SIDON, Lebanon: Months after the end of violent clashes between factions in the Mieh Mieh Palestinian refugee camp that killed at least five people and injured 30 others, a new, nonviolent battle has emerged. This time, Lebanese and Palestinians are fighting over a “temporary security wall” that has reignited a dispute over occupied property.
Three properties that belong to three separate Sidonian families, the Wakim, Daniel and Abu Chaar families, are at the center of the debate, as they currently fall within the camp and are being occupied by Palestinian families.
The wall was ostensibly built for security reasons after last October’s deadly clashes between Ansar Allah and the Fatah Movement. The fighting forced the closure of schools, shops and medical clinics and the evacuation of families from their homes before peace was restored in early November.
Afterward, the Lebanese Army constructed a wall from concrete blocks on the camp’s northeastern border in order to protect the neighboring town of Mieh Mieh.
The wall proved controversial, sparking protest from the Lebanese owners of property that falls within the camp’s newly erected boundary.
Local priest Sassine Gregoire had initially called a news conference to “explain the suffering” of property owners, which he said would get worse if the land became part of the camp permanently. However, the news conference was eventually canceled, with residents citing a desire to find a “good-natured” solution to the issue.
Elie Haddad, the archbishop of Sidon and Deir al-Qamar, then contacted the Lebanese Army to ask why the wall had been built. Haddad said during a Palm Sunday sermon in Sidon that the Army had informed him that the wall was “a temporary safety measure” to protect the town of Mieh Mieh more than the camp.
“We have asked for the properties to be evacuated and returned to their rightful owners,” he said.
The archbishop also said a possible solution would be moving the wall to keep the houses outside the confines of the camp, but admitted this “may be logistically difficult.”
On the other side of the debate, Palestinians have expressed concern that the emergence of the debate over the disputed properties could threaten the overall existence of the camp, which has “always existed on Lebanese land since its creation,” according to a source form the Palestine Popular Committee.
Residents are also concerned that if the issue festers, it could open the way for “targeting refugees” in the camp, the source said.
The three families who own the properties are demanding that they be evacuated and returned to their rightful owners, and have made formal judicial complaints.
The judiciary issued a ruling to evacuate the properties, but it was never implemented.
On the land belonging to the Wakim family, a mosque was built for camp residents, while the Daniel property’s garden is used as a playground for Palestinian children.
But Ibrahim Abu Samak, a member of Ansar Allah, told The Daily Star that the use of the garden and the construction of the mosque was approved by the land owners, Elias Daniel and Rola Wakim respectively.
“The garden has been well-maintained and the entrance was improved ... all without touching the [Daniel] family’s home,” he added.
According to Samak, Ansar Allah’s leadership intends to return the properties, on the condition that their Lebanese owners guarantee not to rent or sell it to any other group inside the camp.
A source familiar with the internal politics of the camp saw this condition as a preemptive move to stop any other Palestinian faction - meaning Fatah - from taking over the properties.
“Ansar Allah believes that any action [to sell or rent the property to another party] would disrupt the balance of power within the camp,” the source said. - Writing by Emily Lewis