To sit with and learn from "Miss International', her friends and her elderly parents, who as children walked half a day into Lebanon from Safed in northern Palestine on May 12, 1948, all one has to do is enter Shatila Camp from the south, diagonal from what's left of the Palestine Red Crescent Society's Akka Hospital. Continue north along Rue Sabra toward what remains of the former Gaza PRCS Hospital. Gaza Hospital was for years, before the Palestinian Resistance departed in August of 1982, among the best equipped and administered hospitals in the Middle East. It was bombarded, destroyed and stripped of all its equipment during the Camp "Wars", and the hospital's shell is now home to roughly 1000 refugees who exist, packed into every room, hall way and alcove from the operating theater to the hospital morgue. Continue north past Martyr's Cemetery where around 1000 unidentified victims of the Israeli sponsored 1982 Massacre at Shabra-Shatila are buried, one takes the third right down a narrow alley where the sun has not shown for 60 years. Step around the puddles of sewage and the ruts, watch out for dozens of beautiful children chasing and playing, or going or coming from the camps two UNWRA schools, avoid careening bikes and proud, if stressed , Palestinian women with shopping bags, sometimes balanced on their heads, and babies in their arms and you'll find the cinder block hovel on your left next to a rusty zinc roofed shelter that camp residents avoid. The reason people don't like to go inside the shelter is that 29 years ago the al-Hajj family allowed their neighbors to hide in their shelter during the 1982 massacre, as they themselves fled east to the then Algerian Embassy, across airport road from Shatila camp-currently the City Hall of the Hezbollah run Municipality of Ghouberi.
When the Hajj family returned to their home following the Massacre, they learned that all 17 neighbors using their shelter were slaughtered because the Israelis had given maps showing the exact location of the 11 shelters to the Phalange-Lebanese Forces militias. Zeinab, 7 years old at the time, recalls that she wanted to stay in the shelter and not flee because she planned to play with her dolls and her best friend Mona and they liked their private "hideout' space. All 278 camp residents, with four exceptions, who entered the Israeli identified shelters in Shatila Camp were butchered between 6 pm Thursday and around midnight Friday, September 16-17, 1982.
Last night's conversation, while enjoying a delicious bowl of hot Palestinian shorba prepared by Mrs. Hajj was about what Zeinab and her friends call the "Great Arab and Palestinian Awakening." "What is happening? "Is it possible that Sykes-Picot' off-spring can be liberated sooner rather than later?" Zeinab's sister Suha, a nursing student at near-by Bahman hospital, scowled, referring to Israel.
Amidst the unfolding upheaval in the Middle East, some are expecting Lebanon's Palestinian camps to erupt in revolt to protest economic and social conditions that are worse than any of the areas now in open revolt. If an eruption comes, it will be a quest for freedom, dignity and justice. Lots of meetings and discussions are being held but so far few signs of organizing mass demonstrations, although the current calm could abruptly shatter.
Zeinab's friends are also more optimistic these days about the chances that they will finally be granted some elementary civil rights. The growing excitement appears to be fueled by the freedoms many camp residents predict in Tunisia and Egypt and perhaps throughout the region, but also as a result of the new government in Lebanon. The failure in Parliament last summer to achieve meaningful changes with respect to the right to work and to own a home in Parliament was a major disappointment in the camps, but with the new government hopes have risen.
Their growing zeal is made manifest in the quickly spreading activism among young Palestinians, being encouraged by their elders whose numbers comprise many sometimes honored, sometime seemingly forgotten, Palestinian resistance heroes who over the past half century helped earn the world's recognition and increasing support of the Palestinian cause. I mean this reference to honor those, now middle aged, many sitting idly in the camps reminiscing and wondering what went wrong as they discuss latest developments such as the Palestine Papers, and who have struggled for so long to return to Palestine. Many from before the days when the arch Zionist Golda Meir could proclaim that "there are no such people as Palestinians" and much of the world's media reflexively reported her lies as truth, and who have never compromised the principles which underpin the Palestinian struggle for justice. I recently met a man in Shatila Camp, who in 1950 in Gaza, worked with the Executive Committee of the Refugees' Conference. This was of course 14 years before the founding of the PLO in Cairo. It was this Committee which led the first legislative council in Gaza in the early sixties, and sent the first Palestinian delegation of refugees to the United Nations in 1961.
Lebanon's camps are full of aging heroes. Among them thousands of mothers who have suffered and achieved so much for their families, their cause and their country. Their progeny fill the teeming camps. There is a young Nelson Mandela in Rashedeyeh camp near Tyre. Another I met in Ein el Helwe appears to be a clone on Dalal Moughiby. In Nahr al Bared, still waiting to be rebuilt following its destruction in 2007, I watched a youthful Khalil al Wazir (Abu Jihad) explain his hopes to revive Palestinian resistance until liberation. In Wavall camp in the Bekaa I spent an evening with teenaged would-be Hassan Nasrallah who wants to help lead his people back to Palestine.
Like the streets of Cairo, Lebanon's camps are starting to cry "Hurriya!" The camps here have birthed new leadership, aided by the old, that will anticipate that the new government will respect the words of the Resistance and enact in Parliament the full Right to Work and repeal the discriminatory 2001 law that criminalizes Palestinian home ownership.
Franklin Lamb is reachable c/o Email address removed
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