Journalist and filmmaker Medyan Dairieh has recently visited and filmed the Ein al-Hilweh or “Sweet Natural Spring” refugee camp in Sothern Lebanon. The camp is home to 70,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war as well as thousands of refugees displaced from Syria as a result of the current conflict in the country.
The film focuses on the daily life of the camp residents, cramped in a total area of 1 square kilometre. Ein al-Hilweh is surrounded by military checkpoints, which Ein Al-Hilweh residents have to go through to enter or leave the camp. Since 2017 the refugee camp has been completely walled off by the Lebanese authorities, and the security barrier has further isolated the Palestinian refugees living in Ein al-Hilweh.
The film shines a light on how more than a hundred boys and girls living in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp find hope and peace at the Palestinian Cultural Centre, which is located in a former underground war shelter. At the Centre, Khalid fulfils his dream of practicing Dabkeh, the Palestinian folkloric dance, and drumming, in spite of the harsh reality of his daily life collecting resalable item from the trash of the camp outside school hours.
In addition to the harsh socio-economic situation of the camp, the deputy head of the Palestinian security forces in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Munir Maqdah, highlights the security issues in al-Hilwea. Several Palestinian militant factions are based in the camp, and a number of jihadists have also taken shelter in Ein al Hilwe. Over 400 ‘wanted’ suspects live in the camp, such as Usama Al-Shihabi, wanted by the US and the Lebanese authorities.
Although the filming was shot in 2018, it reconnects with the 2007 battle between the Fatah Al-Islam organisation and the Lebanese army in the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp. The film is a rare and valuable look into a community of stateless people cut off from the world and made to live in an open-air prison.