Impressions from Nahr el-Bared: Displaced Refugees


    Photo Essay from Mary Ellen Davis.


Nahr el-Bared, a Palestinian refugee camp located on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon, near Tripoli, was the setting of massive violence in the conflict between the Lebanese army and the armed faction of Fatah al-Islam, which lasted from the 20th of May to the 4th of September. This conflict ultimately forced 40,000 of the camps’ residents to evacuate against their will. Today, nothing but rubbles remain, the most part of which are inhabitable.


During the month of December 2007, the rear of the camp remained under military occupation and was inaccessible for inhabitants, despite the ceasefire on September 4th. From a distance, one can see only debris left. These photographs were taken discreetly, for authorities have discouraged any press coverage of the camp. In the new camp area, reconstruction has begun, but many of the buildings must first be demolished.


Gradually, the residents of the camp are being given authorization to return to the area. Upon arrival, they face the damage and weigh the possibility of living among the debris. Since May/ June, the majority of displaced families sought shelter within the schools of the nearest refugee camp at Badawi. However, the conditions of the Badawi camp became unsanitary, private life was non-existent and the return to their original camp home became their only wish.


These displaced families are those Palestinians and their descendants who were chased out of their native villages in 1948. What followed was the confiscation of their houses and lands by the state of Israel. Sixty years later, they still await the moment that will see their return, an inalienable universal right. In regards to this current situation of further displacement, they voice: “Either let us return to our camp homes in Nahr el-Bared… or our homes in Palestine.”


The interior of the houses abandoned during the catastrophe reveals nothing left. Apart from being destroyed by artillery, houses were ransacked, pillaged and burnt. Families lost everything in terms of material goods, including their sources of income, their jobs and their property. But they uphold courage and determination. Near the back of the camp, still an inaccessible area, there lies a cemetery among the ruins.


A mosque was not spared damage. The tragedy of the Palestinian experience in Nahr el-Bared is incorporated into Lebanon’s dramatic history, torn up by previous wars, namely the Israeli bombing and invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
This tragedy also finds parallels in other existing refugee camps such as Jenin (April 2002), and Rafah in southern Gaza-still subject to bombing today.


Within the outskirts of Nahr el-Bared, where many Lebanese citizens reside as well, families return to live amongst the debris. After six months of forced displacement, inhabitants of Nahr el-Bared are paradoxically relieved to return to the camp desperately in need of repair and reconstruction. Nevertheless, of these inhabitants, wandering about in the ruins, one gets the impression of lost souls.


December 2007: brand new uniforms for students. It is the year’s first day of school in the new camp of Nahr el-Bared. Volunteers of Palestinian Children and Youth Association say that what they now need to do, is make the children laugh and smile, make them forget, as much as possible, the trauma that they lived through and continue to live.

* Le pillage de Nahr al-Bared, 10 min. video in arabic with french subtitles

    high res HERE. / low res HERE.

* Ruins of old camp (6 min. no dialogues; filmed from a cell phone)


* Annals of National Security: the Redirection, by Seymour Hersh, March 5 2007

    the New Yorker

* Islamismes sunnites et Hezbollah, par Bernard Rougier, Janvier 2007

    Monde Diplomatique.

Mary Ellen Davis is an independent documentary filmmaker, a cultural worker and an activist for struggles in Mesoamerica and the Middle-East.


Great work!

Comment by Edith Cacciatore — January 16th, 2008 @ 12:33 AM

As a Lebanese citizen, I do acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian refugees and strongly wish that they could return to their homes in Palestine very soon. As for Naher-el-Bared, I have two comments and wish you guys publish them and don’t take them as an insult or offense. This is not my purpose. First you used the word “Military occupation” to describe the military presence of the Lebanese army in the camp. Occupation is not the right word because this is Lebanese Land, and the Lebanese army has the right and the duty to be present over our own soil. Second, had your local authorities in the camp acted in the right moment to avoid the harboring of Fateh-el-Islam terrorists, neither the Palestinian refugees would have suffered, nor the Lebanese army would have sacrified 170 martyrs with some of them being slaughtered with cold blood. Please do remember that you are guests in Lebanon, and when guests are offered a temporary place they have the duty to make sure that this place remains safe and secure. Thank you.

Comment by R. T. — January 16th, 2008 @ 2:03 AM


This is a movie by al-jazeera about refugeees of nahr al-bared

Comment by Mariam — January 16th, 2008 @ 4:07 AM


Comment by Kholoud - Beirut — January 16th, 2008 @ 11:56 AM

It’s sad to see refugee camps in the aftermath of an unavoidable confrontation. What’s worse is that other refugee camps that have been relatively “peaceful” are not doing much better.

Under the title of refusing Palestinians’ permanent settlement in Lebanon, most camps are still underdeveloped and receive little to no attention from successive Lebanese governments. The problem is created by Lebanese & Palestinians alike.

Palestinian refusal to submit to the Lebanese “rule of law” (yes, term used loosely): Camps being a safe haven for wanted criminals and convicts, the absence, rather the refusal of Lebanese authority in the camps can only lead to the government’s inability to help in other areas.

Having said that, Lebanon receives regular monetary aids to help improve the situation. It would be only expected that the Lebanese government creates a local body with the assignment of getting help to the camps.

Comment by A.D. — January 16th, 2008 @ 1:25 PM

Les Palestiniens ne seront jamais en sécurité nulle part au Liban qui est dirigé par les Chrétiens, déjà responsables de massacres de Palestiniens sans défense.
S’ils sont sans armes, on les massacre, s’ils sont armés, c’est une bonne raison pour les attaquer.
Ils n’ont que le droit de mourir ou subir, sans mot dire, tous les affronts et les traitements inhumains que les Israéliens et leurs alliés Libanais leur imposent.

Cela sous le regard indifférent de la communauté internationale, qui a de moins en moins d’informations, apeurés que sont les journalistes d’être accusés d’anti-sémitisme, et même poursuivis en justice, s’ils osent critiquer Israël.

Il faut dire que les Arabes ne supportent pas beaucoup les Palestiniens, sauf Sadam, qui fut le seul à se tenir debout contre les Américains. Et il en est mort.

La situation des Palestiniens est une honte pour tous les citoyens nantis de la terre et heureusement il se trouve encore quelques valeureux, comme l’équipe de Tandamon, pour oser montrer au monde cette grande injustice.

Comment by Paul Dooley — January 18th, 2008 @ 5:13 PM

I am just reading Paris 1919 Mary Ellen. It deals with the ‘slicing and dicing’ of peoples at the end of WW1 and the establishment of the doomed League of Nations.

It seems to me the seeds for the Middle East sorrow (as well as that of the former Yugoslavia and others) were set in play in 1919 when all is said and done. I urge all those interested in the politics of this mess to take some time and revisit this point in time in depth. The real learning for me was nature of the men who ran this 1919 show. Their flaws are directly imprinted on some of today’s worst outcomes as we look at the history.

We need leaders of wisdom and courage to come into play and live long enough to turn dynamics around or all remains lost on so many fronts.

Thanks for your story and passion as always. Best to Tony, his and mom.

Comment by Mike — January 22nd, 2008 @ 1:13 AM

Thank you Mary Ellen for being able to bring us back to what is going on – why it is going on – This is the Lebanon my father left all those years ago – just when it went into flames – and time passes and it still does not change, yet the word gets out, the photos get out and this makes a smaller change – bit by bit.

Merci. Jeanne

Comment by jeanne Pope — January 25th, 2008 @ 5:42 PM

Je vous remercie pour cet article, bon courage!

Comment by clavier arabes — October 3rd, 2010 @ 4:37 PM

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