Palestinians in Lebanon: No Resting in Peace

Temporary solutions such as burying “relatives on top of each other” are no longer feasible. The cemetery can no longer receive any more dead people. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

Palestinian cemeteries in Lebanon are running out of room. With the Lebanese cemeteries refusing the dead, Palestinians have been forced to bury their loved one on top of one another.

Quiet has returned to the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, but the authorities have still not given an explanation for Fouad Lubani’s death.

Lubani died after the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) opened fire on the funeral procession of another young man, Ahmad Qassem.

The incident began when mourners threw stones at an army post located on a plot of property called Samed, which had been designated as the site for the camp’s new cemetery, as the old one had no more space.

But the army “confiscated this land and established a military post on it, prohibiting people from getting close to it,” a camp resident, who refused to give his name, told us.

Lubani died during the funeral procession for Qassem — who was killed during a prior clash with the LAF in a protest against the arrest of a camp resident and the beating of his mother. Mourners did not know where to bury Qassem as the Khaled Ibn al-Walid cemetery was full.

With tempers still raw, angry camp residents wanted “to reclaim their right to bury their dead in Samed but the army’s fire prevented them from doing so,” says a Popular Committee official in Nahr al-Bared who did not want to be identified.“After we were prevented from laying him to rest in Samed, we buried him at the gate of the Khaled Ibn al-Walid cemetery,” he added.

This problem is not restricted to Nahr al-Bared’s cemeteries. All Palestinian cemeteries in Lebanon, including those located inside the refugee camps, suffer from severe overcrowding, which forces the family of the deceased — in addition to the pain of losing a loved one — to endure the indignity of scrambling to find a place to bury him.

In Burj al-Barajneh, as in other camps, temporary solutions such as burying “relatives on top of each other” are no longer feasible. The cemetery can no longer receive any more dead people.

So the Popular Committee decided to expand the cemetery “internally,” demolishing the room designed for praying for the dead. This made room for only a 100 new graves, prompting the Popular Committee to ask people to keep on burying their relatives on top of each other, preserving the 100 new graves for Palestinians who live in Beirut outside the camp.

This step might postpone the crisis of overcrowding at cemeteries for months or weeks depending on how many deaths there are, but it is not a permanent a solution.

About a year ago, MP Walid Jumblatt donated a piece of land in the Sibline area to be used as a cemetery for Palestinians. The land was divided in such a way as to fit the largest possible number of dead people.

Palestinians from communities in the Wadi al-Zina area and the Beirut camps began burying their dead there. Currently, this cemetery is the only available place for the burial of Palestinians now that the Shatila and Burj al-Barajneh cemeteries have filled up.

The same applies to the camps in the South. The Ain el-Helweh camp cemetery filled up, which forced camp residents to raise money to buy land in Darb al-Sim for a cemetery.

It was bought by the Association for the Prisoners and Martyrs affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), but it will be registered under the name of the Lebanese Dar al-Ifta because Palestinians are not allowed to own property in Lebanon.

Palestinian factions and businessmen donated money for the plot of land that is being made into a cemetery for Lebanon’s largest camp.

It is difficult for Palestinians who lived outside a camp to be buried inside it, especially if none of their relatives were previously been buried in the camp.

The situation is considerably worsened by Dar al-Ifta’s decision two months ago to prohibit Palestinians from burying their dead at its cemetery next to Rawdat al-Shahidain.

Dar al-Iftaa said they are having a similar crisis and so they cannot allow Palestinians to be buried in their cemetery because the Lebanese themselves suffer from overcrowding in their cemeteries!Dar al-Ifta told the Palestinian embassy: “You built the Sibline cemetery and it solved your problem; that is why we will not allow you to buy new graves in the Dar al-Ifta cemetery,” according to a source who was part of the negotiations.

The Palestinian embassy “negotiated” with Dar al-Ifta to give it land across from Dar al-Ifta’s cemetery in al-Ghobairy area in Beirut so the refugees of the Beirut camps can bury their dead there.

It appears, however, that there is a conflict between Dar al-Ifta and the Islamic Shia Council over the land, as one embassy official noted. The Popular Committee in Shatila, the camp that will be most affected by this decision, had asked the Palestinian embassy to provide a cemetery for it in Beirut.

Sources in Dar al-Ifta told Al-Akhbar that “there are no political or racial reasons underlying this decision. Lebanese residents of Beirut also have a problem with overcrowded cemeteries, so it’s normal to give them priority.”

These sources added: “We get requests for burial from the Bekaa or the North, but we ask families to bury their loved ones in their areas.”

The problem therefore remains…The dead need a final resting place.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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