Prisoners in Lebanon’s War
The war is a horrifying nightmare which affects combatants and noncombatants alike. It can be rooted from different issues such as ideological differences, conflicting national interests, territorial claims, and cultural and religious clashes. Such reasons to wage war have inflicted mass murders and property damages for the purpose of retaliation and defeating the enemy. When the deathly game of war ended, it leaves a scar for both parties which are beyond physical lesions. The endless torture which can be felt during and after the war is endured by the innocent victims and the prisoners captured and trapped by the enemies.
The most number of reported tortures that occurs in the war are said to be inflicted on the prisoners. Most of them are detained in specialized detainment centers where they are being questioned and investigated. Such process is accompanied with inhumane physical and psychological torture to be able to squeeze out information from the captives. Prisons camps are often built for these purposes and throughout history, the detained are not always involved in war itself but most of them are from the civilian sectors who are caught because of prejudicial notions.
One example to take a closer look at prison camps would be the civil war which occurred in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990. To understand these prison camps, it will be helpful to recall the civil war which left Lebanon as a divided state carrying the scars of the war into the present time. The discussion of the prison camps in Lebanon will not be complete without undertaking the presence of refugee camps in Lebanon as well, because refugee camps have significance in relation to the establishment of the prison camps.
As the discussion delves further, this paper will focus on two major prison camps which housed the majority of the Palestinian captives during the war: the Ansar prison camp, and the Khiam prison camp. As these topics are interconnected, a holistic approach to the discussion of Lebanese prison camps will be offered. Civil War in Lebanon The root of the civil war in Lebanon can be rooted from its colonial days and the dramatic demographical change within its territory. This conflict is considered as one of the most complex battles which is described as
A war between haves and have-nots, Christian and Muslims, Lebanese nationalists and non-Lebanese Palestinians, as well as a war between rival Arab states and ideologies on Lebanese soil, and part of the confrontation between Israel and the Arabs, more. (Gordon 234) With so many factors involved in the Lebanese civil war, this left the state in a vulnerable and torn condition. A country which is composed of diverse beliefs and ideologies where each of them struggling to transform Lebanon as a state leaning with their respective values.
One of the factors which perhaps aggravated the conflict within Lebanon is the growing migration of Palestinians who flocked the Lebanese land. After the creation of Israel and when the conflict ensued, Lebanon accepted around 700,000 of Arab Palestinian refugees (Gordon 49). The Palestinians seek to find asylum within the grounds of Lebanon to escape from the strife and conflict from the land of Israel. After the Lebanon’s independence from their French invaders, it joined the alliance among other Arab nations to fight against the newly formed Israeli state.
However, as it joined the battle against Israel, the conflict between Christians who wanted to establish its ally with the West and the Muslims who cooperated with the Arab states began to take its toll (Sheehan and Latif 27). This conflict resulted into the killing of 26 Palestinians by Christian group called Kata’ib and the massacre of Christians in the village of Damour by the Muslims in 1975 (Khalaf 43). The incident of series of massacres has been dubbed as the infamous ‘Black Saturday’ which further contributed to the aggravation of the civil war.
The capital of Lebanon, Beirut, became divided and a demarcation line called the “Green Line” separated East Beirut which composed of Christians, from West Beirut which involves the Muslims (Sheehan and Latif 28). The internal and external conflict is followed by the transfer of PLO’s (Palestine Liberation Organization) head office to Lebanon after being kicked out by Jordan. As PLO stationed in Lebanon, Israel turned its center of attack to Lebanon in hopes of weakening it just like what happened in Jordan.
Having an alliance with Christian militias inside Lebanon, Israel is able to defeat PLO around in 1978 and occupied Southern Lebanon (Grenville 905). The Lebanese civil war maybe estimated to a total of $5 Billion of damage (Gordon 71) and it is one of the worst conflicts in history killing about 100,000-200,000 people (Chomsky 172). These atrocities due to the war have led to consistent negotiations to be able to prevent further harm and with an attempt to grant equal opportunities for leadership and social participation for both the Moranite Christians and Palestinians.
On October 1989, an agreement has been settled to establish national reconciliation (Collier and Sambanis 59). This is known as the Taif Accord stating that “elections should be organized on the basis of large electoral districts known as muhafazat, after the redrawing of the administrative map” (Ottaway and Choucair-Vizoso 127). Though, this has not fully halted the killings, this initiative paved the way for other negotiations which will improve the interaction between the two parties.
As the killings and bloody battles have significantly decreased, the civil war is noted to have produced two infrastructures which considerably played a vital role in the performance of war. Just like in any preceding conflict, the refugee camps and the prison camps can aid in the survival of the civilians and death for the enemies. First, the refugee camps will be discussed because Lebanon, at the height of its war, served as a host for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Then, it will proceed with the discussions of prison camps where combatants and non-combatants alike have been captured as prisoners of war.
Refugee Camps in the Lebanese Civil War According to the PLO Department of Refugee Affairs, as of 2001 there is an estimate 382,594 registered Palestinian refugees residing inside Lebanon (Brynen and El-Rifai 17), which is considered as a huge number for a small Lebanese state. To prevent deaths from the civilian sector, refugee camps have been established within a supposed-to-be non-war zone to uphold their safety. However, the intention for safety has not been implemented due to the fact that refugee camps became targets for attacks as well.
Overall, there are 12 refugee camps that remained as a shelter for refugees, more specifically Palestinian refugees (Arzt 45). Among those 12 refugee camps, some of the active camps during the civil war will be discussed such as the Mieh Mieh camp, Nahr Al-Bared camp, and the Ein Al-Hilweh camp. The situations of these camps amidst the war will be described in the following texts. Mieh Mieh Camp The Mieh Mieh camp is the one of the refugee camps that is outside of Sidon, Lebanon. It is also one of the camps which survived from a serious damage caused by attacks from the civil war.
Military factions such as Haddad and Phalange burned a portion of the camps where at least fifty homes have been damaged on August 1982, also incidents of torturing women have been reported and as well as thousands of refugees escaped from the damaged camp (Kassim 241). Those who fled from Mieh Mieh have been arrested and detained for interrogation, some are beaten inside the prison camps, and others tortured and left to die on the streets. Aside from the burning of the Mieh Mieh camp, this has also been subjected to air raids which obviously included the civilians as targets including them as part of the war.
Another major attack happened in October 1988 where Israeli planes bombed the camp resulting to forty one casualties (Chomsky 193). It can be said that by including these camps, the Israeli will be able to wipe out the Palestinian suspects who happened to escape and took refuge on the camp. Mieh Mieh became a target because Israeli forces have suspected terrorist activities in the Mieh Mieh camp where a transmitter is used by a PLO radio station (Chomsky 343). Nahr Al-Bared Nahr Al-Bared camp is situated in Tripoli, Northern Lebanon and near a river called “Cold River.
” It is one of the biggest camps in Lebanon, sheltering over 6,000 Palestinian refugees in 1952 (Reeve 82). Several months after Black September in Jordan broke out, Israeli attacked Nahr Al-Bared by bombing the camp through jets and initiated a sea assault killing 106 people (Nasr 63). One reason why it has been attacked is because this is where the camp hosted a PLO military training center (Rubin and Rubin 64). It has been a center of tremendous fights not just against the Israeli, but between Palestinian loyalists of PLO’s leader Arafat and Palestinian rebel forces.
Some of these battles occurred within the camp causing seventy four refugee houses to be damaged (Kassim 221). Ein Al-Hilweh This is another Palestinian refugee camp which is near Saida in Southern Lebanon. It is said to be the most important refugee that has been called as the “capital of the Palestinian Diaspora” (Ginat and Perkins 202). Just like Mieh Mieh, this camp has been attacked by the Israeli bombing in November 1988 where Lebanon celebrated its 45th anniversary of independence from France (Chomsky 194) and this attack resulted into the murder of six Palestinians.
Israeli forces have targeted specific refugee homes which they suspect of having involvement with the PLO forces. This is said to have been a technique developed by Israel to narrow its attacks from camps to refugee homes (Kasim 221-222). After the withdrawal of Israel forces in Lebanon, PLO armed forces moved to Ein Al-Hilweh to establish it as the main camp of Palestinians. It became important because for PLO, “it is imperative for Fatah (PLO forces) to be in control there if it is to credibly represent the Palestinian refugees in the final status talks” (Ginat and Perkins 202).
PLO aimed to establish Ein Al-Hilweh camp as the flag bearer of Palestinians when it comes to security. They trained recruits from the camp to protect and secure Palestinians against Israel since there have been a massive number of Palestinian casualties from the war (Ginat and Perkins 202). Prison Camps As discussed from the preceding texts, the sole purpose of the establishment of the refugee camps is for the protection of the civilians against the war. However, from these refugee camps became part of the target for launching attacks, detention, and for bloody battles.
The refugee camps became active participants in the war in Lebanon and as they are handled by Palestinian military forces, most of these refugees eventually are recruited to become a combatant. As refugees have been armed, this heightened the assaults that are done against refugee camps. Such assaults are not only confined into air raids and bombing, most of it occurred in prison camps where the purpose to acquire information is done through diverse torturous means.
Just like in any war, prison camps existed to contain the enemies. In Lebanon, there are two prison camps that will be the focus of this paper, the Ansar prison camp and the Khiam prison camp. Ansar Prison Camp Ansar prison is a small village located in Southern Lebanon which is 200 kilometers south of Jerusalem. It has been built by the Israelis in Lebanon and has reached a number of approximately 10,000 prisoners (Chomsky and Said 233). It is considered as one of the most notorious prison camps in the history of Lebanese war.
The prison has been described by Reuven Kaminer where, Ansar (is) a gigantic open-air desert prison, where prisoners were crowded into tents in dreadful climatic conditions and subjected to a highly-regimented depersonalized and dehumanized schedule, became a symbol of Palestinian defiance. A Palestinian writer who had been interred at Ansar told a Tel Aviv audience that “if there is a hell, Ansar is its gate. ” (63) Ansar prison camp has been tagged as Ansar I and Ansar II.
The first Ansar camp has been closed after a prisoner exchange occurred on November 23-24 1983 between Israel and the PLO. This happened when Israel released an estimate of 4,300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 6 Israelis held by the PLO in Tripoli, Lebanon (Kassim 222). Ansar camp reopened after five weeks when the exchange happened. Five hundred to eight hundred people have been detained comprised of both Lebanese and Palestinian and with this; a new facility has been built to house new prisoners which is considered the second Ansar camp (Kasim 222).
The Ansar II specifically targeted youth terrorists where Israelis capture young Palestinians who are recruited by PLO armed forces and subjected to beatings (Lockman and Beinin 44). The prisoners are subjected to regular physical and psychological torture without any legal basis and further investigation. Khiam Prison Camp Khiam prison camp is another camp which has been established by the Israel near the village of Khiam in South Lebanon. The village is located in Lebanon which is considered as a ‘security zone’ and attacked by the Israelites in early 1970s where hundreds of people have been slaughtered.
Upon the invasion, the Israel forces established the prison camp which has been tagged as a ‘secret jail’ where prisoners are “held in appalling conditions and subjected to beatings and electric-shock torture” (Said and Hitchens 109). This camp is said to have been regularly filled with prisoners of suspected terrorism involvement and civilians to conduct good behavior to their families and villages (Sherry 20). The Khiam prison camp targeted more civilians especially women and children, as a means for stopping any misconduct and suppressing rebellion within the Khiam village.
It has been called ‘secret jail’ because the prison is known to be supervised by the SLA (South Lebanon Army) and the Israeli forces made an alliance with them, with the SLA serving as the front for Israel Defense forces. The prison became an “excellent place for the Israelis to work over hard cases away from prying media eyes” (Odom 28-29). Throughout the duration of the war, there have been an approximate number of reported incidents of 3,500 detainees that have been tortured and has been a continuous target of human rights groups (Emcke 61).
However this number is just so small if one would trace the events from the invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982, the prisoners would amount to 8,000 (Said and Barsamian 85). Conclusion The reported events in these prison camps would signify an embodiment of genocide. These camps became a venue for exercising one party’s power over the other by hurting the so-called enemies without legal justifications. Though these prison camps may not be as active as they are before, the events will remain as a horrible truth of war.
The physical and psychological scars of those detainees that have survived the torturous stay in prisons will be forever embedded, a horrific by-product of war. The civil war in Lebanon is one of the suitable examples in which war does not recognize any exceptions. Soldiers and civilians are destined for death and their entrance to prison camps entails for dehumanizing them. Indeed in war, everyone is a victim and everyone is considered prisoners of these camps. Works Cited Arzt, Donna E. Refugees into Citizens. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1997.
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