The Refugees of Nahr al Bared

A success story to report.

A few weeks ago, I was in Beirut leading a workshop on video journalism as one last effort in my Knight International Journalism Fellowship. The participants ranged from working print journalists and photojournalists wanting to expand their talents, to artists and filmmakers and a television producer who wanted to learn the DIY trade of the VJ. Nearly all of them had video they had shot during and after last summer’s war between Israel and Hezbollah.

One of the workshop participants — Munir, a young journalist and graduate student who had helped me plan the workshop with a local cinema cooperative called Beirut DC — had set up a shoot in a Palestinian refugee camp called Beddawi. This camp, a few miles from Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city, is where the bulk of the Palestinians who fled another camp — Nahr al Bared — had come. Nahr al Bared has been under siege by the Lebanese army since May 20, when a group of Al Qaeda-inspired militants entered the community and used it as their battleground against the Lebanese forces. The fighting continues there more than two months later, and the thirty thousand or so people who fled their homes are living in makeshift quarters in Beddawi.

When I saw the footage Munir and Farah (who had joined him on the trip and shot part of the footage) had brought back, I knew that it would make an excellent story for the New York Times website. So they whittled the footage down and came up with an outline of a story.

Over that weekend, I went with a photographer from the Times and shot video of the fighting in Nahr al Bared, from the roof of a home across the street that had a good view of the battle (don’t tell mom). There was quite a bit of gunfire and the occasional mortar round. The Fatah al Islam militants were occasionally firing katyusha rockets into nearby villages.

From what I was able to view and film at the Nahr el Bared site itself, there are few homes left undamaged in the fighting, and entire blocks are now rubble. Yet some women Munir and Farah met said they would sit on the carpets on the rubble as long as they could back home.

Adding this footage to the piece, we worked on it, and I recorded narration and did a final edit in Cairo. The story, which was the lead video on nytimes.com on Thursday, turned out to be a very moving piece, and showed the real tragedy unfolding for these people. As the piece explains, most of the residents of Nahr al Bared were from families displaced either in 1948, when Israel was founded, or in 1967, when the Naksa, or “setback,” saw the Arab armies defeated by Israeli forces, forcing more Palestinians to flee. And now they’ve been displaced again.

You can view the piece here.

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