Inside a different city
Five weeks in a refugee camp in Lebanon: Part
December 15, 2003
"The people who live there, they are cows. The only way you
can get them to walk is to hit them." -A Lebanese cab driver, after being directed to the camp.
"They [the refugees] shouldn't have been there
in the first place." -A Canadian-Lebanese university
student on the massacres of Sabra and Chatila
It's fun being a tourist in Beirut. The weak economy
gives me the ability to stretch my dollar to ridiculous distances.
the other day I bought a huge sandwich, a large glass of fresh
orange juice, a pint of European beer, and dessert for nine American dollars -- and I was told that I was being ripped off.
when I was in the tourist area of town, the prices seemed to fall
more in line with what I had expected. Near the university, one
cannot get a meal for less than five dollars. The guidebook alerted
me to this.
While sitting on a bus to central Beirut, I tried
to find a something about the Palestinian camps in the guidebook
had. Alas, only a brief paragraph in the "history of Lebanon" spoke
of them. It seems that the touring companies either don't want
you to know, or don't think you need to know about the tens of
thousands of individuals who take up residence in the city.
the author of the guidebook, an American woman, seems to have
fallen victim to the psychological malaise that a lot of Lebanon
victim to: blame Palestine syndrome. "One cannot understand
the Lebanese civil war without understanding what happened to
the Palestinians. Palestinians upset the delicate
balance of Chrisitans, Shia Muslims, and Sunni Muslims that Lebanon
had maintained," I was told by a learned Lebanese professor
about the cause of the civil war.
This is him, of course, forgetting
the fact that sectarian divisions had been building for decades
before the civil war. This is him forgetting the fact that while
the Christians of the north were becoming immaculately rich, the
Shia of the south were growing poorer and poorer. This is him forgetting
the fact that a census had not been done since the 1930s, and Lebanon's "balance" of
political power was unfavourably weighed towards the Christians--who,
by the way, were always preferred by the French colonial administrators
during their reign here. This is him forgetting the fact that Lebanon's
sectarian divisions had been a source of violence since the 1800s.
This blame has manifested itself in the form of the
structured discrimination. Palestinian refugees do have the ability
in 79 different professions in Lebanon and do not have the ability
to vote. The camps are not allowed to expand or even have telephone
lines (although with the wireless revolution, technology has allowed
Palestinians to circumvent the racism in this case). They are not
allowed to have passports, and are only granted "travel documents" through
a long and expensive process. This can be to no avail because foreign
governments often don't grant Palestinians visas out of fear that
they might claim, of all things, refugee status.
not stop many Lebanese people from blaming a lot of things on the
Palestinians. Not only do they blame the civil war as a
whole on the Palestinians, but also many different aspects of the
civil war. One of the commonly held views in Lebanon: it was the
PLO's fault (Palestine Liberation Organization, the organization
that was the main representative body of the Palestinian people)
that Israel invaded in 1982.
This bit of careful reasoning stems
from the fact that the PLO was running (albeit unsuccessful) raids
into the Israel from the south of Lebanon. This overlooks the fact
that one of the main Christian factions, the Phalange, was allied
with Israel during most of the civil war and paved the way for
the Israelis because both the military and political leaders of
Israel shared the view that a right-wing Christian-run Lebanon
would be favourable to any Muslim-run country.
The leaders of the
Jewish State wanted this so much so that they were willing to overlook
the ideological leanings of the Phalange, that is, those of the
Nazi Party of Germany. The founder of the Phalange party, Pierre
Gemayel, admired the Nazi Party; speaking of a visit to the Berlin
Olympics in 1936 he said that he "saw then this discipline
and order. And I said to myself: 'Why can't we do the same thing
And Gemayel and the Phalange enacted this order
in brutal ways; principally the massacres of Sabra and Chatila
camp (which was directly aided by the Israeli army), the latter
camp being only a mere stone throw away at the moment.
It was the massacres of Sabra and Chatila that ripped
down the facades that cloaked the middle east with a certain "truth" that
was as far away as events of the ground as they could be. The Phalange,
which until that point were the secret bedfellows of the West vis
a vis Israel, were exposed for the racist thugs that they were.
Israel went from being the country that "made the desert bloom" (a
disgustingly racist phrase that is thrown around that compares
the native Palestinians and Arabs as a whole to garden weeds) to
country that allowed Ariel Sharon ("A man of peace," according
to George W. Bush) and his military into signing the death warrants
of not only the 2000 people who died during those terrible 72 hours
in Sabra and Chatila, but to the over 20,000 who died as a direct
result of his invasion. Israelis themselves began waking up to
realities that their leaders had tried so hard so hide from them.
Hundreds of thousands (huge numbers for a country
whose population is only about five million) of Israelis marched
on the streets
of Tel Aviv calling for an end to the invasion, which succeeded,
along with the resignation of General Sharon--which was supposed
to be the end of his career.
Although many would argue that is was the image
of Israel that was affected the most after the massacres, it was
the image of
Palestinians that really changed. Palestinians went from being
the bloodthirsty Arabs who wanted to destroy all the Jews, to something
a bit closer to what they actually were: humans. For it was the
dehumanization of the Palestinians that had been accumulating
since the destruction of their homeland that was the real perpetrator
of the massacres.
This dehumanization allowed the Phalange to literally
to exterminate the elderly, the women, the children, the infants.
allowed the Israeli army to indiscriminately shell the refugee
camps of Lebanon to dispose of "terrorirsts." This
dehumanization had and still has allowed the world to close its
eyes to the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of refugees
who go about their lives in miserable
camps without phone lines, electricity, proper schools, and any
agency to climb over the visible and invisible walls that surround
these camps. >>> Part
But didn't you know, it was their own fault?
* Quoted in Fisk, Robert, "Pity the Nation:
Lebanon at War," 1989.
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