Archive for the ‘Showcase’ Category

For the first time since the fighting ended, Mahmoud Al-Adawi returns to Dahiyah to find much of it destroyed.

Walking through Dahiyah was like visiting some site mentioned in holy texts – stories about sinful cities that were punished by some relentless god. The scene was so overwhelming that it required more than a pair of eyes to fully comprehend it. The fact that so much massive destruction occurred over such a short period was part of it. It was so strange, because I knew the place. Just a short while ago, I used to walk through it often. There were many shops I used to purchase things from and streets I used to just amble through. Many of the destroyed buildings, I noticed, were buildings I was involved in constructing. Other buildings we took refuge in during the first half of the 1982 invasion. And now they are all sunk into their basements, as if sucked by some power beneath or as if some giant foot had kicked them knocking them flat on their side, blocking the street below. The destruction is such that you lose orientation; I had to stop many times to make sure that I was in the same places that used to know. The feeling is completely different now, and no picture can adequately capture it. And it was the case for all the people wandering about assessing the damage, their faces expressed the shock and wonder at what their eyes were seeing.

By: Naba’a – Development Action without Borders

The largest burden during conflict are on mothers, who are responsible for the security of the children and food.

They are six children, the oldest 13 years old, and they all refuse to leave the room where they have been sheltering with their parents in one of the sheltering stations. They are still frightened, despite the fact that more than a week has passed since their arrival in Sidon. Their mother, Ne’mat Qassem is from Abu Al-Aswad [approximately 12 km north of Tyre], from where she fled on foot with her husband and their children when the bombing intensified. Ne’met recounts her story: ‘When the jets dropped the leaflets ordering us to leave the town – which was then followed by intense bombing on the town – I fled the place with my husband and six children on foot toward Sidon. My husband and I were each carrying two of the youngest children. The shelling continued and we ran until we were exhausted. We got lost in the darkness of night and only arrived at Zahrani [approximately 15 north of Abu Al-Aswad] at around 1:30 a.m. At that very moment, the Israeli jets bombed the area we had arrived at, so we ran and squeezed ourselves together to hide in a rainwater ditch by the side of the road. When the bombing stopped, we hurried toward Ghaziyyeh, where we found a car that took us to Sidon. Upon our arrival in Sidon, I had a nervous breakdown due to the panic and exhaustion we experience. I just dropped to the ground unconscious. When I later woke up, I found myself in a hospital. The doctor explained my health condition and that I had unstable blood pressure. He urged me to try and forget what I had gone through and what I had seen during our flight to Sidon. Ne’mat falls silent before continuing: ‘But how can I forget what I saw? All of the ugly and horrifying scenes along the way? And I have no news of my family and my only brother. I don’t know what happened to them or where they are. Our situation is so difficult. May daughter is three years old and my son is only two, and both need diapers. My six year-old son started wetting his bed due to the fear. A fear that has taken control over my children. They sit in the corner of the room and refuse to leave that spot. […] All that I wish for is to return to our village and home, and to know if my family is alright and where they are.’

During wars, it is the women who suffer the bulk of the enormous responsibility for the family.

They are the ones who are under pressure to take care of the whole family, who are responsible for the security of the children, and who must secure clothes and food for them. All this in addition to the many other daily tasks that must still get done. It is a situation that places women under enormous stress. Ne’ema Bashroush is from Qlayleh village, and is a good example of the pressures that women face in war. As she points to her newborn baby, she recounts: “This is my first child. She was only one week old when we escaped from the village. I wished that she would start her life in security and happiness, but it seems that one cannot get what one wishes for. I fled the village with a fear that filled my heart, and with the haunting image that something might happen to my baby refusing to leave my mind. I held her close to my chest to make her feel safe and ran out of the house and away from the village. I could bring neither her diapers nor milk for her with me. The milk was especially important because I couldn’t breastfeed her later. I no longer had milk. It must have dried up due to the fear I went through. The only thing that was important to me was to make sure that my innocent baby was safe.”

By: Mahmoud Al-Adawi

In the current upheaval, Palestinian refugees ponder their political situation and notice that democracy in the Occupied Territories has yet bring the stability and prosperity that was promised them.

Daily life in the camp goes on like everywhere else on earth: work, unemployment, people argue with each other, or talk about travellers, newcomers and migration, about who gave birth and who died. People don’t talk much about politics; it seems that most things in this region are unsure at this point anyhow, especially in terms of our status, our current state of being as Palestinian refugees. I mean, in the past, people in the camp used to at least recognise something called a ‘political reference’ or a ‘leader’. And this leadership used to allow people to feel that they were present on the world stage and this used to then inform and give meaning to their own lives, even if this leadership was inadequate or incorrect about our status and our future, about the outcome and results of political processes, and even though this leadership often manipulated and used the people for its own limited political objectives. You can ask nowadays: “What is the situation in the camp? How are people perceiving and living through this chaotic moment in history?” Last night we were discussing and chatting in the alleyway, you know just about the news here and there. And then someone asked a question about the situation in the camp and whom we recognise as our ‘leader’ or point of reference is. This was in reference to the recent clashes in Gaza and their effect on the camp. The conclusion was that we now have Fatah and Hamas, but that both are incapable of being a leader or even just half of a leader, and that no one recognises a sole authority anymore. One of my friends gave his opinion of this current situation. He looked at me and said: “We are like those people who don’t know what’s going on, we have lost our minds and recognise no leader. Do you know the fable that states, ‘When my people lose their sanity, my sanity becomes meaningless?'” I told him that I’d never heard of any such fable. “Well,” he said, “Once upon a time, there was a king whose subjects lived in prosperity and peace. The kingdom depended upon rainwater for drinking, and one day one of the king’s fortune-tellers predicted that a great evil would befall the kingdom the following year. This evil would take the form of poisonous rainwater that when drunk would make the drinker insane. The fortune-teller advised the king to save as much rainwater in pools and barrels for his own consumption, and leave the people to their destiny. When the poisonous rain did come, the king and those closest to him consumed the fresh rainwater they had saved, while the people drank of the poisonous water and inevitably went mad. The people no longer recognised rules, laws or order and neither did they acknowledge the legitimacy of the king himself. After a few days of chaos, the king summoned to his side all his aides and deputies and said: ‘I have been watching and pondering what has happened to my kingdom, how my subjects have gone mad and how they no longer recognise my authority. So I ask you – what is the use of having all this power? When my people lose their sanity, my sanity becomes meaningless. Bring me the poisonous rainwater – we shall all drink of it.'”

Then my friend continued, “By G-d man, look at us! Don’t we seem as though we drank this poisonous water? Look at our people in the West Bank and Gaza; everybody in this world wanted us to eat and drink democracy, to have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even in between. Did you believe for one moment when you saw people going out to vote to elect their representatives back there in the West Bank and Gaza that they wanted it to result in the clashes we have been witnessing recently? No! I can’t believe this. People must have thought that relief was coming in terms of all aspects of life. They were expecting a better living – that’s what I would have thought had I been in their place. Now look! That same world that ‘brought’ democracy now seems to be saying ‘Sorry’, that it was mistaken – and that it’s not democracy that they really meant! They should have explained it better and should have told us that there are different types of democracies! I mean, what did they expect from people when they told them first that they would have a free choice to elect whomever they wished, to get whatever they wanted, and then turned around and told them that they had made the wrong choice. Anyhow, doesn’t it seem that our people have drunk from that poisonous water? The only difference is that the effect was manifest first in our leaders, who went mad and jumped at each others thoughts. The first [Abbas] was unable to comprehend how he had lost, while the second [Haniyeh] was unable to see why he had won. And the catastrophe is that both of them feel that destroying the other is the only solution and they want the people to join them in their lunacy!

You know what I tell you? Thank God that they didn’t include us here in those election.”

By: Olfat Mahmoud

Director, Women’s Humanitarian Organisation (WHO)

You may be aware that many Palestinians live in Haret Hreik, informally known as the ‘southern suburbs of Beirut’ and the most devastated area from the recent Israeli war against Lebanon. So, many families who were living there have been forced back into Bourj camp and have joined their extended families.

The atmosphere in the camp currently is extremely tensed – people are worried and do not trust the ceasefire. Will there be war again? When? How will it be this time? Will we be able to survive?

In addition to this tirelessly gnawing worry, there is the post-war economic situation that is very dire. Everything is now more expensive. And it is doubly difficult because it is right now the month of Ramadan, the beginning of the scholastic year, the time of the feast, as well as the winter season. To prepare for all these events usually costs a great deal of money. And people are worried about how they will manage and meet all of these important needs.

So, there is more frustration, more depression, more violence among the community. What worries us most is education: will the children have enough motivation to go back to school? I don’t believe they will! From our observations, we have noticed that children are not really interested in going back to school.

The area surrounding Bourj camp is frightening! The buildings of Haret Hreik are destroyed and ever since the ceasefire trucks have been working day and night to remove the rubble, but until now, they still haven’t finished. The smell is awful and there is dust everywhere. The minute you enter the southern suburbs of Beirut, you can feel that the whole atmosphere changes for the worse. And as winter approaches, people quietly wonder how they will be able to replace everything they lost: blankets, winter clothing, carpets, etc. for entire families.

However, I must say that we should persevere in our attempt to help people and support them as they try to cope with this new situation. Because Palestinians mainly stayed in Bourj camp during the war, they were placed under a great deal of stress and were exposed to bombing and death continuously. WHO’s work with children in the post-war period has shown us that there is great need for psychological support programs for children and their families, and we are committed to continuing our psycho-social work with children and women.

I ask people who believe in human rights and humanity to help children to enjoy their childhood and experience peace in spite of all the difficulties they are subjected to.

Imagine how you feel when you draw a smile on a child’s face.

By: Giulia El-Dardiry

Giulia El-Dardiry listens to voices from Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut

Bourj Al-Barajneh and Shatila refugee camps are home to approximately 35,000 Palestinian refugees, expelled from Palestine in 1948 by Zionist forces. These camps are situated close to Shia suburbs in southern Beirut that have been heavily bombarded by Israeli jets since the beginning of this latest Israeli aggression against Lebanon. While the Shia suburbs have been largely emptied of their residents who have found refuge in other parts of the country or in shelters in Beirut, many of the Palestinian refugees have no choice but to remain in the camps. I remember a year ago peering into Umm Mohamed’s kitchen in Bourj Al-Barajneh refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut. Below the cupboards where gigantic nylon bags filled with rice, lentils and other staple foods. Fifteen years after the civil war ended. I laughed at her caution and said that such stocking of food was unnecessary. She looked at me and said: ‘In this country, you never know.’ She turned around and went into her small living room and lifted the seat from the couch revealing a storage space below. They were filled with clean clothes and an outrageous quantity of underwear. ‘Whatever for?’ I exclaimed. ‘Because there is nothing worse, nothing more uncomfortable, nothing more humiliating and undignified for a human being, than to wear dirty soiled clothes. It is what happened during the war,” she replied. I laughed again at what I thought were an old woman’s whimsical ways and exaggerated worries. How wrong I was to laugh. It has been 12 days now that Israel has rained destruction on Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut. And I thank God every day that Umm Mohamed — in all her wisdom — stored food and clean clothing for her family stuck now in the middle of rubble and ruins awaiting an even more uncertain and precarious future.

Despite their worries, people in the camps have taken the time to write what they have witnessed, how they feel and what they expect of the future. These are their words and their stories.

An illegitimate colonisation “I have to thank all of you for your words and feelings for us in Lebanon; more days of blood and destruction, more days of fright and pain, more days of suffering. I am sorry for all those poor Lebanese who lost everything, I am sorry for what has happened to Lebanon as a country as a consequence of Israel’s war crimes, I am sorry for the south Lebanon villages and cities, I am sorry for the southern suburbs of Beirut. “I don’t know if you are watching the news, or if the television is even showing the reality of what is going on in Lebanon. Buildings are completely destroyed to the ground, people just want to find a way to escape from Lebanon, or at least, to get away from the bombarded areas. People are sleeping in the streets or parks — it is only the lucky one who finds a place in a school or in a shelter under a building. Pictures of children show how they were killed in a car or small bus, running in a street trying to seek safety, escaping from death without knowing that the Israeli killing machine is waiting for them everywhere they go. It’s unbearable to see Israel threatening and destroyed people’s lives and homes, while no one is trying to stop it. “War should be between two legitimate forces. But this war is lead by war criminals; it’s not an honourable thing to kill people, destroy roads, buildings, and bridges, to cut off the electricity or the water sources. It’s not brave to use all this force against those who have none. “The camps have not been attacked yet, but the smell of death, the sound of rockets, jets and ships are affecting the camps’ residents and make them afraid. They are afraid that they will be hit in their homes like carton boxes. Half of Shatila has left. Most of those who left are Syrians and Lebanese who returned to their places of origin. “It’s evident that this war was planned. The decision is clear: destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure, roads, power stations, and bridges, create divisions among the Lebanese people and force Hizbullah to comply with UN Resolution 1559, ensure that Lebanon is no longer influenced by Syria or Iran; and overlook the Palestinian cause. “This colonisation will never succeed. Lebanon will need more than twenty years to recover from this war. But what the Israelis don’t understand is that with every resistance they defeat, a new force is born — stronger and more fundamentalist that its predecessor. In the 1960s, the PLO came into existence, and in 1982 the Israelis forced them out of Beirut. But Hizbullah was then established, and later Hamas, and then came the Intifada in Palestine. “It’s easy for the strong to hit the weak. But it is crazy to think that the children of the weak will accept the humiliation and not take revenge, and obtain their rights in the very same way. “The NGOs are now thinking about how to get people blankets, mattresses, food kits, etc. Many associations are busy writing proposals to donors for financial support. Some political organisations started distributing humanitarian aid. But this is not enough. Especially when donors come to us with songs of development, human rights, democracy, diplomacy, and peace, the right to respect, justice, and happiness. “I am calling on all students and social workers, human rights activists, all those peace groups and environment defenders, all those against the aggression and exploitation, against the killing and deprivation, to raise their voices as one. We should protect those who have not yet died. Not only in Lebanon and Palestine, but everywhere. We are not humanitarians simply by crying, expressing sympathy, or giving financial support to the poor. We must be representatives of truth and justice.” Abu Mujahed Director, Children and Youth Centre Shatila refugee camp, 17 July 2006 A humanitarian crisis “I would like to start with the situation here in Beirut. War has prevailed everywhere and destruction has become our daily bread. “Bourj Al Barajneh camp is caught in the middle of the fire and bombardment, isolated from the surrounding areas, leaving the residents to suffer the tension of war and the scarcity of life, as most of the Lebanese flee their home to take refuge in other parts of Beirut. The camp residents, on the other hand, have no other option but to stay in the camp. “I am the director of a local NGO, and immediately the first idea that came to my mind was how to aid my people in the camp and provide them with prompt assistance. Given that the Palestinians were already living under severe conditions prior to this aggression, I wondered how they would cope. On 15 July I visited the camp in search of an answer. I found that people had decided to stay in the camp because they had nowhere else to go — because they had no money and because of a shortage of housing. And most especially — they do not wish to relive the experience of being refugees for a second time, telling me, ‘We are already refugees, do we need to be refugees again?’ “Today, 18 July I went to the camp again. I cannot describe the horrific trip. My car was the only moving vehicle amidst the deep silence and destruction. The last two kilometres to the camps give the impression of being haunted by ghosts. No one enters the area — it is extremely dangerous, with the bombed airport on one side and the now totally destroyed Shia suburbs on the other. It is a scene of total devastation, with buildings and roads completely destroyed. I was shocked and overwhelmed.

“We are facing a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale and we call on the international community to stop Israel’s total destruction of Lebanon and the killing of innocent civilians. We are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and we ask all good people in the world to help us.

“A little aid makes difference. “A beam of light gives hope to people in spite darkness.” Olfat Mahmoud Director, Women’s Humanitarian Organisation (WHO) Bourj Al-Barajneh refugee camp, 19 July 2006 Life amongst destruction “In the camp we have had a relatively calm night. I stayed up a little bit late because I was watching Nasrallah’s interview on Al-Jazeera, which ended at around 2 am. He essentially said that the only option left for the Israelis is a ground invasion. Since Safaa came with her family, I am sleeping in my cousin’s empty house, as he and his family moved down to the ground floor with the rest of his family. That’s the case in almost in all the homes — everyone is sleeping on the ground floors. My mother and sisters, as well as all the kids from upstairs sleep in our living room. In these kinds of situations, spaces seem to acquire a greater capacity than would seem possible; it defies all laws of space. “The days since this military operations started have been heavy and long. There is nothing new in this for the older generations who went through calamities and many wars before, but it’s something completely different for the post-war generation — it’s hard for them to grasp and they are already traumatised. “The F-16s that are bombing the neighbourhood of Haret Hreik as well as other areas close to the camp are using huge bombs, and most of them fall no more than 200 meters away. This has taken its toll on this new generation — the first signs of trauma have been etched into the record of their lives and memories. Something that they had previously heard only in stories, they are now living. Their reaction has been fear and an endless stream of questions starting with, ‘When will this end?’, ‘Will they bomb us too?’, ‘Why are they doing this?’ And you have to try and answer their questions, even if only to calm them down. “In the now lifeless and silent southern suburbs of Beirut, the only remaining sign of life is Bourj Al-Barajneh. There is no sign of life beyond the edges of the camp. People gather within its boundaries, following the news, chatting, discussing and analysing. “During a blackout, men and women sit in front of their homes while the kids play around, before all of this is interrupted by a new air raid, accompanied by deafening sounds of explosions followed by the pressure shockwaves that makes the maze of homes here shake and tremble, drawing portraits of horror on faces, triggering panic among kids, and calling for an endless effort by parents to calm them down and keep them physically close and busy with something to play with. When the bombing starts, those people who can bear the scene just stand silently like statues and watch the huge bombs falls on ill-fated neighbourhoods. “The nature of the camp community is that people are highly attached to each other — the evacuation of one family would trigger evacuations by neighbours and inevitably create a sense of anxiety and panic. This happened a few days ago, when there was extremely heavy bombing that lasted for almost the entire day. A woman living with her kids close to our neighbourhood came to my cousin’s shop to buy supplies as she always does. The moment she reached the door and saw us all in the small yard, she started to cry, saying, ‘You are still here! I thought you all left, my neighbours left me alone, please tell me if you want to leave, take me with you.’ We calmed her down and assured her we would not leave her, and invited her to stay with the women so as not to feel lonely. “For the time being, those who can afford to rent an apartment or who have relatives outside the camp have left. But until now, the majority of the camp is still here according to yesterday’s census made by the volunteers. Some of the families who left a few days ago have returned, saying that they had the feeling that they were becoming refugees a second time at some school or shelter, or in someone else’s small home. It was humiliating and unbearable. “Why are people staying? “It’s something in the sub-consciousness and memories of people who have been made refugees again and again. It’s a simple choice between having to leave and wander aimlessly around to a place that may be more secure, yes, but that would cause more suffering in every other respect, and between staying in this horrible situation where bombs are falling all around us. It seems that at this moment, the second option is winning. There is no need to talk about courage and such things as the reason for why people are staying — we know already that there is no courage that can defy an F-16 — the God of our skies these days. “Working is a good thing to do in such days and I’m lucky — it’s the one thing that no one from the camp is able to do these days — to leave the waiting prison of the camp. It’s such a weird feeling to go to work along deserted roads that only a few days ago were the busiest and most crowded in the city. I walk and the only thing I can here is my heartbeat, the birds and my footsteps on the splintered glass, sand and small concrete debris covering the asphalt, as if expelled by some volcanic eruption.

“On the way, you see a few cars speeding by like bullets and some people walking, surely out of necessity. The cars parked along the way look like they exploded, shops and apartments are gutted. No door or window is in its original place due to the pressure caused by the shockwaves of the huge bombs.

“Coming back from work finds me engulfed in a flurry of questions from the kids who are seeking some sort of answer to what has happened and what may come. Maybe it brings them some feeling of calmness inside to do so.” Mahmoud Al-Adawi A refugee, Bourj Al-Barajneh refugee camp, 20 July 2006 Between life and death “Each breath we take in this war might be our last. But then we find ourselves alive, the endless silence only interjected by the harmful sounds of the Zionist airplanes. “I’ve never felt this united with death and life; there is only a line crossing between them. It is not we who decide when our bridge will be bombed, and when we will fall into the dark side from where we cannot come back. But, the one thing I’m sure of is that if death happens, it will liberate and free my soul. “I know that taking a break to write this letter is not calming my scared relatives. The last puff of my cigarette is no longer soothing. But, I feel that writing a letter is worthy, as it might be the last thing I will do — although it is useless. “I remember some of Guevara’s quotes: ‘I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man’. It is the same man whether he dies in Gaza, Africa or Lebanon — or anywhere else in this hellish world, and the prejudiced hands that commit the same crimes remain imperialism and Zionism. We know our enemy, and we know his beastly acts, but this will never scare us. Life and history have taught us to fight for our rights and for our lives, and death assures us that there is an end to everything — even to our enemy. “Probably in a few days the camp will be badly destroyed, and the people killed. If I were lucky, I would have had the opportunity to write my name on the holy land with my own blood. I know this land, and I know how much it deserves. It deserves more than God ever dreamed. “I don’t have much to say except that the souls of the dead are watching you now, and I hope that you can do what we couldn’t — break the silence of humiliation, stop the massacres. “There are many incidents going on here, and I don’t know from where to start counting, but I know that we will resist until we bleed our last drop of blood. In the words of Che Guevara, ‘Each spilt drop of blood, in any country under whose flag one has not been born, is an experience passed on to those who survive, to be added later to the liberation struggle of his own country. And each nation liberated is a phase won in the battle for the liberation of one’s own country.'” Omar Dakhloul

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