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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

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