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Beddawi Refugee Camp

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Beddawi Refugee Camp

Beddawi Refugee Camp

1982-1988
Source: 
The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive, The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) Collection

Sitting on a plateau, the Beddawi Camp overlooks the city of Tripoli, the capital of northern Lebanon, and is named after the area in which it is located. In terms of area and population, Beddawi Camp is second only to Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. The two camps are 12 kilometers apart. Beddawi is about 7 kilometers from Tripoli.

The Origins of the Camp

Beddawi Camp was established in 1955 on one square kilometer of land. The land was leased by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to shelter Palestinian refugees who were displaced to Lebanon following the 1948 Nakba. The areas surrounding it are al-Qubba, Jabal Mohsen, al-Fawwar, al-Airouniyya, Tallet al-Mankubin, and Wadi al-Nahla; to its west is the Mediterranean Sea.

Several institutions are located in the vicinity of the camp, including an oil refinery (the Iraq Petroleum Company), the Deir Ammar Electricity Station, the Bahjat Ghanem Army Barracks, the Lebanese University campus, and a government hospital.

The camp has two main entrances: the southern entrance, which connects to the areas of al-Qubba, Jabal Mohsen, and Tallet al-Mankubin; and the northern entrance, which connects to the areas of al-Beddawi itself and Jabal al-Beddawi, al-Fawwar, al-Airouniyya, and Wadi al-Nahla. Some side roads lead to the camp as well.

There are several origin stories about the name of the area, Beddawi, in which the camp was established. One of them attributes it to the shrine of a holy man who was originally a bedouin, or nomadic Arab, and came from the desert to live in the region.

The Residents of the Camp

The camp was established approximately seven years after Palestinians were forcibly displaced from Palestine in 1948. The first group of refugees came from nearby areas of Tripoli, where families initially took refuge in the old mosques in the Khan al-Askar area and in the poor neighborhoods around the port. The flooding of the Abu Ali River in 1955, which caused severe property damage in Khan al-Askar, prompted many families to move to the new camp. The second group came from the Bekaa Valley region, seeking to escape the harsh winters there.

In its beginning, families were housed in shacks. After being surveyed and officially registered in UNRWA records, each family was given a dwelling. With the passage of time, these makeshift homes turned into permanent structures.

The families in the camp come from Jaffa and the cities and villages of the Galilee region and the Houla plains of northern Palestine: Acre, Safad, Shafa ‘Amr, Haifa and their surrounding villages, the most notable of which are al-Birwa, al-Khalasa, Jish, Suhmata, Saffuriyya, al-Buwayziyya, Jahula, Safsaf, Ayn al-Zaytun, Shaʿb, al-Naʿima, and al-Dhahiriya.

The people from these villages are clustered around their respective families, mainly: Suleiman, Abdul Ghani, Zaid, Abu Libda, Sirhan, al-Saʿid, Odeh, Taleb, al-Sadiq, Trabulsi, Shehada, Jumʿa, al-Khatib, Suwaidan, al-Hindawi, al-Yamani, Hassoun, Merʿi, al-Khatib, al-Shaʿbi, al-Shihabi, Shaʿban, Kayed, Mansur, al-Wanni, al-Soussi; Jaber, Bahij, and Daoud.

The general census conducted by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in 2017 in cooperation with the Central Bureau of Statistics in Lebanon and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics found that the population of the camp was 17,995: 9,740 official camp residents, 1,367 Palestinian refugees from Syria, 630 Lebanese, 6,193 Syrians, and 65 from other nationalities. Current UNRWA sources indicate that there are about 16,500 refugees officially registered in its records. However, the sources of the Popular Committee in the camp confirm that the current population of the camp far exceeds this number if we take into account that Beddawi Camp was a safe haven for many Palestinian families who moved there during the years of the civil war in Lebanon, especially from the Nabatiyya Camp in southern Lebanon, which was destroyed by Israeli aircraft in 1974, and from the Tal al-Za‘atar Camp outside Beirut, which was also destroyed following a terrible massacre in 1976.

During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Beddawi Camp received a new influx of refugees, but the largest number of arrivals was in 2007 when violence at Nahr al-Barid Camp flared up. This created a whole new demographic in the camp. UNRWA sources reported that as a result, the camp’s population then swelled to 30,000. With the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, the camp took in dozens of Syrian and Palestinian families.

Sources from the Popular Committee in the camp state that Syrians account for more than 30 percent of the camp population; a significant number of poor Lebanese families have moved to the camp as well.

Construction and Urban Development

On this small patch of land, UNRWA built densely packed houses that shared walls. Houses were either one or two rooms, according to the size of each family, but in all cases they did not exceed two rooms. As the population grew over time, construction expanded both vertically and horizontally. Compared to the streets and alleys of the other refugee camps in Lebanon, Beddawi Camp has relatively good infrastructure and system of roads and its inner streets are considered wide.

Internally, the camp is divided into four sectors—A, B, C, D—each of which has a cluster of neighborhoods, some of which bear the names of Palestinian villages such as Shafa Amr, al-Dhahiriya, Jish, Suhmata, and Saffuriyya. Other neighborhoods bear the names of extended families, such as al-Shatla, al-Khadrawi, and “the Abu Naim buildings.” Yet others bear the names of other Palestinian refugee camps whose residents were forced to flee, such as Tal al-Za‘atar, Nabatiyya, and “the Nabatiyya Residents’ Community.”

The principal streets of the camp are: the main road that connects the northern and southern entrances, shariʿ al-suq or the main market street, al-Rinawi Street, Abu al-Fawz Street, al-Quds Street, and the Popular Committee Street.

Unlike other Palestinian camps in Lebanon, the entrances to Beddawi Camp are not controlled by Lebanese army checkpoints, as the former are under the responsibility of the joint security forces that are supervised by the Palestinian factions in the northern region of Lebanon. Still, anyone coming to Beddawi must pass through two [Lebanese] army checkpoints near the two main entrances.

Socioeconomic Conditions

The economic conditions in Beddawi Camp are similar to those of other camps, especially considering the suffocating crisis that Lebanon has been going through since late 2019. This crisis is reflected in all aspects of life, and it appears to be even worse in the camps, which are overpopulated and have declining public services.

Some camp residents have emigrated to foreign countries, especially in Europe, and the remittances they send their families help to alleviate the economic hardship, along with orphan sponsorship programs. Families try to help one another when they can.

Labor

When the camp was first established, most of its residents found work opportunities in unskilled professions such as construction, agriculture, and other jobs available to Palestinians by the Lebanese government. In the 1970s, the presence of Palestinian political organizations in the camps created a major economic boost, opening up several employment opportunities, especially in the institutions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian factions.

Today, however, the unemployment rate in the camp is high among various age groups, but particularly among fresh university or academy graduates. Employment opportunities are few, due to the economic crises and to Lebanon’s labor laws, which restrict employment options for Palestinian refugees. (More than seventy professions are off-limits to them.)

A large percentage of the camp’s families fall below the poverty line. These families are in constant need of financial, food, and medical assistance. As for those who are employed, most of them work in fields different from what they are trained to specialize in. According to the Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions in the North of Lebanon, Beddawi Camp has about 6,000 workers. These workers are divided across several professions, including construction, and a significant number of them work in construction sites in the city of Tripoli and the north of Lebanon. Another portion work as taxi drivers but only within the camp, because Palestinians are prohibited from obtaining a commercial driving license in Lebanon.

Some find work opportunities in UNRWA offices in a variety of fields, ranging from sanitation work and security guards to education and health care. Other employers include civil society institutions and institutions of the PLO and other Palestinian factions. Some work in retail outlets and hair salons.

One project of note is the “Cash-for-Work" program, which is supported by the German Development Agency in coordination with UNRWA. This project, which began in 2021, aims to provide job opportunities for camp residents on a rotational basis every two months, at the end of which the worker receives a sum in US dollars. The numbers show the huge rush among young men and women in the Palestinian camps to register in this project to get a chance to work limited to sanitation and the like. University students trying to pay their tuition fees often apply to this program.

Several small businesses operate in the camp: restaurants, grocery stores, vegetable sellers, butcheries, sweet shops, clothing stores, hair salons, mobile phone sale and repair shops, internet service providers, and nine businesses for refining water.

Healthcare

UNRWA oversees healthcare services in the camp through one infirmary (the clinic) that receives patients daily. It includes a gynecology department, a dental clinic, and an ophthalmology clinic, in addition to a medical laboratory and a pharmacy that dispenses medicines, especially for chronic diseases. Four doctors staff the clinic daily, and UNRWA also contracts with a number of hospitals in the north for patient referrals.

The camp has one hospital called Safad Hospital, established by the PLO and affiliated with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, which provides medical services with an emergency room, operations theater, obstetrics department, and physical therapy. It includes a laboratory, pharmacy, specialist clinics, a dental clinic, and an x-ray department. Thousands of citizens of various nationalities avail themselves of the hospital’s services annually.

There are also medical dispensaries affiliated with Palestinian factions, including al-Shifaʾ Medical Dispensary that is affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and al-ʿInaya al-Tibbiyya [Medical Care] Dispensary affiliated with the Hamas movement. The al-Sumoud Foundation also oversees a dental treatment center. The camp has thirteen privately owned pharmacies.

Health conditions afflicting Beddawi Camp residents include chronic and incurable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease and cancer, and mental illness.

Education

UNRWA runs the educational institutions in the camp, which include three primary schools, three middle schools, and one secondary school that all admit the camp’s children. Camp residents enroll in Lebanese universities and academies after completing secondary school. The quality of education has declined somewhat in various UNRWA schools in recent years, because of the online learning policy that was imposed by the Corona pandemic and the decline in UNRWA services due to a lack of funding. Nevertheless, secondary school students in the camp are achieving good results on state exams in Lebanon.

Outstanding students receive university scholarships from UNRWA, the Palestinian Students Fund, and the President Mahmoud Abbas Fund, among others.

The camp has several kindergartens and preschools that are run by civil society organizations and Palestinian factions : al-Khalisa; Atfal Filastin (Children of Palestine); Dream; al-ʿAsriya; al-Israʾ; al-Aqsa; Ghassan Kanafani; al-Najda al-Shaʿbiya (People’s Help); Beit Atfal al-Sumoud (House of the resilient child); and Tuyour al-Janna (Birds of Paradise).

Public Services

Water

Eleven water wells feed central water tanks through which water is distributed to internal piping of homes. The water supply is supervised by UNRWA in coordination with the Popular Committee. However, these wells suffer from drought during the summer and a lack of rainfall in the winter. Therefore, people buy water, especially drinking water.

Electricity

Electricity stations inside the camp belonging to the Lebanese Qadisha Electricity Company are supposed to provide electricity to the camp and neighboring areas inhabited by Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian families, but they do not meet the needs due to population density and the great pressure on the grid, which causes nearly constant disruptions. Residents resort to securing electricity by subscribing to private generators and whatever the popular committee and the factions in the camp can contribute.

Infrastructure

UNRWA supervises the Public Health Office, which takes care of collecting waste, maintaining the sewer network and rainwater drainage, spraying pesticides, operating water pumping stations, and conducting periodic laboratory tests of wells. UNRWA has expanded the scope of its services to accommodate the growing camp population.

Civil Society Associations and NGOs

Several civil society associations and NGOs are active in Beddawi Camp. Their services are particularly focused on activities for women and children and on family support. These activities include vocational training, awareness-raising lectures, psychological support programs, material support, distribution of relief aid, sponsoring the care of orphans, care for people with special needs, and recreational activities. The most prominent of these associations are The Women's Association for Programs and Activities; the Najda Social Association; Naba‘ Association; Beit Atfal al-Samoud Children’s House; the Community Rehabilitation Association; Islamic Relief Society; and Droubs Foundation.

Beddawi Camp is remarkable for having several scout centers and athletic clubs: al-Qadisiyya Scout and Guidance Center; Jenin Scout Center, which organizes summer camps and volunteer work drives for public sanitation, in addition to organizing music education courses; the Palestinian Cultural Club, which organizes chess training courses and provides relief services; and the Ghassan Kanafani Foundation, whose activities include early childhood education, and recreational and cultural courses.

The most notable sporting clubs are al-Hilal al-Filastini, Ashbal Filastin, al-Nidal al-Filastini, al-Quds Sporting, and al-Durra. Football is considered the common sport among all these clubs; the camp has one football field, the Palestine Stadium, which is the only outlet for the camp’s residents and is in need of maintenance and repair. These clubs occupy high rankings in the sporting competitions that take place in northern Lebanon, and a number of Palestinian players have garnered fame in matches in Tripoli.

Camp Administration

While UNRWA assumes its specific responsibilities for basic services, the camp's Popular Committee is in charge of running affairs of politics and security. The committee is a kind of mini-municipal council in which tasks are distributed among the members. It includes a representative from each Palestinian faction and a person responsible for each neighborhood in the camp. It follows up on camp affairs through regular and extraordinary meetings, coordinates with UNRWA and nongovernmental institutions in the camp, and coordinates with the Lebanese security forces and neighboring Lebanese municipalities.

Religious Life

Five mosques serve the camp’s residents. There is a committee for handling religious affairs that is a subcommittee of the camp’s People’s Committee, which coordinates with the Islamic Waqf Board in Tripoli and supervises the organization of burials due to the shrinking space allocated to the cemetery. The religious affairs subcommittee also performs social functions, including those related to matters of divorce, inheritance, and problems that arise between families inside the camp.

Israeli Attacks on the Camp

Since the early 1970s, Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have been a constant target of Israeli attacks. Although Beddawi is far from the border with Palestine, it too has suffered attacks. In 1972, it was subjected to an Israeli airdrop that targeted the positions of Palestinian factions in the camp. Israeli aircraft also launched raids on the camp in 1973, 1976, and 1996, which led to several casualties from among the camp’s residents.

Problems in Search of Solutions

The worsening conditions in the Beddawi Camp, and in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon in general, have led to the rise of several problems that cause distress to camp residents and require effort to address them. The most important of these problems are drug abuse and illegal migration.

Drugs

The drug scourge is one of the major problems affecting camp residents, primarily its youngsters. This phenomenon has had negative consequences on community life in the camp; it has led to drug dealing, increased theft, and altercations between individuals that can escalate to gunfights and knivings.

Sources from the Popular Committee emphasize that security and religious authorities in the camp have taken measures that have limited the problem to some extent. Local community institutions, in cooperation with UNRWA, also organize awareness seminars on the dangers of drugs, their negative impact, and the danger they pose to the lives of the camp’s residents. To this end, several joint Palestinian-Lebanese coordination meetings were held with the camp’s neighboring areas, especially the municipalities of Beddawi and Wadi al-Nahla, and the areas of al-Mankubin and Jabal al-Beddawi, to develop a joint plan to protect the camp and its vicinity from drugs.

Illegal Migration

In the last few years, illegal migration by sea or through the airport has increased. While many have managed to reach their destinations in Europe, several have died en route.

The Camp’s Relationship with Its Surroundings

The neighboring areas and the camp are intertwined: many Palestinian families live in Jabal al-Beddawi, al-Mankubin, Wadi al-Nahla, and al-Fawwar, just as there are Lebanese families living in the camp. As a result, relations between the camp and its neighboring areas are good. There is communication between authorities in the camp and the municipalities of Beddawi and Wadi al-Nahla and ongoing meetings to strengthen relationships, confront any problems they both face together, and prevent any tensions between the camp and its neighbors.

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Like other Palestinian camps of Lebanon, Beddawi Camp residents hold rallies in solidarity with their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and they demonstrate and organize marches and exhibitions of Palestinian on the anniversary of the Nakba and Land Day. They decorate their homes with everything that embodies Palestine and keeps it alive in their memories. The walls of their camp tell stories that this place is not only part of a cause, but also a witness to it.

Selected Bibliography: 

ANERA. “A Lifeline in Beddawi Refugee Camp, Lebanon.”

https://www.anera.org/stories/lifeline-beddawi-refugee-camp-lebanon/

BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. “Overview of Palestinian Forced Displacement in and from Lebanon, 1948-1990.”

https://tinyurl.com/4bacuscz

Jafra Foundation. “Beddawi Camp.”

https://jafrafoundation.com/en/tag/al-beddaoui/

NOW. “Humans in a Camp.”

https://nowlebanon.com/humans-in-a-camp/

UNRWA. “Beddawi Camp.”

https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/lebanon/beddawi-camp

لجنة الحوار اللبناني الفلسطيني، إدارة الإحصاء المركزي – لبنان، الجهاز المركزي للإحصاء الفلسطيني. "التعداد العام للســكان والمســاكن في المخيمات والتجمعات الفلسـطينية في لبنان - 2017 : تقرير النتائج الرئيسية (السـكان، المسـاكن والوحدات السـكنية)". بيروت: 2018.

عبد العال، شذى. "مخيم البداوي: الأكثر تنظيماً بين المخيمات الفلسطينية في لبنان".

https://www.palestine-studies.org/ar/node/236032

مقابلة مع محمد أحمد مسؤول الدراسات في اللجنة الشعبية في مخيم البداوي (عبر الهاتف 3/7/2023).

موسوعة المخيمات الفلسطينية.

 https://palcamps.net/ar/camp/56