There has been no shortage of worry in Lebanon following the Hamas attacks on October 7 and the ensuing Israeli declaration of all-out war on Gaza. Israel has made it clear that war with Hezbollah will lead to devastating consequences for the whole of Lebanon. “What we’re doing in Gaza, we can also do in Beirut,” the Israeli defense minister has warned.[1]

A mural in an alley in the Burj al-Barajneh Palestinian camp south of Beirut on November 15, 2023. Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images

The echoes of the past are strong—the destruction of the 1980s and 2006 still vivid in the experience and memories of many. Since October 7, Israel has bombed villages and fields in proximity to the border, using white phosphorous in civilian areas in violation of international humanitarian law. In the first week of January 2024, it carried out assassinations of Hamas deputy chairman Saleh Al-Arouri in Beirut’s southern district of Dahiyeh and senior commander of Hezbollah’s Radwan special forces, Wissam Tawil, in the Marjeyoun District in Southern Lebanon. Tens of civilians and at least four journalists have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since October 7.

Some places worry more than others. Beirut’s Dahiyeh district, the Junub (South) and Nabatiyyeh Governorate along the border with Israel remain in a state of permanent war. The South does not only represent the geographical line between Lebanon and Israel. It is also the line of community mobilization under the umbrella of Hezbollah and the Resistance (al-Muqawama) within Beirut’s suburbs and well into Lebanon’s hinterland. The front is long and military operations by the Hezbollah-led resistance are daily and calculating, though also escalatory as exemplified by repeated targeting of the Israeli Air Force intelligence base on Mount Meron, the highest peak in Israel (excluding the Occupied Golan Heights). Hezbollah is cognizant of the delicate balance between its domestic publics and priorities within Lebanon and its commitment to the broader front of the Resistance. The latter is under the umbrella of Iran’s military, intelligence and ideological compass and includes Ansar Allah (the Houthis) in Yemen, the Popular Mobilization Units (al-Hashd al-Sha‘abi) in Iraq and Bashar al-Asad in Syria.

The tenor of Hezbollah’s media statements differs from the July 2006 war. The semantics of martyrdom and sacrifice are still there, but they are not front and center.
The tenor of Hezbollah’s media statements differs from the July 2006 war. The semantics of martyrdom and sacrifice are still there, but they are not front and center. Instead, pro-Resistance channels such as al-Mayadeen and Hezbollah’s official channel al-Manar have been filled with reports from Hebrew-language newspapers and Israeli media being translated, shared and discussed. In the virtual chats on Telegram channels and street corner cafes, Hebrew has become, not a language of fear or rejection, but an indispensable tool to follow updates about the enemy’s strategy and the direction of the war as well as to validate the Resistance’s claims of success. Reports of damages and casualties from Israeli news channels are shared as a testament to Hezbollah’s effectiveness and to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s promise of deterrence against the IDF. That said, hard talk of geopolitics stands against the pressures on everyday livelihoods across Lebanese society and the reality of Lebanon’s military inferiority vis-a-vis Israel and the West. Many remain fearful of the collapse of Lebanon’s already tired economic recovery in the wake of an all-out war with Israel.

For Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the cruel spectacle of Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza is set against the memory of Sabra and Shatila. Listening to the camps’ walls reveals the new organizational and affective dynamics that have followed from October 7.

Reflecting on his childhood in Miyah wa Miyeh camp in the 1970s, Salem Yassin writes of the importance of reading and listening to the camps’ walls—what he calls “the people’s free newspaper.”[2] The messages they convey, Yassin suggests, are part of a dialogue with world events and history as much as they are about internal dialogues within the camp. They are written by the “organic” intellectuals: ordinary Palestinians who reside in the camps. They convey critical reflections on their world, foster engagement with the world beyond the camp and call for liberatory or solidarity actions. These days, their writings transcend the physical walls and find their way into the digital realm, prominently featured on Facebook walls and other social media platforms.

Since October 7, the walls of most Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon have been adorned with murals, posters and pictures commemorating the attacks as well as images of martyrs and Abu Obeida—the spokesperson for Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades. This visual tapestry reinforces the enduring commitment to armed resistance within the community and attempts to minimize the burning distance between Palestine and the camps in Lebanon. On the surface, Hezbollah and its Palestinian allies in the camps, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, restrict and oversee how and when people can engage in armed struggle against Israel—the post-1991 equilibrium between the Palestinian liberation struggle and Lebanese sovereignty having found a solution in Hezbollah’s control over the resistance. But this arrangement leaves many unhappy: Palestinian groups who feel they are subordinates to the Islamic Resistance as well as opponents of Hezbollah who argue that the party has taken over the Lebanese state’s prerogative and acts as a proxy of Iran.

A Facebook post by the media outlet Jouzour reads, “How can you directly support the people of Gaza?” The flyer suggests companies to boycott.

Following October 7, there has also been a resurgent call for boycott echoing across the camp walls. Extending beyond the confines of the camp, this call for boycott has reverberated across the Arab world and into Muslim-majority countries, as well as several countries in the global South. It differs from those sponsored by the international BDS campaign and its national working groups. In Lebanon, grassroots and individual efforts propel boycotts autonomously, driven by a collective desire to take meaningful action against violence in Gaza and across the Occupied West Bank. One new grassroots initiative emerging from the camps, for example, Qati’ Tishtrish organizes school visits and prints flyers detailing the impact of boycott actions.

A Facebook live, hosted in early November by two Palestinian activists from Burj al-Barajneh and Shatila camps, featured a conversation and a Q&A session on boycott as a tool of resistance. The host started by defining boycott and explaining that it is not an action triggered only at times of war. Rather, it is an ongoing effort, one whose influence should not be underestimated. He exhorted his listeners to note the drop of prices in imported goods that followed the rise in boycott calls in the region.

A Facebook post by Jouzour reads, “How can you directly support the people of Gaza?” The graffiti reads, “Do not pay the price of their bullets.”

Boycott thus not only has the potential to affect Israel’s economy. It also prompts organic reflections on imperialism, class and political action. When prices drop, people realize the power they hold over the market. Boycotts of Western products complicit in aiding the genocide in Palestine often involve advocating for their substitution with local (or non-Western) products, which are reviewed and promoted by those participating in the boycott through their social media feeds. A picture depicting two young girls checking the labels of products recently went viral on social media. “This time, we have won a generation we feared might forget,” reads the caption. Boycott actions pave the way for Palestinian refugees across generational and gender divides to reclaim their part in the struggle. It allows them to defy the hegemony of Palestinian factions and their top-down approach.

When looking across the border from Lebanon, Israel—with the support of the United States and Britain—seems to have a great appetite for war, driven by grief metabolized into conquest and revanchism along mythological, Biblical lines. In Lebanon, the fears and desires of the recent past echo in the walls of the camps and the burning borders of the south. Proposals of a mutual agreement between Israel and Hezbollah through US mediation—which have been reported in the news—are met with skepticism or derided. After all, US president Joe Biden appointed Amos Hochstein as his special envoy to the Middle East. Hochstein was born in Israel and served in the IDF as a tank crewman before moving to the United States. The few who thought peace with Israel might be possible, or that the United States was an impartial mediator in the conflict, are reminded by those who have long been skeptical: “We told you, it [Israel] is not just against the South [the Resistance]. It is against the whole of us [Lebanon].”[3]

[Rami Rmeileh is a doctoral student at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. Maziyar Ghiabi is a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies.]


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This article appears in MER issue 309 “Palestine—Before and After October 7.”





[1]‘What we’re doing in Gaza, we can also do in Beirut,’ says Israeli defense minister,” AlArabiya News, November 11, 2023.

[2] Salem Yassin, “Graffiti from a Time Gone by,” in Muhammad Ali Khalidi (editor and translator), 11 lives: Stories from Palestinian Exile (New York: OR Books New York), pp. 6-21.

[3] Conversation with Beirut interlocutor (originally from Nabatiyeh), Dec 2023.


How to cite this article:

Rami Rmeileh, Maziyar Ghiabi "Listening to the Camps’ Walls—Lebanon Since October 7," Middle East Report 309 (Winter 2023).

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