- Posted March 7, 2013 by
The Forgotten Palestinians: Living in todays Sabra and Shatila, Beirut, Lebanon
As the Gaza conflict rages on, the Palestinians demand for human rights and return to their homeland continues for many outside of the occupied territories.
Millions of refugees scattered throughout the Middle East live in refugee camps rife with violence, extreme poverty and no support or assistance. This twinned with getting stuck in the crossfire of many host-country conflicts such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq make their situation even more intractable.
When the opportunity to work does open up, the same people are greeted with more exploitation in trying to make a livelihood.
We widen the lens away from Gaza to see what life is like for Palestinian youths growing up in Beirut, Lebanon.
‘Life conditions are inadequate. Like all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, refugees in SABRA and Shatila are banned from most professions and from owning property, yet they must still pay taxes for public services they do not receive.’
~ Omar is a member of Ma’an Youth Group, made up of 17 young people from the Shatila and Bourj El-Barajneh refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon. They stand in for their community where society has failed them repeatedly...with consistency.
We are speaking about the Sabra and Shatila massacres of September 1982. Violent, brutal and barbaric. Wrongful vengeance taken out on 700 to 3500 innocents with no inclination of the impending ‘finish’ that was to engulf their neighbourhood and homes. Children playing with friends on the street, games in motion until the violence came upon them, while elder family members sat inside their homes not knowing the violence on the way. Two full days of horrific brutality.
Lebanon’s Christian Maronite President Bachir Gemayel was assassinated. Enraged Christian Phalangists, allied to Israel, planned to enact violent revenge against the remaining civilian Palestinians in West Beirut; who they suspected, wrongly, of making the kill. On the 16th of September, the Phalange militia’s descended on the Palestinian refugee camps of SABRA and Shatila. Israeli forces who invaded Lebanon months earlier manned the perimeters, shot flares to illuminate the camp area at night time and sealed off any escape routes by fleeing residents.
Throughout the years politics has sabotaged any justice for the victims and missing. No accountability has been attributed – Sharon? Genocide law? The remaining men were snatched from the camps by the Israeli army and ‘questioned’ in the Stadium nearby; these are the missing. Gaza Hospital on the edge of the camps dealt with the dying amid scenes of crazed panic.
Today Sabra and Shatila still stands, but more impoverished and overcrowded; isolated from the modern glitzy Beirut beyond its checkpoints.
Omar tells me what life is like for the residents today.
Hi Omar, can you tell me how Beirut is today for you? You are a student, where do you study?
'I study at Beirut Arab University where most of the Palestinian students study, it’s in Beirut. Some of the Lebanese have no idea about the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. They think we live in tents and a little of them they don’t know that there are Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon! The camp is a poor neighbourhood while Beirut is the capital of Lebanon with tall towers and rich neighbourhoods, so we feel of the class struggle.'
Do you think there is a climate of fear in Beirut today between different factions and people?
'Sure, especially after the revolution in Syria and after the situation became worst there, now the Lebanese parties are divided, some of them support Al Asad while others support the revolutionary. That’s creates a kind of fear here.'
Do you think Lebanese youth are inclusive of Palestinian youth, or are they distant? Are the Palestinian refugee camps very isolated from other communities in Beirut?
'I can say that the Lebanese youth in general still distant from the Palestinian youth in Lebanon. Because of the Lebanese army check points in front of the Palestinian camps and the legal discrimination against us we forced to be isolated from people here.'
What do you think of Mahmoud Abbas attempts to get UN statehood for Palestine? Where do you see the future of Palestine going? Have you ever been to your homeland?
'I understand Abbas and PLO attempts but it doesn’t satisfy our demands, the Palestinian statehood is going to be on the 1967th borders (Gaza strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem), while we are from North Palestine ! Which it is today Israel! The Palestinian statehood (Gaza strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem) makes no sense for us here. Our demand is to apply “194” the right of return and compensating. Our struggle is not with the Jewish; our struggle is with the Zionist. The Jewish represent a part of the Palestinian nation as Christians and Muslims. Violence from both sides will never lead to a solution especially from the Israeli regime. I have never been in my homeland in north Palestinian and my dream in this life to be in Acre (Akka). '
Have you seen Palestinian refugees from Syria arriving in Beirut recently?
'We have in Shatila over 100 Syrian-Palestinian refugee families and over 140 in Burj Al Barajneh; they arrived recently especially last two months. Their situation is much harder than the Syrian refugees, nobody cares of them, our Group donated clothes for some families and we are trying to find any way to help them.'
What is life like for Palestinians today in West Beirut?
'We see firsthand how the Palestinian refugee community here in Lebanon is deprived of basic needs. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are banned from most professions, owning property or accessing public services or equal rights. The majority if Palestinian refugees live under the UN-defined poverty line, and almost 60% of Palestinian refugee children drop out of school after the age of 15.
Our challenge is to overcome these obstacles by doing everything we can to help and empower our deprived community.'