In January/February of last year I spent three weeks travelling around Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Territories trying to see for myself what conditions are like for Palestininans living under the occupation as well as hearing for myself attitudes of Israelis towards the Palestinian people and their plight.
My first stop was the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. This camp was created in 1948 as a result of the mass expulsion of Palestinian people by Zionist militias and terror gangs in that year. Initially most of the people who came to the camp were from the Galilee area. In the early days and months, most of the refugees believed they would be back home in a few years. Some 66 years have passed and now this liitle camp of only about one square kilometre has been forced to build upward by whatever means possible to house between 25,000 and 30,000 people, with new refugees from Syria coming in all the time.
The camp itself has been built using whatever materials the refugees have been able to get their hands on. Refugees who live in the camp are not Lebanese citizens and are banded from obtaining work in Beirut in about 17 different areas of employment. The refugees are highly stigmatised by the Lebanese community outside the camp. The houses they live in defy reason; looking like gravity will win the battle with them at any minute. The walls of every room we went into were water damaged and the electical wiring in the camp still gives me nightmares. Electrical power is obtained from a combination of car batteries, diesel generators and shunting power from outside cables. We experienced power cuts in the camp about four or five times an hour The streets of the camp are tiny with not the slightest room for the thousands of children who live in the camp to even kick a soccer ball.
The childrens schooling is provided by the UN from years 6 and above. Any pre-school education is provided by NGO’s like APHEDA in Australia. I have personally seen the work APHEDA is doing for the Palestinian people in the refugee camps and in the Occupied Territories. APHEDA, Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad was created in 1984 as the overseas aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. They are doing wonderful work in these areas. It’s worth noting that the Liberal Party in Australia has done just about everything they possibly can to try and stop APHEDA’s work with Palestinian refugees. No doubt those like Alexander Downer and Christopher Pyne would be at the head of the list of people trying to stop this important humanitarian work.
The hopelessness of their situation was incredibly depressing to us foreigners but the resiliance of the Palestinian people was amazing. They warmly embraced us; giving us presents and feeding us from the little they had. I found no sense of hatred towards Jews or even just westerners. They see that the conflict is neither religiously nor racially based. On many occassions, they told me, many groups of Jewish people from all around the world and many groups of people from the U.S. had come and visited them and they had all been warmly recieved.
With so many problems in the camp, the leaders of the community are flat out dealing with everyday life yet the one wish they all had in common was that they should one day go home. They feel forgotten by the Palestinian Authority (who never visit them) and the rest of the world. I told them we would not forget them. God will not forget them either.