SIDON, Lebanon: On the eve of the Nakba, Hajj Abu Mohammad Hammoud can’t hide his frustration at the deteriorating situation in Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest refugee camp and home to around 40,000 Palestinians, which is currently witnessing violence on a near-daily basis.
Hammoud, in his 80s, believes that some are trying to kill the spirit of the camp. Referring to his time fighting the Israeli state, he has trouble understanding the motives behind the clashes in Ain al-Hilweh.
“Is Israel in the camp?” he asks in reference to the various forces fighting there.
“We nearly forgot the 1948 Nakba [catastrophe] because nowadays we are facing hundreds of daily crises,” he adds.
May 15, the date Israel celebrates the anniversary of its creation, marks the day that Palestinians commemorate their expulsion from historic Palestine. In the camp, however, there are only a few posters reminding the residents of Nakba Day.
Hammoud is not alone in feeling alienated by the camp’s current situation, which is a deterioration in the already-poor security there.
“It’s a shame that forces must be put in place to control the situation,” Badiha al-Ali says, referring to the two-group security unit composed of the Islamist Usbat al-Ansar and Islamic Jihad, which was formed in response to Monday’s clashes between Islamist gunmen and their Fatah Movement rivals. The violence left eight wounded, mostly civilians.
“Shame on them [those fighting],” she says as she pushes her child’s stroller. “Did they forget Palestine?”
The tense situation and a general discontent over the ongoing unrest prompted a handful of business owners, residents, local teachers in the camp and other civil society representatives from Sidon to gather at a protest Wednesday to express their anger, with those present emphasizing the importance of maintaining peace and security in the camp.
The South Lebanon Security Council held an emergency meeting at the Sidon Serail Tuesday to determine how best to respond to the situation. South Lebanon Acting Governor Nicolas Bou Daher headed the session.
The council discussed the latest security developments with a focus on the situation in Ain al-Hilweh. Participants called on the various groups in the camp to de-escalate the situation. It also decided to intensify security measures in the southern city and its suburbs, including staging patrols, forbidding the presence of gunmen and pursuing and arresting anyone who attacked Security Forces.
During the protest, schools run by the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) were closed for half an hour, as were most shops. Everything had reopened by midday.
Khaled Zeidan, who coordinated the 2011 “Returning to Palestine” march to Maroun al-Ras where many were killed while confronting the Israeli army, told The Daily Star that many activities would be held to commemorate the 66th anniversary of the Nakba.
“The highlight of our activities will be a symbolic march comprising of 50 people,” Zeidan says. The march, which will make various stops along the way, will start in Sidon.
“ Sidon will be our starting point, and we’ll try to make it to the closest point to the occupied territories of Palestine,” he adds.
Participants will also stop at the village of Naqoura on the southern border to deliver a memorandum to peacekeepers intended for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon regarding the Palestinian right to return to their land.
Zeidan explains that the 2011 march to Maroun al-Ras was prepared when the regional and internal situation was different. “This is what made us more reluctant to organize another similar march.”
However, he emphasizes that although, the current situation is different than that in 2011, this does not mean Palestinians shouldn’t commemorate the Nakba.
“We should strengthen the Nakba memory in the minds of our youth,” he says.
The day before its 66th anniversary, an exhibition was held at the Hoda Zeidan Kindergarten in the Mieh Mieh camp near Ain al-Hilweh, reflecting on the atrocities of the Nakba and the living conditions of Palestinians since they fled their homes in 1948 due to the Israeli occupation.
The exhibition included images painted by children of their original villages and cities, as well as the names of these villages and the Palestinian flag. Various artworks depicted the daily lives of Palestinians before the Nakba. Children also sculpted models of Palestinian villages now occupied by Israel.
“Palestinians are determined to return to their homes, their determination increases year after year. They are determined to take their rights back and live in an autonomous country, with the capital being Jerusalem,” says Fatah Movement Secretary-General Maher Shebaeteh, who attended the event. He adds that the youngest generations would not forget the Nakba.