Posted by: Lister | February 22, 2008

Shatilla

Andrew Lee Butters writes:

One of the defining characteristics of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, besides the dank concrete warrens where sun never shines, is paranoia. When photographer Kate Brooks and I visited Shatila on Friday, mothers would snatch their children away from her camera, telling them that if they got photographed the government would find them and take them away.

[…] Since Abdullah Sulhani, the patriarch of the family whom we met, fled his home in Galilee in 1948 — the year of Israel’s founding — there have been at least six wars in Lebanon, including the 1975 to 1990 civil war, and more often than not, Palestinian civilians have gotten stuck in the middle of them. Abdullah’s daughter, Ahlam, who was born in Lebanon in 1949, is still picking shrapnel out of wounds from artillery fire she received in 1975. She and the rest of the family survived the famous Shatila massacre of 1982 by sheer luck, fleeing to the edge of the camp almost as soon as the slaughter began. (However, most of her neighbors were killed, and when she returned home after the battle she found blood in the living room and a bound and executed body in the closet.) One of her brothers was later shot in the head by a sniper while washing his hands in the foyer of the apartment. Their building itself has been destroyed five times.

As you can imagine, Abdullah and his family would like to leave Shatila, but there’s no where for them to go. He still has the keys to his house in what is now Israel, and tax records from the British mandate of Palestine, stored carefully in a plastic schoolgirl’s binder. But they aren’t worth much more than souvenirs. Surviving mostly from rent they get from Syrian laborers living on the upper floors of the building, the family doesn’t have enough money to live elsewhere in Lebanon. Nor are they particularly welcome in Lebanon anyway. The country’s fragile sectarian political system has been unable to absorb such a large mostly-Muslim refugee population, so neither Abdullah, nor his children, nor his grandchildren, nor his great-grandchildren have citizenship, despite the fact that all of them except the first generation were born on Lebanese soil. And though some Lebanese still harbor bitter memories of how Palestinian parties used Lebanon as a base for staging attacks against Israel (which led to the Israeli invasion of 1982) there is no excuse for the laws that bar Palestinians from 70 different professions.

[…] The 400,000 Palestinians make up some 10 percent of Lebanon’s population, about 200,000 of whom live in the 12 United Nation camps such as Shatila, and like Abdullah’s family, they suffer from a kind of collective post-traumatic shock syndrome. They are a population that is ready to either explode or implode. The children of Shatila run wild and their play is brutal, full of rock throwing and bullying. The adults are full of despair. “I’m sixty years-oId, and I don’t have a single good memory,” said Ahlam.

(via PM).

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