um jihad

Her name was Um Jihad. She was one of the first people we met from Nahr el Bared refugee camp who had sought refuge for herself and her family in Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. She is the woman sitting down in the photograph above. Everyone fleeing the Lebanese army’s war on the camp had a story, had a particular situation that complicated their flight and their refuge. But Um Jihad, perhaps more than anyone, captured the hearts of many people involved in the crisis. What made her story different, perhaps, is that she had breast cancer and was in the midst of chemotherapy treatment. Baha’a was particularly moved by her situation–as was Sari, Razan, Tamara, and Nadine–but Baha’a made it his mission to ensure that she continue her medical treatment. Because no one working with us were trained medical professionals, the Nahr el Bared Relief Campaign could not administer medical care and consequently the group stopped funding medical aid about a month or so into the crisis. But Baha’a decided that he would help fund Um Jihad’s treatment. Not only did he pay for her treatment out of his own pocket, but he took her to the hospital each week while she received her chemotherapy.

I was not fortunate enough to get to know Um Jihad. I met her several times. Most recently I went to her new “house” in the new camp section of Nahr el Bared refugee camp. Um Jihad and her family were given one of UNRWA’s new houses that they built for a few families who were allowed to return to their camp–albeit one that is surrounded by Lebanese army and intelligence operatives. The second picture–the one just above–is of Um Jihad’s new house that I visited last January and the one below is of the complex itself. It was a freezing cold day and there was barely electricity, let alone any heat. The conditions were unbearable to say the least.

Um Jihad’s new residence reminded me of what Palestinian refugees’ houses looked like as people shifted from tents to more sustainable structures. A photograph of a Palestinian family in Ein el Helweh refugee camp in Saida, Lebanon (see below) looks strikingly similar to where Um Jihad had moved. She continued with her cancer treatment and was looking forward to planning a menu for her family’s Eid al Fitr holiday this week. Sadly, this will not be as she died this week. She died not on the soil of Palestine where she belongs and had a legal right to return to and where she should be buried; rather, she died in the camp.

I wish I had known Um Jihad and her family better. It was hard for me to hear her story, though, as it often is with women who have breast cancer. Um Jihad actually died of renal failure, a complication that can be created by taking chemotherapy. My own mom did not die of breast cancer, but of internal bleeding in her stomach and a heart attack, both of which were due to excessive and extensive doses of chemotherapy. In the United States every October one sees pink ribbons commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’m sad to say that this has started to pop up in places like Lebanon as well. There are many problems with this pink ribbon campaign, which only Breast Cancer Action continues to challenge in their “Think Before you Pink” campaign. For instance,

Many companies that raise funds for breast cancer also make products that are linked to the disease. BCA calls these companies “pinkwashers.” BMW, for example, gives $1 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure each time you test-drive one of their cars, even though pollutants found in car exhaust are linked to breast cancer. Many cosmetics companies whose products contain chemicals linked to breast cancer also sell their items for the cause. Pinkwashers would make a much more valuable contribution to women’s lives if they made safer products, instead of wrapping themselves in the pink ribbon.

The same is true for the creators of, and for a long time producers of, chemotherapy. Pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. would create cancer by polluting the environment and then later sell the same people the drugs to treat their disease. Rachel Carson warned us about this decades ago. The most recent problem with this is related to the dairy industry:

Yoplait’s Save Lids to Save Lives campaign encourages consumers to buy pink-lidded cups of Yoplait yogurt and then mail the lid back to the company to prompt a donation to the cause. Yoplait’s products, however, are made from cows treated with the genetically engineered hormone, recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH). rBGH, also known as rBST, is injected into cows so they will produce more milk. Research suggests a number of health concerns, including breast cancer, are associated with the consumption of dairy products from cows treated with rBGH.

The way these corporations profit off of their faux do-gooder marketing is deceptive, and oftentimes destructive as with Yoplait. Other times it just offensive. Barbara Ehrenreich’s article of a few years ago tracks these corporations and their attempt at gaining the attention of a captive audience:

More so than in the case of any other disease, breast-cancer organizations and events feed on a generous flow of corporate support. Nancy Brinker relates how her early attempts to attract corporate interest in promoting breast cancer “awareness” were met with rebuff. A bra manufacturer, importuned to affix a mammogram-reminder tag to his product, more or less wrinkled his nose. Now breast cancer has blossomed from wallflower to the most popular girl at the corporate charity prom. While AIDS goes begging and low-rent diseases like tuberculosis have no friends at all, breast cancer has been able to count on Revlon, Avon, Ford, Tiffany, Pier 1, Estée Lauder, Ralph Lauren, Lee Jeans, Saks Fifth Avenue, JC Penney, Boston Market, Wilson athletic gear—and I apologize to those I’ve omitted. You can “shop for the cure” during the week when Saks donates 2 percent of sales to a breast cancer fund; “wear denim for the cure” during Lee National Denim Day, when for a $5 donation you get to wear blue jeans to work. You can even “invest for the cure,” in the Kinetics Assets Management’s new no-load Medical Fund, which specializes entirely in businesses involved in cancer research.

Many of the companies listed above in this clip from Ehrenreich’s article, most notably Estée Lauder, are also tremendous supporters of the state of Israel so they should be boycotted not only for trying to capitalize from a disease, while masking that they are supporting women with that disease, but also for their funding the Zionist state. Ron Lauder, who is the CEO of Estée Lauder, is also the Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and President of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The JNF is a quasi-government agency whose main function is to legitimize Israeli’s theft of Palestinian land. So follow this trail: an American woman “innocently” buys some Estée Lauder make up. She thinks she is also supporting breast cancer because she is told that the profits from her sale (perhaps 2%) will be donated to the Breast Cancer Fund (Lauder’s own charity, which has always made it impossible to collect data on so it is difficult to know what if anything they do to help women with breast cancer). In reality, the profits from that money have a far great chance of being donated to the JNF which continues to steal Palestinian land in 1948 historical Palestine as well as in the Occupied West Bank. The JNF, in fact, is one of the main organizations that has not only stolen Palestinian land, but ensured that this land–like the land belonging to Um Jihad and her family–remains in control of the state and not of individual people living in the Zionist state.

Meanwhile UNRWA is running out of funds to build homes or support Palestinian families in Nahr el Bared and elsewhere:

Speaking to ambassadors from donor countries at the launch of the appeal, UNRWA’s deputy commissioner-general, Filippo Grandi, warned: “The situation for displaced families remains extremely fragile. The activities covered by this appeal are vital, and the funds that are needed to carry them out are urgently needed.”

Unless more funding can be secured, the agency will run out of money at the end of October and will be forced to cease aid to the displaced families. UNRWA currently provides a range of essential services, paying rent for temporary accommodation and delivering food kits to needy families.

Meanwhile, the Italian government just announced that it would come to the aid of the Lebanese government to help the people in Nahr el Bared rebuild their camp (Isn’t Italy in a recession now?):

The Italian ambassador and the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) signed a 5 million-euro ($7.2 million) cooperation agreement on Tuesday for the recovery and reconstruction of the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp and conflict affected areas in North Lebanon….

It added that Italy’s 5 million euro commitment will be disbursed as direct budget support to the Lebanese government for the recovery and reconstruction of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp and conflict-ridden areas of North Lebanon.

The statement said that the agreement was an additional sign of “Italy’s commitment to improving living conditions in Palestinian refugee camps and surrounding areas – a commitment which has continuously increased since the 2006 conflict, reaching an overall figure of 13 million euros.”

It’s hard to know where this money will go and if it will ever reach those who need it most. Will it help breast cancer patients with treatment? Build new homes for Palestinian refugees in the camp? Meanwhile Lebanon’s new President Michel Suleiman–let us not forget in his former role as the head of the Lebanese Army he was responsible for the death and destruction of the people and homes in Nahr el Bared–told President George Bush that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to Palestine:

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Thursday emphasized his country’s claim to territory held by Israel and told U.S. President George W. Bush the future of Palestinian refugees was in their homeland, not Lebanon.

Suleiman, the former army chief elected president in May, thanked Bush during an Oval Office visit for supporting Lebanon’s military institutions and said the country, which has been plagued by bombings and assassinations, was working “very hard to combat terror.”

“We are also here to reaffirm the need to liberate all Lebanese territories and also to make it very clear that the future of Palestinian refugees is in their homeland, not in Lebanon,” Suleiman told Bush through a translator.

“We believe that this is in the interest of Lebanon as well as in the interest of the Palestinian people themselves,” he said.

While I agree fully with Suleiman that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their land, I think we must also be conscious of the ways in which Lebanese leaders’ racism directed towards Palestinians (and often towards Syrians) should not be the vehicle through which we promote the right of return. But, in the end, it is the right of return that Um Jihad’s story should remind us of. Her memory, and the memory of so many others who have died without ever returning, who have been buried outside their land, should spur us on to fight for the inalienable right.


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