against anniversaries

mother-palestine-ror

i’ve been reading various articles and blog posts about the anniversary of the massacre of the palestinian refugee camp shatila and the surrounding neighborhood of sabra (no, sabra is not a refugee camp, but many palestinians live there). pulse media and falasteenyia both had nice posts on the subject. ma’an news posted a reflective piece on the zionist-kata’eb massacre of palestinians in 1982:

“That is the old Israeli watchtower and entrance to Sabra,” a man on the street pointed, standing in front of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camps. Below the tower, quarantined like a civil war time capsule, were the camps left to fend for themselves on the outskirts of Beirut.

No more than 20 meters past the former Israeli watchtower, in an empty lot, is the memorial for the victims of the 1982 Lebanon Civil War massacre. Camp residents say the site was once a mass grave for the slain. The memorial was a single-track dirt path linking a series of billboards with images of the dead.

The massacre’s perpetrators were of the predominantly Christian Phalange party: supplied, supported and supervised by onlooking Israeli soldiers.

The Phalangist pogrom was clear. What was not, however, was the extent of the crime. At the time of the massacre, the Director of Israeli Military Intelligence said that between the days of September 16 and 18, 1982, a minimum of 700 “terrorists” had been killed. Yet, reporter for the Independent Robert Fisk wrote in his book, Pity the Nation, “Phalangist officers I knew in east Beirut told me that at least 2,000 ‘terrorists’ — women as well as men — had been killed in Chatila.” The real number, according to Fisk, is thought to be higher.

Leaving the mass grave memorial and moving into the open-air market of the Sabra camp, a bullet-ridden wall stands separating a camp dump from its market. In all likelihood the half-block dumping ground was once on the fringes of the camp, but not anymore. The camp had no urban planner, so it grew until the market fully encircled the awful collection of stench, sewage and a sore reminder that nobody really intended to be living in the Sabra camp some sixty years after the Nakba, the Palestinian exodus of 1948.

At the far end of the bullet-chafed wall stood a child of about ten years, a refugee. With little hesitation he immersed himself into the filthy heap, heaving his woven sack of valued rubbish over the rotting mounds. For all the archetypes of the poverty-ridden Palestinian refugee that exists in a foreigner’s consciousness, this is surely it. There was to be no school for this boy. No passport, no rights and no state.

Beyond the heap hung layers of political propaganda posters: A keffiyehed militant with the bold letters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine plastered next to a green-tinted portrait of Hamas’ founder Sheik Yassin with the party logo “Martyrs of Freedom & Victory;” a weathered PLO poster of Arafat; even one of a masked fighter on a tank, clutching a Kalashnikov with the brand of Islamic Jihad. And the posters were not just of Palestinian parties, but of the Lebanese Amal and Hezbollah as well. As a nearby shopkeeper who sold Hezbollah DVD’s put it, “The camp is mixed now… mixed with Palestinians and [Lebanese] Shias… United by resistance…”

Despite appearances, however, inside the Lebanese Army’s encirclement of the camp a surprisingly calm business-as-usual air prevailed. The streets weren’t crowded, but populated. The buyers, the sellers, and of course the children, were everywhere, looking to relieve the gnawing boredom of a lifetime’s confinement to the camp. “We are not allowed to leave [the camps],” one of the sellers said, “No papers.”

United resistance aside, the camp was in shambles. Everything the Lebanese government might do in Sabra and Shatila—urban planning, paving streets, coordinating an electrical grid, sewage—was left to the Palestinian residents. At the beginning, however, the camp played host to the bigwigs of the Palestinian leadership in the Palestine Liberation Organization, who organized camp life and connected the residents to the Palestinian struggle.

The powerful PLO, back in 1982, provided the motive of the massacre’s perpetrators, the Christian Phalange militia, who sought to take revenge against PLO leaders—which had in fact already fled Lebanon—for the alleged assassination of the Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel. But the only people who remained in the camps that summer of 1982 were unarmed Palestinians.

What happened at Sabra and Shatila is still considered the bloodiest single event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is also among the most egregious and underreported aspects of the Palestinian calamity to date.

On the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, 16 September, the issue of the refugees and the right of return reaches again for the surface of Palestinian politics. With the newly-charged peace process being pushed by the United States, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s recently released strategy to establish Palestinian state in two years, the issue of returnees has been subsumed by talk of settlements in the West Bank.

American efforts, and Fayyad’s plan focus more on securing infrastructure and borders than focusing on the estimated 500,000 refugees without rights in Lebanon, or the hundreds of thousands of others in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and in the Gulf.

Palestinians in the camps have a precarious relationship with the current peace initiatives, particularly the older generation who still recall the villages they fled in 1948 and 1967.

“Sure I would support Obama’s plan,” an old man reflects on the US President’s push for a two-state solution. “But what kind of solution is it? I have nothing in this West Bank… it would make me a foreigner in my own land… I would only go back to my village. And I don’t even know what is there now.”

He picks up an old hatchet from his coffee table and continues, “They [the Zionists] chased us and hit us on the head with these. I left my small village near Acre [Akko] because of it.”

ah yes the selling out of the palestinian refugees like those in shatila who everyone loves to remember on occasions such as this one, but who never fight for their rights (read: fayyed among others). but a different piece in ma’an news was a bit more interesting–about george mitchell’s visit to lebanon which coincided with the anniversary of the massacre:

Palestinian refugees were the top of US Special Envoy George Mitchell’s list during a 20 minute sit down with Lebanon’s President Michel Suliman Wednesday, the day marking the 27th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

Michell told Suleiman that Lebanon, whose Phalangist faction 27-years earlier entered two Palestinian refugee camps and slaughtered thousands of civilians with Israeli support, would not bear the brunt of the refugee issue.

“US efforts toward peace would not come at the expense of Lebanon,” a statement from Suleiman’s office said following the meeting. Mitchell made no comment.

The two discussed the latest developments in Mitchell’s pursuit to halt Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and, according to the Lebanese press, stressed “continuous US support and aid to Lebanon on all levels and in all areas.”

Suleiman reportedly told Mitchell that all Lebanese factions refused the option of naturalizing Palestinian refugees “on the basis of the constitution.” He also stressed his desire that Israel retreat from its occupation of Lebanese lands.

what i find especially disturbing about all of this is how everyone remembers the anniversary of the sabra and shatila massacre but no one seems to remember the destruction of nahr el bared refugee camp. it is rather convenient that mitchell and his lebanese cohorts discussed palestinian refugees, but of course did not reveal any tangible information about their right of return. for palestinian from nahr el bared this right of return is now two-fold: first to their camp and then to palestine. if only that first step could be eliminated and they could return home immediately.

this is why i am feeling like i am against anniversaries. anniversaries, ideally, should be a time when you reflect upon the person/people/event. it should make you act in a way that honors that memory. the only real way to honor the memory of the massacre in 1982 or the destruction of nahr el bared in 2007 is to fight for the right of return for palestinian refugees. but no one is talking about that. nor are they talking about reconstructing narh el bared. except a few people. my friend matthew cassel attended the protest in trablus the other day and took this photography among others:

image by matthew cassel
image by matthew cassel

my dear friend rania never forgets and she linked to an article in al akhbar today on the subject:

بين الحفاظ على الآثار في الجزء القديم من مخيم نهر البارد وطمرها، تُعلّق حياة 35 ألف لاجئ فلسطيني كانوا يظنّون في فترة سابقة، قبل الحرب تحديداً، أنّها حياة مستمرّة.. على بؤسها. ربما، يجدر بهؤلاء المتروكين لحالهم الانتظار بعد، ريثما يتخذ مجلس شورى الدولة قراره النهائي المستند إلى مطالعات الدولة اللبنانية والتيار الوطني الحر ووزارة المال المكلفة بتمويل تكاليف طمر الآثار

راجانا حمية

كان من المفترض أن يُقفل مجلس شورى الدولة، اليوم، أبوابه أمام المطالعات القانونية المتعلقة بالطعن بقرار إيقاف طمر الآثار في البارد القديم. فقد أجّل محامي النائب ميشال عون، وليد داغر، تقديم مطالعة يحدد فيها صفة النائب عون كمستدعٍ إلى الاثنين المقبل. ويعود سبب التأجيل إلى رغبته في ضم رد التيار على مطالعتين تقدمت بهما وزارة المال في 18 آب الماضي والدولة اللبنانية في 21 منه، وتبلّغ بهما داغر في العاشر من الجاري.

وحسب المحامي داغر، تطالب هاتان المطالعتان مجلس شورى الدولة بالرجوع عن قرار إيقاف الطمر، استناداً إلى «المعطيات التي تفيد بأن طمر الآثار تم وفقاً للمعايير الدولية». وأكثر من ذلك، تستند الوزارتان في مطالعتيهما إلى «اعتبار صفة عون ومصلحته لا تتطابقان مع شروط المادة 77 من نظام مجلس الشورى». وهي المادة التي تنص على أنه «يفترض لوقف تنفيذ القرار المطعون فيه أن تكون المراجعة مرتكزة على أسباب جدية ومهمة وأن يكون الضرر المتذرَّع به ضرراً بليغاً».

طعن داغر بالمطالعتين، سلفاً، حتى قبل التقديم إلى مجلس الشورى، لأنه «لو لم يكن لعون صفة مباشرة لما كان مجلس شورى الدولة قد أوقف قرار الحكومة، كما إن الضرر لحق به كمواطن ذلك أن الآثار ليست ملكاً عاماً، بل هي ملك إنساني». لا يكتفي داغر بهذه الحجة، بل يستند إلى الاجتهاد القانوني الصادر عام 2000، والذي «لا يشترط لتوفر المصلحة أن يكون المدعي صاحب حق مباشر».

من تظاهرات طرابلس، الناس باتت لا تصدق موضوع الآثار (عبد الكافي الصمد)من تظاهرات طرابلس، الناس باتت لا تصدق موضوع الآثار (عبد الكافي الصمد)إذاً، من المفترض أن يتقدم داغر صباح الاثنين المقبل بمطالعتين: أولى تتعلق بتحديد صفة عون كمستدعٍ، والتي حددها داغر بصفة مواطن، وثانية يرد بها قانونياً على مطالعتي المال والدولة. بعد ذلك كله، يقوم مجلس الشورى بمطابقة الصفة والمصلحة قبل إصدار القرار المتوقع في 13 تشرين الأول المقبل.. و«ربما قبل هذا التاريخ، إذا لم تتطابق الصفة والمصلحة مع شروط المادة 77، بحيث يصار إلى إبطال القرار فوراً»، حسبما يرجّح رئيس مجلس الشورى القاضي شكري صادر.

لكن، إذا فاز عون بصفته والمصلحة، ينتقل أعضاء مجلس الشورى إلى «الأساس»، الذي يتعلق بدراسة مطالعتي عون المتضمنة مبررات الحفاظ على آثار البارد، والحكومة اللبنانية التي تشرح فيها موجبات الإعمار. ويحصر رئيس لجنة الحوار اللبناني الفلسطيني خليل مكاوي هذه الموجبات بثلاثة «تعهّد الدولة بإعادة المخيم كما كان والتزامات الحكومة تجاه المجتمع الدولي والدول المانحة، إضافة إلى الحفاظ على الأمن القومي».

إما استكمال طمر الآثار بحسب المعايير الدولية وإما إيقاف الإعمار «واستملاك الأراضي

إذاً، يتعلق مصير المخيم القديم بالمطالعتين المذكورتين، فإما استكمال طمر الآثار بحسب المعايير الدولية، كما يرجح مكاوي، وإما إيقاف الإعمار «واستملاك الأراضي القائم عليها المخيم الجديد وبعض ما حواليه»، كما جاء في بيان لجنة الدراسات في التيار الوطني الحر الأسبوع الماضي. غير أن ما تعوّل عليه لجنة الدراسات يواجه بعض الرفض من جهتين: الأولى فلسطينية، إذ يخاف هؤلاء من ضياع حقوقهم، وخصوصاً أن غالبية البيوت مسجّلة باسمهم، وأن ببعض تحايل (قبل صدور قانون التملك اللبناني عام 2001)، والثانية غالبية الأقطاب السياسية التي ترى في استملاك أراضٍ جديدة بداية مشروع التوطين.

ما بين المطالعتين، يضيع سكان المخيم القديم. يتساءل هؤلاء عن سبب إثارة هذه القضية الآن بالذات، تزامناً مع بدء إعادة الإعمار. يخاف الأهالي من أن تتكرر تجربة المخيمات المسحولة هنا في البارد. خوفهم هذا يدفعهم إلى «الهلوسة» في بعض الأحيان، إذ يذهب البعض إلى القول إنه «لا وجود للآثار بدليل أن الأعمدة هي قنوات صرف صحي مركبينا جدودنا اعتبروها رومانية، وبعض الفخارات من إيام أبوي». يستند الرجل في تكهناته إلى أن الحفر التي قام بها المهندسون من مديرية الآثار لم تتعدّ الثمانين سنتمتراً، «فكيف ستكون المدينة على هذا العمق؟».

يستغرب آخرون، ومنهم لطفي محمد الحاج، عضو الهيئة الأهلية لإعادة إعمار البارد، سبب التفات الدولة اللبنانية إلى هذه الآثارات رغم أنها هي التي أتت باللاجئين إلى تلة البارد رغم معرفتها بوجود الآثارات منذ العشرينيات من القرن الماضي. ويستغرب الحاج أيضاً سبب الاهتمام «الذي لا مثيل له»، على الرغم من «أن الآثار المحيطة بنا مهملة»، ويعطي مثالاً على قوله: «مثلاً، قلعة حكمون على جنب المخيم عاملينا مزرعة بقر وتلة عرقة وغيرها». لا يحتاج الرجل إلى أكثر من رؤية منزله مجدداً، ويطالب مجلس الشورى بالعودة عن قرار الإيقاف، مبرراً مطالبته بالقول: «احنا هون مش سوليدير، هون ناس ساكنة ما عادت تحمل تهجير». أكثر من ذلك، يضيف أبو خالد فريجي، أحد سكان القديم: «إحنا رمينا البارود لنساعد الجيش، اليوم ما عدنا قادرين ما نحمل البارودة».

مقابل هذه التعليقات للأهالي، يضع بعض الأطراف القضية في خانة التجاذبات السياسية. هذا ما يقوله المسؤول عن ملف إعادة إعمار البارد مروان عبد العال. ولئن كان لا حول ولا قوة من إدخال الفلسطيني بهذا التجاذب، يسأل عبد العال: «لماذا لم تُرسل فرق للتنقيب عن الآثار منذ تسعين عاماً؟ وليش الرسائل ما بتوصل إلا من صندوق بريدنا؟».

البراكسات التي يعيش فيها السكانالبراكسات التي يعيش فيها السكانيؤمن عبد العال بقداسة الآثار. وهي، من وجهة نظره تضاهي قداسة هوية الفلسطيني. لكن، السؤال الكبير الذي لا بد منه هنا هو «أنه إحنا مش آثار؟ ما بنمثل خصوصية؟ مش ولاد نكبة عمرها 61 عاماً وإلنا هويتنا كما الآثار؟ أكثر من ذلك، يسأل عضو الجبهة الشعبية في البارد سمير اللوباني: «ما هو الثمن السياسي الذي يجب أن يدفعه الفلسطيني من أجل إعادة البارد؟

لكن، كل هذا لن يأتي بنتيجة. فالنتيجة الوحيدة في مجلس شورى الدولة، وبانتظار صدور القرار، يعمل الفلسطينيون على رفع سقف الاحتجاجات الجماهيرية، وخصوصاً أنه لا يحق لهم مثل «أهل الفقيد» تقديم مطالعة قانونية، كونهم جهة غير معترف بها في القانون اللبناني. يضاف إلى ذلك أن الأونروا أيضاً لا تستطيع تقديم مطالعة قانونية لمجلس شورى الدولة، لذلك تعمل على إعداد مطالعة تشرح فيها موجبات الإعمار للحكومة اللبنانية فقط.

بالعودة إلى سير عملية الإعمار في البارد، كانت شركة «الجهاد» المتعهدة من قبل الأونروا قد طمرت في الرزمة الأولى حيث وجدت الآثار موقعين من أصل 5 مواقع قبل أن تثار القضية. وتلفت الناطقة الرسمية باسم الأونروا هدى الترك إلى «أننا انتهينا من تنظيف 95% من الركام، باستثناء جزء من الرزمة 2 وآخر من الرزمة 4». وأكدت أن الأونروا لا يمكنها الإعمار إلا بالتسلسل، أي من الرزمة 1، «والعملية متوقفة الآن بانتظار قرار مجلس شورى الدولة».

there is also a new article about the situation in nahr el bared in as-safir newspaper:

جهاد بزي
يستطيع المخيم أن يكون من شقين،
أو أن نبحث عن قطعة أرض بديلة للمخيم..
لكن لا نستطيع أن نجد ارتوزيا في مكان آخر.
الجنرال ميشال عون
(17 حزيران 2009)

في مخيم نهر البارد مدينتان.

المدينة الأولى بقايا أثرية اكتشفت تحت أنقاض المخيم القديم الذي سُحق بالكامل. هذه البقايا اسمها أرتوزيا. يستميت العونيون في الدفاع عنها، وقد رفعوا طعناً إلى مجلس الشورى جمّد إثره طمر آثار المدينة المكتشفة، ريثما يتخذ قراره. ولجنة الدراسات العونية لا تنفك تصدر بيانات بلغة أكاديمية رصينة تعلّل فيها أسباب دفاعها عن المدينة وتدفع عن نفسها تهمة العنصرية وتشدد على أنها ضد التوطين.

المدينة الثانية هي مدينة «البركسات». هي النقيض التام لكل الآثارات على وجه الأرض. هي صناديق «عصرية» من حديد وبلاستيك وإسفنج، وغيرها من المواد المثيرة لغثيان عالم الآثار إذا سقط مكبره عليها. وعلى العكس من القلاع والاعمدة والمدرجات الخالدة خلود الآلهة، فإن مدينة البركسات بلا أعمدة ولا فخامة ولا تاريخ، وهندستها رتيبة ومقيتة.

وهي عرضة للتلف أسرع بمليون مرة من مدينة أرتوزيا. عناصر الطبيعة الجميلة، الشمس والمياه والهواء، هي أوبئة دائمة تفتك بالمدينة الهشة المقامة على عجل لإيواء النازحين في بلاد لجوئهم.

هناك فارق أساسي بين المدينتين: البركسات مأهولة. ارتوزيا غير مأهولة. وأن نقول إنها مأهولة، فلأننا قررنا، كلبنانيين، مواجهة الإرهاب بطريقة فريدة من نوعها، هللت لها قوى سياسية شرسة في «حبها» للفلسطينيين، وتغاضت عنها قوى أخرى كانت قد نادت يوماً بأن المخيم خط أحمر. تلك الحرب ستبقى، بأي حال، «إنجازاً ناصعاً» في تاريخنا اللبناني، وإن طُمرت خطاياها بكل ما فيها كرمى لعناوين كبيرة وفارغة.

وأن نقول إن البركسات مأهولة منذ نحو سنتين. أن يضطر لاجئون، قصمنا ظهورهم سياسياً واجتماعياً واقتصادياً، إلى حياة منسية كهذه التي يعيشونها في علب الصفيح المكتظة تتساقط الصراصير من أسقفها الاسفنج المبقورة بسبب الحرارة والمياه، أو تنبت الجرذان من أرضها، أو تصير مستنقعات وحول عند كل مطر. أن يضطر لاجئون سحقنا حيواتهم إلى يوميات طويلة في هذه المجمعات الحديدية الأقرب إلى مجمعات عزل المصابين بأمراض معدية قاتلة. أن تضطر عيون اطفالهم إلى العتمة ليل نهار وانفاسهم إلى الرطوبة وآفاقهم إلى ممرات ضــيقة خانقة. وأن يضطر الفلسطينــي إلى هــذه العقوبة المستمرة عليه لذنب ليس ذنبه، فإنه عــيب هائــل يتدلى من عنق لبنان جرســاً فاضحاً يرن كيفــما هزّ هذا البلد عنقه.

أما أن يقال للفلســطيني إن أرتــوزيا أهم من الأرض التي ولد عليها، وإن علــيه أن يبـحث عن مكان آخر يقيم عليه مخيمه، فهذا يفوق خيال الكوابيس التي يراها.

ثمة افتقاد تام لحس إنساني بسيط: المكان، مهما كان مؤقتاً، له قيمة رمزية ترتبط بقيمة المجتمع الذي يقيم فيه منذ ستين سنة. هم لاجئون لكنهم ليسوا بضاعة يمكن وضعها في أي مكان، بانتظار شحنها إلى فلسطين. المثل قاسٍ، لكنه الاقرب إلى المنطق الذي تتعاطى به الغالبية اللبنانية العظمى مع الشأن الفلسطيني. هناك سخرية مرّة في أن يضطر الواحد إلى الشرح بأن المخيم الفلسطيني ليس نزهة كشفية بين أحراج الصنوبر، تقام وتفك ثم تنتقل إلى مكان جديد. المخيمات الفلسطينية هي مثل مدننا وقرانا وأحيائنا. مثل حي السلم والحمرا والاشرفية والرابية. قد نكرهها وقد نحبها، لكن فيها شكّلنا ذكرياتنا وتفاصيلنا وأحزاننا وافراحنا. وإذا كان الفلسطيني يعيش في مؤقت مفتوح، فهذا لا يعني أن حقائبه موضبة طوال الوقت. هذا لا يعني أنه بلا ذاكرة. من السخرية المرّة تذكير لجنة الدراسات وغيرها، بأن الفلسطينيين مثلنا، نحن اللبنانيين أحفاد الأرتوزيين العظام.

وكما لا يحق لأحد أن ينقّلنا كيفما شاء، لا يحق لنا أن ننقلهم كيفما شئنا. معادلة بسيطة.

ثم..
إذا كانت إعادة الإعمار بهذا الحجم من التعقيد، وإذا كان هناك خلاف حتى على اسم المخيم الجديد من البارد حدا بالجيش اللبناني إلى أن «يأمل» من الإعلام تسميته بالبقعة المحيطة بالمخيم، فأين سيجد الفلسطينيون النازحون مخيماً آخر؟ فلتنكب لجنة الدراسات العونية على درس فكرة الجنرال وجعلها حجر أساس لدراسة متكاملة تلحظ موقع المخيم الجديد على أرض لبنان، ومساحته وكيفية استئجاره أو تملكه للبدء بإعادة الإعمار بسرعة كي ينتقل الفلسطينيون إليه. وربما على اللجنة زيارة البركسات والنزول في غرفها لأيام تستفتي خلالها رأي المنكوبين فرداً فرداً بموقع جديد للمخيم. كما ينبغي عليها لاحقاً أخذ موافقة جيرانهم الجدد من اللبنانيين. هذا جهد يمكن للجنة الدراسات أن تقوم به بالطبع، لما يعرف عنها من عمق وقدرة. غير أن الفلسطينيين ليسوا قضية اللجنة. قضيتها أرتوزيا.

المصائب تأتي دفعة واحدة. نزلت على المخيم فدمرته، ثم صعدت من أسفله، فزادت على معوقات إعماره معوّقاً جديداً. الأولوية الآن هي في طمر مدينة البركسات، وهذه لن تطمر إلا إذا طمرت آثار ارتوزيا، بغض النظر عن أي أهمية لها. من أقل حقوق فلسطينيي مخيم نهر البارد على هذا البلد هو ألا يجعلهم ينتظرون أكثر. بقاء الفلسطينيين على حالهم هناك جريمة بحق الانسانية واللبنانيين، وليس طمر ارتوزيا هو «الجريمة بحق الإنسانية والشعب اللبناني» كما قالت لجنة الدراسات.

أما أرتوزيا العونية فيمكن لها أن تنتظر. يكفيها فخراً أنها أثبتت عمق تجذرها في الأرض اللبنانية وعنادها وتحديها للزمن. هي خالدة وشامخة شموخ الجبال والأرز. ولا شك بأنها ستطلع من بين الركام ثانية، يوم يغادر الفلسطينيون هذه البلاد التي لا تفعل منذ عقود إلا معاقبتهم على وجودهم القسري فيها.

جهاد بزي

of course, it is not surprising that al akhbar and as safir would publish articles on nahr el bared. these are the only two newspapers who have consistently covered the story. that can be counted on. not just because it is an anniversary, but because it matters. but who else will cover the refugees from nahr e bared and their rights? their right of return. and i’m thinking not only of the people i care about from nahr el bared and other camps in lebanon who want to return to their original villages, but also dear friends in falasteen who want to return to their villages. this summer when we did the al awda camp with kids from deheishe refugee camp, two of the kids who i adore returned home and produced a new rap song (here is my post on taking them to beit ‘itab, which i did for a second time after the camp). the song includes hisham’s grandfather at the beginning, talking about their village of beit ‘itab. here is a description of their song and a link to the mp3 file you can listen to:

Badluck Rappers – اغنية جديدة بعنوان ” رحلة لبلادي ” تحكي قصة كل لاجئ فلسطيني

Badluck Rappers – اغنية جديدة بعنوان
تم نشر إغنية مؤخراً من فرقة الـ Badluck Rapperz من قلب مخيم دهيشه , بيت لحم
بعنوان رحلة لبلادي تحكي قصة كل لاجئ فلسطيني عايش داخل و خارج فلسطين ,
وتعودنا نسمع اغاني كثيرة عن اللاجئين من الفرقة لانها من قلب المخيمات , اكبر المخيمات
الفلسطينية للاجئين داخل فلسطين , واكتر اشي بميز الاغنية , بدايتها الجميلة المختارة
الي ببداها لاجئ فلسطيني بحكي قصة قريته الهاجر منها

الكل يسمع الاغنية , يقيمها , ويترك تعليق

Read more: http://www.palrap.net/PalRap/263/Badluck_Rappers_Witn_New_Track_Called_Re7la_La_Blady.html#ixzz0RWCnqv9L

i do not need an anniversary to make me think about the people i love in shatila, nahr el bared or deheishe refugee camps. i do not need an anniversary to make me remember their right of return. i think about it every day and hope that the work and writing i do, in some small way, advances that right. but i’m also thinking about the palestinian refugees who were in iraq and who i tried to help when they were displaced yet again in jordan in al ruweished refugee camp. they have all been resettled in third countries, a fact that does not negate their right of return to palestine. at the time friends i worked with tried to get the u.s. to take them in to no avail. now it seems my home state of california is granting refuge to some palestinians from iraq as patrik jonsson writes in the christian science monitor:

The State Department confirmed today that as many as 1,350 Iraqi Palestinians – once the well-treated guests of Saddam Hussein and now at outs with much of Iraqi society – will be resettled in the US, mostly in southern California, starting this fall.

It will be the largest-ever resettlement of Palestinian refugees into the US – and welcome news to the Palestinians who fled to Iraq after 1948 but who have had a tough time since Mr. Hussein was deposed in 2003. Targeted by Iraqi Shiites, the mostly-Sunni Palestinians have spent recent years in one of the region’s roughest refugee camps, Al Waleed, near Iraq’s border with Syria.

“Really for the first time, the United States is recognizing a Palestinian refugee population that could be admitted to the US as part of a resettlement program,” says Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch in Washington.

Given the US’s past reluctance to resettle Palestinians – it accepted just seven Palestinians in 2007 and nine in 2008 – the effort could ruffle some diplomatic feathers.

For many in the State Department and international community, the resettlement is part of a moral imperative the US has to clean up the refugee crisis created by invading Iraq. The US has already stepped up resettlement of Iraqis, some who have struggled to adjust to life in America.

al awda is asking for people to help with their resettlement:

The US government has approved most of the population of Al-Waleed Palestinian refugee camp for resettlement as refugees in the US in the coming year. For more information see http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0708/p02s04-usgn.html and http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/06/2009618161946158577.html

The first Palestinian family of the year from Al-Waleed will be arriving in San Diego on Wednesday September 16, 2009. This family, as with all the refugees who will be relocated to the US from Al-Waleed, will arrive with essentially nothing. Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, is therefore conducting an urgent fund raising campaign to help all the Palestinian refugees arriving in the US soon with their transition to a new life in this country.

BACKGROUND

An estimated 19,000 Palestinians, out of an initial population of 34,000, fled Iraq since the American invasion in 2003. Of these refugees, approximately 2500 have been stranded, under very harsh conditions, some for more than five years, in three camps, Al-Tanaf, Al-Waleed and Al-Hol. These camps are located in the middle of the desert far from any population centers. Al-Tanaf camp is located in no-man’s land on the borders between Iraq and Syria. Al-Waleed is located on the Iraqi side of the border with Syria, and Al-Hol is located in Syria in the Hasaka region. The camp residents had fled largely from Baghdad due to harassment, threats of deportation, abuse by the media, arbitrary detention, torture and murder by organized death squads. They thus became refugees again, originally as a result of the Zionist theft and colonial occupation of Palestine beginning in 1948. Some became refugees also when they were expelled from Kuwait in 1991 by the US-backed Kuwaiti government. Now, after years of waiting, many of the refugees stranded in the camps on the borders of Iraq are being relocated largely to Europe and the US, which continues to occupy Iraq to this day.

The first Palestinian family from Al-Waleed this year will be arriving in San Diego on September 16, 2009, a few days before the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with 1350 more Palestinians to follow in the months ahead. According to the Christian Science Monitor most of these will be resettled in Southern California and possibly Pennsylvania and Omaha.

ACTION

Al-Awda is asking all its activists, members and supporters to contribute to help our sisters and brothers in their move to the US.

Please donate today!

Address your tax-deductible donation via check or money order to: Al-Awda, PRRC, PO Box 131352, Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA – Please note on the memo line of the check “Palestinians from Iraq”

Alternatively, please donate online using your credit card. Go to http://www.al-awda.org/donate.html and follow the simple instructions. Please indicate that your donation is for “Palestinians from Iraq” with your submission.

Drop off locations

We will also need furniture, cars, computers, tv’s, clothes, toys for the kids etc. The following are the current drop off locations:

General:
8531 Wellsford pl # f, Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
Te: 562-693-1600 Tel: 323-350-0000

For Clothes:
1773 West Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, CA 92801

For Southern California residents, an emergency meeting is being called for Sunday September 13, 2009 starting at 2 PM at the Al-Awda Center, 2734 Loker Avenue West Suite K, in Carlsbad CA 92010.

Our sisters and brothers need all the help they can get after having suffered from the death squads in Baghdad, and more than five years stranded in the camps. We need our people to feel at home as much as possible. We can not disappoint them.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR GENEROUS SUPPORT

Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
PO Box 131352
Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA
Tel: 760-918-9441
Fax: 760-918-9442
E-mail: info[at]al-awda.org
WWW: http://al-awda.org

on (not) reconstructing nahr el bared refugee camp

reconstruct-bared-tripoli-demonstration-flyer

there will be a demonstration in trablus in a couple of days to protest the fact that michel aoun has halted the reconstruction of the nahr el bared refugee camp. the reconstruction committee of nahr el bared refugee camp has a new blog where they are documenting the situation on the ground. and you can read about it at my new favorite blog, mlokhiya resistance, written by one of the people i love and respect most in this world.

no homes for nahr el bared, yet again

the last couple of weeks i was writing a review of rosemary sayigh’s brilliant and important book, the palestinians: from peasants to revolutionaries, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand palestine, palestinian refugees, palestinian resistance, and, of course, the right of return. i was re-reading the book and i was struck by what one palestinian refugee and fighter from nahr el bared refugee camp had to say about his camp being the first to liberate itself from the lebanese army:

They brought tanks and the army tried to enter the camps. That day, we can remember with pride, we brought out the few guns that we had–they were eleven. We did well at first, but then we ran out of ammunition. A rumour ran round the camp that the ammunition was finished and we tried to calm the people by telling them that rescue would come from the Resistance. But we didn’t really know whether it would come. But what was amazing was that people returned to what they had been in 1948, preferring to die rather than to live in humiliation. Women were hollering because it was the first time a gun had been seen defending the camp. It was the first battle that we didn’t lose. The children were between the fighters, collecting the empty cartridges although the bullets were like rain. It was the first time that people held knives and sticks and stood in front of their homes, ready to fight. (169)

it is so ironic to think about this when i read the latest news about nahr el bared, which still, until now has yet to allow most of the palestinian refugees (31,000 of them) to return to the camp two years after the lebanese army destroyed it (read electronic lebanon for background on this or search my blog for details about the subject).

here is the latest–from the daily star–in the lebanese government’s plan to make palestinians doubly and triply homeless while denying them civil rights and while not fighting for their right of return to their homes in palestine either:

Palestinian factions staged protests in refugee camps all across the country on Friday to condemn the ongoing delay in reconstructing the battered northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. Demonstrations were held in Ain al-Hilweh, near the southern coastal city of Sidon, al-Buss, near the port city of Tyre, and Chatila on the outskirts of the capital, to express solidarity with the refugees of Nahr al-Bared, who have yet to return home two years after the end of the battles between the Lebanese Army and the Al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militant group.

Protestors held banners slamming a recent decision by the Lebanese government to halt the reconstruction process in Nahr al-Bared and voiced their demands in petitions sent to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) officials.

“We ask UNRWA to ease the suffering of Palestinian refugees at Nahr al-Bared and offer them relief,” said the head of Ain al-Hilweh’s Public Committee Abu al-Motassem.

Nahr al-Bared has been in ruins since 2007 when Lebanon witnessed a violent war between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam.

Lebanon’s Sate Shura Council recently issued a decision to halt the reconstruction process in the camp based on the discovery of Roman archeological ruins underneath the campsite.

Motassem called on the Lebanese government, UNRWA, the Arab League and the international community to reconsider the State Shura Council’s decision. “Refugees have been waiting for more than two years for the camp’s reconstruction,” he said.

Also in Ain al- Hilweh, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) official in south Lebanon Qassem Sobh asked the Lebanese government to find a solution for the “logistic difficulties” even if it meant “buying or renting nearby sites [to house refugees] in order to solve the humanitarian problem.”

The Union of Palestinian Factions official Abu Ahmad Fadel, demanded on Friday that the Lebanese Army put an end to the strict military measures imposed on the Nahr al-Bared refugees.

“We ask that the army reduce the security measures and guarantee the camp’s residents freedom of movement,” he said.

The delay in reconstruction also seems to have had repercussions on Lebanese- Palestinian political ties.

“The Nahr al-Bared issue concerns all Palestinians,” said spokesman of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) Ali Mahmoud. “Any attempt to halt the camp’s reconstruction directly affects Lebanese-Palestinian relations” he added.

and here is a news item on the subject in arabic from dunia watan:

إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد وحكمه: نموذج “مثالي” للإقصاء
بقلم ساري حنفي وإسماعيل الشيخ حسن

مخيم نهر البارد فضاء للاستثناء
تبدو الاوضاع المحيطة بتدمير مخيم نهر البارد مثيرة للقلق على أكثر من صعيد. فعلى الرغم من تبرؤ اللاجئين العلني من “فتح الاسلام”، ألقت بعض وسائل الاعلام اللوم فيما يتصل بهذه الظاهرة على المخيم وعلى اللاجئين، وذلك من دون إجراء أي تحقيق يتناول مصادر تمويل هذه المجموعة والجهات التي تقف وراءها. وخلال المعركة تم اعتقال لاجئين فلسطينيين في جميع أنحاء لبنان عند الحواجز التي أقامها الجيش أو قوى الأمن الداخلي، وجرى حصار المخيم وإعلانه منطقة حرب، كما منع الجيش دخول مواد للاغاثة، أو دواء، أو الصحافة. وفي حين فضّل اللاجئون في بداية المعركة البقاء في المخيم خشية أن تؤدي مغادرتهم المخيم الى تدميره بالكامل، فإن القصف العشوائي الشديد الذي لم يستثن المنازل والمدارس والمساجد، أجبر السكان في النهاية على إخلائه تماماً. وهذه هي الحادثة الاولى التي يغادر فيها الفلسطينيون مخيماً لهم من دون الدفاع عنه، الامر الذي يؤكد انتفاء الصلة بين اللاجئين الفلسطينيين و”فتح الاسلام”. وخلال الأشهر الاربعة التي دارت فيها المعركة، تم تدمير المخيم القديم بالكامل، وصار ركاماً بعد هدم 1700 منزل كان يضمها، هدماً كاملاً. وبعد محاولة للهرب قام بها الناجون من مقاتلي “فتح الاسلام”، أعلن الجيش إنهاء عملياته، وخروجه من المعركة منتصراً على الارهاب

العالمي.
ومع أننا نعيش حالياً عصر “الحرب الكونية على الارهاب”، وعلى الرغم من الاوضاع الملتبسة المحيطة باستشهاد جنود الجيش اللبناني غدراً، فإن ثمة ما يدعو الى الشك في أن العرض العشوائي للقوة المفرطة، والذي تجاهل حقوق الانسان والملكية، كان يمكن أن يمارس ضد أي مكان “حضري” لبناني آخر. لكن نظراً الى كون مخيم نهر البارد “فضاء للاستثناء”، أي مستثنى من حماية القانون العام، ويؤوي لاجئين ليسوا بمواطنين، ومحرومين من الحقوق المدنية في لبنان، وتمثّلهم فصائل فلسطينية متناحرة، وتخدمهم وكالة تابعة للأمم المتحدة تفتقر الى التفويض بحمايتهم – فإنه كان في الامكان تدميره بالكامل.

واعتباراً من التاريخ الرسمي لانتهاء القتال في بداية أيلول، وحتى العاشر من تشرين الاول 2007، وُضع مخيم نهر البارد تحت الاشراف الكامل للجيش اللبناني، ولم يُسمح لسكان المخيم بالعودة اليه، ثم عاد بعد ذلك، الآلاف الى المنازل التي تعرضت للحريق والنهب والتخريب المتعمد. ويؤكد الاشخاص الذين قابلناهم، والذين قابلتهم بعثة تقصي الحقائق التابعة لمنظمة العفو الدولية، وجود نمط ممنهج لحرق المنازل ونهبها. كما حملت الكتابات الجدارية العنصرية البذيئة على u]] من بيوت المخيم، أسماء الفرق العسكرية اللبنانية المتعددة (Amnesty International 2006). ويبدو ان عناصر “فتح الاسلام” وبعض سكان المخيم هم من قاموا بأعمال النهب في بداية الامر، لكن الذين تابعوا هذه الاعمال لا بد من أن يكونوا ممن يعتبرون المخيم فضاء للاستثناء وخارج نطاق القانون، يمكن أن يُنهب وأن تُخرَّب الممتلكات فيه عمداً. ولغاية الآن، لم يجر أي تحقيق مستقل، على الرغم من أن منظمة العفو الدولية كتبت بهذا الشأن الى رئيس الحكومة اللبنانية، والى وزارة الدفاع اللبنانية، وطالبت بإجراء تحقيق وبمحاسبة المسؤولين (Amnesty International 2006).

واللافت أنه لم يجر أي نقاش عام في هذا الموضوع المهم. وبما أن المخيم يُعتبر فضاء للاستثناء، فقد شكّل منطقة طوارئ مُنع الشهود من دخولها: فحتى اللحظة لا يُسمح للصحافيين، ولا لمنظمات حقوق الانسان، بدخول المخيم من دون تصريح عسكري خاص. وهذا التعليق للقوانين هو الذي سهّل قيام التخريب المتعمد والنهب، فالسكان الفلسطينيون هم “الانسان المستباح والمُضحى به” (homo sacer، بالمعنى الذي يعطيه جورجيو أغامبن): أناس لا تُخرَّب ممتلكاتهم فحسب، بل تُنهب ايضاً، ومن دون السماح بملاحقة المجرمين.

ويشعر سكان مخيم نهر البارد بأن ما حدث في مخيمهم يمثل جزءاً من مؤامرة مخطط لها ضدهم، فقد قالت الغالبية الساحقة من الاشخاص الذين قابلناهم إنه كان هناك خيارات أخرى لحل مشكلة “فتح الاسلام”، كان من شأنها تفادي تدمير المخيم تدميراً كاملاً. فقد كان في الامكان حل المشكلة من خلال تدخل المقاتلين الفلسطينيين الذين يعرفون جغرافيا المخيم، الامر الذي يجعلهم أكثر كفاdة في هذا النوع من الحروب داخل منطقة كثيفة العمران، وأكثر حساسية إزاء ممتلكات اللاجئين ومبانيهم. أما الخيار الآخر فكان قيام وساطة أكثر فاعلية بين “فتح الاسلام” والجيش اللبناني.

التعاطي مع الحيز:
عملية التخطيط العمراني

استمر وضع الاستثناء وأولوية الأمن في الهيمنة على مشهد ما بعد معركة مخيم نهر البارد، وقد بدا ذلك واضحاً في عملية التخطيط العمراني لإعادة إعمار المخيم. فالهيئة الحكومية الرسمية المسؤولة عن التخطيط في لبنان، هي المديرية العامة للتنظيم المدني، لكن، خلال المناقشات المتعلقة بتطوير المخطط العام، والتي استغرقت عاماً كاملاً، كانت هذه المديرية المذكورة غائبة. والواقع أن الجهة اللبنانية المعنية، التي هيمنت على مشهد التخطيط وعلى المفاوضات، كانت الجيش اللبناني. ويمثل ذلك سابقة خطرة للبنان عامة، وللمخيمات خاصة، وذلك مع تنامي تدخل العنصر العسكري في الشؤون الحكومية المدنية بحجة الدواعي الامنية. إن وجود الجيش كان كفيلاً بإيلاء الأمن الأولوية في المفاوضات الجارية على المخطط التوجيهي العام، ثم تتدخل المديرية العامة للتنظيم المدني في نهاية هذه العملية الطويلة للموافقة رسمياً على المخطط العام.

وعلى رغم المأساة التي تنشأ في أوقات الازمات والحالات الطارئة من هذا النوع، والتي تتفاقم بسبب الفراغ السياسي “الظاهري” في المخيمات الفلسطينية، فإن المأساة، الى جانب ذلك، تتيح الفرصة أمام عدد من الشبكات الاجتماعية، وكذلك أمام الناشطين والحركات السياسية، لتوحيد جهودهم من أجل مواجهة المخاطر التي تواجه جماعة ما، أو مكاناً ما. فعلى المستوى المحلي في المخيم، بدأت المبادرات الشعبية المتعددة، والتي نشأت استجابة لمشكلات معينة محدودة ناجمة عن غياب الحكومة، وعن عدم تأمين الخدمات في المخيم، بتوحيد جهودها ومناقشة ما يمكن، أو يجب عمله، في أثناء سير المعركة وتدمير المخيم.

واللافت في حالة مخيم نهر البارد أن ناشطين وأكاديميين آخرين من مخيمات ومدن وبيئات أخرى، قاموا بتوحيد جهودهم مع المبادرة المحلية. والامر المهم بشكل خاص في هذه الشبكة الممتدة والمتنوعة، هو وجود معماريين ومخططي مدن استفادوا من المعارف التي اكتسبوها من عملهم، ومن دراستهم للسياسات العمرانية المختلفة، ولمشاريع إعادة العمران التي تساعد على تمكين المجموعات، وذلك من أجل وضع استراتيجيات فاعلة في مواجهة مشروع الدولة. وقد أطلقت هذه المبادرة على نفسها اسم “هيئة العمل الاهلي والدراسات لإعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد”.

من جهة أخرى، أنشئ “برنامج” جديد لتحسين المخيمات التابعة لوكالة الغوث (الأونروا)، وذلك من أجل القيام بدور فاعل في إطلاق إعادة الاعمار والتخطيط العمراني، وهو جهد متواصل حالياً. وقد دعا هذا البرنامج الى مبادرة من منظار مختلف، الامر الذي ساهم في إيجاد مشاركة تامة بين وكالة الغوث وهيئة العمل الأهلي والدراسات، تجمع البعد الشعبي الى الخبرة المهنية. وانطلقت هذه المبادرة على الرغم مما وصفه علماء الاجتماع باختفاء الحيز العام الذي دمره العوز الاقتصادي، واستعمرته وسائل الاعلام، عدا السياق السلطوي العربي. كما تتحدى المبادرة المذكورة ما كان يُعتبر في العقود الماضية سلبية بعض اللاجئين الذين نشأوا على لعب دور الضحية.

ولعل سبب هذه الحماسة التي تجلت بين السكان هو اعتقادهم بوجود بعد سياسي في عملية تدمير مخيم نهر البارد، وفي مخطط الحكومة لإعادة إعماره. وقد ظهر ذلك واضحاً في إعلان عدة سياسيين، في أثناء سير المعركة، مخططات لتحسين المخيم تقوم على مبادئ ومعايير غير مقبولة لدى السكان المحليين. وبعد انتهاء المعركة، اتضح تماماً أن المفهوم العام للمخططات كان يرتكز الى شبكة منطقية من الشوارع العريضة التي تسمح بتطبيق ضوابط أمنية فاعلة، والى إسكان اللاجئين في شقق متماثلة بغض النظر عن أنماط عيشهم وبناهم الاجتماعية السابقة.

في أثناء الشهر الثاني من سير المعركة، قدمت هيئة إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد المسودة الاولى لمبادئ إعادة إعمار المخيم، وكانت هذه نتاج ورشات عمل متعددة مع الاهالي، نظمها متطوعون في هيئة إعادة الإعمار، ونتاج اجتماعات مفتوحة واستطلاع آراء من خلال تعبئة استمارات. وبدأت المسودة بمطالبة الناس بالمشاركة في عملية تقويم مساحات البيوت، وأكدت الحاجة الى وضع خطة إعادة إعمار المنازل المدمرة كما كانت في السابق، الامر الذي يؤمن المحافظة على الوحدات السكنية الفردية، وعلى الاحياء، وطرق السير، والمعالم. وتمثل المطلب السياسي، في ما يتعلق بإعادة بناء المخيم، في أن يعود المكان “مخيماً” – وليس بلدة – أي كمكان إقامة موقت.

كان المطلب المعماري الاساسي يتمثل في الحفاظ على نمط البناء المرتبط بالعائلة الممتدة باعتباره حجر الزاوية في مباني المخيم، أي النموذج الذي يتمكن فيه الجيل الأصغر من البناء فوق منزل الوالدين وتأسيس أسر جديدة. ولم يكن سبب اختيار الإبقاء على هذا النموذج من البناء مقتصراً على الرغبة في الحفاظ على التماسك الاجتماعي للقرية فحسب، بل شمل سهولة التوسع المستقبلي وانخفاض تكلفته ايضاً (ولاسيما في بيئة تضم مجموعة سكانية مهمشة لا يسمح لها القانون بالتملك في لبنان). وفي النهاية، أعدت وكالة الغوث، بالاشتراك مع هيئة إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد، خرائط وقاعدة بيانات بواسطة منظومة المعلومات الجغرافية (GIS)، إذ تم توثيق التفصيلات المكانية وتفصيلات الملكية في ما يخص جميع العائلات في المخيم – وذلك لاستعمال المعلومات قاعدة يتم على أساسها وضع المشروع النهائي لإعادة الإعمار.

لكن اعتماد مبدأ المشاركة لم يكن بالمهمة السهلة، فقد نجمت صعوبات بسبب موقف بعض مسؤولي الحكومة اللبنانية الذين لا يؤمنون بالمشاركة الشعبية الحقيقية، وإنما بالتعاون مع منظمات دولية ورسمية فقط، مثل وكالة الغوث، وكذلك موقف بعض مسؤولي منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية. وقامت وحدة تحسين المخيمات في وكالة الغوث بدور رئيسي في تمكين مشاركة الاهالي، وذلك من خلال المشاركة التامة لهيئة إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد في عملية التصميم والمفاوضات كلها. ووافق رئيس الحكومة في نهاية الامر على الاقتراح الذي قدمته وكالة الغوث وهيئة إعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد، نظراً الى اقتراب
الموعد النهائي لمؤتمر فيينا الذي اصر فيه المشاركون – المانحون على تقديم خطة إعادة إعمار جاهزة في المؤتمر.

وكانت المفارقة رؤية المسؤولين الحكوميين اللبنانيين يتباهون بعد ذلك، وأمام المانحين ووسائل الإعلام المحلية، بأهمية مبدأ المشاركة في مشروع إعادة الاعمار، وذلك لادراكهم فائدة هذا الامر في تعزيز صورتهم. لكن المسؤولين لم يتبنوا الموقف ذاته في ما يتعلق بمسائل اخرى بالغة الاهمية، وتتصل باعادة الاعمار، كالحقوق المدنية او شكل الحكم او الامن او الاقتصاد، بل حتى الغاء الحالة العسكرية الموجودة في المخيم بعد اكثر من عامين على اندلاع المعركة. وظل الأمن يمثل العامل الرئيسي الذي اثر في قرارات حكومية عدة تتعلق بمسائل متعددة.

حكم المخيم: الرؤى المتضاربة للادارة المشهد المحلي

لا ريب في ان موضوع “إدارة” المخيمات، او الحكم المحلي فيه، غالباً ما يساء عرضه وفهمه، والسبب في ذلك يعود جزئياً الى ان ممارسات الحكم المحلي تتصف بأنها غير رسمية ومتضاربة ومتغيرة، وهي تتنوع من مخيم الى آخر، لكن يمكن وصفها عامة بأنها تتخذ شكل صورة متعددة الطبقة يقوم فيها العديد من الفاعلين والمجموعات والافراد والفصائل بالمناورة والتنافس، وبتدبير أمور الحياة في المخيم. ومع ان الممارسات المذكورة تبدو عصية على الفهم للمراقب الخارجي – فإنها في واقع الامر تمثل انعكاساً لتعقيد السياسة الفلسطينية والوضع الفلسطيني ومفارقاتهما ومصاعبهما في مخيم حضري للاجئين “موقت ودائم” عمره ستون عاماً. وهذه المقالة لا تسعى لتقديم نظرة عامة وشاملة الى آليات الادارة في المخيم ضمن المشهد السياسي – الاجتماعي التاريخي، وذلك على رغم أهمية هذا الموضوع، بل ان الفكرة المهمة في هذه المقالة هي إظهار تفسير الحكومة لـ”مشكلة” المخيمات، وكيفية التدخل التي اختارتها هذه الحكومة.

ان الفاعلين التقليديين في مخيم نهر البارد هم: لجنة شعبية (مؤلفة من ممثلين عن جميع الفصائل، لكن تاريخياً هم ممثلون عن التحالف الموالي لسوريا): لجان الاحياء؛ مجموعة من الوجهاء؛ بعض المنظمات الاهلية. كما يوجد في المخيم عدة لجان ومبادرات شعبية تتبنى قضايا مثل اعادة الاعمار والدفاع عن الحقوق ومصالح التجار، وقد بدأت تؤدي دورأً اكبر في مشهد المخيم. واظهرت ازمة مخيم نهر البارد ضعف الفصائل الفلسطينية التقليدية في ادارة الأزمات عندما تتصرف بمفردها، في معزل عن القوى الاخرى.

وبدلاً من الاعتماد على الفاعلين المحليين في المخيم، قررت الحكومة اللبنانية تغيير الوضع القائم، وتقديم نموذج جديد لادارة المخيم يقوم حصراً على مبدأ اضطلاع قوى الامن الداخلي بإدارة المخيم وبالمراقبة، وذلك من دون التعاطي مع المشكلات الحقيقية للمخيمات او للفلسطينيين في لبنان. وقام فريق خاص بإعداد وثيقة كي تقدم الى مؤتمر المانحين في فيينا الخاص بمخيم نهر البارد.

“وثيقة فيينا”

شاركت الحكومة اللبنانية جزئياً في تجميع مواد “وثيقة فيينا” وصوغها، وذلك من خلال التعاون مع لجنة الحوار اللبنانية – الفلسطينية ومستشاريها، ومع ما عُرف لاحقاً باسم المكتب الفني (RCC) التابع لمكتب رئيس الحكومة. وتجمع “وثيقة فيينا” بين دراسات فنية عدة كانت قد أعدتها وكالة الغوث، ولجنة اعادة اعمار مخيم نهر البارد، والبرنامج الانمائي التابع للامم المتحدة، والبنك الدولي، وشركة خطيب وعلمي، وذلك بهدف تقديم رؤية موحدة شاملة لإعادة إعمار المخيم، ولتكلفة المشروع. وفي حين اعدت الحكومة اللبنانية الوثيقة، رعى المؤتمر كل من النمسا ولبنان وجامعة الدول العربية ووكالة الغوث والاتحاد الاوروبي.

وعلى الرغم من موافقة الفلسطينيين رسمياً على الوثيقة، فان الممثلين السياسيين الفلسطينيين قاموا بدور رمزي فقط في عملية إعدادها الفعلية، نظراً الى افتقار منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية الى هيئات فنية تستطيع القيام بدراسة كهذه، والمشاركة في وضعها وإعدادها. وقد ملأت هذا الفراغ جزئياً مبادرات متعددة صادرة عن منظمات أهلية فلسطينية، وعن خبراء قاموا بدور فاعل في مع البيانات والضغط من خلال وسائل مختلفة رسمية وغير مباشرة، هذا بالاضافة الى آليات مشاركة متعددة لجأت اليها الأمم المتحدة والوكالات الدولية. اما المضمون السياسي للجزء المتعلق بالأمن والادارة في هذه الوثيقة، فيمثل حالة مغايرة تماماً، اذ أعدت الحكومة ومستشاروها تلك المقاطع بشكل كامل وحصري، وفي غياب اي جهة او مشاركة فلسطينية.

تقترح “وثيقة فيينا”: “تأسيس بنية ادارة شفافة وفاعلة في مخيم نهر البارد، ويشمل ذلك تحقيق الأمن وسلطة القانون داخل المخيم من خلال الشرطة المجتمعية (Community Policing)”.

وتطالب الوثيقة المانحين بتقديم الامكانات المادية (5 ملايين دولار) من اجل: “التدريب والمساعدة التقنية لقوى الأمن الداخلي (اللبنانية) بهدف إدخال نظم الشرطة المجتمعية الى مخيم نهر البارد”.

وتمضي الوثيقة لتبين ان: “تطبيق مبدأ الشرطة المجتمعية داخل بيئة مخيم نهر البارد تستوجب وجود قوى أمن داخلي (لبناني) داخل المخيم تعمل على تقليل المخاوف والحساسيات الموجودة قبل نزاع مخيم نهر البارد وبعده، فهذا النوع من ضبط الامن يشجع على المشاركة وحل النزاعات. وإن هذه التدابير الامنية الخاصة بمخيم نهر البارد متفق عليها مع منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية […]. وان بناء الثقة بين قوى الامن الداخلي وأهالي مخيم نهر البارد سيشجع اهالي المخيم على ان يكونوا داعمين بشكل افضل ومتشجعين على التبليغ عن مشكلات المخيم والامور الامنية. وسيشارك ضباط الشرطة في نشاطات اجتماعية متعددة (خطط شبابية وبرامج اجتماعية)، لإيجاد علاقات اقوى بأهالي المخيم. فالشراكة الوثيقة بين عناصر قوى الأمن الداخلي وبين المجتمع ستساهم في جعل مخيم نهر البارد بعد إعادة اعماره مكاناً اكثر أماناً، وستشجع على تعميم نموذج ناجح للامن في المخيمات الفلسطينية الاخرى في لبنان. وسيتم تعريف كوادر قوى الأمن الداخلي بالتاريخ السياسي للاجئين الفلسطينيين في لبنان، وسيتم تدريبهم على ان يتفهموا بصورة اعمق الخصوصيات الثقافية والاجتماعية للمجتمع الفلسطيني. كما سيتم تدريب هذه الكوادر على حل النزاعات وعلى مهارات التواصل”.

ومع ان المجتمع المدني الفلسطيني راوده الشعور بأن وثيقة كهذه كان يجري اعدادها، فان الوثيقة المذكورة لم تعلن الا قبل ايام قليلة من بداية مؤتمر فيينا، وذلك عندما طُبعت ووزعت على الدول المانحة. وقد اطلعت منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية على الوثيقة في الوقت الذي اطلع عليها المانحون الآخرون. وعلى الرغم من اعتراض منظمة التحرير على مبدأ الشرطة المجتمعية في اجتماع رسمي عُقد مع السفير خليل مكاوي (رئيس لجنة الحوار)، قبل مؤتمر فيينا ببضعة ايام، لم تجر اي تعديلات على الوثيقة. وفي الواقع/ لم يُعرض اي موقف فلسطيني امام الدول المانحة خلال المؤتمر. اما المبلغ المرصود لتمويل تدريب كوادر قوى الأمن الداخلي، والبالغ خمسة ملايين دولار، فقد جرى تأمينه وتحويله الى الحكومة اللبنانية نتيجة “وثيقة فيينا” ومؤتمرها، وبدأ استشاريون للحكومة العمل على الموضوع من دون معرفة أهالي المخيم.

اختزال الحكم بالموضوع الأمني

على الرغم من ايجاز المقطع الخاص بالادارة في “وثيقة فيينا”، فإنه يعكس بوضوح استمرارية وتطور منهجية التعامل مع المخيمات من زاوية امنية. فعندما يكون موضوع الشرطة هو العنوان الفعلي الوحيد في “وثيقة فيينا” الذي يتطرق الى موضوع “الحكم” في المخيم، فإن هذا استكمال لمنهجية اختزال اللاجئين الفلسطينيين الى مشكلة امنية، واعتبار المخيم “جزيرة امنية”. فقد وضع صانعو السياسة اللبنانيون ومستشاروهم، ومن دون استشارة الأهالي، التصور الموجود في الوثيقة. وفي حين جرى تسويق الوثيقة تحت شعارات الشراكة والشرطة المجتمعية، فإن المجتمع المحلي كان غائباً عند صوغها، وهذا يتناقض مع تعريف الشرطة المجتمعية، أساساً، كاستراتيجيا وفلسفة لضبط الأمن تقومان على مفهوم فحواه ان تفاعل الاهالي ودعمهم هما المساعد في ضبط الجرائم والتعرف الى المشبوهين، ,في احتجاز المخربين، وفي تبليغ رجال الشرطة ما يحدث من مشكلات. ويفشل هذا المنطق ويصعب تطبيقه عندما يفرض على مجتمع يرفضه لاسباب متعددة ستذكر لاحقاً.

وبينما يكمن مبدأ الشرطة المجتمعية في خطاب تحسين، ثم تمكين أنشطة معينة ومبادرات المواطنة، فإن هناك تناقضاً في تطبيق أنظمة وقوانين وممارسات تعتمد على تطوير مفهوم المواطنة، على مجموعة سكانية من اللاجئين الموقتين الذين تضن عليهم الدولة المضيفة بحقوقهم الاجتماعية الاساسية.

كان لفقرة الادارة في “وثيقة فيينا” ردة فعل سلبية قوية بين أهالي المخيم، وقد توصلنا الى هذه النتيجة من خلال عدد من المقابلات التي اجريناها، بالاضافة الى العريضة المقدمة، مباشرة، الى رئيس الحكومة، فؤاد السنيورة، والتي وقّعها المئات من أهالي مخيم نهر البارد، ونشرت في صحيفتي “الاخبار” و”السفير” بتاريخ 24/1/2009، إذ اعرب الموقعون عن معارضتهم سياسة الحكومة في التعامل مع مخيمهم من منظور امني، وكذلك خطتها المستقبلية لادارة المخيم.

ويمكن القول ان المضامين السياسية للاقتراح الوارد في “وثيقة فيينا” ستلقي بظلها على اي شراكة او نقاش مع المجتمع المحلي يمكن ان يجريا مستقبلاً. فعلى الرغم من الادعاء ان الاقتراح المذكور تم اعداده بالتنسيق مع منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية فإنه لا يوجد في تلك المرحلة اي شراكة حقيقية مع فصائل المنظمة في هذا المشروع، ولا أي تفاهم، ولا أي موافقة عليه.

ان الوثيقة لا تأخذ في الاعتبار الا الحاجات الامنية ووجهة النظر والرؤية اللبنانية، فاللجنة الشعبية عامة، لم تذكر في الاقسام المتعلقة بـ”الحكم” في الوثيقة باعتبارها محاوراً مشاركاً في مسألة الشرطة “المجتمعية”، كما ان الاقتراح يتجاهل بسذاجة المشهد العام السابق للمعركة في مخيم نهر البارد، وهو المشهد الذي يُظهر واقعاً معقداً شديد التنوع من الفاعلية يضم اللجنة الشعبية، والكفاح المسلح، واللجنة الامنية، والفصائل السياسية، ولجان الاحياء، والوجهاء، والنقابات المهنية المتعددة، والمنظمات الأهلية المحلية، وغيرها، الذين يتفاعلون ويتنافسون في ما بينهم بشأن مختلف المسائل التي تلحظ المصلحة العامة للمخيم. وهذا الواقع السابق للمعركة يعكس وجود طاقة ومشاركة في المجال العام تقومان على مشاركة شعبية مكثفة في ادارة شؤون الحياة اليومية.

من المؤكد ان هناك مشكلات لا يستهان بها داخل الادارة المحلية في المخليمات، بما في ذلك النزاعات والممارسات الفاسدة لبعض تلك البنى وتأثيرها السلبي المحتوم في ما يتعلق بمصلحة المخيم، لكن هذا لا يبرر تجاهل الاطر والممارسات السياسية والاجتماعية الموجودة في المخيم.

فإيجاد شراكة فلسطينية – لبنانية حقيقية تقوم على الاحترام وتطوير هذه الأطر والممارسات المحلية في موازاة تطوير آليات واضحة وشفافة للتنسيق مع الجهات اللبنانية، لا يتحقق من خلال تعليم ضباط قوى الأمن الداخلي اللبنانيين “التاريخ السياسي للاجئين الفلسطينيين في لبنان… والخصوصيات الثقافية والاجتماعية للمجتمع الفلسطيني”، كما ورد في “وثيقة فيينا”.

إن الأمر الإشكالي هنا هو حصر حاجات “الحكم” (governance) في المخيم ورؤيتها ضمن منظور أمني فقط، وافتراض إمكان تلبية تلك الحاجات بإدخال الشرطة الى المخيم، ذلك بأن هذا الأمر يتجاهل الخطاب المعاصر المتفق عليه عموماً في ما يتعلق بمعنى الحكم الرشيد ومكوناته الأساسية المتعددة من إدارة المكان وتمثيل المجتمع وتنميته وتطويره اقتصادياً. ولا يمكن فصل عملية تطوير الحكم المحلي داخل المخيمات الفلسطينية عن مسألة التعاطي مع الحقوق الفلسطينية ضمن رؤية ومقاربة شاملتين، كما ان الدروس والأدبيات التي تتناول حالة إعادة الاعمار ما بعد الحرب، لا تكف عن ترداد ما تعتقد انه يشكل قواعد اعادة الإعمار الناجحة بعد الحرب، وهذه القواعد هي: (1) اعادة بناء البيئة المكانية، (2) اعادة إقلاع الدورة الاقتصادية، (3) لجان تقصي الحقائق والمصالحة، (4) اقامة حكم رشيد. ولن يتمكن مخيم نهر البارد من التغلب على التحديات الاجتماعية والسياسية والاقتصادية التي يواجهها في مرحلة ما بعد الحرب، إلا من خلال إجراء مراجعة عامة وشاملة، وعندئذ يمكن وضع أسس علاقة لبنانية – فلسطينية راسخة وحقيقية.

أما على ارض الواقع، فان المقاربة السابقة المرتكزة على مفهوم الأمن، استمرت بعد انتهاء المعركة، وذلك من خلال تدابير متعددة: وجود نقاط تفتيش لا لزوم لها، وجود سلك شائك يحيط بالمخيم، منع السكان الفلسطينيين واللبنا نيين الراغبين في دخول المخيم، من دخوله، قبل الحصول على تصريح عسكري، وجود قواعد عسكرية وبحرية. وقد اصبحت هذه الإجراءات المذكورة سمة مميزة لعملية اعادة الاعمار، فعلى سبيل المثال، أقر مجلس الوزراء إنشاء ثكنة عسكرية عند أطراف المخيم القديم بعد انتهاء المعركة مباشرة، كما أنه أصدر في شباط 2009، مرسوماً آخر يقضي بإنشاء قاعدة بحرية على شاطىء نهر البارد، بالاضافة الى استمرار لجنة الحوار وقوى الأمن الداخلي في ممارسة الضغوط لإنشاء مركز للشرطة داخل المخيم القديم. وفي حين تعارض اللجنة الشعبية المحلية هذا الخيار معارضة عنيفة، تلجأ لجنة الحوار الى الضغط على قيادة منظمة التحرير كي تقبل الأمر.

ومن المهم ان نشير هنا الى أن منظمة التحرير تقبل وجود مركز الشرطة من دون استشارة اللجنة المحلية او مناقشتها في الموضوع. وهذا كله يجري من دون ان تؤخذ في الاعتبار الكثافة العمرانية الشديدة في المخيم، إذ ينحصر 1700 مبنn ضمن مساحة لا تتجاوز 190,000م.م.، وتؤوي ما يزيد على 20,000 لاجىء (أي 1100 شخص في الهكتار – وهي إحدى اعلى الكثافات الحضرية في العالم). وفي حين يبدو خيار إنشاء مركز الشرطة عند اطراف المخيم اكثر مراعاة لمشاعر السكان، فإن الحكومة اللبنانية ولجنة الحوار ترفضان مثل هذا الخيار باستمرار. ويبدو ان الحكومة اللبنانية تعتبر مركز الشرطة بحد ذاته بيانا سياسيا يعلن سيطرتها الجديدة التامة على المخيم، وذلك على الرغم من خبرات الدول المضيفة الأخرى في المنطقة التي تفضل إبقاء مراكز الشرطة عند أطراف المخيمات. ففي عمان مثلا، وبعد إنشاء مراكز شرطة وسط المخيمات وإحراقها مرات عدة، أعادت السلطات إنشاء تلك المراكز عند اطراف المخيمات. وفي حين نستطيع الانشغال، وبكل سهولة، في مناقشة ميزات “الشرطة المجتمعية”، أو عدم إمكان تطبيقها، فإن الموضوع الأول الذي يجب مناقشته هو الوضع الأمني الفعلي داخل مخيم نهر البارد. فاذا كان النقاش هو بشأن الجرائم، فإن هذا المخيم لم يكن يشكل مكاناً مغلقاً موبوءاً بها، إذ كانت هذه تطوق عادة، كما كانت تجري ملاحقة من ينتهك حرمة القانون، وهو ما كان يحفظ السلامة العامة في المخيم. أما اذا كان النقاش متعلقاً بوجود “فتح الاسلام”، فيجب التساؤل عن الأسباب الحقيقية التي حالت بين الأطر الفلسطينية وبين التعامل بحزم مع عناصر هذه الظاهرة، وما هي اسباب فشل قوى الأمن الداخلي والجيش اللبناني في اعتقال مجموعة مسلحة كان القسم الاكبر من مكاتبها وقواعدها ومواقع تدريبها ومنازل عناصرها موجوداً خارج الحدود الرسمية لمخيم نهر البارد، أي على ارض تابعة رسمياً للسلطات اللبنانية؟ فمعظم تلك الابنية، في الحقيقة، كان موجوداً في منطقة مجاورة لمخيم نهر البارد، وبعضها في مركز مدينة طرابلس وعلى أطرافها، مثل ابي سمرا. والهدف هنا ليس القاء المسؤولية على الجهات اللبنانية، وانما الاشارة الى ان ظاهرة “فتح الاسلام”، وكثيرا من الظواهر الاخرى التي تهدد أمن اللبنانيين والفلسطينيين معاً، ليسا مجرد نتاج غياب عناصر ضبط الأمن اللبناني.

القضايا الحقيقية هنا تتصل بطبيعة التنسيق وآلياته بين الاطر الفلسطينية واجهزة الدولة اللبنانية (بشقها المدني وليس العسكري وحده)، وذلك يخص المخيم والمنطقة المجاورة له. فمنذ توقف العمل باتفاقية القاهرة (سنة 1969)، ظلت الشروط المرجعية بين الطرفين غامضة وملتبسة في افضل الاحوال، وصار المخيم فضاء معلقا من الوجهة القانونية، اذ اصبحت المخابرات العسكرية تحكمه باعتبار انه “حالة استثناء”.

(جزء متكامل من دراسة أطول
تنشر لاحقا في مجلة
“دراسات فلسطينية”)

(ساري حنفي أستاذ مشارك في الجامعة الاميركية في بيروت، وإسماعيل الشيخ حسن مهندس ومخطط عمراني في جامعة لوفان (بلجيكا)، ويعمل ناشطاً في هيئة العمل الاهلي والدراسات لإعادة إعمار مخيم نهر البارد.)

on refugees & idps

today is world refugee day. there are 42 million refugees world-wide. there are also 7.6 million palestinian refugees, who are not included in the numbers that the united nations high commission for refugees (unhcr) uses because palestinian refugees fall under the united nations relief and works agency (unrwa) which means something different in terms of protection as well as repatriation. legal scholar susan akram explains the basic legal context that define all refugees under international law and explains the different principles guiding palestinians from other refugees:

A number of international instruments affect the status of Palestinians as refugees and as stateless persons: the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and its 1967 Protocol (Refugee Protocol); the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons; and the 1961 Convention on the Elimination or Reduction of Statelessness. There are also three international organizations whose activities affect the international legal rights of Palestinian refugees: the United Nations Conciliation Commission on Palestine (UNCCP); the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Because of the unique circumstances of the original and continued expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and lands, Palestinians in the diaspora may be stateless persons, refugees or both. (The legal definitions of these terms, as well as the manner in which they are applied to Palestinians, will be discussed below.) As such they should be entitled to the internationally guaranteed rights offered other stateless persons or refugees in the world.

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the most important treaty affecting Palestinian human rights in most of the areas of the world where they find themselves. It is also the primary international instrument governing the rights of refugees and the obligations of states towards them. This Convention, and its 1967 Protocol, incorporate the most widely accepted and applied definition of a refugee, and establish minimum guarantees of protection towards such refugees by state parties. The Refugee Convention and Protocol incorporate two essential state obligations: the application of the now universally accepted definition of “refugee” which appears in Article 1A(2) of the Convention, and the obligatory norm of non-refoulement, which appears in Article 33.1 of the Convention. The principle of non-refoulement requires that a state not return a refugee to a place where his/her life or freedom would be threatened. It is important to note that nowhere in the Refugee Convention or Protocol, nor in any other international human rights instrument, is there an obligation on any state to gratn the status of political asylum or any more permanent status than non-refoulement.

The simple recognition that an individual meets the criteria of a “refugee” as defined in the Convention, however, triggers significant state obligations towards them, not the least of which is the obligation of non-refoulement. The Convention requires states to grant refugees a number of rights which Palestinians are often denied, including: identity papers (Article 27); travel documents (Article 28); freedom from unnecessary restrictions on movement (Article 26); freedom from restrictions on employment (Articles 17 and 18); basic housing (Article 21); welfare (Article 23); education (Article 22); labour and social security rights (Article 24); and freedom of religion (Article 4). It also makes them eligible for more permanent forms of relief such as residence and citizenship, subject to the discretion of the granting state.

The Convention and Protocol define a “refugee” as:

[a person who], owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence is a result of such events, is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

This author contends that the Convention Article 1A(2) definition was never intended to, and does not, apply to Palestinians for several reasons. First, as UN delegates involved with drafting the Refugee Convention pointed out: “[T]he obstacle to the repatriation was not dissatisfaction with their homeland, but the fact that a Member of the United Nations was preventing their return.” Second, the Palestinians as an entire group had already suffered persecution by virtue of their massive expulsion from their homeland for one or more of the grounds enumerated in the definition. Thus, they were given special recognition as a group, or category, and not subject to the individualized refugee definition. Third, the delegates dealt with Palestinians as de facto refugees, referring in a general way to those who were defined by the relief agencies at the time (UNRPR and later UNRWA), but not limiting the term “refugee” to those Palestinians who were in need of relief. Although they did not specifically define them as such, the delegates were referring to Palestinian refugees as persons normally residing in Palestine before 15 May 1948, who lost their homes or livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict. For these and other reasons (discussed below, the delegates drafted a separate provision–Article ID–in the Refugee Convention that applies solely to Palestinian refugees.

Refugee Convention Article 1D states:

This Convention shall not apply to persons who are at present receiving from organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection or assistance.

When such protection or assistance has ceased for any reason, without the position of such persons being definitively settled in accordance with the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, these persons shall ipso facto be entitled to the benefits of this Convention.

Although Palestinian refugees are not specifically mentioned in this provision, it is evident from both the drafting history and the interrelationship of Article 1D with three other instruments that Palestinians are the only group to which the Article applies. The most important reasons for drawing this conclusion are that, first, the drafting history of the provisions clearly reflects that the only refugee population discussed in relation to Article 1D was the Palestinians. Second, one of the paramount concerns of the drafters of the Refugee Convention was that the wished to determine the precise groups of refugees to which the Convention would apply, so they could decide the extent to which the signatory states could accept the refugee burden. There is no indication that Article 1D was drafted with any different intention–that is, with an open-ended reference to other groups of refugees not contemplated by the United Nations at the time. (The universal application of the Refugee Convention definition is a later development with the entry into force of the Refugee Protocol.) Third, there was only one group of refugees considered to be in need of international protection at the time of drafting Article 1D that was receiving “from other organs or agencies of the United Nations other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protection or assistance,” and that was the Palestinians. Fourth, the interrelationship of the mandates of the United Nations agencies relevant to the needs of Palestinian refugees indicates that these are the agencies referred to by the language of Article 1D. These mandates are reflected in the Statute of the UNHCR, the Regulations governing UNRWA, and UN Resolution 194 establishing the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP).

The UNHCR Statute, paragraph 7(c) provides that “the competence of the High Commissioner…shall not extend to a person…who continues to receive from other organs or agencies of the United Nations protection or assistance.” The “other agencies of the United Nations” originally referred to both UNRWA and the UNCCP. The significance of the language in these provisions lies primarily in the distinction between “protection” and “assistance,” which are substantially different concepts in refugee law. UNRWA’s mandate is solely one of providing assistance to refugees’ basic daily needs by way of food, clothing, and shelter. In contrast, UNHCR’s mandate, in tandem with the provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention, establishes a far more comprehensive scheme of protection for refugees qualifying under the Refugee Convention. This regime guarantees to refugees the rights embodied in international human rights conventions, and mandates the UNHCR to represent refugees, including intervening with states on their behalf, to ensure such protections to them. Aside from the distinction between the mandates of UNRWA and UNHCR, the refugee definition applicable to Palestinians is different from and far narrower under UNRWA Regulations than the Refugee Convention definition. Consistent with its assistance mandate, UNRWA applies a refugee definition that relates solely to persons from Palestine meeting certain criteria who are “in need” of such assistance.” (Susan Akram, “Palestinian Refugee Rights under International Law” in Nasser Aruri’s Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return. London: Pluto Press, 2001. 166-169)

2003 unrwa map of palestinian refugee camps
2003 unrwa map of palestinian refugee camps

i realize that the above-quoted passage is rather long, and for some perhaps tedious. but international law, and refugee law more particularly, is complicated. and i think it is important to remember the specificity of the case of palestinian refugees not only because it is world refugee day today, but also because palestinian refugees, unlike the rest of the world’s refugees, do not have an united nations body or agency fighting for their rights as do all other agencies. it was set up like this from the beginning as akram makes clear: unrwa provides assistance, unhcr provides protection and advocacy. this tremendous failing on the part of the united nations means that palestinians have yet another hurdle to face when fighting for their right of return unlike the rest of the world’s refugees. moreover, as a protest in nablus today against unrwa illustrates, unrwa often does not even meet the needs of the refugees it is supposed to be assisting. this is why one can read only one statement for world refugee day on unrwa’s website today in which you will see vapid remarks made by bani ki moon in which he says nothing about the right of return or any political rights of refugees more generally. of course they have organizations like badil, which tirelessly fights for the right of return, but badil does not have the power and weight of the international community behind it, though they do, of course, have the weight of international law behind their work. here is badil’s statement to commemorate world refugee day today:

Statistics released by UN agencies on the occasion of the 2009 World Refugee Day testify to the fact that Palestinian refugees are the largest and longest standing refugee population world wide. They lack access to just solutions and
reparations, including return, because Israel and western governments continue to deny or belittle the scope of the problem and make no effort to respect and implement relevant international law and best practice.

According to a forthcoming Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons for the years 2007-2008 produced by Badil, at least 7.6 million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced since 1948 as a consequence of Israel’s systematic policies and practices of colonization, occupation and apartheid. That figure represents 71 percent of the entire worldwide population of 10.6 million Palestinians. Only 28.7 percent of all Palestinians have never been displaced from their homes.

The great majority of the displaced (6.2 million people – 81.5 percent) are Palestinian refugees of 1948 (the Nakba), who were ethnically cleansed in order to make space for the state of Israel and their descendants. This figure includes 4.7 million Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations (UNRWA) at the end of 2008. The second major group (940,000 – 12.5%) are Palestinian refugees of 1967, who were displaced during the 1967 Arab-Israel war and their descendants.

More attention and concern should be given to the phenomenon of forced displacement of Palestinians because it is ongoing.

Steadily growing populations of internally displaced Palestinians (IDPs) are the result of ongoing forced displacement in Israel (approximately 335,000 IDPs since 1948) and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 1967 (approximately 120,000 IDPs since 1967). Badil’s Survey identifies a set of distinct, systematic and widespread Israeli policies and practices which induce ongoing forced displacement among the indigenous Palestinian population, including deportation and revocation of residency rights, house demolition, land confiscation, construction and expansion of Jewish-only settlements, closure and segregation, as well
as threats to life and physical safety as a result of military operations and harassment by racist Jewish non-state actors. Israeli
governments implement these policies and practices in order to change the demographic composition of certain areas (“Judaization”) and the entire country for the purpose of colonization.

Data about the scope of ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians is illustrative and indicative, because there is no singular institution or agency mandated and resourced to ensure systematic and sustained monitoring and documentation. The total number of persons displaced in 2007 – 2008 is unknown. UN agencies, however, confirm that 100,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes in the occupied Gaza Strip at during Israel’s military operation at the end of the year; that 198 communities in the OPT currently face forced displacement; and that 60,000 Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are at risk of having their home demolished by Israel.

The Palestinian refugee question has remained unresolved and forced displacement continues, because Western governments and international organizations have been complicit in Israel’s illegal policy and practice of population transfer and have failed to protect the Palestinian people. Indicators of the severe gaps existing in the protection of Palestinian refugees and IDPs are seen in the recent crises in Iraq – where thousands of Palestinian refugees became stranded on the Jordanian/Syrian and Iraqi borders, Lebanon – where 27,000 Palestinians refugees of the Naher al-Bared camp are still waiting to return to their 2007 destroyed camp, and Gaza – where over 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 100,000 displaced, most of them 1948 refugees).

On this World Refugees Day, Badil calls upon all those concerned with justice, human rights and peace to:

Challenge Israel’s racist notion of the “Jewish state” and immediately halt its practices of displacement, dispossession and colonization; Strengthen the global Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in order to ensure that Israel other states become accountable to international law and respect their obligations; Improve the mechanism of international protection so that all Palestinians receive effective protection from, during and after forced displacement, including the right to return as part of durable solutions and reparation; Ensure that the Palestinian refugee question is treated in accordance with international law and UN resolutions in future peace negotiations, including return and reparation.

 A map of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp with the different areas marked.
A map of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp with the different areas marked.

the situation facing palestinian refugees who lived in nahr el bared refugee camp in lebanon is an excellent example of how unrwa fails the palestinian refugees it is supposed to protect. the crisis of nahr el bared is a microcosm of palestinian refugees in general who have become refugees multiple times over and who are often refugees and idps at the same time. the camp (see map above) continues to be controlled by the lebanese army and the majority of the original 31,000 inhabitants have not been allowed to return–let alone return to their homes in palestine. ray smith’s recent report on the situation of the camp from electronic lebanon is below:

Nahr al-Bared camp consists of an “old” and a “new” camp. The original or “old” refugee camp was established in 1949 on a piece of land 16 kilometers north of the Lebanese city of Tripoli. In 1950, the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) started to provide its services to the camp’s residents. Over the years, population density in Nahr al- Bared rose drastically while refugees who could afford it, left the boundaries of the official camp and settled in its immediate vicinity. This area is now referred to as the “new camp” or the “adjacent area” and belongs to the Lebanese municipalities of Muhammara and Bhannine. While the residents of the new camp benefit from UNRWA’s education, health, relief and social services, the agency has no mandate for the construction and maintenance of the infrastructure and houses in this area.

Since the fighting in the camp ended nearly two years ago, most of the so-called “old camp” has been bulldozed and reconstruction is set to begin within the next month. Along the perimeter of the old camp however the ruins of more than 200 houses are still standing. They’re under the sole control of the Lebanese army, which still prevents residents from returning.

In October 2007, approximately one month after the Lebanese army declared victory, the first wave of refugees was allowed back into parts of the new camp. In the following months, the army gradually withdrew from the new camp and returned the houses and ruins to their former residents. However, the handover wasn’t complete. At least 250 houses in the new camp, adjacent to the old camp, remain sealed off by barbed wire, controlled by the Lebanese army and inaccessible to its residents. These areas are now referred to as the “Prime Areas,” known among the refugees under the Arabized term primaat. They consist of A’-, B’-, C’- and E’-Prime.

Adnan, who declined to give his family name, works in a small shop in the Corniche neighborhood, adjacent to area E’. He has been waiting for the handover of the area by the army. “They tell you, ‘Next week, next month.’ But nothing happens. They say, ‘We first have to remove the bombs and the rubble, then we let people in.’ These are empty words. Nobody is honest. They constantly lie to us,” Adnan complained.

Temporary housing serves as the makeshift office of the Nahr al-Bared Reconstruction Commission for Civil Action and Studies (NBRC), a grassroots committee heavily involved in the planning of the reconstruction of the old camp. Abu Ali Mawed, an active member of the NBRC, owns one of the 120 buildings in area E and has been waiting for its handover for 21 months. “The army once more says they’ll open the primaat, but first [the army] will need to [clear] them [of] unexploded ordnance devices and rubble. Where have the parties responsible for this work been in the past two years? Let us be honest: This area could be de-mined and cleared within just under a month!”

Ismael Sheikh Hassan, a volunteer architect and planner with the NBRC, said, “The main reason for the delays is the army. They haven’t taken the decision at command level to allow people to return until last month.”

Since the end of May, things have seemed to finally move forward. On 19 May, an UNRWA contractor started clearing rubble in area B’ and de- mining teams took up their work. UNRWA wrote in its weekly update on 3 June that its contractor had finished clearing rubble in areas B’ and C’. In a meeting among the Lebanese army, Nahr al-Bared’s Popular Committee, Palestinian parties and UNRWA on 2 June, the army announced its intention to allow the return of the residents of these two areas within two or three days. As of 7 June however the promise hadn’t been delivered.

Sheikh Hassan explained that the suspension was mainly due to delays in de-mining procedures and those related to miscommunication among the various structures of the Lebanese army. He expected them to open areas B’ and C’ in a few days. There are 40 houses in B’ and 60 buildings in C’ to be handed over. On 11 June, UNRWA announced that they were told by the Lebanese army that the handover of B’ and C’ would take place mid-month.

The army’s procedures have raised doubts. Abu Ali Mawed, the reconstruction commission member, asked, “How could they allow people last year to return to their burnt, looted and destroyed homes to save some of their belongings, if there were still vast amounts of unexploded ordnance lying around? They should have de-mined the area before letting people in. In the primaat, many houses aren’t completely destroyed, which facilitates de-mining. I suppose that the unexploded ordinance have already been cleared and de-mining is only used as an excuse for further delaying the handover.”

According to UNRWA, the army and the Popular Committee will be responsible for announcing and coordinating the schedules and logistics of families returning to the Prime Areas.

Nidal Abdelal of the Palestinian political faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine shook his head: “So far, neither the Popular Committee nor UNRWA understand why the army doesn’t hand the primaat over so people can return. The Lebanese army sets dates [but doesn’t deliver]; this has happened four or fives times. And until today, minor problems in the details constantly prevent them from handing over the primaat.”

Abdelal points out that the persistent delays of the handover dates cause skepticism and worries among the refugees. “They even call UNRWA and the Popular Committee liars,” he says. “They tell people a date, then they postpone it. Then they set another date and again postpone it. In the end, the army controls the primaat and is responsible for their handover. They should eventually hand the areas over to UNRWA and the Popular Committee and let people return.”

Another camp resident, Abu Ali Mawed, compared the situation of displaced residents of Nahr al-Bared to that of southern Lebanese displaced during the summer war of 2006: “Israel dropped about one million cluster bombs in the south, but people could immediately return to their homes [once] the war was over. Why have we for two years not been allowed to return to our houses? … We asked these questions to the government, army representatives and politicians many times, but never got clear answers. They kept giving us lame excuses that were far from convincing.”

Besides the upcoming handover of areas B’ and C’, further questions need to be answered. For example: What will happen to the houses in the primaat once they’re accessible? These houses were assessed and will be stabilized and rehabilitated. If this isn’t possible and their owners agree, they’ll be torn down. An anonymous source with UNRWA believes that only a few homeowners will agree to the total destruction of their homes because other landlords have experienced that the Lebanese government doesn’t sign building permits for Palestinians to build in the new camp.

Currently unscheduled is the handover of areas A’ and E’. Sheikh Hassan of the NBRC says there’s speculation “that those areas will be opening in the upcoming months. However, there are no guarantees on this. E’ will definitely be opened first. A’ will be opened last.” Access to E’ seems to depend on the rubble removal and de-mining process in the adjacent two sectors of the old camp, because they’re still heavily contaminated with unexploded ordnance. According to Nidal Ayyub of UNRWA, the Lebanese army so far has “no plan to open [area] A’.”

However, the Lebanese army did have plans for the construction of an army base in Nahr al-Bared. On 16 January, the Lebanese cabinet decided to establish a naval base in the camp as well. Both plans concern mainly areas A’ and E’ and the coastal strip along the old camp. Just months ago, fierce protest to these plans was voiced by the camp’s residents and the government has reportedly dropped its plans. However, only when the Lebanese army finally makes clear its intentions for the handover of the remaining parts of the camp will residents’ worries be dispelled — or their fears for the future of Nahr al-Bared confirmed.

of course palestinian refugees are not the only refugees in the world today, although they are the one refugee population who has been denied their right to return home for the longest period of time. below is a map from the le monde newspaper in 2007 of refugees world wide. while the map is outdated, the general patterns and trends regionally have not changed all that much with the exception of the tremendous recent idp populations in sri lanka and pakistan.

le monde 2007 map of refugees world wide
le monde 2007 map of refugees world wide

an over view of the global refugee crisis by antónio guterres, the un high commissioner for refugees is as follows, but it should be remembered that last year’s report to which guterres refers to does not include recent statistics about idps in pakistan and tamils in sri lanka:

As we mark World Refugee Day on June 20, the number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution worldwide stands at more than 42 million, including 16 million refugees outside their countries and 26 million others displaced internally.

This overall total reflects global displacement figures compiled at the end of 2008. But the number has already grown substantially since the beginning of this year with more large displacements in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia totaling well over 2.3 million people. And there are more worrisome signs on the horizon.

While some displacement situations are short-lived, others can take years and even decades to resolve. At present, for example, UNHCR counts 29 different groups of 25,000 or more refugees in 22 nations who have been in exile for five years or longer. This means that nearly 6 million refugees are living in limbo, with no solutions in sight. Millions more internally displaced people (IDPs) also are unable to go home in places like Colombia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.

In addition to prolonged conflict and the increasingly protracted nature of displacement, we are also seeing a decline in the number of refugees and internally displaced people going home. In 2008, about 2 million people were able to repatriate, but that was a sharp drop from the year before. Refugee repatriation (604,000) was down 17 percent in 2008, while IDP returns (1.4 million) dropped by 34 percent. It was the second-lowest repatriation total in 15 years and the decline in part reflects deteriorating security conditions, namely in Afghanistan and Sudan.

In 2008, we also saw a 28 percent increase in the number of asylum seekers making individual claims, to 839,000. South Africa (207,000) was the largest single recipient of individual asylum claims, followed by the United States (49,600), France (35,400) and Sudan (35,100).

The global economic crisis, gaping disparities between North and South, growing xenophobia, climate change, the relentless outbreak of new conflicts and the intractability of old ones all threaten to exacerbate this already massive displacement problem. We and our humanitarian partners are struggling to ensure that these uprooted people and the countries hosting them get the help they need and deserve.

Some 80 percent of the world’s refugees and internally displaced people are in developing nations, underscoring the disproportionate burden carried by those least able to afford it as well as the need for more international support. It also puts into proper perspective alarmist claims by populist politicians and media that some industrialised nations are being “flooded” by asylum seekers. Most people forced to flee their homes because of conflict or persecution remain within their own countries and regions in the developing world.

Major refugee-hosting nations in 2008 included Pakistan (1.8 million); Syria (1.1 million); Iran (980,000); Germany (582,700), Jordan (500,400); Chad (330,500); Tanzania (321,900); and Kenya (320,600). Major countries of origin for refugees included Afghanistan (2.8 million) and Iraq (1.9 million), which together account for 45 percent of all UNHCR refugees. Others were Somalia (561,000); Sudan (419,000); Colombia (374,000), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (368,000). Nearly all of these countries are in the developing world.

Unfortunately, however, we cannot say that generosity and wealth are proportional to each other. As conflicts drag on with no political solutions, the pressure on many of these poor countries is nearing the breaking point. They need more international help now. Without it, UNHCR and other aid agencies will be forced to continue making heartbreaking decisions on which necessities must be denied to uprooted families.

Of the global total of uprooted people in 2008, UNHCR cares for 25 million, including a record 14.4 million internally displaced people — up from 13.7million in 2007 — and 10.5 million refugees. The other 4.7 million refugees are Palestinians under the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency.

Although international law distinguishes between refugees, who are protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the internally displaced, who are not, such distinctions are absurd to those who have been forced from their homes and who have lost everything. Uprooted people are equally deserving of help whether they have crossed an international border or not. That is why UNHCR is working with other UN agencies to jointly provide the internally displaced with the help they need, just as we do for refugees.

My agency’s caseload of internally displaced has more than doubled since 2005. Displaced populations include Colombia, some 3 million; Iraq 2.6 million; Sudan’s Darfur region, more than 2 million; Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1.5 million; Somalia 1.3 million. Other increases in displacement in 2008 were in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Georgia, Yemen.

of course most of the above conflicts that create refugee or idp problems can be blamed on covert or overt occupation, wars, and proxy wars initiated or fomented by the united states. but the united states continues to drag its feet with respect to its responsibilities related to refugees, in large part because of either covert operations shielded by proxy fighters or by installing puppet regimes in places like pakistan and afghanistan so that the u.s. can relinquish its responsibilities under international law. two reports on al jazeera today highlight twin poles that many refugees face: return to their homeland or resettle in a third country. most refugees are not able to make such choices, but these reports highlight the difficulties that refugees face in either scenario. the first report is by yvonne ndege who reports on burundi refugees returning home and the challenges they face with respect to their land being occupied by their compatriots because of the government’s take over and re-distribution of the land:

the second report is by nazanine moshiri who reports on difficulties facing afghan refugees resettled in the united kingdom:

in honor of these and all refugees who have the right to determine their own fate–whether reclaiming their rights to return to their homeland or resettling in a third country, here is the amazing suheir hammad’s “on refugees” accompanied by dj k-salaam:

here are hammad’s lyrics:

Of Refuge and Language”

I do not wish
To place words in living mouths
Or bury the dead dishonorably

I am not deaf to cries escaping shelters
That citizens are not refugees
Refugees are not Americans

I will not use language
One way or another
To accommodate my comfort

I will not look away

All I know is this

No peoples ever choose to claim status of dispossessed
No peoples want pity above compassion
No enslaved peoples ever called themselves slaves

What do we pledge allegiance to?
A government that leaves its old
To die of thirst surrounded by water
Is a foreign government

People who are streaming
Illiterate into paperwork
Have long ago been abandoned

I think of coded language
And all that words carry on their backs

I think of how it is always the poor
Who are tagged and boxed with labels
Not of their own choosing

I think of my grandparents
And how some called them refugees
Others called them non-existent
They called themselves landless
Which means homeless

Before the hurricane
No tents were prepared for the fleeing
Because Americans do not live in tents
Tents are for Haiti for Bosnia for Rwanda

Refugees are the rest of the world

Those left to defend their human decency
Against conditions the rich keep their animals from
Those who have too many children
Those who always have open hands and empty bellies
Those whose numbers are massive
Those who seek refuge
From nature’s currents and man’s resources

Those who are forgotten in the mean times

Those who remember

Ahmad from Guinea makes my falafel sandwich and says
So this is your country

Yes Amadou this my country
And these my people

Evacuated as if criminal
Rescued by neighbors
Shot by soldiers

Adamant they belong

The rest of the world can now see
What I have seen

Do not look away

The rest of the world lives here too
In America

and for those who feel inspired to take action today who are in the united states i encourage you to take action against trader joe’s as a part of the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement that is fighting for the right of palestinian refugees to return to their land:

On Saturday, June 20, activists will gather at Trader Joe’s in different cities to demand that the company stop carrying Israeli goods such as Israeli Couscous, Dorot frozen herbs, as well as Pastures of Eden Feta cheese. A letter was sent to Trader Joe’s on June 6, 2009 but no response has been received yet. More than 200 individuals and organizations signed the letter. Note that we are not calling for a boycott of Trader Joe’s.

Join us in this nationwide action! Plan one in your local community!

old camp, new camp: how about no camp?

the situation of palestinians in nahr el bared refugee camp in northern lebanon remains one of the primary reminders of why the right of return is the only solution for palestinian refugees. while palestinians who continue to be displaced from their camp two years after the lebanese army destroyed it, an immediate solution to the situation could be the right of return to palestine sidestepping the entire battle over the camp itself.

a-films recently produced an excellent new film called “a sip of coffee” that highlights the variety of issues palestinians are facing who are from this camp. here is a description of the film followed by the film itself:

In May 2007, the battle between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army broke out in Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in northern Lebanon. Amidst heavy fighting, the Lebanese army had systematically destroyed the entire camp by September 2007. Two years later, nearly all the rubble has been cleared from the “old camp”, the core of Nahr al-Bared. However, though the displaced residents grow increasingly desperate, reconstruction has yet to begin.

Not only does the Lebanese army keep people away from the old camp, but it also controls movement in and out of the surrounding area known as the “new camp. Anyone entering the new camp requires a valid permit issued by the army. Refugees and NGOs working to revitalize the once robust economy of the camp face crippling isolation, as the marketplace of Nahr al-Bared is totally cut off from the surrounding villages. A flailing economy and soaring unemployment are only a few of the consequences of the destruction and ongoing siege of the camp.

This 26-minute film follows a father and his son as they attempt to deal with their unemployment. The two have been living in metal barracks for more than a year, waiting to return to their camp. By documenting issues of reconstruction, temporary housing, economy, unemployment and despair, the film touches on the daily experience of life in Nahr al-Bared Camp.

ray smith of the a-films collective recently wrote an article for electronic intifada on the issues facing palestinian workers from nahr el bared as well laying out some of the issues in further detail:

Mohammad and Mahmoud sat on an idle field on the edge of the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in northern Lebanon. While Mahmoud sang to the songs being played on his mobile phone, Mohammad used his for gaming. Mohammad looked up and explained, “We spend our days doing nothing. We get up and sit at the cafe for a few hours. Then we go home and pray. We gather again and return to the cafe. There we sit until the evening. Every day passes like this.”

The two young men are not the only unemployed refugees in Nahr al-Bared. Formerly the most prosperous Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Nahr al-Bared’s residents have struggled to rebuild their lives since the camp was destroyed two years ago during fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, a small Islamic militant group that had infiltrated the camp. According to a 2007 study authored by the Norway-based FAFO Institute, before the war, 63 percent of Nahr al-Bared’s labor force was working inside the camp. However, a November 2008 survey carried out by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) estimates the current unemployment rate of the 10,000 returnees to be 40 percent. This number is based on statements with the interviewees and doesn’t reflect the large number of residents who have only temporary jobs or part-time work. A significant number of camp residents work as day laborers. Many of them work only a few days per week and are sometimes out of work for weeks.

Nahr al-Bared used to be a thriving marketplace between the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli and the Syrian border. In the UNRWA survey, three quarters of the former business owners stated that their work premises were totally destroyed. Additionally, a report prepared by the SME Working Group finds that 1,512 micro, small and medium enterprises in Nahr al-Bared Camp were damaged or destroyed in the aftermath of the conflict. During and after the war — when the camp was under sole control of the Lebanese army — machines, tools and stocks of goods were looted. Furthermore, businesses were burnt or otherwise destroyed. By October 2007, Nahr al-Bared’s economy was physically eliminated.

Mohammad’s father, Ziyad, is also unemployed. He spent a large part of his life working in pipeline construction in the Caucasus and the Persian Gulf. Last summer he worked for a short time with a Lebanese company in the nearby al-Koura district. “When work slowed down, I was the first one who had to leave. Because I’m Palestinian and was illegally employed, I could easily be kicked out,” he explained. Since then, he has tried to earn income from fishing and selling coffee, lemonade and tea in his barely-visible cafe next to the camp’s temporary housing, known as the “iron barracks.”

Ziyad has plenty of time to go fishing. Every morning between 5-7am, he walks to the shore and tries his luck for a few hours. “It depends on the wind,” he said. “The day before yesterday, I caught a lot so I could even sell fish for LBP 14,000 ($9). Yesterday, I returned empty-handed.” If the wind is favorable, he returns to the sea in the late afternoon.

Nahr al-Bared camp is situated along the Lebanese coast. As part of the camp clean-up, dump trucks have created a 10-meter strip of debris along the shore. Ziyad dropped the fishing hook into the water. Beneath his feet were the detritus of the former camp — broken toys, a shoe, kitchen appliances and pulverized brick and stone.

Ziyad’s family lives in the iron barracks. They eat fish almost daily as there is rarely money for meat. In mid-May, Ziyad decided to re-open his improvised cafe. He pointed at a box of empty lemonade bottles and said, “Look, this box contains 24 bottles. I sell them at LBP 250 [$0.16]. If I sell all of them, I’ll earn LBP 1,000 [$0.66]. At the end of the day, the profit I get from the cafe is no more than a few dollars.”

Mohammad, a young butcher, is in a similar, but slightly better situation. He invested $5,000 in his business and is now heavily in debt. He sells meat, sandwiches, snacks and popular dishes. A customer received his sandwich and handed him LBP 1,000. Mohammad turned around and said that “In Tripoli, the same sandwich sells for LBP 3,000. I don’t earn anything on 1,000. In fact, this guy gets the 1,000 back in a few days, when I buy vegetables from his shop.” Near the camp’s main street, Salim was fixing the sole of a shoe and received LBP 1,000 from a customer. Salim said, “The economic situation in Nahr al-Bared is like this: if you write your name on a LBP 1,000 note, it will make the rounds through the camp and by the end of the week, a customer returns it to you.”

The almost totally-closed economic circuit is caused by the Lebanese army’s complete siege of the camp. In the 2008 UNRWA survey, the camp’s business owners stated that before the war, about half their customers were Lebanese. The president of Nahr al-Bared’s traders committee, Abu Ali, complained, “The camp is a closed military zone. Our Lebanese neighbors are forbidden to enter. Under these conditions, how can the camp’s economy recover?” The coffee producers El-Saadi and other companies have opened small branches outside the Lebanese army checkpoints, in Abdi or along the highway. An UNRWA employee who wished to remain anonymous expressed the dilemma: “Helping the owners to open branches outside the camp is very problematic and unpopular. On the other hand, they hardly have a chance to survive inside the camp’s boundaries.”

One of the hopeless businesses inside the camp belongs to Ahmad, a young man living in the iron barracks. After having worked as a day laborer for months, he opened a small Internet cafe in mid-May. Already after a few days, he closed its doors, because he hardly had any customers and almost no returns. He sold the computers and instead bought a pool table and a squeezer to produce fresh juice. Nevertheless, he spends most of the day sitting on a plastic chair in front of his place.

Ziyad’s son Mahmoud faced a similar fate. Last autumn, he opened an Internet cafe in the metal shed besides the barracks. Since then, he has sold the computers and closed the Internet cafe. “I didn’t earn more than a few dollars, even though the computers were always in use. In the long term, it wasn’t worth the effort,” he said. Now he works in Beirut again. Every morning, Mahmoud leaves the camp between 5-6am and returns home in the evening between 7-9pm. He usually only sees his two sons when they are asleep and half his daily wage is spent on transportation and food.

It seems like there are too many cafes, sandwich shops, clothing, produce and corner shops in Nahr al-Bared. They fight for the few customers and earn revenues that are hardly worth the sweat. Accordingly, these businesses are often very short-lived. The customers’ purchasing power is low and because of the siege, incentives to invest are scarce. Abu Ali said that another factor is that “Nahr al-Bared’s economic success was partly based on debt economics. Lebanese customers could pay their goods by installments. Until now, many people from the region of Akkar haven’t paid back their debts to the camp’s business owners. In addition, during the war, not only was a lot of capital lost, but also debt registers.”

The current economic misery in Nahr al-Bared forced the former owner of several clothing stores to ask about the reasons behind the destruction of the camp. Abu Ali drew a comparison to last autumn’s clashes between the Alawis of Jabal Mohsen and the Sunnis of Bab at-Tabbaneh in Tripoli. He exclaimed that “The army positioned soldiers and tanks there, but didn’t isolate the area. Therefore, they can also leave Nahr al-Bared open! We demand that the Lebanese authorities immediately lift the siege of the camp!”

Back at the iron barracks, Ziyad had started selling fresh orange and carrot juice at his cafe. He sold a big glass of juice for LBP 500 ($0.33). In Tripoli, it would cost at least double the price. Ziyad shrugged his shoulders, smiled bitterly and said, “I hardly earn anything with this, but it’s still better than nothing.”

right of return to nahr el bared and palestine

a-films has a new film out from nahr el bared refugee camp in northern lebanon where palestinians led a protest against the lebanese army’s control over their camp and unrwa’s submission to that control:

on 15 may 2009, several hundred residents of the destroyed nahr al-bared refugee camp in north lebanon gathered at the al-quds mosque to march along the army posts to a construction site in the south of the camp. there, yet another piece of land was flattened and the building of the fifth unit of temporary shelters for displaced families is being prepared.

in their chants, the protesters demanded the return to the old camp and the end of the siege on nahr al-bared and the abolishment of the permit system respectively. abu tayyeb of the residents’ committee demanded the immediate stop of the building of the new barracks as long as the reconstruction in the old camp wouldn’t start. he further criticized corruption and nepotism in the reconstruction process and asked why the rebuilding of the old camp is constantly being delayed. he hinted at intentions to actually not rebuild the camp and told the crowd: the laying of the foundation stone on 9 march was nothing but a lie!“

and, for the record, the situation in the rest of lebanon, for palestinians, is not much better as irin news reported yesterday:

For the last 30 years Ali Mohammed Hindawi, aged 84, has lived alone in a rusty tin shack in south Lebanon, without water, electricity or a toilet, sleeping among chickens, flies and litter, and separated from his family by displacement and poverty.

“What do I think about at night? I think about my situation, that this is not a life for me,” said the frail old man, barely able to sit up after weathering another winter of freezing temperatures and downpours. “It is the life of a dog. All I want is to spend my last few years in a good way.”

Hindawi is one of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who live in unofficial “gatherings”, collections of homes built without official permission and left largely unserviced, by either the Lebanese state, the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.

Driven from his home by Israeli troops who overran northern Galilee in 1948, the young Hindawi crossed into Lebanon and settled in an UNRWA tent, set up in the Kafr Bada area of south Lebanon, near Qasmiyeh river.

Many of these tents later grew into officially recognised refugee camps, with fixed boundaries and services provided by UNRWA. But for refugees like Hindawi – or Zahra Saeed and her family of 13 children living across the river in the Qasmiyeh “gathering” – no such certainties exist.

“There has been no real interest in the `gatherings’, only in the camps,” said Ghazi al-Hassan, secretary of the Palestinian Popular Committee in Kafr Bada. “Now there’s a limit to the PA’s budget so they send very little here.”

Without a mandate to operate outside the 12 official refugee camps in Lebanon, home to around half the 400,000 Palestinians, UNRWA only makes food deliveries to Kafr Bada and other “gatherings” once every three months. With a budget of just US$100 a month, al-Hassan’s Popular Committee can do little more than collect rubbish and pay transport costs.

NGOs such as the Lebanese Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD) try to fill the gap in the dozens of “gatherings” across the country.

Hindawi – like the partially blind Mariam Dyabissa, a 94-year-old Palestinian refugee who shares her tin hut in Qasmiyeh with her mentally ill son – relies on kindly neighbours to bring him food, wash and dress him and light the fire at night.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is now conducting the first comprehensive household survey of Palestinian gatherings in Lebanon, which include areas adjacent to UNRWA camps. In the northern Nahr al-Bared camp, largely destroyed in fighting two years ago, reconstruction in the adjacent areas has been hampered by the absence of a clear mandate for any one agency to lead efforts inside Palestinian “gatherings”.

In 2005, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) made a needs assessment of 39 “gatherings”, defined as having a minimum of 25 households. It found that the right to work and own property was the refugees’ main need. In the Qasmiyeh “gathering”, Zahra Saeed said she had received an eviction notice from the local court every six months for the last 10 years, Palestinians being banned from owning property in Lebanon.

NRC Lebanon, whose report is due out in June, is hoping to secure $2-$3 million which it said would allow them to upgrade the homes of around 250 families living in “gatherings” in south Lebanon.

For Ali Hindawi, that could mean spending his last days with at least a weatherproof concrete wall and door. But that may be little comfort in a life of such hardship. “If I feel happy or sad it doesn’t matter,” he said. “No one cares about me.”

and people wonder why we worry about lebanese collaborators in lebanon? just look at where their loyalties lie with these new spy escapees:

A disabled Lebanese citizen and his family fled to Israel at dawn on Monday along with another suspected spy amid a crackdown on espionage networks throughout Lebanon, a security official said.

Elie Maroun Hayek, a 49-year-old mathematics professor who lives in the southern town of Qolayaa, some 10 kilometers (six miles) from the Israeli border, slipped under barbed wire between the border towns of Rmaysh and Yaron, the official told AFP.

Hayek, who is paraplegic, fled with his wife and three sons, he added. Another man from the town of Rmaysh also fled to Israel early Monday, the official said without giving more detail. He said the man and Hayek are suspected of being part of Israeli spy networks that have been uncovered by Lebanese officials in recent months. Lebanon has arrested 13 people since January on suspicion of spying for Israel. An undisclosed number of others have also been detained for interrogation.

and for the record: the root of the problem is the zionist state. it is not lebanon or even the current lebanese government. right of return is the only solution. as always. as ever. and not right of return to nahr el bared, but right of return to palestine. period.

the ongoing nakbas

below are a few photographs–first historical ones and then photographs from recent events. these are just a sampling of the multiple nakbas that palestinians experience in the few years that i have lived in the region. the historic photographs come from a french book entitled les palestiniens and the recent photos are mine, except for matthew’s photo from gaza, which is noted. but there are many more. and i fear that there will be more to come unless un resolution 194 is implemented:

11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations;

for stories to go along with some of these images and many others that are not here, check out voices of palestinian women narrate displacement.

palestinians fleeing gaza 1948
palestinians fleeing gaza 1948
new refugees gaza 2009 (photo by matthew cassel)
new refugees gaza 2009 (photo by matthew cassel)
palestinian refugee camp nahr el bared, lebanon, 1949
palestinian refugee camp nahr el bared, lebanon, 1949
palestinians from nahr el bared sleep in unrwa school in baddawi refugee camp 2007
palestinians from nahr el bared sleep in unrwa school in baddawi refugee camp 2007
palestinian refugee camps: baqaa in jordan and deheishe in palestine 1960
palestinian refugee camps: baqaa in jordan and deheishe in palestine 1960
palestinians refugees from iraq in ruweished refugee camp, jordan 2006
palestinians refugees from iraq in ruweished refugee camp, jordan 2006

telling the tale of tel al-za’atar

a couple of weeks ago i read about global voices book challenge on bint battuta’s blog. global voices along with unesco asked people to read their way around the world for unesco world book day which is today:

April 23 is UNESCO World Book Day – and just because the Global Voices team loves blogs, doesn’t mean we have forgotten other forms of the written word! In fact, because we think reading literature is such an enjoyable way to learn about another culture, we have a fun challenge for all Global Voices contributors and readers, and bloggers everywhere.

The Global Voices Book Challenge is as follows:

1) Read a book during the next month from a country whose literature you have never read anything of before.

2) Write a blog post about it during the week of April 23.

badr

bint battuta seems to already have her book review up on her blog. she read mohamed makhzangi’s memories of a meltdown. she fudged the rules a bit and i am going to a lot. the rules say you must read a book from a country whose literature you have never read anything of before. but given the paucity of international literature in bookshops or in libraries in palestine i read a novel by palestinian novelist liana badr entitled the eye of the mirror or عين الوراة. i had started reading it a few months ago but got side-tracked with work so this was a great excuse to get back to it. the novel is set in tel al-za’atar refugee camp in lebanon from 1975-76 when it was besieged by lebanese kata’eb militias. liana badr, who is a journalist as well as a novelist, was in lebanon at the time and later spent seven years documenting the massacre in the camp. the novel was first published in arabic in morocco in 1991, although badr told me a few months ago that she wanted to publish it with al adab in lebanon and they told her that the censors would not approve its publication. i have read badr’s other translated novel, Balcony Over the Fakahani or شرفه على الفكهاني which is also quite moving and also set in lebanon during the civil war.

© Benno Karkabé, 1975
© Benno Karkabé, 1975

but this novel is different and really important for literary and historical reasons. while there is much written about the israeli-kata’eb massacre of shatila refugee camp and the surrounding sabra neighborhood, there is little to nothing written about the massacre of over 4,000 palestinians in tel al-za’atar refugee camp. unlike shatila, which still exists today, tel al-za’atar was destroyed and the 12,000 palestinian survivors fled to other refugee camps, many of them to nahr el bared refugee camp in northern lebanon until the lebanese army destroyed that camp in 2007. for those interested in the subject from an historical perspective i highly recommend anything by rosemary sayigh. and those who want to see some rare images from the camp you can check out benno karkabé’s photographs of which the image above is one. but the novel does an amazing job of chronicling the events in a lyrical way. jordanian novelist fadia faqir, one of my favorite writers, authored the introduction to the novel, and samira kawar translated it.

the novel focuses on a variety of characters, but most of the central characters are women. and she grounds the story from the first page in an oral tradition from scheherazade’s tales told to her husband in a thousand and one nights which she used to save her community from his wrath. thus the narrator opens the novel with a direct address to the readers telling us:

You are insistent, calling again. You want me to tell you the story of Scheherazade, who rocks the sad king on her knees as she sings him tales from wonderland. Yet you know that I am not Scheherazade, and that one of the world’s greatest wonders is that I am unable to enter my country or pass through the regions around it. Do not be surprised. Let us count them country by country. (1)

rendering strange the reality of palestinians inability to travel to–let alone return to!–their land gives the opening narration a bit of a fantastical feel, until she grounds the narrative in historical reality:

I begin with the tale of a girl or a woman. I tell perhaps of you and I, or of women and men whom I have never met. I tell of an alley, a street, a neighborhood or a city. Or perhaps of a camp, of a camp, of a Tal! Tal Ezza’tar for example…Now you shake your head reproachfully again, fearful that the story will turn into political rhetoric like the slogans we’ve become weary of. Your eyelids bat mockingly inmy face, hinting it is necessary to reassure you that what you fear will not happen. But I am compelled to begin with Ezza’tar, Tal Ezza’tar in particular, not only because of its poetic name, but for many reasons which I am under no obligation to reveal now. (2)

like scheherazade badr’s narrator makes it clear that she will tease us with the plot as a way to keep us as her interlocutors. she delays our understanding of characters, setting, and events letting them unravel as scheherazade famously did in a thousand and one nights. in the arabic version of the novel badr used palestinian dialect so the spellings of transliterated words in her novel reflect this accent (hence her spelling of the camp’s name). the novel opens with the protagonist, aisha, who is actually my least favorite character in the novel, who at the time is working as a maid at a lebanese christian boarding school outside the camp. she is called home from work by her parents because of the april 1975 massacre of palestinians on a bus in ain al roumaneh, but the we hear about the incident on the bus several times before we learn the context of it. the narrator tells us:

The bus. Perhaps if that massacre hadn’t happened, they would not have taken her out of school. Her mother used to say, “The bus,” wincing as though she were being struck on the forehead by a ray of very strong sunlight. She would lick her oval-shaped lips with her cracked tongue, panting as she moved the fingers of her right hand over her chest as though she were shaking imaginary dust from her wide dress.

“The bus. Woe is me. What a catastrophe! What a shame! What had the young men and the boys done to get killed in this way? Twenty of them, my dear. Twenty. That’s what your father said. They attacked them, bang, bang.” (8).

we don’t learn who was on the bus or what it means for aisha until later in the novel. the novel delays our understanding as readers, but also aisha’s as her character is a rather naive young woman who is relatively sheltered as compared to hana, a character i like much more. badr also delays our knowledge of the family’s flight from yaffa, their village of origin in palestine, through fairy tale narrative techniques such as the repetition of “once upon a time” as well as aisha’s fantasies about her prince charming, george haddad a nom de guerre for ahmed al-ashi, a member of the resistance with the democratic front for the liberation of palestine (dflp). george is originally from tulkarem, but he left to fight with the resistance in jordan and was expelled to lebanon in 1970 after black september with the rest of the freedom fighters. his friendship with aisha’s parents and the conversation he has with her family is often as a kind of teacher about life in palestine in ways that disrupt stereotypes about religious differences or the divide between rural and urban palestinians as a way to assert unity among palestinians as when he tutors aisha’s younger sister ibtisam:

Speaking to him again, she said: “Why d’you pronounce the ‘ka’ as a ‘cha’ when you speak? Aren’t you worried that your fiance’s family will think you’re a peasant?”

“I am a peasant.”

She jumped with joy at the strange news, which aroused her interest: “A real live peasant? does that mean that you plant and harvest the land?”

“I’m a peasant and the son of peasants. But I’ve no longer got any land to plant and harvest.”

“So how d’you make a living?”

“We’re just like everybody else. My brothers and sisters and I, each of us is homeless in a different country.” (58)

conversations such as this one, various characters remembering life in palestine, plot details about aisha’s deisre to marry george, and later her marriage to feda’ee hassan, and depictions of daily life in the camp cover the first half of the novel. the gap between the ain al roumaneh bus massacre and the eruption of a full-scale attack on tel al-za’atar camp, mimicking the lull in the characters’ daily lives as they try to carry on in between clashes. after aisha’s marriage to hassan his mother, um hassan, shares her family’s story one morning with her new daughter-in-law that encapsulates many of the family’s stories in the novel:

With an automatic strength, she held back her words, which had turned into something resembling the stone that one rubs before prayer, hoping to pierce it and squeeze out whatever water might be inside it when none is available for ablutions. But her overwhelming sadness broke through her silence, and she spoke once more: “Eh…We came out of Palestine. We were in the orchards picking olives when Assafsaaf, which was the nearest village to us, fell. The Haganah gangs slaughtered a lot of people, and also raped many women. My neighbor’s niece was slaughtered in front of her father. We had no arms. We thought it would be a good idea to leave for a short time so that what happened to the people of Assafsaaf and Ain Ezzeitoun, which King Abdullah had surrendered, and Deir Yassin would not happen to us. We went north. We didn’t see anything, and never looked back, because we were so sure that we would return a few days later. In Bint Jbeil, we found that the UN were putting people into cars and taking them to Burj Esh-Shemali. People were surviving on almost nothing. When it snowed on us in Burj Esh-Shmeali, they moved us to Nahr El-Barid in Tripoli.” (109)

um hassan’s story here serves both as historical memory–of slaughter and flight–and also as premonition for what will come to tel al-za’atar camp in the coming weeks and months. just as the narration shifts from one character to another so as to give a variety of perspectives from palestinian refugees’ experiences, so too does the narrator shift at times to a voice that inserts the author herself entering the narrative:

That was a sight I shall never forget. The day I managed to enter the camp of Tal Ezza’tar, being one of the few people who managed to reach it between two sieges, I saw the apples scattered around on the streets, their skins shrunken and wrinkled. But they had kept their pretty red colour. I had said to myself: “Ezza’tar? Why don’t they call it Attuffah?” At that moment my grandfather’s home in Wadi Attufah, the valley of apples, in Hebron flashed into my mind’s eye. And I remembered my mother, Hayat, in the mid-fifties. She had lived at my grandfather’s house temporarily before moving into the attic above the school, which was afflicted with measles and frost-bite. How innocent I had been. I went to my grandfather simply to tell him how I had heard my mother complaining to Hajjeh Salimah about the hassle and pain of living with my grandfather’s fourth wife. I had told him. I was three years old. My mother and Hajjeh Salimah had later accused me of blowing the whistle on her and reporting her grievances to the tribe elder, who wore a red tarboush with a silk tassle. But, what I want to say is this. Every place I saw later would always remind me of my birth place in Palestine. And in Tal Ezza’tar, I recalled Wadi Attuffah in the West Bank of Palestine. My amazement increased at the dry fruit littering the place like freckles on a face that has seen too much sun. Everybody was sitting in the sun, both old and young. They had all come out of the shelters, corridors and passages to get a touch of the amber rays. Old women with patterned tattoos on their faces, which had been acquired long before their arrival in this place. They sat with their grandchildren in their laps, while the women were busy airing the sheets and blankets in which the young ones had slept during the confinement. No one looked at the scattered fruits which covered the ground like stones forgotten since the beginning of creation. The car turned and went up into the Tal. At the clinic, I was able to meet Um Jalal and the doctor who worked there. When I told them that I had come to do a newspaper report on the steadfastness of the camp on the anniversary of the emergence of the resistance, people called one another from here and there and they spoke to me. (125-126)

insertions of passages like the one above in which we imagine badr as a character in the novel taking eyewitness accounts of the people of the camp adds historical weight to the narrative. and it is through her presence that we finally learn more about characters like hana who is one of the resistance fighters badr-as-character interviews:

Like a passing arrow, Hana, entered the clinic. They introduced her to me: “Hana, the bravest wireless operator in the entire camp. No one is quite like her. She does the night shift in the wireless room, and goes with the girls to her military positions.”

I looked at her. Her eyes were green, her hair was tied back in a pony tail. She had a feminine air despite the seriousness which her difficult assignments imparted to her. I asked her: “It’s unusual for a girl to be on duty at night all by herself!”

“I’m not afraid of the night. Sometimes I used to be on duty at night, and I was not scared. The young men would be tied up along the combat lines and I would keep operating the wireless. At first, my parents wouldn’t agree to my work because they were worried about me. But I’ve done a three-month militia training course. I did it when the revolution entered the camp, and training began. They offered a course for girls. I was fourteen years old. It was a very strenuous course and I was in the third preparatory class at school.” (131)

once the intensity of the war increases, so too does the pace of the novel and the plot begins to mirror that intensity. the daily life of the women in the novel shifts to fighting to survive under siege, to collectivity:

The basement house! Voices echoing in a deep lair. The wailing of confined children and their running noses. The kerosene cookers emitting soot as they burned, and the smell of kerosene with the orange-blue flame. The arms of women moving the stone mill to crush lentils for use as a flour substitute. Discovering this new camp! It did not occur to anyone outside this besieged patch how thousands of people were living without basic necessities. No rice. No sugar. No wheat or flour. But there were lentils that were crushed and ground, and mixed with water, then fried on kerosene cookers or tin baking plates under which scraps of wood and paper were set alight. When there was no milk, they used lentil water as a substitute to feed their babies, and they used lentil yeast to make bread. Lentils became a mercy from God, quieting cries of hunger. Those who were unable to replace torn sandbags near their fortifications took cover behind lentil sacks. They hid behind them waiting for God to ease their plight. Had it not been for the blessed presence of the lentil packaging factory inside Tal Ezza’tar, hundreds would have starved long ago. (155-156)

we also begin to get more detailed narration about the freedom fighters defending the camp at this point, such as farid, whose presence in the novel is far too minimal. just as the story of the women above making do with their ingenuity and rations can be imagined in the context of so many other situations in which palestinians have been besieged–most recently, of course, in gaza–so too with farid’s story can we understand the plight of palestinians without a homeland, without an identity card, though, coincidentally he hails from gaza. when aisha’s mother, um jalal, complains about the fact that he smokes so much her son-in-law hassan tells her:

His family are all in Gaza. He’s not married and hasn’t got children, and you feel that a couple of cigarettes are wasted on him. Let him smoke as much as he likes. Why not?”

Um Jalal walked away, large masses of fat protruding from her back beneath her shapeless dress. Hassan recalled Farid with special sympathy. The homeless one! Unable to enter any country because he had no passport. Living in airports and traveling in planes. He had once tried to travel to an Arab capital to see his mother, who had come across the bridge, but he was unable to. The old lady had waited as airports took delivery of the young man, then threw him off to airports father away. His Palestinian travel document got him to Scandinavian countries after passing through African and Asian ones. Farid would enter a country and immediately became an inmate in an airport lounge until the authorities rejected him, putting him on the first departing flight. Farid had told them a lot about other Palestinian families living in transit lounges. He would guffaw as he told of how they would hang their underwear in the public bathroom. Sometimes, he would become tearful as he recalled the humiliation he had faced with security men and policemen. In the end, his case had turned into something akin to a play from the theatre of the absurd which no one would take seriously because it was merely entertainment. Finally one of the PLO offices was able to solve his problem through intensive lobbying of important people in the host country, and it was decided that he would be deported to Lebanon. Thereafter, Farid completely turned back on his plans to see his mother, and on his good intentions, which had only brought him harm. He never, ever thought of trying again, and his brothers had informed him of this mother’s death a year ago.

Although Farid had been accused of belonging to a terrorist organization, the name of which struck fear in the hearts of officials in European airports, Hassan believed that he had never even harmed an ant in his life. Duty was duty. And it was duty in any situation. it was enough that Farid had almost become the victim of his own organization when clashes had broken out in the early seventies over the concept of a Palestinian state on part of the homeland. The organization had not accepted the idea, and considered it a transgression of the sacred charter which called for the liberation of all Palestine. We cannot give up our land to the enemy, they had said. The whole of the levant will revolt one day, and we wil liberate Palestine to the last inch. The result was all too clear now. The Arab governments wanted to liberate their countries first, had been the comment of Farid. His incessant smoking provoked the anger and coughing of the middle-aged women dying for a Marlboro cigarette or any real tobacco wrapped in white paper.

The hateful church was nothing more than a wall to the fighters of the camp. They would remove it and excuse the enemy position which was crushing the people with their sniper bullets and shells. Hassan failed to understand why religion had turned into a sword against human beings. Until that moment, he could not understand how they would be able to blow up the church despite the teachings of the Quran chanted by his father, which instructed him to respect other religions. Hassan had never in his life tried to pick up a Quran and read its verses. He had become used to respecting it from afar. He had treated religion as though it were meant for old people and sheikhs who went on pilgrimage to Mecca. It was not for him, or those who were his age. The continued problems of day-to-day living had prompted families to give top priority to the education of their sons. His family had always said that the Palestinians could not win the struggle to survive without education. No home, no country and no friends. How could Palestinians struggle to survive without that weapon? It would gain them the protection they needed, and they would rebuild their shattered lives until they could return to their countries. Religion. He could not remember that anyone in his family had ever prayed, except for his elderly father. His mother had considered that working to solve the problems of being homeless refugees was a form of worship. Preserving the life that God has created is the most noble form of worship, she had always told them. So Hassan asked himself why the enemies were waging their war in the name of religion. was it because they had a lot of money, houses and factories that spared them from being overwhelmed by the problems of daily survival? but they were not all that way. Their poor were at the front, and those waging the war appeared on the social pages of the newspapers at their boisterous parties. (161-162)

i quote this long passage above because it says so much about the continuing struggle of palestinians. it speaks to so much historically and currently. farid is a resistance fighter who comes to rescue people of the camp by trying to bomb the church where most of the heavy shelling besieging the camp originates from. there are other moments like this where the context of the palestinian resistance struggle is contextualized such as hassan’s thoughts about why he fights in the resistance:

When he had grown up and gone to university, he had discovered that therw ere two civilizations living alongside one another in modern times. One was the civilization of repression, which used the most developed tools of technology to repress people and evict them from their homes, as in South Africa and Palestine. The other was the civilization of the oppressed, who could possibly win, but only possible…but if one was in one’s home and country. But here? Among strangers. How could one go on amongst those who only cared about importing cars and arcade games and the latest brands of washing powder appearing on television screens? (172-173)

while hana is the only female resistance fighter in the novel, all of the women resist in various ways. hassan’s sister amneh works in the hospital caring for patients without any medications, power, or water to treat them properly, much like gaza. she was responsible for holding patients down while their wounds were stitched without anesthesia. most of the mothers and elderly found a basement where they hid out together trying to escape the shelling, however, including her family. the narrator describes, in detail, what happens when she discovers the building had been shelled to the ground:

As she walked through a corridor of brown cloudy smoke Amneh saw herself as a sleeper sees her soul. She saw her body passing through fields of stones, crushed rocks, and pieces of debris flying about in the air. Amneh saw herself as if in a dream, as though she were crossing a desert too hot for any human to bear. Sweat flows profusely from her, dripping down her forehead, her shoulders, and beneath her arms. Powdered gypsum, or something like the white plaster used to decorate the walls of houses, stick to her hair. The clouds grew thicker, then lifted to reveal what Amneh finally realized–the shelter. Collapsed. Crumbled. Shelled. It was definitely no longer in its place. no longer remained standing. Something the mind could not grasp. But the crowds of traumatized people. They came in shocked waves. The sound of their wailing mingling with the hoarse moans coming out of the shelter convinced her, forced her to see what was happening. She went over to a man carrying a spade. He tossed it away, and threw himself on the debris to dig wit his hands. All she could get out of him was that the shells which had set the plastics on fire at the Boutajy factory had cracked the walls of the adjacent building, whose basement had housed the shelter. The enemy had shelled the five-story building continually for several days, concentrating their fire ot he exposed columns which supported it, until they had cracked and collapsed. the roof had fallen in on everyone beneath it, blocking the exit. No. everything had collapsed over them, and there was no longer any door or exit. The man was crying, shouting, screaming. His howling was lost amidst the successive waves of wailing voices coming from beneath the battered ground and from above it. People ran around here and there carrying hoes, but the were not of much use in removing the rubble of five floors, which had collapsed over the shelter, whose door had completely disappeared. At that moment, many different emotions surged through Amneh’s bosom.[…] She continued digging with the families of those who had been buried, from two o’clock in the afternoon until three o’clock the next morning. During that interval, and until it became possible to enter the shelter, Amneh did not try to look at the bodies which other rescuers pulled out. She did not want dead people. Simply, she only wanted those able to live, because she had come to hate the kind of life that was saturated with death day and night.[…] A terror that she would never experience in her life paralysed her. A terror that would crush her and would reshape and polish the hardness of her heart, making it even tougher than before. Inside the shelter, Amneh saw about four hundred bodies so disfigured that it was impossible to recognize them. They were all unimaginably mangled. A very small number of people had survived, but they too had sustained severe injuries to their limbs. Most of the mutilation had affected the heads. One woman’s intestines had spilt out, and she had died only a short time before. (191-192)

as the fighting over the course of months dies down slightly, hana learns from her work covering the wireless machine that an evacuation of the camp has been arranged. palestinian survivors of the massacre thus far, who are injured, who have been lacking food, water, and medicine for months begin the trek out of the camp on foot. many are barefoot. many, like aisha’s father assayed, find a trauma repeated as he imagines he is fleeing palestine in 1948 not tel al-za’atar in 1976. like many of the scenes in the second half of the novel, it is detailed and horrifying:

The terror. And the bodies. And Amneh, whom Um Hassan had sent ahead to find out what was happening at the to pof the road. Some of the neighbours had already left. But Um Hassan and Um Mazen were delaying their departure, hoping for a miracle that would avert the horror of falling into the hands of the besiegers. As the decision to surrender had spread through the shelters, crowds ahd surged wither towards the mountains surrounding the camp, or towards Dekwaneh that terrible compulsory route. The amputated hands and feet scattered along the Dekwaneh road, their veins being sucked by blue flies, were the true testament of the fate awaiting those who chose to head in that direction. The fighters prepard to leave by the rough mountain paths up to a small village called Mansourieh, hoping to break through enemy lines there, and then to continue on to the Nationalist-controlled area. Most of the young men and women joined those going up into the mountains, protected by an instinctive certainty that risking the unknown was better than following the voices offering people safe conduct which had suddenly blared out through several megaphones from the direction of Dekwaneh.

Amneh, with the newly-acquired military experience she had gained from her water-gathering trips, noticed that the faces of the bodies lying along the road were turned towards the camp, and she concluded that they had been shot in the back. The sounds of clashes on the road to the mountains made her aware of the new battle around the camp. (219-220)

amneh’s depiction of what she sees on the road out of the camp is a harbinger of what is to come once families choose to flee. the narrator describes the escalated horror that awaits the palestinian refugees, being made refugees yet again, upon their exit:

From then on, Khazneh saw nothing but blood. She passed the towering church which all the battles had not succeeded in destroying. She marvelled at the changed appearance of the building. It was neither destroyed, nor completely intact. Fallen, pile dup stones, and high thick walls and people standing outside them in lines. Was her eyesight playing tricks on her when she saw the building moving towards her, crawling like a giant ship that had suddenly set sail from a mythical port. Medieval flags fly over it, and knights parade on its roof upon pure-blooded saddled horses, wearing cloths flowing down their flanks. They carry quivers filled with poison-tipped arrows, and helmets and shields and pommels and whips and shining iron swords. As for the church, it continues to crawl and stretch forward with a slow deliberate movement, while they take no notice. Khazneh rubbed her eyes so that she could verify the movement towards her of the building-ship that she was seeing. She looked more carefully and saw rows of young men lined up in front of the wall of the church. Now they were hitting them on their backs with hammers, the stone pestles used in stone mortars to grind wheat and mix it with raw meat for kubbeh dough. But the hammers! They were hitting them with those hammers which had been specially made to pound red meat for that traditional dish. They ordered the prisoners to kneel and poured petrol over them. It caught fire in a split second, and some of the prisoners fainted. They sprayed bullets on those who were kneeling, after placing iron bars in the fire and using them to burn crosses onto the bellies of those who remained standing. the smell of charred flesh filled the air. Burning flesh. They began tying up the prisoners with ropes to parade them on thee astern side of the city in trucks specially brought over for that purpose. (231-212)

there are so many other scenes of horror that each one of the characters experiences and/or witnesses. indeed, each character in the novel is an eyewitness to massacre or a victim of it, in which case we, the readers, become the witness to the crime. palestinians get rounded up and put in detention centers and families are separated from each other as various members of families are murdered. aisha, the protagonist through much of the novel, and who we begin the novel with, finds herself pregnant mid-way through the narrative. she discovers this just before her husband, hassan, is murdered by kata’eb militia men. aisha manages to survive, though we do not learn the fate of all the characters by the novel’s conclusion. but her survival, like everyone’s survival in the camp, is one that just barely manages to escape fate. that she managed to live through this siege without proper food and water and under an extreme amount of trauma provides some hope in the novel’s conclusion. that there will be a new generation of palestinian babies and that this battle for palestinians to return is not over is wrapped up in aisha’s “emaciated abdomen” (264).

there is so much more to say, to share, but i hope that people will read badr’s novel on their own. and for those who want some further information on the context of tel al-za’atar refugee camp below are two articles on the larger issue of the origin of the lebanese civil war, the attacks on palestinians in lebanon, and the zionist role in collaborating with the kata’eb against the palestinians.

reilly-israel-in-lebanon-1975-82

farsoun-lebanon-explodes-toward-maronite-zion

the west bank does not = palestine (just a very small, diminishing part of it)

archipelago of eastern palestine by julien bousac
archipelago of eastern palestine by julien bousac

as soon as i turned on my computer after school today i saw this tweet from @avinunu:

Ding dong the 2- state solution is dead! Rub your eyes get out of bed! Ding dong the wicked 2-state solution is dead! #Israel #Netanyahu

no, it is not an april fool’s joke. but this is the thinking among many palestinians about the new terrorist, fascist colonist regime that was sworn in today. khaled amayreh sums up this sentiment in palestine think tank pretty well:

In short, we are talking about a man who lies as often as he breathes a dishonest politician who thinks and smart public relations can be a more effective substitution for an honest peace process based on human rights and international law.

This is why, the capitals of the world must not allow themselves to be duped, deceived and cheated by this notorious, cardinal liar.

I am, of course, in no way suggesting that the previous Israeli government was less nefarious than the new one. The previous government of the evil trio Olmert, Livni and Barak had all the hallmarks of a Zionist Third Reich.

What else can be said of a government that ordered its army to exterminate and incinerate thousands of civilians with White Phosphorus, and then shamelessly claimed that it didn’t really mean to do it?

However, that government was considered by many states around the world, such as the gullible Europeans, a “government of peace,” a “liberal,” even “leftist government,” which really gave a new meaning to the term “verbal fornication.”

For us Palestinians, and despite the legitimate and understandable anxiety stemming from the rise of fascism in Israel, it is still better to have in Israel a manifestly fascist government pursuing fascist policies than a deceptively “liberal” or “leftist” government pursuing the same criminal policies.

Let the world see Israel as it really is.

In the final analysis, an honest criminal is better than a lying saint. At least the former is predictable and consistent.

in contradistinction former palestinian president mahmoud abbas had this to say about the netanyahu in ma’an news:

Israel’s new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “does not believe in peace” Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said Wednesday, and urged the world to put pressure on him to make peace.

“Benjamin Netanyahu never believed in a two-state solution or accepted signed agreements and does not want to stop settlement activity. This is obvious,” Abbas told the official Palestinian Authority news agency, WAFA.

while most of us who want to celebrate the death of a two-state solution with this new regime we are facing, there are, unfortunately, the palestinian authority wish to continue to promote an ever-shrinking palestinian state. i suspect if they keep at it they will wind up with ramallah as their state. perhaps jordan, which is what the israeli colonists have wanted all along. the map up above demonstrates just how little of the west bank would be a state in this so-called “solution.” (see mondoweiss and strange maps for more about its creation). but abbas’ words quoted above are reminiscent of hillary clinton’s comments that building illegal colonies are “unhelpful.” here are more of what i think are abba’s unhelpful comments:

Netanyahu made no specific mention, however, of Palestinian statehood, an important Palestinian demand that is supported by the US and other parties involved in mediating between the two sides.

“Under the final accord, the Palestinians will have all the rights to govern themselves except those that can put in danger the security and existence of the state of Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu also said that he wanted “full peace” with all Arab countries, praising Islam as a rich religion, but he attacked Iran and “radical Islam” as threats to Israel’s security.

“Extremist Islam does not only threaten us, but it threatens us first and foremost … Its goal is to erase the state of Israel from the face of the earth,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority described Netanyahu’s remarks as “not encouraging”.

of course the real island here is the pa itself. their thinking that peace is something you beg for is not shared by many palestinians, including many people in fatah. max ajl wrote in the palestine chronicle that some americans are still attempting to force palestinians into submitting that their state consists of this archipelago pictured above:

And it presents the brief for acting with dispatch: “Failure to act would prove extremely costly. It would not only undermine current efforts to weaken extremist groups, bolster our moderate allies and rally regional support to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran, but would also risk permanent loss of the two-state solution as settlements expand and become entrenched and extremists on both sides consolidate their hold.” The report’s authors recognize that if the two state settlement is not emplaced now, it will be emplaced never.

the plan ajl talks about is, like all american-sponsored plans, a frightening proposition as it allows the continued theft of palestinian water. but i suspect we needn’t worry about any of this given avigdor lieberman’s, the new foreign minister, statement today:

New foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Wednesday that Israel was not bound by commitments it made at a U.S.-sponsored conference to pursue creation of a Palestinian state.

“There is one document that obligates us – and that’s not the Annapolis conference, it has no validity,” Lieberman said in a speech, referring to a 2007 gathering in Annapolis, Maryland.

“The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did Knesset.”

and yet nour odeh reporting for al jazeera from ramallah seems woefully out of touch of what the people think about this new government. she stands there speaking from the island of ramallah thinking that palestinians are waiting for the europeans or the americans to fix the problem of the two state solutions. somebody really needs to tell her that the problem is that palestinians want to liberate their land and that they don’t want to think of this series of islands in the west bank as their state. she needs to spend a couple of weeks in nahr el bared refugee camp in lebanon to get a dose of reality in relation to what palestinians want:

still the note it ends on–that this is likely the end of the two-state catastrophe–is a good one. a hopeful sign. sam bahour published a new poster on his blog today to protest the new government and to support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (see below) calling for:

Hang this poster/flyer on your library bulletin board, supermarket bulletin board, city hall bulletin board, university bulletin board, place on car windshields at events, take out newspaper ads, hold press conferences, add to your websites, send to your newspapers editorial staff, etc, etc.

sam bahour flyer on bds
sam bahour flyer on bds

for those who prefer to wait for obama to rescue them and give them their bantustan state, while israeli terrorists continue to colonize more land, we can glean what obama is really about from this brief comment seymour hersh made on cnn with wolf blitzer about his encouragement of the israeli terrorists who besieged gaza:

and for those of you who think that boycott doesn’t work: check this out from the jerusalem post:

“In addition to the problems and difficulties arising from the global economic crisis, 21 percent of local exporters report that they are facing problems in selling Israeli goods because of an anti-Israel boycott, mainly from the UK and Scandinavian countries,” said Yair Rotloi, chairman of the association’s foreign-trade committee.

oh, and here, by the way, is a real map of palestine. the palestine that must be liberated from the river to the sea.

THIS IS PALESTINE
THIS IS PALESTINE

jeel al oslo

after school on thursday some of my students came with me to what was supposed to be a meeting to discuss plans for nabuls is to support palestinians in aqraba. there is a leftist organization here called tanweer that does various projects, many of them educational–especially educating palestinians about their history since the schools certainly are not doing that. i met these folks because when my student from aqraba went with me to meet with the student council on campus the student we met with took me downtown to meet with the people at tanweer. another friend joined us as well. i really liked this group in terms of their thinking as well as the fact that they are doing organizing work with a leftist ideology that is not affiliated with any political party (though, of course, posters of george habash and others decorate the walls). i was most impressed with the student from the student council, too. he’s a really smart guy from al ‘ain refugee camp who is studying journalism. i was a bit surprised that this is where he took me given that the majority of the student council at my university is fatah. and, actually, i said something about this at the end of that first meeting and he said, that he was, in fact, fatah. but he didn’t sound like fatah. he sounded nationalistic. he sounded leftist. and this is what surprised me. especially someone his age. more on this in a bit.

my students and i arrived at the office downtown an hour late because i had to teach my class. but we were told there would be a movie first and that the meeting would be after. somehow that schedule was inverted and they decided to show a movie second. i didn’t realize this until after the film, however. given the conversations we had the last time i had expected tanweer to show nationalistic palestinian films in arabic about palestinians. instead, they showed two films about rachel corrie that they downloaded. i had not seen them before, though the clips were not new to me. almost all was in english with no arabic subtitles (except for some clips of amy goodman speaking on mbc tv) for an audience that is not fluent in english. i was annoyed to say the least. i had had the same feeling earlier in the day: i needed to print out some papers for class and i was unable to do so in my department so i went to the public relations office. while i was waiting for my document to print i noticed that the only martyr posters on the wall were of tom hurndell and rachel corrie. this is in contradistinction to the hundreds of palestinian martyrs all over nablus–in the old city, in the refugee camps. but here at the university we seem to only recognize the ajaneb martyrs.

after the film an older palestinian man spoke about the importance of rachel corrie as a “humanitarian” and other ajaneb as “humanitarian” people who come here to palestine. this word for me has become like nails on a chalkboard. i recalled reading something by natalie abou shakra a couple of months ago when she too had an adverse reaction to this word, which captures exactly how i feel:

I extremely despise it when someone categorizes me as a journalist, or as a “humanitarian activist”… I am neither. My activism is political and social… radical. Please do not call me humanitarian. We live in the midst of the era of human rights production and matters of the sort. We witness humanitarian international law being broken daily… do you think we want to be labeled as “humanitarian”? No! My role, our role, is greater than that… much greater than that… we are a revolution, we support an armed struggle and an armed resistance for liberation… Fanonians par excellence… Hasta la Victoria Siempre! Free Palestine! Down with totalitarian Arab regimes, down with colonialism, imperialism, occupation and oppression! No negotiations are allowed after massacres, genocides and schemes of ethnic cleansing… the vocabulary and diction used in such times are extremely important…

i am here to support palestinian resistance in various forms. the use of this word “humanitarian,” to me implies that palestinians are some sort of charity case who are not capable of taking care of themselves, of fighting this battle themselves. neither of these are true. then he started talking about people in the audience who needed to go back to their countries and form associations with palestinian associations to help people here. he wanted foreigners to continue to help with their “non-violent” resistance. i turned around and realized that there were foreigners in the audience. not a lot, but they were there. and this film and this man’s speech reflected a reality that was non-existent when i was in the tanweer offices prior to this meeting. i mentioned these things when he was finished speaking. i mentioned that the families in aqraba wanted palestinians to join them. they wanted to feel solidarity with palestinians not only with foreigners, which is what i thought the meeting was about. he responded that in 2002 there was a lot of palestinian solidarity, but because of the checkpoints that has been made more difficult. too, he mentioned the conflict between fatah and hamas as contributing to the problem by dividing the people. one of the foreigners spoke up and said that the focus on rachel corrie is because she took herself out of her comfort zone and fought someone else’s fight. but, you see, this is why i don’t like going to meetings with ajaneb: because the focus becomes something else. it becomes a meeting about foreigners. if we had been talking about something useful–like getting foreigners to rent yellow-plated cars and help get palestinians from nablus to aqraba that would be one thing. but we moved away from what was supposed to be the subject of the meeting: the needs and desires of palestinians in aqraba. we could have been watching a film about palestinian resistance or other anti-colonial resistance struggles and learned from those models or examples. we could have been looking at palestinian history. but we were not. even the library at this tanweer center is named after rachel corrie. not the greatest resistance writer in palestine, ghassan kanafani.

it occurred to me that one of the issues that palestinians are facing here is related to morale. to pride. resistance to the british, to the zionists, to the lebanese army, to the jordanian army: all of this seems to have been forgotten. these are situations when palestinians–even if only for a short while–liberated themselves. yes, often with support from local people, and sometimes with support from internationals, but the sweet taste of freedom when one takes that freedom for themselves is irreplaceable. the discussion went on. one of my friends talked about non-violent resistance as new to palestinians (it’s not, but i’ll get to that in a minute). one of the women i knew in the audience who is one of the leaders in pflp in nablus spoke about the need for armed resistance and the way this sort of emphasis on nonviolence often negates the right to armed struggle. of course, i’m for both types of resistance. boycott, divestment, and sanctions is a kind of nonviolent resistance. so is writing. so is the friday prayer in aqraba that we are organizing. but we need all forms. they work together. this is what so many important anti-colonial writers say in their archive from chinua achebe to ghassan kanafani.

i want to share some excerpts from rosemary sayigh’s brilliant and important book the palestinians: from peasants to revolutionaries to get at some of these issues that came up in the meeting and that i confront frequently here. one of the main aspects of palestinian history that really seems to be lacking here is about palestinian resistance. sayigh’s work is unparalleled on this and so many other issues because it is based on oral history, because she collected these histories when people still remembered the initial phases of british-zionist colonization of their land, because she published this in 1979 when the palestinian resistance movement was still fresh. for all these reasons and so much more i think what she shares in her book is so necessary for all of us to learn from palestinian history about what has worked, where problems were, and how can this knowledge be used to work in the right direction for the liberation of palestine. too, i think that remembering what the goals of liberation were is essential because it is so very sad to consider how far away from those goals are people now seem to be. in describing various people she interviews in her work she characterizes them as: jeel falasteen, jeel an nakba, jeel al thawra, in other words by generation. had this been published later we would most certainly see jeel al intifada. but what i suspect part of the problem here is now is that we have jeel al oslo as it were. and this generation is one that has, i would argue, suffered the most with respect to internalized colonialism (an entire childhood reared only on israeli terrorist television), a childhood when normalization became acceptable to the leaders who have been blindly followed for some bizarre reason, a generation in which palestinians have become prisoners inside their bantustan jails. i think learning from the previous generations can help this generation a lot, however. for it is not as if this generation is so far removed from the others. and indeed the jeel an nakba experienced similar sorts of impotence due to the extreme trauma suffered through the dispossession and mass murder they experienced from 1947-1949. but out of that came resistance and various levels of liberation. and i hope–and why i teach what i teach–that inspiration from the same sources of the past, and learning the lessons of the past, can turn jeel al oslo into a jeel al thawra jedeed.

first, i begin with jeel falasteen with sayigh’s analysis of land sales early on in zionist colonization of palestine shows an important fellaheen success in their resistance:

Peasant landlessness started before the Mandate with single sales of large areas of land by the Ottoman Administration and by non-Palestinian owners. These sales, many of which included whole villages, confronted the peasants with their first experience of legal eviction, something which had never been part of the fellaheen fate. It is striking that their immediate, spontaneous response was violent resistance–a resistance which found, however, no echo in other segments of Palestinian society. Such large transactions–the most notorious being the sale in the early 1920s of 240,000 dunums in the fertile Vale of Esdraelon by the Beirut merchant family of Sursock–would have been impossible after the first few years of the Mandate owing to the rapid growth of nationalist sentiment. From then on, Zionist land acquisition was faced with obstacles that the founders of the movement had not anticipated.

In spite of the energy and funds deployed by the Jewish Land Purchasing Agency and its sister organizations, the proportion of Jewish-owned land rose far more slowly than their population. By 1926, only 4 percent of all land (including state land) was Jewish-owned, and it took another eight years for this figure to reach 5 per cent. By the end of 1946, the last year for which official figures exist, it had not gone beyond 6 per cent. Peasant resistance to land sales is abundantly clear in these figures. (36)

second, i think it is important to look at how sayigh characterizes the palestinian rebellion of 1936-39 and its context:

The Palestinian Rebellion of 1936-39 was the most sustained phase of militant anti-imperialist struggle in the Arab world before the Algerian War of Independence. At its peak in 1938 it had mobilized an estimated 15,000 militants around a core of from 1,000 to 1,500 full-time fighters, forcing the British to increase their occupying army from one to two divisions (about 20,000 troops). As well as the British forces, the Palestinian guerrillas faced Zionist paramilitary organizations now well beyond the embryonic stage. It has been estimated that 5,000 Palestinians wee killed and 14,000 wounded through British action, excluding victims of Zionist attack. In one year alone, 1938, 5,679 Palestinians were jailed.

Older camp Palestinians well remember the Rebellion of 1936, which they see as the parent of the Armed Struggle Revolution of 1965. Some remember taking part in it; others who were children at the time remember feeling pride if “sons” of their village were among the guerrillas. Methods of suppression included aerial bombardment, the mass dynamiting of villages suspected of helping the “rebels,” beating men with strips of prickly pear bush, and entering homes to ransack food stocks. A man who was a small child in 1939 remembers reprisals against his village:

There’s a picture stamped on my mind of all the people–men, women, and children–gathered together on the threshing floor. Later when I asked about the incident, they told me that the British had collected all the people there and blown up the whole village. I think it was in 1939. They said that some people working with the Revolution had taken shelter in the village; also a bridge leading to it had been blown up. This was enough for the British to destroy all the houses. But the people went down to the city (Acre) to get help to rebuild.

(43-44)

of course when one looks at policies and practices of the british occupation of palestine, one sees that many of the same are now used by the israeli terrorist colonists. most of the important resistance work was done by the fellaheen because they had the most to lose–and after they lost it and became refugees, of course the fellaheen-laja’een are those who became the leaders of resistance in the next generation. what also remains somewhat the same is this constant need to look to leaders rather than to the people. but a closer look at resistance to the british-zionist take over of palestine shows us, through sayigh’s assessment, that it was the palestinian masses who led the struggle:

It was symptomatic of the distance between the political and militant wings of the nationalist movement that when the first guerrilla leader, Sheikh Qassam, was killed soon after his call to armed struggle in 1935, none of the leading national figures attended his funeral. None of the military leaders of the 1936 Rebellion were from the ruling class. Few anecdotes give a clearer picture of the incapacity of the Palestinian traditional leaders for serious struggle than the one told by a “former intelligence officer” to the author of a study on the 1936 Rebellion. A group of bedouin gathered in Beersheba telephoned to the Mufti asking what action they should take in support of the uprising that was beginning to spread through the country in the wake of the killing of the District Commissioner for Galilee. The Mufti’s reply to them was to do whatever they thought fit, and though his reply may have been due to knowledge that his telephone was tapped, all accounts of the Rebellion and the six months’ strike that preceded it make it clear that the people of Palestine led their leadership, not vice versa. Objectively, the role of the notables was to facilitate British domination. In yielding to the pressures of pro-British Arab politicians, like Nuri Said of Iraq and Emir Abdullah of Jordan, for an end to the Rebellion, the Arab Higher Committee threw away all the lessons of political organization that they could have learnt from the uprising, in spite of its ultimate repression. Instead, naively, they accepted the British White Paper of 1939 as a real gain, though every experience they had had of British rule should have taught them that concessions made by the Administration in Palestine would be negated by Zionist pressure on the Home government. (52)

the above description of who was leading the resistance is important because we see the same with the palestinian resistance movement and the intifada. but we also see the signing of papers at the expense of the people in order to serve the israeli colonial masters (read: oslo) with those who rose to leadership positions with in the plo (read: yasir ‘arafat). these mistakes should be studied and analyzed so that they do not keep getting repeated. if people see how masses of palestinians empowered themselves in spite of their leaders then perhaps things might be different. there was a fourth important element i want to highlight with respect to resistance and that is labor organizing. sayigh quotes a peasant man who became a union organizer in haifa:

In the last years we began to think of building a political party based on the workers’ movement and to combine union work with national struggle. As a preparation, we formed a number of co-operatives, outside the workers’ union, including the tobacco farmers, fisherman and others… We intended also to form a secret organization, but there wasn’t time, for in 1947 came the Partition Plan, and what followed it, the Disaster and dispersion.

The reason we did not form a political party was that, after studying the project, we realized that its leaders would not be from the working class, but from their friends, doctors, engineers, lawyers, who would make the party work for their interests, not for the workers. so we decided to postpone until we had enough working class leaders. But the time we had was too short to form the party correctly…

The League was active in so many ways, organizing strikes, co-operatives, demonstrations. The most outstanding even in this period was the Haifa Oil Refinery strike where we hit Zionist workers and engineers who were trying to control the Refinery. Our workers in the British military camps used to write reports; in the ports of Jaffa and Haifa they kept watch on the activities of the Histadrut.

After this, the leadership of the national movement tried to incorporate the workers while suppressing their union membership. We told them that it’s our duty to participate in the national struggle, not as employees, but as representatives of the working class. There was a long struggle between the League adn other political organizations, especially between Hajj Amin and Sami Taha, who began to become a national figure after his confrontation with Aneuran Bevan, Foreign Minister of the Labour government, at a conference in London attended by the Arab regimes and the Palestinian workers’ movement, when Taha said: “Down with imperialist Britain in Palestine!”

This made Hajj Amin afraid. He saw a powerful personality opposing him, enjoying popular support from the workers, government employees and farmers in the co-operative leagues. In September 1947, Sami Taha was assassinated by criminal hands, instigated by the leadership that could not separate itself from the agent Arab regimes, and that was so afraid of struggle. (57-58)

resistance changed for jeel an nakba for a variety of reasons. sayigh quotes the story of a resistance movement leader about what happened in his village and how he resisted the best he could given the circumstances:

I was one of the people who was against evacuation and because I believed this I stayed in my village until the people left. I suggested to them staying in the fields instead of the houses because of the danger of bombardment, and then go back and face our fate, even if it was to be killed. When the Zionists occupied our village, I was one of those arrested.

One of the political errors of our leadership was that they didn’t prevent evacuation. We should have stayed. I had a rifle and a Sten gun. My father told me, “The Zionists are coming, you know what they do to girls, take your two sisters and go to Lebanon.” I said, “I prefer to shoot my sisters, and shoot you all, and keep the last bullet for myself. This would be better than leaving.” Then they took our village and I was arrested, and they left. But our leadership was outside in Cairo, Damascus and Beirut. When the leaders are out they can’t tell the people to stay. (90)

it was not only men who resisted–even if that resistance meant staying on one’s land as long as possible and fighting with whatever means one might have. resistance also meant that when most refugees fled, they did not flee across the border right away; many stayed moving from one village to the next in order to return when the fighting stopped. sayigh quotes a woman from kweikat who shows how she resisted during an nakba:

I was twelve when we left our village. We went to a village called Abu Sinan. We were a family, three girls, three boys, mother, father, and grandfather, and we had nothing to eat. I used to take my younger brother and sister and creep back to get things from our home. My mother used to punish me for it, but I wasn’t afraid of the Jews. I used to go in and get soap, flour, food to eat. One time when I was carrying a heavy sack of flour I trod on an electric wire which rang an alarm bell. That’s when I fell and hurt my back. Another time the soldiers nearly caught us in our house, but we hid in the cupboard. It was our country, but we had become thieves in it!

We used to get watermelon, okra, tomatoes and corn from our village. It was our land, we had sowed it, and we wanted to harvest it. Sometimes my mtoher and my aunt used to go at night–it was about eight or ten kilometres’ walk. Once when they went, the guards saw them and shot my aunt in the head. (92-93)

even after palestinians became refugees in the early years they found ways to resist their conditions in the newly formed refugee camps as a result of the host countries and of unrwa. a palestinian refugee in trablus told sayigh about palestinians resisting towteen early on–when urnwa wanted them to accept permanent status in their host countries rather than fight for their right to return:

We felt that UNRWA had a certain policy that aimed at settling us. They wanted us to forget Palestine, so they started work projects to give us employment. This was part of the recommendation of the Clapp Report. They used to give loans to people to set them up in small businesses such as “shoe-mender or carpenter”; then they’d take away their ration cards. More dangerous was the way they tried to encourage emigration to Australia or America. They’d give a man a ticket, and take away his ration card. We opposed all this, through publications and secret meetings, night visits and diwans–these weren’t prohibited. Politically conscious people used to go to these gatherings and take part in the conversation. We opposed these projects because we felt that, living in poverty, we would stay attached to our land. (112)

not only is resistance consistent across palestinian history, but, as the above speaker makes clear, so is the level of sacrifice palestinians are willing to endure in order to claim their right of return. and in spite of that poverty one can see how palestinians in the camps saw education as an important site of resistance too:

I was among the first group of students from Nahr al-Bared school. There were 70 to 80 of us in the first tent school. There weren’t any seats or school equipment–we’d sit on the sand or bring stones from the shore to sit on. Twelve of us managed to pass the Certificat and were transferred to the House of Education in Tripoli. There we really felt the depth of the Disaster, from our living conditions and the way they treated us. There we were, in torn clothes, sitting next to sons of Tripoli who had different clothes for every season, and pocket money. They put us Palestinians in the section for orphans; that way they got our rations from UNRWA as well as aid given by different charitable organizations that used to help the refugees. In spite of all this, we had faith that there was no road but education. We used to go down into the street at night to study under the street lamps. (124)

another aspect of what was needed to build resistance, which grew under the extreme repression in the first decade and a half palestinian refugees lived in lebanon was the way that palestinians increasingly saw themselves as part of one big watan in a way that transcended family or village bonds as sayigh explains using a recollection from someone in jeel al thawra:

The Resistance Movement, the idea of the Return, have transformed a nostalgia for normality into a conscious assumption of the abnormality of struggle. In this spirit a young teacher told me of a current Israeli attack on Rashidiyyeh camp which might have killed one of his cousins, adding, “But he is no different to me than any other Palestinian.” (139)

the above sentiment seems lost to me, but it is one that needs to be cultivated and returned to. and there is much to return to in jeel al thawra on a number of different levels. for one thing if one goes to its roots and to the emergence of fatah one finds that there is much to be gained if fatah returned to its origins as sayigh describes it:

For Fateh’s leaders, the urgent need created by the 1967 defeat was to prevent the Arab governments from negotiating, from a position of weakness, an end to the Palestinian liberation struggle in return for Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in the June War. Their long-term hope was that Palestinian guerrilla operations would act as a spark to rekindle the broader Arab struggle against imperialist domination that had lost momentum in the narrow interests of neocolonial regimes. (149)

the need to connect the liberation of palestine to the neocolonial and imperial interests in the rest of the arab world could not be more true today. it has, unfortunately, gotten worse not better and thus these roots of resistance would benefit the entire region if people returned to it. equally important then, as now, is the way that gains by the resistance affects the mood of the entire population in a way that then supports and sustains the resistance fighters, helping them to become steadfast. after the battle of karameh in 1968 in jordan, sayigh quotes someone in the resistance in beirut describing its significance:

We saw our young men eager to go to training camps in the Ghor, and to take part in operations. They’d come back with stories of the war; so, instead of telling the old stories, people began to tell these new stories, about how our young men were fighting. the whole nature of talk changed, as if there had been a deep psychological change among our people. (158)

the above passage shows how important the mood of the people can be for the struggle. this is key. but so too is the bit about telling stories: imagine if accurate stories and histories of palestinian resistance were circulated and told the same way pop music on cell phones of jeel al oslo are circulated how different things might be here. what one also learns from the early part of the resistance struggle is how strong solidarity was among the people beyond palestinians as one important narrative from a lebanese fighter shows:

I come from the South, from a village on the border of occupied Palestine. Like the Palestinians, my family left our village in 1949 because the Zionists carried out a massacre in Hula, a village near ours, where they killed about seventy young men in a mosque. A great number of Lebanese from the border villages were forced to leave in this way, and they lived in Beirut in the same conditions as the refugees.

After the Palestinian Revolution, in 1968, we went back to our village, to live with the people there. There were daily fedayeen operations against the Zionist enemy’s settlements. This created a revolutionary tide. The masses all supported the Revolution because they saw it was the only force able to stand up and say No after the defeat of 1967.

At that time our material resources were few, and we had to rely on donations from the people. For a long time the masses were supplying all our needs, even clothes and food. On night patrol, we would knock on doors as we passed through the villages, and people would give us food and shelter…

Before everything else, there must be an everyday political relationship with the masses, to look at their problems, and help them to solve them, especially through their own consciousness….

In 1969, there were many battles between us and the Lebanese Army and that is when we saw the villagers rise against the army. I remember particularly Majdel Silm, where the army put a force estimated at brigade size around the town to besiege a group of a hundred fedayeen. The population made a demonstration against the army, protecting the fedayeen with their own bodies. This is the incident I consider the most expression of fusion between us and the masses at the that time. (164)

this kind of palestinian-lebanese unity against the state was so important and needs to be cultivated yet again. certainly because hezbollah is strong int he south some of that solidarity still exists, but hezbollah continues to be primarily committed to lebanese national interests not to the liberation of palestine with respect to its action, though not its rhetoric. but that kind of unity in palestine and among palestinians could usefully be cultivated as well. it is this kind of unity that led to palestinians liberating their refugee camps from the control of the lebanese army, one of the first major victories in lebanon and one that also has a lot to teach us on a number of levels as one resistance fighter from nahr el bared narrates:

They brought tanks and the army tried to enter the camps. That day, we can remember with pride, we brought out the few guns that we had–they were eleven. We did well at first, but then we ran out of ammunition. A rumour ran round the camp that the ammunition was finished and we tried to calm the people by telling them that rescue would come from the Resistance. But we didn’t really know whether it would come. But what was amazing was that people returned to what they had been in 1948, preferring to die rather than to live in humiliation. Women were hollering because it was the first time a gun had been seen defending the camp. It was the first battle that we didn’t lose. The children were between the fighters, collecting the empty cartridges although the bullets were like rain. It was the first time that people held knives and sticks and stood in front of their homes, ready to fight. (169)

this sort of collective action, which is sorely lacking today was extensive as a man from rashiddiyyeh refugee camp told sayigh:

It was impossible to find a person who didn’t want to invite the fedayeen and offer his home as an office. It was felt to be shameful not to be the first to give the fighters food, water, shelter. The people were ready to sacrifice everything they had for the Revolution. When we said we needed money, the women would give their gold earrings, bracelets, watches. And whatever they gave, they felt it was nothing. (175)

a fateh militant who sayigh interviewed after managing to get a degree as an engineer made an important statement about the relationship between what people do in their lives and the necessity of connecting that back to the resistance:

I thought of the things I must do to return to my country. I participated in all strikes and demonstrations on Palestinian issues. Finally, I joined one of the Resistance organizations, which represents for me the peak of my political consciousness. As an engineer, i feel there is a link between my specialization and the aims of the Revolution, so I am using my knowledge in a magazine for our fighters. There can be no separation between theory and action. (189)

one of the crucial aspects of sayigh’s work is that she focuses on the people, the masses, not the leaders. part of this is related to the fact that she took these oral histories in the early 1970s. but one of her assessments at that time is significant and must be thought about as i believe that it has a lot to do with problems that later emerged as a result of the hero worship that was nonexistent when she wrote her book:

The absence of hero-worship of the leaders of the Revolution is striking. The photos of shuhuada‘ are much more visible on the street walls of camps than those of the Resistance leaders, and people praise the latter sparingly, saying, “They live the lives of the people.” If one falls, another will take his place. It is the invincibility of the Palestinian people as a whole, not a given party or leadership, that people mean when they say, drinking coffee, ‘Revolution until victory!'” (190)

towards the end of her book, when sayigh is working towards her conclusion she offers an assessment of the resistance movement, which unfortunately does read a bit anachronistic, but is worth pondering given how things have changed in the last 30 years:

The effects of mass Palestinian struggle on the Arab scene will be slower to reveal their shape, because of the complex interplay between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces. As the Palestinian scholar Walid Khalidi has argued, a Palestinian state in the West Bank would tend to stabilize the present regimes and status quo. A mini-Palestine hemmed in by Israel on one side and Jordan on the other would have little scope for playing the role of “fire under ashes” which Palestinian militants have seen as their since 1948. This would be a solution that would leave Israel’s nature as a militaristic and racist state unchanged, and all the arguments that Khalidi puts forward to convince Americans of the proposed state’s harmlessness are ones that make it unattractive for the masses. No Palestinian state could afford to become, as Jordan is, an instrument for suppressing the liberation struggle. And even if a West Bank state emerges, it will not be able to accommodate the majority of Palestinians. The dispersion will continue to exist, with all the pressures it generates towards changing the status quo.

In Lebanon, hostility to the idea of a West Bank state has been strong among camp Palestinians from the time of its first launching in 1973. They mostly came from Galilee and the coastal cities, and have no homes to return to in the West Bank. Many do not regard the West Bank as a serious proposal, but rather as a means to divide the Resistance Movement.Their opposition to it comes through pungently in comments like these:

There is not one of our people who has not sacrificed, and is not willing to sacrifice. But we must see our leadership announcing revolutionary programmes instead of flying to meet this king and that president, and working towards concessions that will humiliate our people.

We have a Revolution and the Arab states are offering us a state. A people’s war doesn’t last ten years only, it goes on until it achieves something.

These remarks reflect the attitude of the PFLP towards the PRM leadership’s adoption, since 1973, of a moderate, compromising stance towards a settlement. While there are indications that Fateh’s leaders believed in the genuineness of the West Bank state proposal when it was first put out, it is not likely that they are as ready to sell out the Revolution as the Rejection Front claims. There will have to be clear political gains from negotiation, or, as a camp mother said, “All our sons’ blood will have been shed in vain.” Not only the Rejection Front but the mass of Fateh’s following expect the leadership to reject submissive solutions, even if the alternative is to return once more clandestinely to struggle. (196-197)

and one final paragraph of note that is also a bit anachronistic, but also an important reminder about why palestinians have had to, and could benefit again, by creating a massive armed resistance struggle that is unified:

Israel offers them no choice except between non-existence or struggle. Their lack of militancy between 1948 and 1967 brought them no nearer peaceful repatriation; now their militancy is used by Israel to justify its own continuing aggression. The cycle is a familiar one in settler societies; and only when Israel is correctly analysed as a settler society will Palestinian violence be correctly understood. And only then will progress be made towards breaking the cycle. (200)

there is so much more that i could share from this amazing volume, rich with history and insight. but what i think is significant about some of these excerpts is the way in which it illustrates how important solidarity and unity is. it shows that it has existed before and i think it can happen again. it shows people talking about liberating themselves and their land as their goals, something which has not changed. it shows how the leaders do not always speak for the people and that the people are successful when they unite and that they really do not need these leaders. people need to trust themselves and their righteousness. it also shows how important solidarity and unified resistance is for group morale.

jeel al oslo need not be detached from their history and from their rights to liberate their land. but i think that there is a serious relationship between the two. knowing not just these bits and pieces, but the totality of palestinian history and its struggle for liberating every square inch of palestine can go a long way to helping palestinians unify towards this goal once again. the leaders are really irrelevant. we know from history that leaders rarely put the interests of their people first. but the new generation can make a different choice. it can make the decision to be unified, to reject the american-zionist divide and rule colonial tactic. it can unify and re-imagine resistance in a way that will achieve a goal that fits all palestinians’ needs: liberation of the land.