Inter-communal dialogue helps build a durable peace in North Lebanon
In May 2007, whilst most of Lebanon was still struggling to recover from the destruction caused by the July 2006 conflict with Israel, the infiltration of armed insurgents of Fatah al-Islam into Nahr El-Bared, a Palestinian refugee camp located between Akkar and Tripoli in North Lebanon, culminated in armed conflict between the Lebanese Army and the insurgents.
169 soldiers, 287 combatants and 42 civilians were killed, and over 30,000 Palestinians refugees were forced to leave their homes behind and displace, seeking temporary shelter mainly in the neighbouring Palestinian refugee camp of Beddawi.
In addition to the 95,000 registered refugees, nearly 30,000 Lebanese live in the communities surrounding Nahr El-Bared camp and another 10,000 Lebanese in the municipality of Beddawi.
The North is the poorest region in Lebanon with the worst poverty rates recorded in the Tripoli City and in Akkar. The Palestinian refugees living in the camps in the North suffer from high unemployment rates and struggle to access many basic urban services.
Since the Nahr El-Bared crisis started, tensions between Lebanese and Palestinian residents significantly increased and negatively affected the relatively good relations that existed between both communities tha have lived side by side in the North for long years.
The Lebanese government made it a priority to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the camps focusing on economic and social sectors, including the initiation of dialogues to foster understanding between camp residents and their neighbours.
In collaboration with the Government, UNDP supported a unique conflict recovery programme initiating Youth Dialogue Forums in Beddawi, with the aim of changing prevailing stereotypes held by Palestinian and Lebanese youth of each other, reducing tensions and engaging both communities in joint activities.
The programme supported the establishment of the ‘Lebanese Palestinian Cooperation Committee’ as an independent, legally registered entity, with its own internal management structure and decision making process.
Through the committee, Palestinian and Lebanese jointly planned, organized and implemented a variety of educational, cultural, vocational and recreational activities to bring youth, children and women from both communities closer.
“The conflict in the country has affected both the Lebanese and Palestinian living in the camps, we’ve never had barriers between both communities before” said Mohamad Younis, a 24 years old Palestinian, who used to live in Naher El-Bared “I participated in the dialogue with an open mind and put my heart into it, literally,” he commented with a wide smile. “I got engaged to a Lebanese young woman, whom I met through the youth activities. We are getting married in December.”
Mohamad was inspired to establish a Lebanese-Palestinian NGO Called “Mousawat,” engaging over 60 Lebanese and Palestinian volunteers in building better skills in moderating inter-communal dialogue and shared visioning for the future.
Mohamed and his group also received training in conflict resolution, negotiation, leadership and networking skills through the UNDP-supported programme.
They went on to establish a football team and folk-dance performing troupes, and organized several educational and cultural activities, bringing together youth and children from both communities.
The forums in Beddawi were part of a larger initiative aiming to mitigate the risk of relapse into violent conflict in and around conflict-sensitive communities, particularly Palestinian refugee camps, in North Lebanon, through the promotion of socio-economic development and peace-building.
With the support of UNDP, the initiative included small-scale infrastructure projects such as building an electricity transformers/generators room in order to improve the electricity supply to both Lebanese and Palestinian residents in the area of the Beddawi camp and installing new sewage and storm water channels in three streets and part of the main street in the Beddawi camp.
More than 1000 people benefited from those infrastructure improvements and more than 750 people participated in the cultural and social activities in the area
Recently, the committee has started to operate a Cinema Club sessions on topics related to peace building in the renovated Beddawi Cultural Centre.
Today, as more young people from previously conflicting communities are able to meet together and enjoy social activities in a safe and supportive environment with peers from other areas, membership in the ‘Lebanese Palestinian Cooperation Committee’ is growing consistently.