Destroying Nahr el-Bared: Sovereignty and urbicide in the space of exception

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During the summer of 2007, Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon was the scene of a fierce battle between the Lebanese Armed Forces and a militant Islamist group called Fateh al-Islam. When Palestinian evacuees returned after the conflict, they found Nahr el-Bared utterly destroyed, houses smashed first by shells and bombs, then by vandalism and arson, possessions stolen and broken, offensive graffiti daubed on walls. I argue in this paper that the battle of Nahr el-Bared, and particularly the month of looting and arson that followed the battle, was a case of urbicide in a space of exception. The seemingly unrestricted destruction of homes, the theft of possessions and arson, went beyond any possible military necessity and became the deliberate and systematic erasure of the camp. This urbicide was made more possible by the very nature of the political spaces of the camp, which are in Lebanon but not of Lebanon, in which Lebanese sovereignty and law are not fully enforced, in which a whole range of non-Lebanese actors exercise political power outside the control of the Lebanese state. In these spaces of exception in which the rule of law is suspended, the looting, arson and vandalism took place without sanction. Palestinian homes and lives had become sacred in the sense that they could be destroyed without sanction, without recourse to legal redress, because there was no law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-163
Number of pages11
JournalPolitical Geography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2009


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