by Valerie Urso
posted in Opinion
One discarded potential headline for this piece was “Palestinian Refugees: Still Getting Kicked Around”. Just because I decided to go with something a little more bland doesn’t make it any less true, but I wanted to write something that wasn’t the same old story people keep hearing until it has no meaning. I don’t want the plight of the Palestinian people to become cliché. “Eat your vegetables, there are people starving in Africa.” It’s not the type of saying that inspires change. And things desperately need to change.
A handful of people are actually interested in making an immediate and real difference. One of these people, Dr. Marcy Newman, came to the UCSB campus last Tuesday and spoke at Corwin Pavilion about this past summer’s violence in Lebanon in a presentation called “Still Too Many Enemies: The Nahr el Bared
Refugee Camp and Palestinians in Lebanon.” Dr. Newman is an Assistant Professor of English at Boise State University and co-founder of the Nahr el Bared Relief Campaign. She formed the campaign to provide aid to Palestinian refugees that were displaced from their homes in the camp when fighting broke out between the Lebanese Army and Fatah el-Islam, a militant Sunni group that admire Al-Qaeda.
Fatah el-Islam was set up by Sa’ad Harriri, son of the assassinated ex-Prime Minister of Lebanon, reportedly in cooperation with the US government, in order to take out Hezbollah. After a falling out over paychecks, the group robbed a bank. When the Lebanese Army tracked them to their apartments in Northern Lebanon, a gunfight broke out that snowballed into a summer’s worth of blood-spilling and general upheaval. Fatah el-Islam traveled around the densely populated Palestinian refugee camps, were kicked out repeatedly by the Palestinians and then were trapped in Nahr el-Bared when the Lebanese Army laid siege to the camp.
What followed was a media blackout and the typical non-response these events get. Palestinian refugees fled to the surrounding refugee camps, most to Beddawi and Shatila, while the Lebanese Army shelled their homes.
The current status of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is despicable. After the war of 1948, almost a million Palestinians fled to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Syria, and further elsewhere. Currently there are about 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, roughly the population of Santa Barbara County. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are not allowed to own land. Up until 2005, Palestinians were banned from working in 70+ professions. Now the number has dropped to 20, although it is still hard for Palestinians to find legal jobs as a work permit is about $700, too high for most applicants. They also have to pay taxes for social services, though they are banned from any benefits.
Many Lebanese blame the Palestinians for the 1975 Civil War. Many Lebanese wish their struggling little country wasn’t burdened by the presence of Hezbollah, which remains the only military force that can defend Lebanon against its trigger-happy southern neighbor. It’s no surprise that this summer then turned into an excuse to let off some good old-fashioned racist resentment. Palestinian men were detained, abducted and tortured by the Lebanese Army. Hate-filled and lewd graffiti covered the walls of Nahr el-Bared, ranging from “Palestinians should not be allowed to live in houses” to “your sister’s vagina”.
The refugees returned home to houses that had been looted and, literally, s*&^ in. Crap on the floor is a trademark of the Israeli Defense Force. One home had a Star of David spray-painted on the wall, under which had been written “Allah”. It looks like the Lebanese Army graduated from the IDF’s How to Debase and Demean Palestinians undergraduate course. By imitating the army that first expelled the Palestinians from their homes, they added to the ongoing injustices heaped upon a disenfranchised people.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Dr. Newman and others like her who try to give back humanity to those from whom it has been stolen. Her group distributed basic aid along with a little hope and healing. Besides supplying basic aid like food and medicine, the Relief Campaign sponsored art programs for the refugee children, took them to theater shows and summer camp. You can visit their website www.nahrelbaredcampaign.org to learn more about what’s going on there, look at image galleries, and donate to the relief effort. Contributing to grassroots organizations like this is one of the best ways to directly make an impact.
Unfortunately, we live in a time where “Never Again” has gotten redundant. Never again, never again, never again. Rwanda. Darfur. [Insert Name Here]. It has ceased to mean anything. But if we work hard and educate ourselves and really mean it, we might be able to make “Not At the Moment” or “Maybe Later”. There are a dozen ways to get involved in fixing our sad little world, right here on our campus, pick one. Go. Do something.