BISRI, Lebanon: Over a dozen protesters against the controversial Bisri Dam project gathered Saturday in support of fellow campaigner Roland Nassour, who was severely beaten last weekend while giving a tour of the area.
The protest, titled “No to the dam of evil, we are all Roland Mansour,” saw demonstrators call on President Michel Aoun and government ministries to stop the project, describing it as a “crime against our past, present, future, children and health.”
Nassour, an activist with the National Campaign to Protect the Bisri Valley and a master’s student at the American University of Beirut, told The Daily Star Wednesday that five men ambushed and beat him while he was leading a tour of the area, with one attacker biting off part of his left ear. Nassour alleged some of the assailants were connected with the Council for Development and Reconstruction, the government-affiliated body that is overseeing the Bisri Dam project.
The World Bank is funding the project to create a 125-million-cubic-meter reservoir in Jezzine’s Bisri Valley. It has been heavily opposed by environmental groups, which cite issues related to biodiversity, cultural heritage, public health, the local economy and seismic activity. But the World Bank says the project will benefit over 1.6 million people living in greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon by providing them drinking water.
Demonstrators at Saturday’s protest told The Daily Star that the attack on Nassour only strengthened their resolve to oppose the dam, which they described as destructive for the Bisri Valley. They called for alternative solutions to the dam that would maintain the valley’s environmental, historic and touristic values.
Mary Dominique Awad Farhat, an activist, said, “Whatever happened, we will only have more faith in our cause. ... We are peaceful and we are talking about the project’s effects scientifically.”
She said Nassour had been attacked because he helps coordinate the National Campaign to Protect the Bisri Valley, which runs weekly sit-ins in the valley against the project. “But we aren’t scared and we’ll continue with a greater force,” she added.
Environmental activist Sayed Fadel said, “We cannot sit and watch land get taken away from its owners and a valley destroyed with its rare biodiversity and religious and touristic relics, while the Environment Ministry is deaf and the Tourism Ministry is [absent]. Our people are being displaced and no one cares how many mountains will be destroyed for these dam projects.”
“We are all Roland Nassour and we will all stay standing and fight the corrupt deals,” activist Amany al-Baeeny said.