Right of Return Conference

June 20th marked this year’s World Refugee Day. CEPAL participated in this event by holding a conference to spread awareness on the Palestinian Right of Return. The conference was co-hosted with SPHR-Ottawa (Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights) .  CEPAL and SPHR’s goal was to generate a better understanding within the Ottawa community of the challenges facing Palestinians refuges barred from re-entering Palestine.

The Palestinian Right of Return refers to the legal and moral right for        Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to their homeland. This is an often overlooked issue in the on-going Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and one that is of utmost importance.

The conference began with  a “Right of Return 101” workshop presented by Samah Sabawi. Ms. Sabawi’s workshop gave an in-depth overview of the history of the Palestinian conflict. The presentation focused on the legal and moral issues surrounding Palestinian refugees’ right to return to Palestine. Ms. Sabawi also screened a documentary outlining the issues of forming a government for Palestinians within the occupied territories.

There were two guest speakers featured in the conference, including CEPAL’s Shauna Trainor. Ms. Trainor presented her experiences as a volunteer within the Bourj al-Barajneh camp in Lebanon in 2006. She explained many of the hardships faced by the inhabitants of the camp and offered an interesting insight into the experiences of international volunteers. The other speaker was Mr. Monzer Zimmo, a Palestinian refugee and respected  member of the Ottawa Palestinian  community. He focused his lecture on the realities of Palestinian community within and outside of the occupied  territories, as well as shared some of his personal experiences as a refugee. His passion and knowledge pertaining to Palestine and the Palestinian Right of Return was inspirational. It was a sincere pleasure to listen and learn from Monzer Zimmo.

Beats for Palestine

On June 4th, CEPAL launched the first of what we hope to make an annual benefit and Palestinian solidarity concert in Montreal, Beats for Palestine, in partnership with Project Hope.  Spoken-word artist Remi Kanazi, reggae master Mark Mahoney (aka Jah Faith), and hip-hop up-and-comers KinZ joined forces at Le Petit Campus to make the evening a promising success.  Project Hope offers a similar educational exchange to    CEPAL’s in Nablus, in the West Bank. For more information about Project Hope, visit www.projecthope.ps.  Samples of the artists’ work can be found on MySpace and YouTube.

The children express their feelings about the war through their drawings.

I am 11 years old and from Tyre. I drew the sun because the world is sad. I remembered my grandmother when she used to tell us how they left Palestine, and how now we left our home in South Lebanon.

– Malak Abdul-Hamid

I am 9 years old and from Majadil village. I need a house, so I will draw one because I do not know what happened to our house. I drew a house but it’s tilted because a bomb had hit it, and I drew dry grass, a sad sun and a bent over flower.

– Hawraa Issa

I am 9 years old and from Rashideyeh. I drew a tree so I can climb it, it will grow and I will sit in its shade before the Israelis come and bomb it.

– Arafat Abdullah

I am 10 years old and from El-Maashouk. I love Lebanon but my home land is Palestine.

– Mai AbdulHamid

I am 11 years old and from Shabriha. I drew a tank hiding among grass and a jet dropping leaflets and children running away.

– Khalid Nabulsi

I am 9 years old and from Tyre. I drew a house and bridge bombed by the Israelis and we are displaced.

– Israa AbdulRahman

I am 9 years old and from Majadil village. I drew a child who doesn’t like or want war, I want peace and I want to go back to Majadil.

– Dina Hassan Issa

I am 9 years old and from borj El-Shamali. I drew this burning house because the jets bombed it, and the fire near Jall El-Bahar.

– Ahmad Dahwish

I am 11 years old and from Borj El-Shamali. I drew leaflets dropped by a plane, I wanted to step on this leaflet because it is from Israel.

– Ismael Nabulsi

I am 11 years old and from Maashouk. My drawing expresses peace and the continued existence of the trees and nature of Lebanon.

– Nisrine Shehadeh

I am 10 years old and from Bas. I drew a tree with birds in it because I wish that peace prevails so I can go back to my home

– Zahra Darwish

Often these days in Lebanon, when you ask anyone about their opinion of the situation, you will get the feeling that the next three days will be decisive, before Thursday that is – this is what is coming from all the news sources. It seems as though it is almost almost a certainty that demonstrations will start any moment, probably Thursday.

Any yet – you don’t feel or see any preparations on the ground for this. The main thing can conclude, then, as you walk the streets of Beirut, is that there is an incredible sense of caution and waiting still for an actual announcement of demonstrations.

The news this morning said that all the logistics for the demonstrations have been finished and that people are only waiting for the start signal – which is still secret. These rumors are paralleling the hectic mediation efforts being carried out by Saudis and Egyptian diplomats. This is a time of bidding, when offers and counter-offers are made before reaching the next step. My personal feeling is that despite all the talk about demonstrations, these may not actually be the next step. I feel that it’s being announced and talked about this much merely as a tactic – a pressure tactic – because demonstrations are a big step to take, and Nasrallah did not mention an exact date in his speech. Demonstrations are a dangerous step to take; they are risky and need to achieve their stated goals in a very short period of time; they depend on masses of people that are largely uncontrollable. Even Nasrallah has acknowledged these dangers. He warned people that if he calls for demonstrations they should not respond to provocations or attacks from the other side, but who is convinced that in such a circumstances people will listen? I went this weekend for a tour of Beirut starting from Dahyeh, in the southern suburbs, and ending in Hamra in West Beirut. In Dahyeh the place was boiling with people and life, there were tons of people on the streets and no feeling of any unusual situation, even in the destroyed area. People were coming and going, shopping and busy with their daily preoccupations. Construction was ongoing and you could find new shops open here and there along streets that had been devastated. People’s mood did not seem to indicate any of the tension that usually precedes troublesome events. I asked some people I know who work in Dahyeh what they made of this rather unusually ‘normal’ situation, but everyone found it hard to explain. One certainty, however, according to one of my acquaintances, was that if Nasrallah called for demonstrations, people in Dahyeh would respond to this call without a doubt. Another person whom I asked to comment on the situation thought for a while and said: “I don’t think that there is going to be a war or troubles, even if they do go out for demonstrations. Really, you don’t see or hear parents telling their sons that they should go to war or support one side against another; this is what used to happen in previous troubles, but now there is none of this incitement .” He also told me that last week a number of owners of destroyed shops and homes were told to gather in a certain place, where they were loaded onto buses and taken elsewhere. The found themselves in another place where Nasrallah suddenly appeared and spoke to them. He did not speak of any troubles; he simply told them that reconstruction would start this coming spring, and that they shouldn’t fear the current situation because nothing was going to happen in the country. Heading toward the center of Beirut was a different matter – it was more obvious in the streets that something was amiss. I mean, the weekend was extraordinarily sunny and warm, and usually there would be hundreds of people out shopping and walking along the sea. And people were coming and going, yes, but not in their usually numbers. And shops were open, but not as many as there should have been. The only explanation for this absence and caution is that people have been following the news intensely and have become fearful of sudden events occurring while they are out. In areas of Beirut where two neighbourhoods with different sects meet – for instance in Mar Elias where you there are Sunnis in one part and Shi’ites in another, you can see posters of the Hariris in the Sunni areas, as well as those of Sinioura (the current prime minister) with the following writing on them: “Remaining, remaining, remaining.” This means, of course, that the Sunnis are saying that the government of Siniora will remain in power and not capitulate to the calls for a unity government. On the other side of the street, in the Shi’ite area, are posters of Berri (the speaker of parliament) and Nasrallah with the following writing on them: “Coming, coming, coming.” This refers to the last war, the coming final victory. Generally, then, people are worried. And this worry is amplified by and reflected in the current security measures being taken. At night, there are army patrols and armored personnel carriers that are deployed at certain crossroads and streets. There is a clear increase in police presence, and you feel that the atmosphere is not conducive to going out at night. You worry about being caught in the middle of some unfortunate matter and you conclude that it is not worth the risk. That is the mood in Beirut these days.

Hiba Fattoum describes the anxiety she feels during the bombing and her desire to return to her home.

This is my second war. The first one I was just two months old but this one I am 19 years old. The day before the war began – it was Tuesday – I was in the internet café checking my email and on the way home I heard fireworks and shooting. I thought it was because of the Brevet [certificate exam] results which my brother had done.

When I got home I asked if it was the results, then my mother replied it was that Hizbullah had took two Israelis and they are in Lebanon. Then on Wednesday morning I was asleep when I heard a loud sound that goes like “BOOM” but you can’t imagine how loud and scary it was. I ran to my parents and they were on the roof and I followed them and asked what the hill is that? They told me Israel had bombed the airport and I said “OH MY GOD.” Then they told me look at the sky. There I saw the F16. It was very far away and at the same level as we are, then it threw these balloons and then bombed the airport again.

When I saw this I couldn’t feel how I was in the house and my parents laughed at me because they have witnessed many wars but I think this is the hardest. I was so scared you can’t imagine how much, so I packed all my precious things I don’t want to lose like my certificates, pictures and my Palestinian Hatta – Hatta means our traditional scarf.

I was so scared to which my neighbors laughed at me and whenever they used to bomb they used to say “open the shelter for Hiba.” You know whenever they used to bomb during the day it was less scary than at night – both of them are scary – during night time when they bomb I used to wake up shaking all together because our camp is so close to the area bombed most of the time – Dahy.

On Saturday the bombing was harder than before – the bombing was getting harder everyday – and because I was so scared my mum took me downstairs where my uncle lives and there I slept on the couch and I couldn’t sleep because of the bombing and the moment I did they bombed a hard one and I felt something fall on my head and then my shoulders. It was my uncle’s air conditioner.

Then the next day we moved out of the camp because it wasn’t safe anymore since pieces of the bombs are falling on our camp. Where we live now, we still hear the bombing.

I miss home a lot and I went home to the camp twice to see it and even I am trying to convince mum to go back again because there is no place like home and I don’t care if they bomb because I learned not to be scared because no matter how much Israel is strong, Allah – God – is much stronger than them. What I don’t like in this war – except everything – is that they are killing many innocent people and buildings are destroyed. In other words, Lebanon is being destroyed. Everyday I count the days to this war ends but is anyone helping? NO. This war shows what is Israel – they kill babies, women, old people, destroy buildings, supermarkets and bridges. Is this what they call moral war? Is this what you see on TV is Hizbullah’s missiles falling on the Israelis in PALESTINE and destroy a part of one building only, while each Israeli missile destroys 3 or 4 buildings consisting of 9 floors? I have to leave the answers for you.

Thank you.

This morning I walked through Dahiyah on my way to work, and I saw work going on in terms of cleaning the rubble of the destroyed buildings – it was quick and organized; some areas are almost completely cleaned, while others still have people working.

Looking at the rubble, having seen the building before when it was filled with life, and seeing it now, with pieces of people’s belongings…

You know, no one took anything out, all the things are laid out as if in some exhibition stranded between the slabs of concrete resting on top of each other, or just blown up in a corona around a pile of mangled debris, steel and colorful particles once called furniture and belongings. All kind of articles, from furniture to utensils, gas stoves, personal pictures, books, students’ school books – scattered with pages turning in the wind – can be found. I stood in front of one of those buildings looking at some books and copy books half torn and covered with dust. Some handwriting was still visible, some in English, some in Arabic. It must have belonged to some elementary school student, as it was clearly a homework book. You can actually look at a portrait of peoples’ shattered lives in front of you.

Every item has a story and tells you something about the people who once lived in the building. You can know, for instance, nearly how many people lived in the apartment, if there were infants, children, youth, or just an old couple. You can approximate how long they have lived there, by examining the pieces of furniture and other items necessarily gathered over a long period of time. Sometimes, you can even tell what people’s profession was because of the tools or equipment left among the rubble – whether they were an engineer, a doctor or simply a handyman. You can tell if there were students and what level they were at in their studies, and even which school they attended. You can tell what people’s tastes were and what socio-economic status they had by the quality of the furniture, carpets, chairs, television, etc. You can even tell what people’s taste in clothing was. In some parts, you can see what people were last cooking or the food they left on a table before leaving in a hurry.

It’s as though you were taking part in some guessing game in which a silent image is played in front of you containing all the clues your mind needs to recreate the image as it looked before the destruction. It’s almost like putting together a tremendous jigsaw puzzle of rubble: you do use your actual memories of how the place used to be, but inevitably your imagination and private images of how it could be also take part in the imaginary reconstruction of the place.

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