Palestinians' bittersweet homecoming in Lebanon
Residents started returning Monday to the Nahr al-Bared camp, which was damaged in fighting last year.
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Meanwhile, refugees "have been without their clothes, without the documents, without their children's toys for eight months. The fathers are without an income and waiting for handouts by the international community," Mr. Disselkoen adds.Skip to next paragraph
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Taha, more fortunate than most, has found a job as a relief worker to complement his jobs as a nurse and a teacher.
Now, he and his family of 12 share a classroom floor in Beddawi refugee camp. A blue tarpaulin covers his family's neatly arranged possessions – blankets, portable grill, buckets for preparing food – that were donated by charities. Kids' shoes line the shelf beneath the chalkboard.
Tensions have risen between Nahr al-Bared refugees and Beddawi residents. They'd initially welcomed the newcomers, who doubled the camp's population, but are now fed up. There have been reports of school fights, rent hikes, and higher prices for Nahr al-Bared residents in Beddawi stores.
Outside Beddawi, resentment is even greater. Many Lebanese blame Palestinians for triggering the 1975-1990 civil war. Last year, the Army lost some 170 soldiers, many of whom were local. Refugees clustered in schools created tensions with Lebanese neighbors, sparking teachers' strikes and protests in December.
Siniora's appeals have yielded $42 million from international donors for relief. He will issue further appeals for reconstruction.
But the relief efforts have dredged up contentious issues regarding Lebanon's "guests." Palestinians have lived in legal limbo since the first 100,000 fled into Lebanon, displaced by the Arab-Israeli wars in 1948. The camps they settled in became crowded ghettos where refugees live without the right to work in many professions, travel abroad, or own property. They may not become citizens.
Opposition is deep to expanding rights for the 300,000 Palestinian refugees, who are mostly Sunni, or naturalizing them. . Siniora has denied that he might consider that step.
Still, the Nahr al-Bared refugees' situation has revived other long unresolved issues. It "makes you ask questions that have not been asked for the last 60 years," says Shehadi. "How do you give them property? How do you organize security? What are the implications for other camps?"
Siniora's proposal to assert military authority over Nahr al-Bared would overturn the tradition that allows armed Palestinian factions to police the camp.
"This is a very sensitive area," says UNRWA's Disselkoen. "The Army wants to make sure that if there is a next time ... they have an easier access that is clear."
At a closed meeting last month, military officials said they want wider streets and shorter buildings in the rebuilt camp, and restricted access to the sea, he says. That constricts space for homes and businesses. And for Palestinians, the prospect of tanks rolling in recalls massacres and destruction at other camps during the civil war.
Fueling anger are reports from human rights monitors that some Palestinians were arbitrarily detained, beaten, or tortured by troops after fighting broke out. Others returned to homes burned and looted in areas under Army control.
Still, Taha and other former residents of Nahr al-Bared are eager for a fresh start. "It's where we were born, where we grew up. Our memories are there. Our people who died are there," he says.
• Don Duncan contributed. This reporting was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.