News / Middle East

For Palestinian Refugees at Shatila, 'Going Home' Holds Different Meanings

A tangle of electrical wires and water pipes, and anti-Semitic graffiti line the alleyways of the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, 31 Aug 2010
A tangle of electrical wires and water pipes, and anti-Semitic graffiti line the alleyways of the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, 31 Aug 2010

Multimedia

Audio
Elizabeth Arrott

This week's Middle East peace summit in Washington is setting a goal of one year to resolve what are known as final status issues -- the most intractable of Israeli-Palestinian problems.   Among them is the right of return, which will determine the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees.   Some people have spent decades working for what they feel should be, while others seem resigned to what is.

Farhat Farhat, 62, wishes his family had followed their dog. The refugee says he was lucky enough to be born in Palestine.  But in 1948, at seven months old, he and his shepherd parents fled with their sheep and goats and crossed into Lebanon.  Their dog turned around and went back home.   It was, Farhat says, far more intelligent than they were.

Sitting in a narrow alley of the United Nations camp, Farhat sees no compromise on his right to return to the place of his birth.   He says he has no problem with Jews.  He says the two groups got along just fine, before those he refers to as the "foreign Jews" came and Israel was created.   His solution is simple.  The "foreigners" leave and he returns.

Even the Palestinian Authority recognizes Israel's right to exist, so, in the next 12 months, if the peace talks continue, negotiators will try to hash out a compromise.

Right to return?

Although the right of return has been a rallying cry of the Palestinian cause, Israel disputes such a "right" exists.   The word does not appear in a key United Nations resolution, a non-binding one at that, which says refugees "should be permitted" to return.  

For people like Farhat, it is a right and rights cannot be compromised.   He is somewhat of an elder statesman in the camp, although to call it a camp is misleading.  It is more a ghetto, built up through the years, blasted away at during conflicts, a series of tunnel-like alleys with little light and less air, all crisscrossed with jerry-rigged electrical wiring waiting for the next accident.  

Shatila, along with its sister camp Sabra, was also the scene of a 1982 massacre by Israel's Lebanese Christian allies.  Farhat would never call it home.

He says Palestinians have no basic, humanitarian rights.  He argues, "People say we live here.  But we don't live."

Can Lebanon be home?

Farhat blames not only the Israelis, but the Lebanese, who have warily hosted refugees for generations.  Part of Lebanon's argument is that giving Palestinians more rights would weaken the cause.  But absorbing them into civil society would upset a precarious ethnic-religious balance and, besides, many are still angry at what they see as the Palestinian contribution to the nation's devastating civil war.

Another problem is the sheer number of Palestinian refugees now -- from some 700,000 who left when Israel was created, to now more than four million, dispersed through the region.  Israel would be hard put to accommodate them all and retain its now-insistent description as a Jewish state.  

The population growth can be seen in the tumble of children careening through the maze of streets, mixing a game of soccer with a running toy gun battle.   Homemade firecrackers compete with the squeal of a child escaping the pretend enemy barrage.  

The father of one young boy has tried to make the idea of Palestine real to his son.  Walid Taha, 47, was born in Shatila, but tells his son what he knows of the village of his heritage, the names of the streets and the people who lived there.    

But as much as Taha says he loves Palestine, he cannot envision himself there.  He says he has been here so long, he is different than his brother who remained behind.   He says the refugees have become what they have become.  Unlike his relatives in Israel, he says the refugees cannot live with the Israelis.

Price of continued conflict

Taha describes how he was born in the small room that is now the family's shop in Shatila.  But he says he does not want to talk emotions, rather realities.   He would just like to be allowed to set up business outside the camp.   He says he is Lebanese.   

The shopkeeper argues that it is not up to his generation, which he describes as one of revolution, fighting and blood.  But that the next generation -- with Israeli and Palestinian children brought together through special efforts -- will have to learn to live together.   He says, eventually, it will happen.

That is not the future Farhat sees.  He says he was a resistance fighter for 40 years.  He says he fought for his country and what he believed in.  He taught his children to have the same national beliefs.  He says, if the political path fails, they should fight too.  He says he has given them his gun.  

The political path now appears to entail stepping away from the ideas held by people like Farhat.   It has been seen even in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which refers to a "just solution" for the refugees.   Among proposals discussed is granting the symbols of Palestinian nationality, such as a passport, while offering citizenship in other countries.

The advantages of moving ahead are mixed, but for Israel and the United States, it would weaken an argument for Islamist extremism.   And, it would perhaps undercut the tactic of some Arab governments using the Palestinian cause to deflect attention from problems at home.   

Shopkeeper Taha holds a simpler view.  He says that, in the end, there is going to be peace -- whether the refugees like it or not.  He says there will be continued violence, therefore, he says he hopes peace will come sooner rather than later.

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to an enhancement or regression of democracy on the Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid