I’ve returned to Lebanon. I was hardly able to contain my excitement about returning, seeing old friends, engaging with resistance once again (God, how I missed the only country I’ve seen with a serious resistance movement!). When I left Paris to connect on my flight to Beirut I was happily sending SMS messages to my dear friend in Beirut who would be picking me up at the airport. We were so excited to see one another. When I landed in Beirut a few hours later, however, I learned that her grandfather had died while I was on the airplane. He was a very important person in her life. He died of cancer after too much suffering. Thank God he had the good fortune not to pursue the dreaded big pharmaceutical corporations’ chemotherapy that would have prolonged his pain and suffering. But he died peacefully with his family surrounding him. He was from Akka, Palestine, but he died here in Lebanon. He will not get to live out al awda. He will not be buried in the land where he should be buried. At least not for now. But if anyone can help envision such a dream of al awda his granddaughter will most certainly make him proud one day.
I haven’t seen too much of Beirut yet, as I spent today in the azza (memorial) for my friend’s grandfather and yesterday in my favorite bar in Beirut for New Year’s Eve. From what I’ve seen everything has changed and nothing has changed. Lots of new restaurants or bars seem to have opened up. Lots of buildings still going up. The resistance camp is still set up downtown in front of the parliament. Pro-army posters still line the streets. But now there are new “martyrs” such as Francois al Hajj, the Lebanese army commander who directed the desecration of the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr el Bared last summer. There is still no President in Lubnan. There will be American University of Beirut (AUB) elections next week and students are making strange political alliances (such as Palestinian Jordanians joining Mostaqbal). And Dean of Students at AUB has been actively censoring the publication of any material that references refugee camps. Some of my former students who produce a student news magazine called Al Hawiyya (named after the ID cards Palestinians are forced to carry so they can be further marginalized) through the Palestinian Cultural Club on campus had their most recent issue censored in its entirety. Why? Because one of my former students wrote a personal essay about working to help the Palestinian refugees from Nahr el Bared in which he situated the context of the conflict between the Lebanese army, Fatah al Islam, and the Palestinians who are suffering the consequences now. It was also censored for an article chronicling the anniversary of the massacre on Sabra and Shatila, the Palestinian neighborhood and refugee camp where Israelis teamed up with Lebanese militias like Kataeb and massacred innocent civilians inside the camp in 1982. Apparently my students were “inciting” violence on campus for merely discussing facts that many other newspapers were discussing at the same time and that many scholars from around the world have researched in books contained in AUB’s library. But students are not allowed to write about these subjects, about living history that affects their lives in the past and present. Are AUB students doomed to repeat a history that they are somehow forbidden to engage with?
Of course there is resistance in its many glorious forms here in Lubnan. Tonight I got to see it in action with an amazing teenager from Nahr el Bared refugee camp who lives in Burj al Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut now. He is only in high school, but he’s amazingly smart, gifted, talented. He is a hip hop artist and has written and composed some beautiful music. He was in the midst of building himself his own audio recording studio next to his house in the camp so I went over with a friend to help him put up that gray Styrofoam sort of material that one uses to block out sound (see photo above). I got to hear some of his music and listen to some of his dreams–such as studying audio engineering in college–and it was so refreshing. This guy has also got tagging down to an art form and I took a picture of one of his newest graffiti pieces at the entrance to Bourj al Barajneh.
I feel so inspired having been spending time with friends, seeing how people are using their creative energy (in spite of academic or military institutions attempting to silence them). I have not yet been to Nahr el Bared camp, but from what I heard today creative ingenuity is the only thing helping people to survive in the camp. UNRWA, as usual, isn’t doing s*&^ to help the people. Supposedly they finally opened their medical clinic in the camp, but it sounds more like their clinic in Shatila refugee camp, which never seems to be open or never helps people in any tangible way. It seems that there are 500 families who have now returned, but most of them are not–and cannot–sleep there given that there are holes in their walls and ceilings that they still need to patch up. But no one is really working on reconstruction. Instead, as they promised last summer, the Palestinians are rebuilding their homes themselves. They have even started to open up some small markets inside the camp. Those who are living there are staying in UNRWA’s pre-fab houses. (I can’t wait to see if it’s the abomination they previewed last summer in Baddawi refugee camp.) And there is no place for children to play and so many unexploded weapons that children seem to be getting injured rather frequently. I still haven’t seen any statistics, but I suspect that the reality is grim.
And one final note. A friend asked me last night what is my wish for the new year. I answered “al awda.” He said, no, your personal wish. I replied the same: “al awda.” It’s hard for me to be “festive” (as one friend put it today 😉 ) or really fully enjoy New Year’s (though this year was a bit easier as it was just so good to see so many people I’ve missed so much) when I cannot be too optimistic about the future. I hope, though, that this is the year of المقاومة و العودة!