Posts Tagged ‘refugee diary’

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.

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.

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