Lebanon in the Eyes of Palestinian Refugees

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“Everyone participated in shedding Palestinian blood, even Arab regimes, so how could you blame individuals?” (Photo: Al-Akhbar - Marwan Tahtah)

By: Qassem Qassem

Published Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Lebanese public discourse is saturated with negative representations of Palestinians. Rarely do Palestinian refugees get to speak their mind of how they in return view the Lebanese, as people and parties.

Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are perceived as breeding grounds for lawlessness and militancy, too dangerous to enter. The people of the camp are seen either as potential terrorists or wanted criminals.

On the other hand, there is the image that Palestinians have of the Lebanese. For most in the camps, the issue is simple.

“We don’t like those who took part in killing us,” said Fadi Muhammad from Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp.

Muhammad, a college student, named the Lebanese political parties that participated, one way or another, in carrying out massacres against Palestinians. The Phalange party destroyed Tel al-Zaatar refugee camp. The Lebanese Forces committed the Sabra and Shatila massacre and the Amal movement conducted a devastating war on the camps, he said.

Walking through the alleyways of the camp to get to its cemetery, the place is filled with symbolism. Residents of that part of Bourj el-Barajneh suffered the most during Amal’s assault because of its proximity to the airport road.

I asked a group of young men sitting in a cafe by the cemetery about their opinion of Lebanese people. Their responses varied depending on their political affiliations. “I respect Hezbollah, they’re fighting Israel,” said one man. “But I can’t stand the Lebanese Forces and I can’t forget what they and the Amal movement did to us.”

Leaving Bourj el-Barajneh camp and heading to the UNRWA schools by al-Rahab station, a group of high school students mill about at the school gate.

I asked them how they perceive the Lebanese and what image they have of them?

As soon as I asked the question, a debate erupted. They denounced the killing and the hatred but they do not remember anything from these wars because they weren’t alive to see them.

“I used to hear my parents say that the Lebanese Forces committed the Sabra and Shatila massacre and that my mother survived because she was able to run inside the camp before they were able to get to her,” one student said.

He has never seen a member of the Lebanese Forces in his life and he doesn’t want to “because I don’t know what my reaction would be towards him.”

The zeal among the youth disappeared as soon as I played the devil’s advocate. But aren’t the Palestinians, in the view of the Lebanese Forces, the ones who fought a war in a country that is not theirs? Everyone falls silent trying to recall what their parents had told them.

I left the students and went to the Shatila refugee camp. By the martyrs’ cemetery, the views are not much different. The memory of the massacre is alive not only in the place itself but with the residents themselves.

Here, “it’s all the fault of the Lebanese Forces.” What about the Israelis? “It is normal for the Israelis to kill us, but at the hands of the Lebanese?” they lamented.

“Everyone participated in shedding Palestinian blood, even Arab regimes, so how could you blame individuals?” said Abu Mustafa Taqa, a man in his seventies said.

He fell silent for a little while, as if recalling the highlights of the Palestinian revolution in Lebanon.

“Everyone made mistakes during the war and it’s enough that everybody apologized,” Taqa said.

“Samir Geagea apologized for what happened during the civil war and Abbas Zaki apologized for what we did. That’s why we should open a new page,” he said.

But what about the Amal movement?

“Everyone apologized for what they did during the civil war except Nabih Berri. He did not apologize for what he did to us during the War of the Camps,” Taqa said.

Views of the Lebanese are not limited to those who committed massacres. The Palestinians in the camps remember with gratitude everyone who supported the campaign demanding civil rights for Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese parliament, just as they remember those who didn’t.

In the process of rebuilding Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) drew a negative reaction from many Palestinian refugees. The party moved to block the reconstruction of the camp in 2009, after a war between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam militants decimated it in 2007.

Next to the center of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the Shatila camp, Abu Muhammad weighed in on the FPM.

“Even in times of peace, they don’t like us. As if treating us decently will give us Lebanese citizenship and bring about the horror of naturalizing us,” he said, referring to the Lebanese government’s refusal to issue Palestinian refugees citizenship.

“Everyone stood against us when we demanded the right to work. We accepted the law prohibiting us from property ownership even though it is unjust ... I don’t understand how General Michel Aoun is Hezbollah’s ally in domestic politics and yet he is against us in the parliament,” Muhammad said.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic edition.

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