And now Lebanon wants to build a wall!


Diana Moukalled

WITHOUT stirring up any controversy and under the supervision of the Lebanese Army, an
operation is in progress to build cement walls around the Palestinian refugee camp, Ain El-Hilweh, in Sidon in Southern Lebanon.
Of course, the rationale is ready: Security. The army justifies the move by saying that it will put entering and leaving the camp under control, and that it will prevent wanted people and those who may be planning terrorist attacks from sneaking out.
In our country, it is easy to flash the “security card” to justify all kinds of procedures regardless of how shocking they are — such as building a wall around Lebanon’s biggest Palestinian refugee camp. Once the work is completed in a few months, some 100,000 Palestinian refugees will be living inside a big cement prison.
Before embarking on the mission to build the wall, wanted Palestinians from Ain El-Hilweh camp started surrendering to Lebanese authorities.
This was considered the beginning of adjusting the status of many in the camp who have not been involved in violent acts, especially since many of them are due to be released in a few days.
But the camp, which is home to the largest Palestinian community in Lebanon, does not seem to have got beyond being looked at from a single perspective — and that is the security perspective. The miserable conditions in the camp were left to accumulate until the day the wall was presented as a solution.
Lebanon’s security authorities, with the single aim of finding a solution to the camp’s crisis, are betting that additional procedures will be a “safety valve” for an unknown future — a possible time when regional powers may want to sneak in and ignite Lebanon.
While Palestinians’ living conditions are neglected on one hand and other unanswered questions on the other, there is information coming out about the connection between building the wall and the economic and financial projects in the neighboring area. All of that, however, is secondary to the need to secure the area around the camp.
The Lebanese wall around the camp is a worrying precedent, particularly if this is the approach in a new era when dealing with refugee problems and sensitive matters is through abusive procedures.
We are in the era of Donald Trump who succeeded in reaching the White House because he promised to build a wall to strengthen US borders to keep away immigrants. It is the age of the Israeli West Bank barrier and also the age of prison walls. And there are, sadly, others promising to build even more.
So why Lebanon, a small country that has been going through several crises — internally and across its borders — would be far away from building a wall.
The irony is that the Lebanese wall appeared on the horizon in the same month when Germany is commemorating the 27th anniversary of the demolition of the Berlin Wall. Remember the moments when Germans took over the wall while destroying it — turning it into a memory they never wanted? They wanted to make up for the moments when they felt they were in a big prison and believed, along with the rest of the world, that they were entering an age of open borders leading to globalization.
Were those who celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall wrong? And were the walls really beneficial as they were in the days of long-ago tribes?
Building a wall around Ain El-Hilweh or building any wall does not equal security. It means that we are not united. Walls are not only built to keep people from getting out. In most cases, the policy of building walls is adopted by governments as a local policy to show that they are doing something in regards to immigrants and refugees.
Building a wall around Ain El-Hilweh camp comes at a time when the world is starting to build walls. Every country has its wall and our small wall in Lebanon seems to be a real demonstration of our joining the “walls era.”
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

—Courtesy: Arab News