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‘Life in the camp is tough, but at least the war is far’: Palestinians flee Syria for Shatila refugee camp

Middle East
on 25 Comments

It is hard to find one Palestinian in Lebanon who doesn’t dream of returning to Palestine. Both elders and youngsters, it doesn’t matter if they have never been there, keep claiming their right to return to the houses of their parents or grandparents (of which most of them still hold the keys), and there is a very solid reason behind such an inveterate claim, as some Palestinian explains: “After more than 60 years, they (the Lebanese authorities) still treat us like dogs”. This is what the Palestinians who fled from Syria are experiencing now.

Palestinians in Lebanon have no automatic right to work, to social security, to joining a union and no right to possess of land or property. Furthermore, if a Lebanese woman weds a Palestinian, their children will be a second-class citizens, because they will not join her nationality. The denial of such basic civil rights is linked to the fear that the largely Sunni Muslim population would affect the sectarian balance of the country, which is enshrined in the constitution.  It is decades now (from the beginning of the Palestinian refugees’ inflow in 1948, prompted by the creation of Israel) that this fear has been barring Palestinians to gain their civil rights, while the 12 camps, where most of them are living, are perceived as a security threat.

In these camps, often overcrowded and poverty-stricken, there are now thousands of Syrian Palestinians (about 45,000 are in the country) who find in Lebanon a quite shocking situation they didn’t expect to have to cope with.

“I feel as I am in prison here”, says Mohammed, a Syrian Palestinian in his 60s who fled with his wife, his widow daughter and two grandchildren from a Damascus’ suburb three year ago. His world is over, his life is in a limbo, waiting to leave the tiny and crowded Shatila camp, in Beirut. Mohammed keeps talking about the good life he had managed to build in Syria, which he calls “my country”, by working hard for 30 years. “Here we are five in a two-room house, but in Syria we had a big house, a car, I had a good job, we had free services and we were living in peace. We joined the equal rights with the Syrians, but it is different here”, he tells, adding that he didn’t like the protests  against the Syrian president Bashar al Assad that turned into a conflict that has claimed the life of more than 250,000 people and has displaced millions. His wife Saada, instead, thinks that “the revolt started because in Syria there was no freedom and people wanted overturn the regime”.

But after three years in Lebanon, all of these things mean nothing, because they both dream of Europe, where two of their children have already fled. And when they are told about the not-that-welcoming policy of the European countries, they insist they want to get out of the camp, where they are sharing the harsh and poor life of the others inhabitants. Something they didn’t expect.

Shatila is a tiny overcrowded neighborhood, less than one and half square kilometers. Approximately 23,000 people are living in such a maze of alleys, with electric cables dangling from the building, poor services, the garbage at each corner and widespread poverty. Since the beginning of the war in Syria, the number of inhabitants has been increased, putting a strain on the keeping of already limited services.

Lately, the UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has decided to adapt its hospitalization support in Lebanon, starting to require Palestinians to pay a percentage of their hospital bills (from 5% in the Palestinian Red Crescent hospitals to 20% in the private structures), which in Lebanon rank among the highest in the Middle East. Previously, the secondary healthcare (treatments requiring a short period in hospital) was fully covered by the agency. After many demonstrations in the camps, last week UNWRA has put off the health cuts until April 21, nevertheless the deepening resource crisis of the UN agency is affecting, and scaring, the beneficiaries.

In a dark and damp alley of Shatila there is the Rajaa’s two-room house, a 40-year-old widow with two children. She is Syrian Palestinian from Yarmouk, the infamous Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus. Rajaa needs health support for her daughter Mariana, who has born in Lebanon soon after she arrived, three year ago, and suffers from a chronic blood disease. “The life in the camp is tough, but at least the war is far”, she says, telling about the siege of Yarmouk and the time they didn’t have anything to eat and all around them was fighting. When her husband got killed, she made up her mind and came to Lebanon. In Shatila she gets support from some local organizations, such as the Palestinian Assomoud, and from the UNWRA, but money is never enough and it is difficult to get by.

Unlike Mohammed, Rajaa doesn’t dream of Europe. She wants to go back to Syria, where her relatives still live. For her Shatila is just a safe place to wait before she can return to home.

About Sonia Grieco

Sonia Grieco, freelance journalist and video maker currently based in Beirut. She collaborates with the Italian web agency Nena News, the Italian website Reset and other outlets. Author of a book about the Italian Ngo Intersos: ‘Abbiamo stretto molte mani. Venti anni nelle emergenze umanitarie’ (Carocci, 2013)

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25 Responses

  1. Jon66
    April 1, 2016, 7:51 pm

    I was waiting to see if the usual suspects who attack Israel for worrying about ‘demography’ thought this was OK.
    “The denial of such basic civil rights is linked to the fear that the largely Sunni Muslim population would affect the sectarian balance of the country, which is enshrined in the constitution. – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/life-in-the-camp-is-tough-but-at-least-the-war-is-far-palestinians-flee-syria-for-shatila-refugee-camp/#sthash.01QuUOgX.dpuf

    Or this,
    “if a Lebanese woman weds a Palestinian, their children will be a second-class citizens, because they will not join her nationality. – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/life-in-the-camp-is-tough-but-at-least-the-war-is-far-palestinians-flee-syria-for-shatila-refugee-camp/#sthash.01QuUOgX.dpuf

    • eljay
      April 1, 2016, 9:55 pm

      || Jon66: I was waiting to see if the usual suspects who attack Israel for worrying about ‘demography’ thought this was OK. … Or this … ||

      I think it’s unjust and immoral and I condemn Lebanon for it.

      But last I heard, Lebanon wasn’t a “moral beacon” or a “light unto the nations”, and it wasn’t occupying and colonizing any territory outside of its borders.

      I’m intrigued by this new approach: Defend Israel by comparing it to Lebanon instead of Saudi Arabia, Mali and African “hell-holes”. Interesting.

      • Jon66
        April 2, 2016, 9:53 am

        Talknic,

        As I said below, I don’t think the Israeli analogy is to the Palestinians but rather the Sudanese.

      • Jon66
        April 2, 2016, 9:56 am

        Elijay,

        Is Lebanon that bad?

      • eljay
        April 2, 2016, 11:05 am

        || Jon66: Elijay,

        Is Lebanon that bad? ||

        I’ll spell it out for you:

        Despite Zio-supremacist claims that Israel is a “moral beacon”, a “light unto the nations” and a “Western-style democracy”, when it comes to defending the “Jewish State” you guys deliberately avoid comparing it to the best states in the world because you know that that would underscore just how far short of the mark the “moral beacon” falls.

        So you usually end up comparing it to bottom-of-the-barrel states like Saudi Arabia, etc., in order to demonstrate proudly that the “moral beacon” is better than some of the worst states in the world.

        IMO, while Lebanon is not among the best states in the world, it is better than Saudi Arabia, etc., so it makes for a more-respectable state against which to compare Israel.

        But you already knew all this.

      • Jon66
        April 2, 2016, 12:10 pm

        Rojas,

        Can you give me a list of your “best states in the world”? I’d love to see it. If it’s not too much trouble I would also love to see just a brief list of what makes one state better or worse in your mind

      • Jon66
        April 2, 2016, 2:04 pm

        Sorry Eljay,
        Damn speelcjeck again. I have no idea where Rojas came from.

      • eljay
        April 2, 2016, 3:40 pm

        || Jon66: … Can you give me a list of your “best states in the world”? ||

        The Nordic countries, Ireland, Austria, Canada – to name a few. Countries that are secular and democratic, respect rule of law, are relatively peaceful, have good standards of living, etc.

        And that’s all I have to say about it. I don’t feel like playing the little game you’re inevitably going to turn this into.

    • talknic
      April 2, 2016, 12:21 am

      @ Jon66 “I was waiting to see if the usual suspects who attack Israel for worrying about ‘demography’ thought this was OK.
      “The denial of such basic civil rights is linked to the fear that the largely Sunni Muslim population would affect the sectarian balance of the country, which is enshrined in the constitution”

      Uh? The two are unrelated. A) Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are not from Lebanon. B) Civil rights for a refugee are not the same as awarding citizenship

      Meanwhile, non-Jewish Israeli citizens who’re refused RoR by Israel citing concerns of a now non-existent, mythical, demographic threat were from Israel.

      Simple maths tells us that Jewish Israelis now outstrip by far any possibility of a demographic threat from the non-Jewish Israelis of 1948 and their lineal descendants returning to Israel. With the influx of Jewish folk into Israel from the Arab states and elsewhere, the fear mongering “demographic threat’ was in fact non-existent by 1953

      The majority of Palestinian refugees today BTW do not have the right to return to Israel, they have a right to return to whatever remained of Palestine after Israel proclaimed its borders in its plea for recognition.

      “Palestinians in Lebanon have no automatic right to work, to social security, to joining a union and no right to possess of land or property. Furthermore, if a Lebanese woman weds a Palestinian, their children will be a second-class citizens, because they will not join her nationality”

      Same for refugees in Australia, the US, UK, in fact almost anywhere.

      You score no points pal

      Say why don’t you try the UNRWA definition of a refugee and make an even bigger idiot of yourself?

      For interested readers: The UNRWA definition only relates to who qualifies for assistance while they are refugees, has no bearing on final status http://www.unrwa.org/who-we-are/frequently-asked-questions#final_status

      Finally, the UNRWA definition was adopted in nineteenFOURTY NINE a full 12 months AFTER UNGA res 194 was adopted in nineteenFOURTY EIGHT. Zionincompoops seem to have no idea of chronological order, simple maths or simple logic

  2. oldgeezer
    April 1, 2016, 9:31 pm

    Hey jon, I’ll bite. I think it’s wrong.

    Whats your basic position on this. Are you arguing that Israel is no better than this state it constantly denigrates or that it is no worse. Not that there isa huge difference.

    Granted there is a difference in that Lebanon is dealing with a massive refugee crisis created by Israel while Israel is denying rights to the indiginous citizens and refugees it created.

    But what the heck eh?

    • Jon66
      April 1, 2016, 10:19 pm

      OG,

      I don’t think the analogy is Palestinians in Lebanon to Palestinians in Israel. I think the analogy is Palestinians in Lebanon to Sudanese in Israel.

      I think Palestinians in Israel should be treated equally to Israeli Jews and any other citizens.

      I think if you are going to allow Sudanese or Palestinians or Syrians into your country you should treat them humanely.

      I just ask why is there no outrage over this, but outrage over the Israeli treatment of Sudanese? Both are wrong, but the Lebanese is older and larger.

      • Bumblebye
        April 2, 2016, 6:30 am

        You “ask why is there no outrage”, well, because you’re playing whataboutery!

  3. oldgeezer
    April 1, 2016, 11:14 pm

    Hey jon… since we’re comparing apples and apples as the Lebanese agreed on the constitution perhaps you could point me towards Isreal’s and where the indigenous Palestinians agreed to be murdered, driven out and dispossessed by the bloodthirsty savages who labeled themselves zionists.

    • Jon66
      April 1, 2016, 11:32 pm

      OG,
      I’m not Israeli, but I believe the Israeli structure is similar to Great Britain. As a Canadian maybe you can clarify that constitution. It’s my understanding that Canada doesn’t have a single constitution document either but rather a collection of a constitution as well as laws, customs, and other documents.

      I don’t deny that Israel has not always lived up to its ideals.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 2, 2016, 12:40 am

        It’s my understanding that Canada doesn’t have a single constitution document

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Canada

        The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law in Canada; the country’s constitution is an amalgamation of codified acts and uncodified traditions and conventions. It is one of the oldest working constitutions in the world, with a basis in Magna Carta.[1] The constitution outlines Canada’s system of government, as well as the civil rights of all Canadian citizens and those in Canada. Canadian constitutional law relates to the interpretation and application of the constitution.

        but rather a collection of a constitution

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Constitution

        The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America.[1] The Constitution, originally comprising seven articles, delineates the national frame of government. Its first three articles entrench the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Congress; the executive, consisting of the President; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. Articles Four, Five and Six entrench concepts of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments and of the states in relationship to the federal government. Article Seven establishes the procedure subsequently used by the thirteen States to ratify it.

      • echinococcus
        April 2, 2016, 1:02 am

        Pointless diversion and thread hijacking again. The point was not the absence of constitution in the Zionist entity per se but the absence of formal participation by owners of the sovereignty, as in

        where the indigenous Palestinians agreed to be murdered, driven out and dispossessed by the bloodthirsty savages who labeled themselves zionists

        If you insist on pretending to be stupid every time, we just might believe you.

      • echinococcus
        April 2, 2016, 1:05 am

        Its ideals are the real problem, and the reason it must be eliminated.

      • talknic
        April 2, 2016, 3:33 am

        @ Jon66 “I don’t deny that Israel has not always lived up to its ideals”

        Indeed. No Government has ever been legally elected in Israel under the obligatory constitution. The Zionist Movement‘s state has robbed Israelis of that right

      • Jon66
        April 2, 2016, 9:52 am

        Annie,
        So the Canadian “constitution” is an amalgam of both a written document and other documents. The British even less defined. So Israel also has a set of Basic Laws which serve as a constitution. The Soviet Union had a written constitution which it ignored. The U.S. has a written constitution and legalized segregation. I don’t see how not having a single document constitution makes Great Britain, Canada, or Israel inherently is an indictment. It’s the laws and their enforcement which are either good or bad. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

      • Annie Robbins
        April 2, 2016, 11:30 am

        jon, actually i don’t think segregation is legalized in the US, where segregation applies it can be challenged in the courts. my point, in linking to both canada and the US, is that it doesn’t really matter if it’s a amalgam or transformed into a single document (the US constitution originally comprising seven articles), what matters, all told, is what it entails. note how israel’s basic law (i think) doesn’t include terms set out in declaration of state?

        it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex

        in the basic law it says:

        Ensures state lands remain national property.

        but in israel you have to be jewish to be a national (not to be confused with citizenship – see nationality law). so how can you have “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants” when access to state lands are not included? (and this is merely one example as there are 60 discriminatory laws)

        granted there’s this:

        In 1994 the Knesset amended two basic laws, Human Dignity and Liberty and Freedom of Occupation, introducing (among other changes) a statement saying “the fundamental human rights in Israel will be honored (…) in the spirit of the principles included in the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel.”

        but are fundamental human rights the same as “social and political rights”? although some rights and responsibilities are (allegedly) granted equally to citizens and permanent residents of Israel, some rights are granted only to jews based on “Acquisition of citizenship” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_nationality_law . i’m not sure you could find anything like this in the US, Great Britain or Canada regardless of whether their constitutions are single documents, amalgam or unwritten.

        i am well aware there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and it seems that’s exactly what israel has accomplished with its basic law, essentially codifying a fundamentally unequal system of governance while posing as a sovereign democracy.

        i think this inequality is grounded in the interpretation of national. because israel is an ethnic nationalist state vs civic nationalist state (like US/canada) laws pertaining to the nation (vs the citizen) legalize inequality.

      • Mooser
        April 2, 2016, 1:42 pm

        I never thought I would live to see the day when a person (“Jon 66”) would use every possible sophistry, obfuscation, side-slip, an d diversion, to prove that Jews are not persons like everybody else.

        But, why settle for person-hood when you deserve something better.

      • oldgeezer
        April 2, 2016, 5:23 pm

        @jon

        I would accuse you of missing the point but I have no doubt you’re merely trying to derail and obfuscate as usual.

        The point isn’t the existence of a constitution.

        The point is that the constitution in Lebanon was agreed to by the peoples of Lebanon.

        Not so in Israel.

        In Israel the bloodthirsty zionists murdered, massacred, slaughtered men, women and children. Dispossessing many of them of their property and committing ethnic cleansing.

        Even if one concedes that the basic laws are the equivalent of a constitution the fact remains that they were implemented and forced upon the (now) minority remnants of the legitimate people of the area through a tyranny of the (now) majority.

  4. Citizen
    April 4, 2016, 10:11 am

    Re Palestinian refugees & camps for them generally, a Twitter hasbarabot advocating nuking all Muslims linked to a 1956 Article by Eleanor Roosevelt. You all might find it interesting in what it says and doesn’t say about her understanding of what was then very recent history: https://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/displaydoc.cfm?_y=1956&_f=md003439

  5. Citizen
    April 4, 2016, 10:13 am

    By the way, am I the only one who’s option to get notice of follow-up comments doesn’t work? It use to.

  6. Bornajoo
    April 4, 2016, 6:27 pm

    “By the way, am I the only one who’s option to get notice of follow-up comments doesn’t work? It use to.”

    Thank you for mentioning this issue Citizen. I also stopped getting the notifications. It makes it really difficult to keep track of comments, especially on threads with lots of comments. I tried a few things to get it working but with no success. I won’t go so far as to blame this issue as the sole reason why I’ve stopped commenting recently, but it’s definitely a factor

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