For the past three months, a Palestinian refugee camp in the Middle East has been under attack, resulting in the death of hundreds of people and the displacement of nearly half of the camp’s 40,000 residents. Yet the United Nations Security Council has not held an emergency session to condemn the attack. Nor have the governments of France and Britain issued statements condemning the “atrocities” against the Palestinian refugees in the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. For those who may wonder why there is no public outcry, the answer is simple. The army that is attacking the camp with heavy artillery and helicopter warships is not the IDF. It’s an Arab army—the Lebanese Army.
Palestinian refugee camps in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon have long served as bases for various terror groups. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the IDF has been forced over the past few years to launch pinpoint operations against Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad terrorists who find shelter among civilians. Most of the Israeli military operations have drawn sharp criticism from the international community and the Arab world, even when the raids resulted only in the killing or capture of the terrorists.
I was one of the journalists covering the battle in the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp in 2002. Then, the Israelis lost 23 soldiers because they were reluctant to use artillery and tanks out of fear that civilians would be hurt. I still remember how IDF officers briefed their soldiers before the operation, asking them to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties. Although more than 80 percent of the victims of the ensuing battle were members of armed groups that had operated freely in the camp, many human rights organizations (and some governments) continue to refer to the events there as the “Jenin massacre.”
In the case of Nahr al-Bared, the story is completely different. No one seems to care about the fact that dozens of civilians have been killed in the fighting between Lebanese troops and terrorists belonging to the al Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Islam group. A Palestinian who fled the camp two weeks ago told me that over 200 houses have been completely destroyed in the fighting, and that bodies have been lying in the streets for weeks.
“We brought this tragedy upon ourselves,” he admitted. “We allowed this group of terrorists to establish their bases inside the camp and now we are paying the price. The world doesn’t care about us anymore because they say we had harbored the terrorists and provided them with food and medicine.” Have Palestinian refugees in other camps in the Middle East drawn the same conclusion? The answer is a big no. Militiamen and armed gangs continue to operate in most of these camps, especially in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon. The Lebanese army and the IDF still have a lot of difficult work ahead of them. Sadly, many civilians will continue to pay the price—unless they wake up one morning and decide to expel the terrorists from their streets.