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New Challenges Grip Lebanon's Palestinian Camps

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30 Years after the Massacre at Sabra-Shatila".

New Challenges Grip Lebanon's Palestinian Camps

by FRANKLIN LAMB

Shatila Camp.

The Sabra-Shatila Massacre: it seems like a dozen weeks, not 30 years ago. This year American citizens received messages to stay away from Beirut and the annual commemoration of the Israeli facilitated Massacre at Sabra-Shatila from their State Department and Beirut Embassy. The latter's staff on 9/19/12 completed destroying sensitive documents and packing all non-essential items.  The French government too told its citizens not to come to Beirut or participate in "mass gatherings because of concerns over sudden random violence".

But they came.  Despite the well-meaning admonitions from their governments, they came in numbers greater than ever before. They came to bear witness with the survivors and their families to the horror of this crime against Palestinians and to plead for justice.

One elderly lady from Haifa, Palestine said bitterly, as foreign delegations paid their respects at Shatila's Martyr's cemetery, "At least God is punishing Sharon!"  She was referring to the coma the architect of the massacre went into six years ago and who is being sustained in a vegetative mass at the cost of $ 400,000 annually, partly paid for by American taxpayers.  She lamented, that not one person has ever been arrested, no one tried, or convicted and Israel has refused to open its file on the events surrounding the slaughter. Nor has the American government ever demanded that Israel do so. The Lebanese government has never even investigated the massacre as a crime.

Authors, photo-chroniclers and historians of the 1982 massacre, Mya Shone and Ralph Schoenman, replied to a recent New York Times article on the massacre by reminding us this week that "Ha'aretz recounted on September 26, 1982 the high level planning that preceded the invasion in service to "the long term objective aimed at the expulsion of the whole Palestinian population of Lebanon beginning with Beirut."  Shone and Schoenman remind us that the London Sunday Times reported on the same day: "This carefully pre-planned military operation (to send Israeli selected militia into Shatila while the IDF sealed the camp to prevent possible escape) to "purge' the camps was called Moah Barzel (Iron Brain); the plan was familiar to Sharon and Begin and was part of Sharon's larger plan discussed by the Israeli cabinet on July 17."

Each year, local or regional events impact the annual Shatila commemoration events differently. This year during some of the five days of events that took foreign visitors to Palestinian camps including Shatila and Mar Elias camps in Beirut, Burj Shemali and Al-Buss camps in the south and up north to Nahr al Bared (Cold River) which was destroyed by the Lebanese army in 2007 during the Fateh al Islam events, there were discussions at meetings and on the buses of the arrival back into Shatila camp and the other 11 camps of approximately 10, 000 Palestinian refugees from Syria. They are being received as honored guests by fellow Palestinians but they urgently need help.

Arriving refugees tell of how there are some splits in their community over the Syrian chaos the same as in the Shia, Sunni, Christian, and Druze communities. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), which was ejected five weeks ago from Yarmouk camp by other Palestinians,  is claiming that Palestinians who do not not endorse President Assad 100 percent are with Al Qaeda and the FSA (Free Syrian Army).  On the other hand, the FSA claim that Palestinians who refuse to join them are with Ahmad Jabril, the PFLP-GC leader. Yamouk camp residents pay the price from both sides. Most Palestinians want nothing to do with the politics of the Syrian crisis but only to live in peace.

Most of those who were recently forced out of Yarmouk camp in Damascus and back into Shatila had never visited the locus of the slaughter they miraculously survived 30 years ago. Some expressed deep emotions on returning and observing parts of the camp that remain much the same as they were following the nearly 50 hours of butchery between September 16-18, 1982.

One gentleman from Yarmouk camp,  a Christian, who in 1976 was driven out of Tel A Zaatar Palestinian camp as it was destroyed by Christian militia, and who was living in Shatila at the time of the 1982 massacre, expressed his shock of how the current residents are living at such low heath, nutrition, and social-economic standards.  He expressed surprise to a visiting American delegation at finding no right to work or ability to own a home. Both of which, he explained, plus many more rights are enjoyed by Palestinian refugees in Syria. All the Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria, who were interviewed by this observer, found conditions in Shatila to be much worse today than at the time of the massacre, 30 years ago.

Most of the Palestinians arriving from Syria are temporarily staying with friends or relatives in Lebanon's 12 camps. 500 families are temporality lodged in Saida, 30 miles south of Beirut, with 350 families sardine-canned in Ein el Helwe camp, already extremely densely populated with approximately 20,000 refugees. Roughly 500 Palestinian families, refugees once more, are housed temporarily in the Bekaa valley bordering Syria, including 250 families staying at Jilil (Wavell) camp. Scores or other Syrian Palestinian refugees are being housed in Bedawi camp near Tripoli. A major problem in all the camps is that the severe overcrowding and limited water and electricity are creating extended family tensions.

To date not much organized aid has been distributed.  UNWRA is still in the process of making lists of the arriving refugees from Syria, reminding one of the time it took for that UN agency to access the needs of the Nahr al Bared displaced refugees in 2007. The UNCHR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, whose mandate does not include Palestinians, is also studying the problem.

But the need for aid is now and urgent. Meeting with individuals on 9/20/12 from the Palestinian camp committees and the local and international NGO community, three urgent needs were identified facing the refugees from Syria, whose numbers swell following each Palestinian killed in Syria.  On 9/19/20, 18 more Palestinians were killed and so the numbers coming to Lebanon will swell over the next few days.

Among the three most urgent problems facing the arriving Palestinians from Syria are Social problems ranging from finding places to live, food, education and preventing youth from joining local Lebanese militia who offer $100 per day to Palestinian youth to work as hired guns. A few do fight on both sides of the Syrian conflict while their mothers and fathers are urging them to "stay off the streets."

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