal in life, to retain their own dignity. It is important to note here that almost all of the suicide attacks that have struck Lebanon in the last three years were executed by young Sunni men who came from marginalized poverty hubs resembling the conditions of those warring areas of Tripoli.

Broken and Disillusioned

After rounds of political use and abuse, Tripoli’s inhabitants do not have a way out from the shifting sands beneath them. The political money that filled their bellies became a way of jailing them. Just outside a grocery store on Syria Street, two middle-aged men argued about what seemed to be a family dispute. Just twenty meters away from the quarreling men, a Lebanese army armored vehicle was parked on the side of the street. The soldier posted there started walking toward the commotion. Both men turned to the soldier shouting, “Mind your own business and go back to your spot.” One of the two men, Muhammad Zoubi, fifty-four, dressed in a beige short-sleeve dishdasha, was trying to get his cousin, the owner of the grocery store, to let him buy a gas cylinder on credit. His cousin refused, arguing that Muhammad already owed him 120,000 Lebanese liras from last month. Muhammad, a father of four, has been unemployed for the last two years. A former member of the Future Party, he had originally joined the group in hopes of scoring a security-guard part-time job, getting financial aid to help cover his children’s education, and—as a last resort if need be—to benefit from the food rations the party used to distribute at the end of every month. “One needs political connections in Lebanon and Future used to be our people.”

Today, Muhammad resents Future Party and denounces them as “a group of corrupt men robbing their own people’s charity.” Chain-smoking Muhammad recalled and loathed those who caused his plight:

Following (Rafiq) Hariri’s assassination, Sunnis in here felt orphaned so we put all of our trust behind Saad [Hariri] to lead. Since then Saad has repeatedly deceived us. He is no Rafiq [Hariri- the father of Saad]. The Future Party made promises of medical care, jobs, and education for those who supported and voted for the party. But, as time passed, we received bread crumbs. We watched Future’s higher-up members get richer while we sank deeper into poverty. In 2008, Future leaders told us we needed to send men to Beirut to defend Sunnis there from Hizballah and their allies. We rushed to support and defend our Sunni brethren in Beirut. Once in Beirut, they gave us wooden sticks to face the waves of armed militants from 8 March marching all over Beirut. We ran away like rats. This was a strong blow to us. It humiliated us. We were used as pieces of wood in Saad’s big fire. Other Sunni politicians played us the same way when Hariri ran away in 2011. Najib Miqati, Mohamad Safadi, and today Ashraf Rifi played on our Sunni sentiments and used us in rounds of clashes against our ‘Alawi neighbors. Now, since they all fixed themselves in the government, they have washed their hands clean of us.

Many men from different ages in Tripoli take refuge in violence as a reminder to others that they are present. They are angry. However, violence becomes a way of life. It brings street credibility, self-confidence, and respect to those who have been socially alienated for being uneducated, constantly broke, and not fit for the social standards set by the wealthy. In one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean Sea, prosperity is nowhere in sight for the vast majority of its half a million residents. “We are so cheap. That is what makes it easy for politicians to buy us,” Zoubi says. “They throw us a hundred dollars and we turn into chess pieces in their game. I do not blame young men joining Salafi movements like Jabhat al-Nusra at least these are real Muslims, they do what they say.”

A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) field survey of the living conditions and mother and child health in Bab al-Tibbani and Jabal Muhsin in Tripoli contains shocking figures. Around twenty percent of men and 91.5 percent of women are unemployed. The high early-school dropout rates, especially for boys, mean the illiteracy rate for young men (fifteen to twenty-nine years) at twenty percent, the highest in Lebanon. The study also shows that 9.3 percent of the population suffers from illnesses that remain untreated due to lack of money or absence of the required specialization or treatment in neighboring dispensaries.

One of many broken youth of Tripoli is Samir, a twenty-two year old unemployed male who has never managed to learn a craft since he left school at the age of fifteen. Samir tries to maintain his looks as best as he can by sporting a black t-shirt tucked into old blue jeans draped over shiny black pointy shoes. He holds a tablet at his side which he insists on calling a “phone and computer.” Samir hovers around the streets of Tripoli looking to score a ten or twenty to cover his daily expenses of tea, coffee, one meal, and tobacco. He admits to being unskilled: “I never learned a craft, and hated every job I tried to learn. I just wanted to make money.” But today, he is willing to find a fixed job even for low pay. “I hate being on the streets people take advantage of my services, I also hate being broke.” Self-inflicted cuts on his forearms have become thick strips of scars; crisscrossed and overlapping they resemble the haphazard electricity wires entangled above were we meet on one Bab al-Tibbani street. These scars on his arms reflect his self-harming habit; he and many of his friends began this self-harm as a way to express their “rage.” Samir’s rage has never left him, his scars have only grown thicker. “It is better I take it out on myself instead of hurting others,” he sighed. He then asked if I wanted to buy his tablet.

As we walked down the street to the coffee cart parked on the corner, Samir joked, “I am inviting you but you are paying.” We sipped our coffee, Samir put two cigarettes in his mouth lit them both and passed me one of the long Cedars, a cheap Lebanese brand that pops tiny sparks while burning. From behind a cloud of smoke Samir illustrated his options, “Three solutions are left for me and the youth in this neighborhood: immigration by sea to Europe—if I could find three thousand dollars; find a wasta [connection/favoritism] and get enrolled in the army or police force, receive a fixed salary, and get married. Or, if these two options do not materialize, then joining IS or Jabhat al-Nusra, but only if they pay. There is nothing else I have not tried.” He goes on to explain resentfully, “We have already tried being dogs for our local politicians for pocket money and in the hope that through a politician’s connections one will finally get a job in the al-Amn al-Dakhili (Internal Security Forces). But after twenty rounds of fighting, we realized that those promises are only lies.”

Streets Hijacked by Violence

Up until April 2014, which featured the last round of fighting between Jabal Muhsin and Bab al-Tibbani, militant groups fighting in Tripoli varied in numbers as their funding fluctuated as much as their loyalties did. Some of these so-called axis leaders led militias made up of as little as five fighters whereas others swelled up to four hundred fighters. Their firepower also varies. They all fire machineguns, hand grenades, and RPGs, but the bigger groups also use mortars. Politicians who fund these groups usually keep them as muscle for personal protection or as an entourage in times of elections—to hang posters and generate and recruit voters. Ultimately the majority of these militant groups turn into proxies for regional powers that financially or/and politically support this or that politician in Tripoli. In the latest wave of clashes with the Lebanese army, only two factions clashed with the army: the two groups loyal to Jabhat al-Nusra and IS led by emerging young enthusiasts on the Tripoli Sunni militant scene: Shadi al-Mawlawi and the imam of the Haroun mosque, Shaykh Khalid Hubals.

Today young men led by the power trip of this extremist ideology and violent expression govern the streets. As I walked out from Bab al-Tibbani public school on that muggy September 2014 morning, angry condemnations could be heard from the school’s entrance. Around two-hundred meters down the street, white-haired men gathered and veiled elderly women wailed in resentment: “May God curse their fathers.” Seniors from the neighborhood had gathered to denounce the killing of a young man that took place the previous night. “He was one of the good ones, a decent young man who respected all and was respected by all,” lamented one man in his sixties. “Shame on these provocateurs,” murmured the others in the gathering. Another victim of sectarian violence, Fawwaz Bazi, whose family originated from south Lebanon, was born, bred, and finally killed in Bab al-Tibbani. Guilty for being Shi‘i, according to the victim’s neighbors, he was taken to Tartousi mosque where he was beaten up, interrogated and accused of being a Hizballah operative. Later that night, he was found on the outskirts of Bab al-Tibbani shot and left to bleed on the Abu Ali motorway. His attackers had fired one bullet into his foot and another into his crotch that made its way out through his chest. Fawwaz Bazi died a few hours later in the hospital. The saddened and angry residents were suddenly dispersed by the arrival of two men, both with shaved heads and with unkempt beards. In their mid twenties both men wore khaki military pants and black t-shirts and had a visible pistol tucked into their waists. The gathering crowd seemed to recognize the bearded men and slowly departed. In a dim alley where we had retreated and could not be overheard, one man reported that these thugs belong to Shadi al-Mawlawi and that “they killed him.”


[Last September as I was going to el-Mina I stumbled upon Tripoli’s beautifier Ali Rafei.
The local artist was putting his final touches on his latest portrait in Tripoli of a smiling migrant worker.
See original here: https://www.facebook.com/Ali.Raf3i%5D

 

A Stable Tripoli: A Utopian Conception?

The harshness of circumstances in Tripoli has created an atmosphere of despair: many of its youth gone to Beirut or abroad. The city is not, yet, depleted of its creative youthful energies though. Those determined ones who remain struggle to bring back stability to their city.

The situation in Bab al-Tibbani, like other impoverished sections of Tripoli, is a grim reality that continues to deteriorate exponentially with no concrete solutions in sight. Residents of these impoverished sections have been at the mercy of politicians and their political adventures. Hopeful but disillusioned Principle Mir says, “Even after all the murdering and infighting people are still willing to abandon violence if they were offered other economical solutions.” The school principal says, “People want jobs, they want to lead an honorable life, a normal life.”

Walking away from Bab al-Tibbani disoriented by the complexities of its grim reality the scenes switch rapidly. From decaying buildings riddled with RPG and bullets marks to wide promenades lined by shiny Mercedes-Benzs, Range Rovers and BMWs parked under tall buildings guarded by the local Internal Security Forces. There, in that middle-upper-class bubble of Tripoli on Ma‘rad Street, where many of Tripoli’s polity reside, I met Chadi Nachabe. Nachabe is a thirty-year-old smiley young man who coordinates a local NGO named Utopia. Their motto reads, “Dedicated to abolishing all types of social discrepancies through community development projects.” In Tripoli, this is not only a tough task for a youth to undertake but a utopian dream. As we sat in Utopia’s modest office, a team of young women and men buzzed with activity. Phones rang and the utopian volunteers responded coordinating a joint relief campaign for Syrian refuges and their Lebanese hosts; organizing tutors to support students in passing official exams; linking youth from Bab al-Tibbani with private sector companies for internships. Last but not least, as the school year approached, three hundred children, from impoverished areas whose families cannot afford to send them to public schools, are being listed by Utopia’s volunteers and their registration fees covered. Sitting on top of the utopian hive, Nachabi emphasizes the urge for their NGO work: “In my opinion Tripoli is a socio-economical problem not an ideological or sectarian problem. Problems in impoverished areas of Bab al-Tibbani and Jabal Muhsin are economic and security issues. The Lebanese government is nonexistent.” In a functional state, the social care initiatives, responsibilities, and rehabilitation efforts undertaken by the young Tripolitan volunteers are usually the sole responsibility of state institutions. In Lebanon’s dysfunctional state, having minimal services is a luxury for those who can afford it. It goes without saying that if there was a will on the part lawmakers or the state, social problems in Tripoli could probably be fixed.

Utopia, with its minimal resources and the energy and effort of its youth, was able to embark on an initiative that reaches out toward those most dehumanized: the militants. Nachabi explained their approach: :We managed to equip street fighters with tools to find other ways of life. Many of those militants found jobs, saw another way to life and quit their guns. Out of those eighty-nine militants there are sixty-three who got engaged and are looking to start a family.”

However, the majority of disenfranchised youth continue to be on the streets, jobless, with the delirious power trip they get from the militias giving them purpose in life. “If there were socioeconomic projects that brought job opportunities, believe me, they would abandon those militant organizations. Most of these youth want to live like the rest of us.” The son of his city, Nachabi is disheartened with the severity of and complexities that riddle Tripoli. With frustration he explained,

I think the Lebanese government is incapable of doing anything about the militants because the government takes into consideration the regional power that backs up those groups, for example they will not arrest al-Nusra activists, or supporters, because they know al-Nusra is backed by Qatar. The Lebanese government wants to keep good relations with Qatar. In addition, this division and conflict exists inside the Lebanese government where you find one intelligence branch supports Syria’s regime and another like the Information Branch is against the regime; and this translates in Bab al-Tibbani to armed groups some of whom are backed by the military intelligence and others by the ISF Information Branch. Eighty-Five thousand residents inhabit Bab al-Tibbani, one thousand are armed and maybe nine hundred out of those are only armed to protect themselves. The one hundred left are the so-called extremists and these control not only the fate of Bab al-Tibbani but the whole city of Tripoli with its half a million residents.

For the last six years, political violence has hijacked Tripoli and further alienated it from the rest of Lebanon. The millionaire and billionaire politicians who control the fate of the city have spent millions of dollars in ammunition shot by one poor community killing and besieging another impoverished community. The general mood in Lebanon is one of apathy toward its second capital. Yet still there are few who are trying to make a difference and highlighting this ongoing injustice. The local Tripolitan artist El-Rass sums up the brutality of life in his city and its inevitable consequences in the lyrics of his song “In Tripoli’s Castle”:

Security tensions, I am afraid I might find a Salafi in the mirror. I’m afraid that my aim in the end will be to seek protection from hearts filled with injustice and deprivation, from minds shunned from dreams and education/ immersed in starvation and the commerce of religions

. . .

What Islamophobes Really Want

Few thoughts regarding the lengthy article published by the Atlantic: What ISIS really wants.

Daish Kittens and Nutella: saw this circulating on FB and thought it made so much sense.

Daish Kittens and Nutella: saw this circulating on FB and thought it made so much sense.

 

The White man’s perspective rears its ugly head once again in this article to mislead us and remind us that no matter how much research and resources are deployed these self-proclaimed “experts” still get it very wrong. Throughout the article, Graeme Wood tries to present daish as a cancer where in reality it is one symptom of western capitalism and militarism. As if to say that, the years of bombardment, colonization, vilification, dehumanization and enslavement of people in Islamic regions meant nothing.

For starters one needs to compare the way past colonialist literature perceived and portrayed people in Africa, the Arab region and India with this article. Then we can read this is for what it is: a neo-colonialist misreading.

I think the author slipped into a well-known Western Orientalist view of Islam and its subjects, compounding the 1.5 billion Muslims as one entity, functioning with one mindset. He has tried to dodge this by citing Edward Said but his imagination has clearly failed him all along. In regards to Daish his view, like the majority in the West and co, is that of an exotic phenomena that emerged out of thin air. No recognition is given to the realities (mostly a creation of western foreign policy and their Arab dogmatic dictators) that shaped such a nihilistic collective. By this token, the author’s line of thought is that of the west; of refusing to recognize that it failed in its “tolerant” approach towards it’s non-white citizens. Immigrants, especially from Muslim countries, were never integrated; they are still kept in ghettos treated and portrayed as the untrustworthy marginalized other, the homo sacers.

The west also refuses to see Daish as a mirror. For example, when Bush launched a war that destroyed the Middle East’s already worn out fabrics it was his god (a Christian one) that told him to do so. In addition to that, we have the already existing rise of rightwing Christian violent movements who bomb abortion clinics and degrade women using biblical terms/texts (just to name one). These backwards elements are very much in common with Daish’s practices. Moreover Israel, an extension of the West, can be viewed literally as the Jewish advance model of Daish. Ultimately, Saudi Arabia is the motherland of Daish also known as America’s second best friend in the region. Inside and through Saudi this apocalyptic ideology has been manufactured for tens of years, given international cover and support; first to fight the spread of communism/socialism and second to empower cliental puppet regimes loyal to the U.S. while they dumb-down and deprive their own people. What we have missed in this process is state building and citizenship…

Over analyzing these doped bewildered Jihadis as the author did is basically doing them a propagandistic favor. Isn’t this apocalyptic myth that is given so much weight in this article precisely the opium that Daish uses for recruitment mixed with the jihadis’ drug of choice: Captegon?   To put it in plain terms Daish is today’s go to outlet for vengeance.

The Left and its ongoing inaction have also left a void of Ideology meanwhile capitalism is on steroids, pioneering future methods in human enslavement, taming and control. This ideological void has left a gap which Daish has handsomely capitalized on.

Finally, I would like to add that the circumstances for recruitment and ultimately the want for vengeance are a result of the war on terror and the diesel that drives the war on terror; that Daish/AQ and the leaders of the war on terror are but two sides of the same coin. End the brutal war on terror, stop bombing weddings, stop the corporate driven foreign interventions/ support for oppressive sectarian regimes, end the occupation of Palestine and Daish will have little chance for survival. Keep the war on terror and the above hegemonies and Daish will continue to balloon. Keep enriching the 1% and soon many Daish wannabe movements will spring up all over the globe.

Bombing problems into supposed nonexistence will only continue to unfold a bleak future that awaits our region. One where we will be kept in check by drones buzzing over.  Enclosed either in fortified shopping islands protected by private security firms and local militias or in refugee camps governed from the inside by the survival of the fittest and on the outside by “peace keeping” troops who have orders to shoot and kill any wretched refugee who manages to slip out. The war on terror is the one to blame for such dystopia.

Therefore, daish can only be viewed as the mutated monster of unfettered capitalism which self-proclaimed “experts” in the west ought to focus on instead of producing another misleading Islamophobic narrative.  Thus, I think, the reason why we get such misleading nonsensical analysis is because the latest capitalist society has become so focused on viewing the other as an inherently alienated creature devoid of human commonality.

 

Palestinians in Lebanon push back against media incitement

18 December 2014

Ein al-Hilwe camp proves a convenient scapegoat. (Kristian Buss/STARS)

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been trying to remain outside the consuming fire of Lebanese politics.

Since the 2007 destruction of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp by the Lebanese army in the north of the country, Palestinian refugees have learned to quickly take preemptive measures to avoid a repeat of that disaster.

In 2007, militant Islamic fighters Fatah al-Islam, who had been employed by local Sunni sectarian politicians as potential proxy fighters, hid out in Nahr al-Bared camp. An armed confrontation with theLebanese army ultimately led to the army destroying the camp, home to nearly 30,000 refugees.

A similar threat is today looming overEin al-Hilwe camp, near the southern city of Sidon. That camp is home to more than 80,000 Palestinian refugees.

In recent months, Lebanese media have increasingly been claiming that various Lebanese Sunni extremist figures with ties to al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, and with the “Islamic State” group are hiding in Ein al-Hilwe.

Palestinians are again becoming a scapegoat, despite the fact that some of these extremist figures have enjoyed the backing of top Lebanese political figures.

Palestinians in Ein al-Hilwe are acutely aware that their camp could turn into another arena for Lebanese politicians to settle their differences.

Moreover, since right of return to Palestine is still denied to them and their land still occupied by Israel, in the current hostile Lebanese environment there is literally no place to go outside the camp, which is only one square kilometer in size.

Ein al-Hilwe is still housing refugees who fled the destruction of Nahr al-Bared, and whonever saw a full process of reconstruction in their camp. Since 2011, the southern camp has also been sheltering a large influx of refugees from the civil war in Syria.

War in the north

The recent wave of defamation against the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon started on 24 November when Lebanese media circulated news alleging the entry of Shadi Mawlawi into the camp.

Shadi Mawlawi is a controversial Lebanese operative who was arrested in 2012 by the Lebanese general security on charges of recruiting fighters in the northern city of Tripoli to fight the regime in Syria. He was also accused of facilitating financial support for Islamic groups in Syria.

Following the arrest of Mawlawi in May of that year, protesters in Tripoli took to the streets demanding his immediate release. Mawlawi was soon released and met with then Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the latter’s private Tripoli home, affirming his credentials with the Sunni polity.

In September, Mawlawi, now openly an Islamist firebrand, made a local TV appearance announcing his support for Jabhat al-Nusra. On 24 October, following Friday prayers, Mawlawi, his supporters and other militant groups clashed with the Lebanese army for three days in the historic market of Tripoli. This small war spread all the way to Akkar, the most northern district of Lebanon, where the militants were thought to have fled afterwards.

In the last two weeks Ein al-Hilwe camp has become the subject of a torrent of accusations made by Lebanese security forces. Media outlets have alleged that the camp is hosting Shadi Mawlawi, sectarian salafi rabble-rouser Ahmad Assir, singer-turned-Assir-supporter Fadel Shaker (wanted for calling on Sunnis to defect from the army) and Salafi preacher and northern militia leader Khaled Hoblos — the four of them among the most wanted men in Lebanon.

Nonsensical allegations

In response, Palestinians took a collective deep breath, baffled by the absurdity of the allegations.

One Palestinian from Ein al-Hilwe, who asked not to be named, said news reports that Mawlawi paid a taxi driver $100 in Tripoli — who then “drove him across all the checkpoints from north to south” and into a camp in a state of lockdown by the Lebanese army — were laughable.

“Each time I step foot outside the camp the Lebanese army check my ID and search me head to toe. They want to convince us that one of the most wanted men in Lebanon casually strolled into the camp,” the young man remarked. He further elaborated that the Lebanese army “even have female Lebanese soldiers on all the entrances searching women, especially those who wear a niqab [face veil].”

Following the latest accusation, the Lebanese military intelligence chief in the south, Ali Shahrour, summoned the Security Coordination Committee from Ein al-Hilwe camp to Zoaib military base in Saida and declared that Shadi Mawlawi was hiding in the camp.

(This camp-specific committee includes members of the Palestine Liberation Organization and members from other political factions in the camp which are not part of the PLO. The committee was created after Nahr al-Bared as a response to accusations that the camp was sheltering the remnants of Fatah al-Islam. It has been coordinating security matters with the Lebanese army ever since.)

The intelligence chief emphasized that Palestinian political factions should assume their responsibility over the security of their camp. He also insisted that Khaled Hoblos, Ahmad Assir and Fadel Shaker were all inside Ein al-Hilwe, despite the fact that it is common knowledge that Assir fled Lebanon following his battle with the Lebanese army in Abra Saida two years ago.

Following the security meeting, and without a shred of evidence, Lebanese media trumpeted the idea that the fugitives are residing in the camp and planning attacks against Lebanese army forces.

The most important details, however, were never mentioned in any report: how did these men manage to enter a camp enclosed by walls, topped with barbed wire, the gates of which are controlled by the Lebanese army? Not to mention precautions taken by the camp’s Security Coordination Committee, which has been coordinating with Lebanese security forces.

Misinformation

An urgent campaign of reassurance that no wanted men were hiding in Ein al-Hilwe was launched by the Palestinian Supreme Security Committee — a PLO body tasked with supervision of Palestinian refugees’ security in the camps in Lebanon, which is composed of members from all PLO factions.

The campaign was spearheaded by its chief, Sobhi Abu Arab, who shuttled between various Lebanese political groups and security figures saying as much.

Sheikh Abu Sharif Akel, a member of the security committee for Ein al-Hilwe camp and a spokesperson for Usbat al-Ansar — another non-PLO Islamic Palestinian faction, allied with Hamas — said at a meeting with the Mufti of Saida on 2 December that the camp would defend itself from any “evil” outside elements:

“We do not want either Shadi Mawlawi nor Ahmad al-Assir nor any of these names that carry trouble and problems into the camp,” Akel said.

“There is insistence by some Lebanese parties, who seem to have information not available to us, claiming that Shadi Mawlawi has entered the camp,” he added. ”We tell Shadi and others that the camp has its cause and destination and its compass is fixed towards Palestine … Go back to where you came from, the camp is a host only to those who care about Palestine.”

Realizing the consequences of the accusations against the camp, Palestinians in Lebanon have refuted and denounced them, finding that staying neutral in the country can be a challenging feat.

“Security sources”

Despite the ongoing campaign of dehumanization of the camp, Palestinian refugees from Ein al-Hilwe have retaliated to the absurd allegations in kind.

Satirical image skewering Lebanese media fear-mongering about Palestinian refugees that was circulated on social media. (Facebook)

The caption to this image circulated on social media reads: “Al-Jadeed reporter: an exclusive picture of the airplane that transported Shadi Mawlawi to Ein al-Hilwe. PS: picture taken from inside a flock of pigeons.”

Other efforts against the incitement against Ein al-Hilwe have proved more serious.

After the leftist Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, citing unnamed “security sources,”published an alarmist report stating that the camp is harboring some the most wanted men in Lebanon, a joint Palestinian security delegation composed of Islamist and national representatives headed to the Hittin neighborhood of the camp.

The commission made a surprise visit to the residence of Islamist activist Naim al-Naim. Following a detailed inspection the commission found no evidence to back up media allegations claiming Shadi Mawlawi and other wanted men were hiding inside al-Naim’s home.

Countering infighting

Meanwhile an ad hoc initiative was organized by youth and civil society groups in the camp, who are keen not to be dragged into a repeat of the Nahr al-Bared tragedy. The youth initiative has staged protests and started media awareness campaigns to demonstrate that Palestinians remain neutral, and are not harboring any criminals wanted by the Lebanese state.

The Association of Palestinian Journalists in Lebanon meanwhile launched a petition titled “Your security is my security” and issued a statement rejecting media incitementagainst Palestinian refugees in the country.

Despite continuous efforts by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to push back against scapegoating by the Lebanese media, dehumanization persists in Lebanese public discourse.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, stateless and shut out of the economy, wielding little power in the country, have proven a convenient target for the state’s frustrations.

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

The legendary piano of Yarmouk

Submitted by Moe Ali Nayel on Tue, 10/14/2014 – Electronic Intifada

There is a piano that continues to survive alongside the Palestinians in besieged Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus.

Earlier this year the piano appeared in the above YouTube video; it was the first time I learned of its existence. A favorite musical instrument, my ears were absorbed and my eyes followed each stroke of its keys.

That decrepit piano from Yarmouk appeared on the screen in front of me as a living, breathing thing. As I watched, the piano sang, directed by cold, dry fingers which appeared almost fossilized.

A young Palestinian pianist from Yarmouk dropped his head to the keyboard and his music spoke. The tune that came from the piano did not have the same effect the piano usually triggers in my psyche; the melody created a feeling of discomfort, sweaty palms and a dull anxiety, causing my teeth to clench throughout the four-minute video.

My usual joy in the piano gave way to melancholy as I watched a dystopian reality unfold in the video: five young men stand shoulder to shoulder facing the piano; they sing along despite the bitter cold that shivered in their malnourished bodies. They tuck their hands in their pockets and sing along with the angry piano notes: “O displaced come back, the traveling has been far too long.”

The Yarmouk piano surfaced again on social media on 3 October, in a video titled “Blue.”

Just like the first time, my second encounter with the piano was by coincidence while I scrolled aimlessly on a social media timeline. Produced by Bidayyat and Rad Fael (Reaction), the short video work is a personal story narrated by its director, Abo Gabi, who is displaced tries to Skype with his friend who has remained in Yarmouk.

The video begins on a gray street in Yarmouk refugee camp as a screaming ambulance zips by. The camera walks the viewer through the grim reality of the besieged camp and settles on the pianist who is accompanied by several youths who sing “Promises, promises, promises! While our people are dying.”

At 9:39, during a scene showing a funeral procession, the camera stops at a handwritten sign hanging on the windshield of an ambulance, reading; “I’m the 80th person to die from starvation because of the oppressive siege of Yarmouk.” The video ends with a note that reads: “Yarmouk camp has been under siege for the last 450 days,” followed by Aeham Ahmad playing his piano, destruction in the background.

In the video’s description on YouTube, Abo Gabi describes his motivation for creating the video:

“I’ve had a recurring dream since I fled the Yarmouk Refugee Camp and came to Beirut. The dream takes me back to besieged Yarmouk, where death and destruction have found a way to settle in all its details. I am not sure whether it is a dream or a nightmare. But I live in this open-ended waiting with images of that place and the difficulty of abandoning it. Maybe the sound of my friend Aeham’s piano changed the nightmare into dream and the place into a legend. Here, there is no geography, a place between two times, the first is a tent and the second is bags packed for other conquests. These conquests stimulate the hardness and bitterness of our catastrophes and previous disappointments. We pack our luggage to find only our memory that tells the stories of our relation with the wind. We, as witnesses of disappointment and hope.”

The pianist of Yarmouk appeared to me again three days ago. This time he is alone, his piano painted white and decorated with Palestinian colors and trademarked by Naji Al-Ali’s iconic cartoon character Handala. In this third video, Aeham plays his latest piece, “Ends.” On Facebook he describes the song as “(a) melody of the Levant mixed with Yarmouk’s wretched streets compressed into three minutes.”

This latest video compelled me to find and contact Yarmouk’s pianist. I felt that I needed to meet him, virtually at least, and learn how he is surviving. I wrote to Aeham and he responded. The 27-year-old Palestinian refugee from Yarmouk shared bits of his story:

“At the start of the siege in the camp, I decided to isolate myself from music and decided to stay neutral to the Syrian conflict. I sold falafel for six months, and kept music in my soul. But I couldn’t help it so I took out my piano and fixed it onto my uncle’s vegetable cart and started moving it between depressing neighborhoods in the camp.

“The camp’s streets were desolate; all the beloved ones who used to fill the street with their noise and joy were gone. I started playing my piano and moving in the streets of Yarmouk to bring back hope. That’s why I roamed the streets because I couldn’t keep the music quiet. I fed my body on falafel but I had to nourish my spirit and so despite hunger and siege I kept playing my piano.

“I started playing the piano when I was five; I studied music in the Arab conservatory from the age of six until I was sixteen. I usually play academic music on my piano but the current circumstances have inspired me to compose music that speaks about the siege and the crisis in a camp besieged for two years and a half.”

When we finished chatting, I was left wishing that I could simply take that familiar two-hour taxi ride from Beirut to Damascus, meet Aeham in person and invite him for a thick cup of tea in the rambling old streets of Syria’s ancient capital.

Someday the Palestinians and Syrians who survived the war will tell stories about what happened in Yarmouk. People will recall how they ate grass to remain alive during the siege. In survivors’ collective memory, Aeham and his piano will live. In the future, some might say Aeham’s piano was a legend.

When people recall Yarmouk, perhaps they will say:

Remember while snipers shot anything that moved and in the middle of this destruction, one young man broke the silence, fixed his piano on his uncle’s vegetable cart and rolled around the camp playing music in those bleak streets? Remember when one young man defied death by blasting his piano notes over the deafening sounds of bombs and bullets?

Palestinians fleeing Syria charged $400 per month to rent garages in Beirut

Moe Ali Nayel The Electronic Intifada Beirut 18 September 2014 protest at unhcr

On Tuesday, 9 September, Palestinian refugees from Syria descended from acrossLebanon to Beirut. They gathered in a group of approximately two hundred to protest outside the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s headquarters in the capital’s Jnah neighborhood.

The protest was called by Syria’s Palestinians in Lebanon, an organization that draws attention “to all the humiliation and insults” they are subject to in Lebanon.

At the protest, Palestinian refugees described the dire conditions they face in Lebanon.

A middle-aged man, Omar, stood warily on the sidewalk facing the UNHCR building. A resident of Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, which has been under siege since June 2013, Omar was sandwiched between his teenaged son and daughter. He held onto his family in the absence of his wife who he said was “taken by death in Yarmouk last year.”

Omar explained that “it’s very difficult for a father to support his family.” Then he went silent.

He began to grow uncomfortable as his son and daughter looked at him from both sides, waiting for him to continue. The widowed father’s sleep-deprived eyes broke into tears as he spoke again.

“We don’t know what to do,” he said. “We’ve lost everything in Syria and we can’t return to Yarmouk. No one wants to help us; we can’t stay in Lebanon.”

Firm demands

Palestinian refugees from Syria came to the protest with a list of demands they delivered to UNHCR representatives. The demands include lifting the ban on renewing residency permits for those who have been in Lebanon for more than a year; endingforced deportation; lifting the closure of the Syrian-Lebanese border; addressing the lack of adequate financial support from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees; and securing the right to asylum in European countries.

Tarik Sakhnin, 23, was studying journalism at Damascus University before he fled to Lebanon two years ago. He told The Electronic Intifada: “This is not a protest. This is us trying to confront the world, trying to say we are here we are living in hard times. We are here because we refuse to die silent.”

Sakhnin said that Palestinians from Yarmouk and other refugee camps in Syria want to return to Palestine, not to “the unknown of today’s Syria.”

Most Palestinians in Syria are refugees from the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine and their descendants. Israel refuses to respect the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land and property.

“The majority of us came here today in the hope we can get the right to apply for asylum to Europe, and once we get a European passport, we want to return to Palestine,” Sakhnin added.

The severity of circumstances Palestinians have experienced has pushed many to take desperate measures in hope of a better life, including undertaking treacherous journeys by small boats to other countries across the Mediterranean.

“Many of us have nothing left to live for in life so we take the only option available now, we go and take death boats, risk it all and hope we get to Europe alive,” explained Sakhnin.

The plight of Palestinian refugees from Gaza and Syria came to the fore in recent days. Approximately five hundred refugees, many of them Palestinians, were drowned during the deliberate sinking of a vessel by human traffickers in the Mediterranean.

Subjected to violence

Refugees from Syria sheltering in Lebanon have been subjected to public, violent resentment from Lebanese citizens as well as raids in which security forces look for the most trivial pretext to attack, arrest or deport people back to Syria.

The violence in Syria has impacted Lebanon. Most recently, Lebanese soldiers have been captured by the group Islamic State in the town of Arsal, close to Lebanon’s border with Syria, in multiple incidents over the past two months. There has also beenfighting between the Lebanese army and the Islamic State in the Bekaa Valley, where Arsal is located.

Um Muhammad, 48 years old, is another Palestinian refugee to have fled Syria. She and her family have been living in Lebanon’s Rashidieh refugee camp for the past two years.

“In Rashidieh, there is no security or safety — my six girls and only son and I live in a garage,” she said. “We pay a monthly rent of $100 and another $50 for electricity.”

She explained that they are forced to search for food every day, foraging for edible plants to eat.

“A Palestinian mother will have to come up with a miracle,” she added, to nourish her family under such circumstances. Throughout the month of Ramadan earlier this summer, Um Muhammad said that she only received one portion of food aid which only lasted a few days, and UNRWA stopped giving her family financial aid to pay their rent.

“Our people, those political factions in the camp, are against us,” she said. “They raised the rent for everyone and then turned to us and blamed us. They said, you Syrians raised the prices, and so in turn, Palestinians from Lebanon believe that it was us who made their situation worse than it was.”

Deprived of education

Um Muhammad’s children will not be going to school this year. This is the second school year they have missed.

The Lebanese education ministry announced recently that priority will be given to Lebanese children. The other 400,000 non-Lebanese pupils will have to wait and see if there will be available teachers and seats in government-run schools.

According to UNRWA, more than 53,000 Palestine refugees from Syria were seeking safety and shelter in Lebanon in April this year. Most of them have gone to the coastal city of Saida and to refugee camps further south.

Some Palestinians who fled from Syria now residing in Shatila camp in Beirut live inside garages and pay a steep rent of up to $400 a month for such inadequate spaces.

“Dilemma”

According to one international aid worker who operates relief programs in the south of Lebanon, Palestinian refugees from Syria have been excluded from the relief programs funded by UNHCR.

“One day last winter, we were distributing winter kits [containing thick blankets and mattresses] at the area of distribution for Syrian refugees,” said the worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Our team was approached by two Palestinian families from Syria,” the aid worker recounted. “They were obviously eligible to get a kit, but our team leader was faced with a moral dilemma: UNHCR provides us with data of beneficiaries from the program and those two families were not listed because they are [Palestinian refugees from Syria]. We knew if we gave them kits and listed them as additional beneficiaries, UNHCR might stop our funding and we would all lose our jobs. Finally, we decide to give both families kits without listing them.”

UNHCR is only mandated to offer relief to Syrians fleeing from Syria, and not Palestinians, even though they are fleeing the same war.

Majida is a 34-year-old schoolteacher and mother of three who once had her own two-bedroom apartment in Yarmouk. Today, she shares a one-bedroom apartment with her brother-in-law and his family in Saida refugee camp.

“My three children and I risked deportation by coming here [to the protest] today. Our residency permit expired last year and if we are stopped at a checkpoint we will get deported back to Syria,” she said.

Majida bitterly denounced the favoritism that influences decisions about which families receive aid. She said that some families who know aid workers or who are affiliated with certain political parties receive monthly help.

“I am not going to beg this or that man from the political parties,” she exclaimed. “We will not die from hunger … We are forced to be in Lebanon in exile — it is not as if we are here on a vacation.”

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

مقابلة مع “الراس”، وتقرير عن إطلاق “آدم، داروين والبطريق” (Arabic)

عن حفل إطلاق اسطوانة “آدم داروين والبطريق”

كتب المقال محمد علي

ترجمته عن الإنجليزيّة سماح جعفر

يوم السبت 24 أيّار/ مايو 2014، وقف مازن السيد، الملقب بالراس، على خشبة مسرح مترو المدينة، باصقاً المقاطع اللفظية من فمه كالرشاش، مطلقاً اسطوانته الثانية: آدم داروين والبطريق، كالقذيفة. لم يقف الراس وحيداً تلك الليلة؛ فمقابله وقف جمهور من جميع الأعمار وإلى جانبه وقف “الفرعي” الذي حضر من عمّان، وناصر طفار الذي ينحدر من محيط جبال بعلبك. وكما هو الحال دائماً، احتلّ طرف الخشبة الموسيقي، الجندي المجهول كما سمّاه ناصر الطفار لاحقاً في الحفل، “مونما”.

بدت ليلة السبت تلك كأي عطلة نهاية أسبوع أخرى في بيروت، كان شارع الحمرا يختنق بالاختناقات المروريّة المزدانة باللاجئين السوريين الأطفال الذين يبيعون الزهور ويلمعون الأحذية لرواد الليل. على السطح بدا كل شيء طبيعياً ومملاً في تكلّفه بينما تُهدم هوية بيروت بفعالية كبيرة من قبل آلة النيو-الليبراليّة الوحشية المسماة “تنمية”.

كان التباين ما بين دواخل شارع الحمرا وطرقها الرئيسيّة واضحاً. وفي أروقة مسرح مترو المدينة، تجمّعت وجوه متنوّعة لترى ما سيقدمه الراس من جديد. تبادل البعض الآراء حول ما سمعوه حتى تلك اللحظة من الاسطوانة الجديدة على ساوند كلاود. إذ توقّع البعض أن تكون الاسطوانة تكراراً لعمله الأوّل “كشف المحجوب”، بينما كان البعض الآخر أكثر حماساً تجاه العمل الجديد.

كانت هناك أيضاً وجوه جديدة حائرة لم تحضر حفلاً من هذا النوع من قبل. من هؤلاء برز ثلاثة شبان تتراوح أعمارهم بين 12 و14 عاماً على الأكثر، جاؤوا برفقة أمهاتهم. أحد الشبان الصغار سحب والدته المحجبة، والتي ربما كانت في أواخر الأربعينيّات، إلى كشك التذاكر وأخبرها بحماس “ماما هون بنشتري التذاكر” ثم تابع محاولاً إقناع والدته الحذرة “بيعطونا سي دي كمان”. استهجنت الأم ذلك وقالت “منُّه ناقصنا سي ديات” ولكنها شرت التذاكر لإبنها الذي كاد يطير فرحاً.

بعد انتظار طال بعض الشيء خرج الفرعي من وراء الستائر وافتتح العرض بأغنية “صاحب الراعي”، من اسطوانته “صوت من خشب” التي تبدأ بـ”قلي يا وليدي ايش هالون اللي تغنيه”، والتي هي بداية مناسبة جداً من باب أنها تطرح السؤال حول نوع الموسيقى الذي يتعاون فيها هؤلاء الشباب، وخصوصاً في الاسطوانة التي كان الراس على وشك إطلاقها.

تتراوح النقاشات وتختلف حول الاسم المناسب لهذا النوع الجديد والناشئ: “هيب هوب”، أو “راب عربي” كما يسميه الأكثرية، وهو ما لا يوافق الكثيرون- بمن فيهم الراس- على أنها تسمية مناسبة. ذكر الراس في عدة مناسبات أنه يفضل تسمية “تعليق”. تسمية التعليق مفيدة لعدة أسباب أهمها ربط العمل هذا النوع من الموسيقى بإرثها العربي اللغوي، الأمر الذي تحدث عنه الراس بتوسّع في مقاله “الراب والنص القرآني، بين الموروث الانقلابي والاشتباك” ورفْض تحجيمه كمجرد تنويع على تقليد الغربي.

واصل الفرعي عرضه بغناء “بحة بدوية” ثم انتقل إلى مقطع شعري أداه بدون موسيقى آلاتيّة “أكابيلا” حمّس فيه الجمهور. أداء الفرعي القوي مهّد الطريق للراس الذي ظهر من وراء الستائر وثبّت قدميه أمام الميكروفون. تحته كان انقسام الجمهور واضحاً؛ كان هناك من يهتف ويصفّر وكان هناك من بقوا في مقاعدهم وصفّقوا بتهذيب وخجل. بدأ مونما تأدية ألحانه وانبثقت كلمات الأغنية الأولى في الاسطوانة “معركتي” من فم الراس الذي بدا متوتّراً بعض الشيء. شد الراس حامل المايكروفون بيد واحدة وتابع تدفقه: “مخنوق بكيت كتير جوا”. على الرغم من أنني عرفت كثيرين يحفظون كلمات الأغنية منذ أن أطلقت على ساوند كلاود، إلا أن أحداً لم يغنِّ مع الراس. كان وجوده على المسرح قويّاً وأداؤه مؤثراً.

انتقل بعدها الراس إلى أغنية “في الجليد” مع “الفرعي”، والتي يمكت اعتبارها جزءاً ثانياً لأغنيتهما التي لاقت نجاحاً كبيراً “استشراق”، والتي تتناول معاناة ومشقات المهاجرين العرب في أوروبا. هتف الحضور بعد كل مقطع وخصوصاً بعد أن أطلق الراس السطر التالي “هونيك بشغل عينيي وهون بشغل دفتري، لأنو عرب الدنمارك أسعد من عرب الزعتري”. غنى الراس دون توقف وتدفقت 12 أغنية من أصل الـ 14 في عمله الجديد. ومع كل أغنية، واصلت طاقة الجمهور نموها، وجرفت كل أغنية الجمهور أقرب إلى الفنان على خشبة المسرح. نظام الصوت بمترو المدينة تلك الليلة لم تشبه شائبة؛ وأضاف وضوحه قيمة هامة إلى ألحان مونما وأداء الراس، وحافظ على سير الحفل بسلاسة.

انضم ناصر طفار إلى الراس على خشبة المسرح لأداء ثنائي آخر من العمل. ظهور ناصر أشعل موجة من الصافرات والصيحات والتصفيق، فهو معروف بحضوره القوي على المسرح كما هو معروف بلكنته الجردية البعلبكية وكلمات أغنياته العنيدة والتي لم تفشل مرة في تأجيج حدث. معاً غنوا “أنباء هامة” الأغنية التي تعالج نفاق وسائل الإعلام وتضليلها وصاح كلاهما في مقطع غنائي يشبه هتافاً يعتبر من أكثر المقاطع قوة “الثورة عالطريق، الثورة مو عالشاشة”.

شعرت أن الراس نجح في إطلاق اسطوانة جديدة تحمل أفكاراً منعشة موسيقيّاً وغنائيّاً على حد السواء. كما لاحظت أن المشجعين الذين التزموا الحذر في البداية صارت رؤوسهم تومئ مع الألحان. أغنية واحدة على وجه الخصوص جعلت الناس يتحادثون بلهفة وهي الأغنية رقم 3 في الاسطوانة: “كشغرة”. ففي هذه الأغنية، يقدم الراس نقداً لإرث النبي محمد وللطريقة التي يتعرّض بها الإسلام ورسالة محمد للإساءة والتحريف اليوم. أكثر من شخص أخبروني عن نيتهم في العودة إلى المنزل للاستماع إلى الأغنية بتمعّن.

اليوم نشهد تغييرات واسعة في العالم العربي. منها التغيير أيضاً في فهمنا لتاريخنا العربي/ الإسلامي وثقافتنا ومعها الرؤية الفاشلة والخرافات التي وضعتها أجيال آبائنا والتي تتحطم اليوم إلى قطع. من تحت أنقاض وحشتنا المستمرة تظهر هناك أصوات جديدة لديها القدرة على الوصول إلى مختلف الأجيال.

صوت الراس، خلال عمله الجديد “آدم داروين والبطريق”، يبرز بوضوح ليقود حركة ثقافيّة عربيّة شابة. هذا الفنان العربي وزملاؤه يثبتون مراراً وتكراراً أن المواهب لا يمكن رعايتها بعائدات النفط. “آدم داروين والبطريق يدوّي مستقلّاً”، وضوحه وصدقه في التعبير هو نوع موسيقي نحن بأشد الحاجة إليه، يستطيع أن يتغنى به كل الشباب العربي التواق للتغيير.

هذا الفيديو من إنتاج Medrar.TV، وينشر بالشراكة مع معازف.

– See more at: http://www.ma3azef.com/node/306#sthash.blWsPF1P.dpuf

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

Moe Ali Nayel The Electronic Intifada Beirut 15 May 2014

nakba

“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.

“That was the first time we were displaced,” she 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” — and later a storage room — is now home to eight members of a fragmented family. Inside sat an old woman surrounded by four 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.

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