June 09, 2007

“We were on that list before Osama”

Picture this: I am sitting in Sheikh Abu Obeida’s office in Ain el-Heloue, a Palestinian camp in Southern Lebanon. The charming sheikh runs a faction of some 200 Esbat el-Ansar members. Abu Tarek runs the other, 900 men strong, contingent. They are on the US list of world-wide terrorist organizations (scroll down to Lebanon), and have been for quite some time now.
I ask the sheikh if it doesn’t bother him, being on that list. He tilts his head backwards, and smiles. “We were on that list before Osama,” he says.
Palestinian boys playing cards at the entrance of Ain el-Heloue. (Are they playing on a prayer mat?)

I spent my day in Ain el-Heloue, a Palestinian camp down south, working on a story on the ‘sunni Islamic revival movements’ in Lebanon. (Ain el Heloue in 1953)
And I am now literally wallowing in a plethora of radical sunni groups, as numerous as the people they strive to eliminate. They are all somehow connected to one another through family ties, friendships struck in Bin Laden’s training camps, jail buddies in Syria, a sheikh in a mosque in Germany, neighbors in Dinnieye, class mates at the UNWRA school in the camp, or just room mates at Cal Tech. Some are Palestinians, some are Lebanese. Many of them are from other Arab or muslim countries. And through it all, they all seem to link to the (in)famous Osama Bin Laden.

I had brought a list of all the different movements that are supposed to have ‘installed’; themselves in the camp. My interpreter, a Fatah soldier, and sheikh Abu Obeida of Esbat al-Ansar thought this quite interesting. They studied it, and were discussing it among themselves as they went down the list.
“Those, yes, we have, those as well, and those too. These no, only in Nahr el-Bared, those yes, but just a few. And these guys, who are they? Never heard of them. You recognize the name? and they showed it around.
“Nah, these we don’t know. Are you sure they are here?”
My translator excused himself. “We’ve got so many, we kind of lose track.”

Traffic jam at the entrance of Ain el-Heloue (soldier is from Fatah, not Lebanese Army)

A drive through the biggest camp in Lebanon – some say 80,000 Palestinian refugees live here – will introduce you to a different faction at every speed bump. In one street, five different parties are taking care of security. Fatah on one side, Esbat al-Ansar on another side, Ansar Ullah somewhere in the middle. And in between there are some other groups such the Ansar al Usba and the Jamaat al Islamiya. In the end, even my (Palestinian) translator got a little confused. “So you are with who?” he asked at yet another speed bump/checkpoint. “This is a shared point,” they replied.

We passed some bearded guys (mind you, all the Islamic faction sports the famous Osama beard these days), whom I was not supposed to smile to, because those were the ‘bad boys’ of Jund as-Sham, who had attacked and killed two Lebanese soldiers earlier this week. They are now encircled by the other factions, and kept in check.

Not for long though, according to a Palestinian journalist I spoke with. “They killed two soldiers here. The army does not forget. Once they are done with Nahr el-Bared, it is our turn.”

If you find all these different factions confusing, then check out this list; a compilation (I do not know by whom) of groups that are not working in coordination with the US government. If this does not give Bush sleepless nights, I do not know what will.


Hans A.H.C. de Wit said...

interessant blog Sietske.
vriendelijke groet van een Dutch in Istanbul.

Hans A.H.C. de Wit said...

btw, added you to my blog
without permission..))

Bedouina said...

Intrepid reporting, Sietske; brava! Thank you so much for this.

Donny Caldwell said...

I agree, this is my number one source for news regarding the Fatah Islam movement.