Football in the Baddawi refugee camp

image: matthew cassel

Do you know why I love photography? Let me tell you.

While I was organizing my hard drive tonight I came across some images from a couple years ago. I saw one unnamed folder and opened it to take a quick peek inside assuming that whatever was in there wouldn’t be that interesting. I picked a random image to inspect when it hit me. It flew right off the screen and up against my face: Football in the Baddawi refugee camp.

This is why I take photographs. They have an ability to reach out to a viewer like no other medium. Film? Film you have to be prepared for. However it’s presented, you can’t open a film and be immediately struck by it like a photograph. Not to knock film, I love it. And I think it has the ability to reach out to tell a much fuller story than one image, one frame can. Text? As a photographer intent on telling a story I will never present my images without text. It’s needed to give context to an image, because without context what have you got? How would you know that the footballers (and yes, apologies to my friends from the US but I have moved on to the international word for “soccer”) are third generation Palestinian refugees born in exile? Or that these teams were from the neighboring refugee camp that was just completely destroyed in a battle that had nothing to do with them? Back to text — while on its own text can sometimes be nice especially when reading fiction, it can never have the same impact as an image.

An image’s power lies in its accessibility. Just sit back and take it in from afar or get up close and inspect its every detail, it’s up to you. However you want to view an image it’s there for you. Now it’s on my website, another image is in a a magazine, on a wall, or on your phone even. The point is that it’s there, begging to tell you a quick (or long if you so choose) story.

The only problem is how do we get better images into more accessible places?

***

These images are all from one day when I went to the Baddawi refugee camp in the north of Lebanon in September 2007. The people in the photographs are almost all from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp who were forced to seek refuge in the nearby Baddawi refugee camp while their homes were destroyed during a war between the Lebanese army and an extremist group called Fatah al-Islam. For those old enough to have lived through 1948, when they were initially made refugees, as well as subsequent wars over the decades, this was not the first time to lose their homes. I’ve met Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who have had to flee their “home” up to five or six times. It’s shocking but true. Palestinian refugees are the largest refugee population in the world today and it’s been more than 60 years that they’ve been denied their most fundamental right.

It’s hard to imagine how spirits could still be high in such a situation. The below might help explain why that is.

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel

See also: Lebanon: Nahr al-Bared refugee camp

Photography

It’s incredible that scenes like this still exist in an age where I can photograph them with a camera on my mobile phone.

A building in Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp was destroyed in 2007 -- picture taken December 2009. (image: matthew cassel)

Nahr al-Bared protest in Tripoli

Residents from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon gathered on 16 September to protest the Lebanese government’s halting of planned reconstruction of the camp that was destroyed in 2007 in a battle between the Lebanese army and militants from Fatah al-Islam. Hundreds of refugees from the camp and their supporters gathered in Tripoli, the closest major city to Nahr al-Bared. After being denied a permit to protest at the police station near the city’s center, organizers change the location an area far away from symbolic government buildings and people.

image: matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

image: matthew cassel
image: matthew cassel

Refugees without refuge

Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, northern Lebanon, September 2009 (image: matthew cassel)
Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, northern Lebanon, September 2009 (image: matthew cassel)

Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, February 2009 (image: matthew cassel)
Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, February 2009 (image: matthew cassel)

Ramadan in Nahr al-Bared

image: matthew cassel
A Palestinian family prepares for iftar outside of prefabricated homes in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. Most homes were destroyed in the fighting in 2007 between the Lebanese army and militants from Fatah al-Islam. The fighting made nearly all of the camp's 35,000 residents refugees for at least a second time. (image: matthew cassel)

Kids of the camp

Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, August 2009. (image: matthew cassel)
Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, August 2009. (image: matthew cassel)

I can never accurately express my admiration for children in Palestinian refugee camps. By now I’ve been to most of the dozens of camps around the Arab world, and there is something consistent in all of them. It’s as if from day one children are born with an understanding of their family’s more than six decades of struggle to return to their homeland. Often when I speak to kids in the camps I don’t feel like I’m speaking to kids at all. I feel humbled in their presence similar to when I speak with a person much older and more experienced than me. It’s strange to feel that way around a seven year old, no?

And In the camps you feel how far the conflict is from being resolved. I spoke about current events with friends today in Nahr al-Bared who couldn’t care less about any of the “peace” talks currently taking place, especially the debates surrounding the “freezing” of settlements in the West Bank. There is only one issue that they are concerned with — their right to return home. At six million, not only do they make up roughly half of the world’s Palestinian population (Palestinian refugees outside Palestine and those in the occupied territories and Israel), but they are also the largest refugee population in the world today. This is the issue at the core of the conflict, and it’s the issue that is always put off for “later.” However, until it’s addressed, these children are evidence that freezing settlements and even ending the occupation will not bring the conflict any closer to a peaceful and just solution.