Jenin, Lebanon, and the only democracy in the Middle East
Jenin, Lebanon, and the only democracy in the Middle East
Jennifer Loewenstein has spent parts of the past three years (2000-2002) working as a journalist and with human rights organizations in Lebanon and the Occupied Territories. She was in Jenin, Ramallah, and East Jerusalem when â€˜Operation Defensive Shieldâ€™ was still raging in the West Bank in April 2002, and later witnessed the Gaza City bombing on July 22, 2002. She is a contributor to the book â€˜The New Intifadaâ€™ edited by Roane Carey. Her essays and reporting are featured on Znet.
What did you witness in Jenin?
I arrived in the Jenin refugee camp the day after the Israelis left and spent two days and a night there. It was like visiting one of the lower circles of Danteâ€™s hell much of it defies words. Itâ€™s not just that so much of the camp was destroyed. Visit any city or town in Palestine and youâ€™ll find unbelievable destruction: in Rafah, Khan Yunis, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, Gaza Cityâ€¦ the list goes on and on and when I look at my photographs from these places itâ€™s sometimes difficult to remember which place is which. Bulldozed, bombed, bullet-pocked, dynamited homes and buildings all begin to resemble each other after a while. In Jenin the destruction reached a new level, however. An entire neighborhood vanished from sight you couldnâ€™t even tell where the roads had been and where the houses began. You were walking on the earth and the earth was the former roof of a three-story home, the rest of it so completely obliterated that there was nothing to suggest a home had even been there until the digging began and bits and pieces of peopleâ€™s lives began to appear from deep pits in the ground: mattresses, clothing, smashed furniture, kitchenware, books, unrecognizable objects that had once been a part of someoneâ€™s sitting room. The enormity of the crime hits me again and again when I think back on this horrible time and thatâ€™s when the even greater crime is more obvious than ever: the crime the Israelis and the United States and the United Nations committed together when they erased what really happened at Jenin from history.
In June I gave a talk on Jenin in Madison, Wisconsin. I showed my photographs to an audience of about 100 people, many very distraught that I was contradicting the official record by talking about what I saw. Jenin was a â€œterrorist nestâ€ people shouted at me; Israel was defending itself. When I showed a picture of a young Palestinian man kneeling over two bodies laid out behind the wrecked camp hospital a woman in the back of the room I was speaking in commented loudly â€œthat didnâ€™t happenâ€. End of story.
Well it did happen. Jenin wasnâ€™t smashed into rubble, it was ground into dust. Sixty people died there, at least forty of them civilians. They died in horrible circumstances: when, for example, Israeli forces dynamited their homes over them knowing they were inside; or when they shot them for appearing on a balcony or at a window, or when they died from tank shells fired directly into their bedrooms and kitchens. Some died when parts of the ruined buildings collapsed on them. Some were executed. Three people told me the same story of a group of men made to lie down in the road face down with their hands tied behind their back while a bulldozer rode over them.
These people were massacred. Yes: massacred. My dictionary defines the verb â€œto massacreâ€ as â€œto kill a large number of people indiscriminately and cruelly.â€ This was a large number of people and they were murdered indiscriminately and cruelly. I sat on a stone shelf at the back of the hospital with my camera the day the Israelis left and watched one team of men dig up bodies of people the Israelis had killed or wounded during the siege (many of the seriously wounded died because the IDF refused permission to the emergency medical teams and ambulances to move in and out of the camp). Theyâ€™d been put in hasty, makeshift graves to prevent disease and were now being dug up so that they could be taken away for proper burial.
Another team of men laid out the bodies of people being brought in from the camp that day. The dead lay there side by side on the ground in bloodstained white sheets while friends or relatives came in to identify them, often hysterical with grief. There were women and children among these bodies. Forty of the dead were, as I already mentioned, civilians not men fighting with guns against the sixth most powerful army in the world. Some of the dead were still out in the camp, buried so deeply beneath the ruins of their former homes that they were as yet unreachable. I walked through the dark wreckage of one home where three bodies lay beneath my feet the bottom of oneâ€™s shoe all that one could discern on the ground. You knew they were there because of the digging and because of the smell of death that permeated the place. Children standing by to watch covered their noses and mouths with their hands. The medical workers and the diggers had white masks over the bottom halves of their faces to make the work more bearable. A man from the Palestine Red Crescent Society took down the names of the three dead men brothers who had been fighting against the Israelis. In another part of the camp, a woman with a blank expression on her face stood next to a man who translated for me: she had now lost all four of her sons, the last two in the siege of Jenin.
Approximately twenty of the dead were â€œarmed militantsâ€ fighting the Israelis. We are supposed to remember that Israel was fighting for its life against such militants; that it was engaged in an act of self-defense. We are forced to mention the high number of Israeli soldiers who died in Jenin fighting against these terrorists. This is war, some people reminded me.
No, this was an act of illegal aggression by a belligerent occupying power against a people who, under international law, had the right to resist the siege of their home. They had and continue to havethis right to resist. Read United Nations General Assembly Resolution 42/159 of December 7th, 1987, a resolution that condemns international terrorism but that distinguishes it from the right of a people to fight against the occupation of their land. â€œâ€¦Nothing in the present resolution could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, of peoples forcibly deprived of that rightâ€¦, particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation or other forms of colonial domination, norâ€¦ the right of these peoples to struggle to this end and to seek and receive support [in accordance with the Charter and other principles of international law].â€
All the distortions, all the myths, all the lies that are generated by our government and the government of Israel and our collective media on this subject do not take away this right to resist.
Whoever decided that a fight was fair only when one side disarmed? What ludicrous reasoning gives bully nations like our own and like Israel, with their massive arsenals of destruction, the right to demand that weaker nations turn in their weapons, open their gates to â€œinspectionâ€, relinquish their meager arms trades, while the superpowers go on arming to new and seemingly impossible lengths, all the while claiming the right to kill without being challenged?
Talk of peace does not begin with talk of disarming the weak but with disarming the strong. Passive resistance is futile if the passive resistors are cut down like stalks of wheat. What happened in Jenin was not part of a greater war between two peoples; it was part of an on-going slaughter of a weaker, mostly disarmed people under constant siege. If we want the crimes of terror to stop, we have to stop the principle terrorists, the ones at the helm of the state. If we want the suicide bombings to end, we have to end the conditions that drive people to such vengeful acts. It is well past the time for Israel to get out of Palestine. And this is just the beginning. Jenin is but a symbol of the whole conflict and where it is heading unless there is an international outcry against it that begins right here in the United States.
Israel is hailed as "the only democracy in the middle east". Some pundits in the west respond to the suggestion (now abandoned by almost everyone) that there be a single, binational, democratic state in Israel/Palestine and say that not one of the Arab states is a democracy. There is almost a racist implication there, that Arabs cannot make a democracy work. What do you think of this proposition?
Whenever I hear the statement that Israel is "the only democracy in the Middle East" I marvel yet again at the power of mythology and miseducation. There is very little understanding of the word "democracy" in our own culture (we see the ramifications of this around us everywhere today) and, as you stated correctly, there is an inherently racist element in the suggestion that only people of white European background are capable of undertaking "democratic" enterprises. The irony here is awesome: It shows just how little people here know of the history of democracy in Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe, where democratic institutions are, in many places, barely a half a century old, if that. Our buddies England and France both have bloody, vicious, and precarious histories of democracy (up to the present day), the point being that it is a long, difficult, indeed perpetual struggle to achieve and maintain just democratic institutions. My own feeling is that the institution of the modern State makes this struggle even more difficult, but this is a topic for another occasion.
Israel is, by definition, a Jewish State. As such, it cannot be simultaneously democratic. It is not a state "ruled by the people" since one fifth of its population is not Jewish and therefore prevented by law from acquiring full citizenship. There is the additional fact that Israel rules over four million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and annexed East Jerusalem. That these people are denied even the superficial vestiges of democratic government is undeniable.
There are numerous concrete examples of the undemocratic nature of Israeli laws, including the prohibition on land ownership for non-Jews, or of running for political office if you espouse certain views such as that Israel should become truly democratic by being the state of all its citizens. There is the sobering and little known fact that 700 Arab villages in Israel (not the Occupied Territories) are unrecognized by the government. As a result, the inhabitants of these villages have no municipal services, are not included in government censuses, and crucially, are not allowed to vote. They must, however, pay taxes. That these villages are among the poorest and most backward areas in the country (in terms of literacy and birth/death rates, etc.) can be easily surmised.
Widespread discrimination against Arabs exists in all of the professions and at all levels of society. Arabs are underrepresented in academia, in medicine, law, politics, and business. Arab Israelis are among the poorest of the country's population. They are denied key benefits, such as a "retirement" equivalent because they do not serve in the country's military services --indeed are prevented from doing so.
Social and economic discrimination is, of course, anti-democratic, but is in one respect the least of the problems. We know from our own history how Black Americans were --and to a great extent are-- treated, not to mention other ethnic, religious, and political groups within our society. The fact is though, that there are and were mechanisms for internal change. Civil Disobedience is possible in Israel, to an extent. An Affirmative-Action-type program also exists in Israel for Arab Israelis, and yet, as long as the state remains "Jewish" the successes of such a program will be limited. What will happen when, as current demographic trends suggest, the Arab population --not only in Israel but in the Occupied Territories-- begins to outnumber the Jewish population? If the prevailing Israeli state ideology continues, the consequences for Arab Israelis and Palestinians of this natural population shift could be catastrophic. Some might say that such a comment is alarmist; those familiar with current and long-term policies both in the Territories and within Israel understand too well that programs such as "Transfer" in which the Arab populations are forcibly expelled from the region altogether are neither extreme nor unrealizable.
The idea of turning Israel into a single, binational, democratic state has, as you stated, been virtually abandoned by everyone. In part this is because of the unwillingness to accept a truly democratic state, and in part this is because of the unwillingness to accept a secular state. Israel, as has already been noted, is a Jewish state. For some, this is still at least partly a religious term. For most, however, it is an ethnic-ideological term precluding the admission of a Palestinian "co-culture" and, more importantly, of joint Jewish-Palestinian rule. (For me, "secular" and "democratic" are nearly synonymous; I realize that some would argue otherwise.)
In part, however, the abandonment of a "one-state" solution is the result of the racist belief that Arabs are incapable of making a democracy work. Pointing to a map of the Arab world and "proving" this by listing, one by one, the corrupt, authoritarian, and brutal regimes spanning from Morocco in northwest Africa to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the east does little more than unmask, yet again, the ignorance of, especially, modern Middle Eastern history on the part of the speaker. There is also the tendency among our pundits and experts to speak of the "Arab World" as a single, monolithic entity. One need only spend a short amount of time in the Middle East to abandon this idea. The vastly different social and economic realities between for example Saudi Arabia and Syria, or between Algeria and Kuwait, to mention but a few, are simply unknown, even on a superficial level, by people claiming to understand the region. This is a sobering and ominous fact.
Nonetheless, many Arabs, including Palestinian Arabs, have also abandoned --or simply rejected-- the idea of a "one-state" solution. (Some, including Chomsky, would argue that it was never taken seriously in the first place.) With the rise of political Islam and the growing power of "fundamentalist" Islamic movements in Iran, Saudia Arabia, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, and elsewhere, democratic values are being discarded for "Islamic" (authoritarian) ones. (I must put "Islamic" in quotes since there are many both within and outside of the Muslim world who insist that "Islamism" as a political force has little to do with Islam as a faith.)
I have witnessed the lack of confidence in, and contempt for, democratic institutions in my stays in Beirut, Lebanon; the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. Members of Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) and of Islamic Jihad in the Occupied Territories openly condemn and dismiss "Western"-style institutions. Others point to the utter bankruptcy of such institutions as the United Nations, the International Criminal Court (and its predecessors), the European Union, and so on, by showing how ineffective these organizations have been in the face of US super-power bullying and military-technological predominance. The profoundly anti-democratic foreign political behavior of the United States has done more to disenchant potential converts to the idea of secular democratic society than any single anti-democratic ideology. This is something Americans would benefit from understanding; it seems to me, however, we are farther away from comprehending this than ever, especially as we gear up our state-of-the-art military machine for another full-scale slaughter of Iraqis.
And we seem utterly incapable of appreciating that the "average" Palestinian, or Lebanese, or Syrian, or Egyptian, understands full well what motivates and drives US overseas policies. We seem unaware of the effect our campaign against "terrorism" has had on the peoples of the Arab and Muslim worlds who see through the rhetoric and apologetics of our latest imperial war. I can't count the number of times children in the refugee camps of Beirut, Gaza, and the West Bank have come up to me, and, on discovering that I'm American, started shouting that "you think we are all terrorists" or that "Bush wants to kill us". I'll never forget wandering the ruins of the apartment building bombed this past July in Gaza City. The target was Salah Shehadeh, a leader of the military wing of Hamas, but 11 children and 5 adults also died in the attack. An entire neighborhood was so badly damaged that scores of families had to seek new homes and dozens of others lost their livelihoods or businesses also as a result of the damaged caused by a 2000-pound bomb dropped by an F-16 just before midnight. As I surveyed the wreckage, taking photographs and asking questions, a group of boys began following me. The one in the lead carried a basket full of missile fragments that he would shake at me whenever I turned towards him. "Made in America," he kept repeating.
The most depressing thing about this scenario is how often it is repeated throughout the Occupied Territories: the bombings, the shootings, the destruction of civilian homes and businesses, the indiscriminate murder of children and adults, the ubiquitous checkpoints arbitrarily restricting all movement, the walls of "separation", the electric-wire fences, the nightly war outside the windows of people's homes, the 24-hour curfews, the endless power-cuts, the water-shortages, the food shortages, the growing dependence on international food aid as the economies disintegrate, as poverty reaches the 80% mark and unemployment rivals that. What is surprising to me is the extent to which democratic ideals still thrive and are actively sought, and the resilience with which individuals on a massive, if unorganized scale, continue to resist these crimes.
How do you relate to this struggle as someone whoâ€™s Jewish?
I relate to this struggle primarily as a human being. I detest the religious, ethnic, and national divisions that end up cutting off our ability to feel other peoplesâ€™ pain. I donâ€™t understand the need to cling to these divisions in order to have a sense of identity. Such identity to me is purely negative and can be made positive only when people of different backgrounds are capable of bridging their differences rather than hiding behind them (differences that are often more fabricated than real).
Certainly it was my background as a Jew that led me to explore the Israel/Palestine conflict in greater detail to begin with. I wanted to understand what was going on and to be able to defend Israelâ€™s actions intelligently. As you can see, the years of exploration have led me instead to conclude that Israelâ€™s actions against the Palestinians are unjustifiable as well as being, in the end, utterly self-destructive. Although I think there are some signs of hope both within the American Jewish community and the American public generally, I believe a great deal more work needs to be done --and that this work is needed now, urgently.
The media emphasizes armed attacks by Palestinians and, especially, suicide bombings. But there are other kinds of resistance going on in Palestine. What did you see?
There is a lot of what I consider â€˜passive resistanceâ€™ but I wouldnâ€™t say it is organized passive resistance. What I mean is that you donâ€™t see much direct action (sit-ins, civil disobedience, etc.) against the Israelis, and for good reason: Most Palestinians value their lives.
In late March of last year I was returning to Gaza City from the Rafah refugee camp where a co-worker had invited me to stay with his family for the weekend. One has to cross the Deir al-Balah checkpoint in order to do this. This is the main checkpoint dividing the Gaza Strip in two and making normal life for anyone going to school, work, or to visit family and friends across the Strip next to impossible. You never know whether the checkpoint will be open on a given day. You never know, if it does open, whether itâ€™ll be open for half an hour or eight hours. You can sit in your car or taxi at the north/south divide waiting for as little as twenty minutes or as long as 72 hours before the Israeli authorities decide to let you pass. For this reason, there are often hundreds of taxis, cars, transport trucks and other vehicles idling at the checkpoint, people mulling about outside, too hot to sit in the cars, produce rotting in the sun (often including live animals I once waited at the checkpoint for 11 hours and watched, hour after hour, as a man driving a truck with crates full of chickens first attempted to â€œwaterâ€ them, and then began discarding the dead ones onto the road below as they died from heat and dehydration).
My first experience at this checkpoint was notable because we had been waiting about a half an hour to pass and I didnâ€™t understand what was holding us up. I wandered to the front of the crowd of people and motor vehicles and saw two tanks, each with an armed soldier sitting atop it, â€œmanningâ€ the crowd. No one could say why the checkpoint was not open; in fact, when Iâ€™d ask (in Arabic) Iâ€™d often get friendly but condescending smiles. â€˜Sheâ€™s new to this obviously,â€™ the smiles would say, and the verbal answer would always be â€˜we never knowâ€™ or â€˜we wish we could tell you.â€™ Sometimes Iâ€™d get a more blunt response to the effect that, â€˜this is how they like to play with us; to make us crazyâ€™.
I returned to my friend standing outside our taxi and shrugged my shoulders. He found me amusing, Iâ€™m sure. I turned around and just stared towards the front of the crowd again, unable to see much. It was then I heard gunshots and saw the hundreds of people around me fall to the ground. We were being fired on with live ammunition. I, too, found myself face down on the ground, staring at the dust listening as more gunshots cracked in the air. It finally stopped and people slowly got up. This event repeated itself a few minutes later. My friend decided to take me away from there so we walked back half a mile to the town where we could sit down and get something to drink. We all had our cell phones and it was soon known that three people had been wounded; that nothing had provoked the shots; that the nearest hospital was sending an ambulance over. I took my camera and walked back to the checkpoint getting a photo of the ambulances trying to reach the wounded. They were not allowed to go up to the front of the checkpoint so their medical teams had to take stretchers and walk in order to bring the wounded men back. I remember my horror at all of this and I phoned a friend in Gaza City who worked for the Ramattan News Agency. He sounded impatient when I shouted into the phone what was happening. â€œJennifer,â€ he said, â€œIâ€™m very busy today so I canâ€™t talk.â€ â€œButâ€¦!â€ I started to repeat the story and he cut me off as politely as possible. â€œThis kind of thing happens every day, Jennifer. Itâ€™s not news.â€
I tell this story now to illustrate something that few people who have not visited the checkpoints understand: there is no need for open provocation to incur the wrath of the military personnel there. IDF soldiers will fire on a crowd just to â€œlet them know whoâ€™s bossâ€; just because they have guns and theyâ€™re bored; just because itâ€™s hot and theyâ€™re irritable. Thereâ€™s never a rational reason. In the nearly five months I spent in Gaza or traveling on the West Bank, events similar to the one I just described above happened repeatedly: people were summarily searched or stripped; people were man-handled and cursed; gunshots were fired into the air or directly into the crowd. The few times I spoke to soldiers at the checkpoints (usually at the Qalandia checkpoint on the way to Ramallah) I found them bored, sarcastic, and rude. It was so noticeable that when a soldier behaved politely it was something you took special note of; it was the exception.
So many people ask me why the Palestinians have no organized passive resistance movement. In fact, there are many peaceful demonstrations and acts of passive resistance such as harvesting your crops even when the IDF has prohibited it, or rebuilding your home without a permit even after it has been destroyed for the third time, or breaking curfew to get food despite the presence of tanks around the town and orders not to go outside. But imagine a group of Palestinians marching passively, in defiance of orders, at, say, the Deir al-Balah checkpoint. What do you think would happen when it became obvious that they intended to pass with or without permission? They would be fired on mercilessly and massacred. I have no doubt of this whatsoever. Truly effective civil disobedience requires an antagonist that will not cross a certain line after a certain point e.g., not kill without hesitation in the face of such resistance. The IDF is not such an antagonist, as the record of its behavior over the years will certainly attest. This helps explain, in part, the lack of organized passive resistance or civil disobedience.
What more people need to realize is the extent to which individual behavior defies the occupation regimes in the West Bank and Gaza: the extent to which people continue to go to work, to study, to speak out, to write, to build homes and farms, to pass their heritage onto their children, to go on living and to refuse to leave their land after 5 decades of brutality and repeated attempts at full-scale ethnic cleansing. It is this aspect of the Palestinian struggle that gives me hope even when Iâ€™m back at home reading depressing news reports day after day.
What are gender dynamics like in Palestine? Is there gender inequality?
It exists and thereâ€™s no point in apologizing for it or minimizing it. In the Gaza Strip even more than the West Bank the traditional male/female roles are evident, and I would not want to be a Palestinian woman living there full time. As a foreign woman, things were much easier for me. Nevertheless, male and female friends both often hinted politely, for example, that I should cover my head. (I tried this twice and was so hot with a headscarf over my head that I thought I would die. I refused after that and simply had to put up with the stares and flirting. In all honesty, however, I had little problem with the fact that my head wasnâ€™t covered or that I would wear pants. I was treated with kindness and generosity with very, very few exceptions.)
In Gaza City, it is acceptable for Muslim women not to wear the traditional Abaya (robe covering her clothes). A few go unveiled as well, but this is still quite rare. Elsewhere in the strip, an unveiled woman in her twenties who is not married and looking after at least three or four children is an unknown phenomenon. I once asked a co-worker why more women did not protest their second class roles. He told me of an instance a few years ago in which a number of women at the Al-Azhar University in Gaza City decided to protest wearing the headscarf. They began to go around without it until the local Hamas (The Islamic Resistance Movement) leadership attacked them as evil and prostitutes and advised people to avoid dealings with them and their families. In a region where the extended family is the core of society, for these women to continue to act so defiantly would have been next to unthinkable. This is what theyâ€™re up against.
At the same time, more and more women, married and unmarried, are working (when this is possible; unemployment in the Gaza Strip is at 75% now) and going to universities. Education is prized for women as well as men and both sexes are encouraged to study, where this is financially feasible. From what I could tell, the most traditional roles are still found primarily among the poorest or the most religious.
Where I worked (The Mezan Center for Human Rights) there were five other female employees. One of these had a senior position, i.e., she wasnâ€™t doing secretarial work. She also wasnâ€™t married or taking care of children although she was 30. She was unusually well educated, which may account for the differences. She did, of course, live at home and her family was pressuring her to marry.
My overall sense was that working women are becoming a more and more accepted part of society in Gaza. In the West Bank many women already have careers and live very â€œWesternâ€ lives: boyfriends, university, activism, relative independence, â€œmodernâ€ fashions, etc. among Muslims as well as Christians. Again, it is in the villages and poorer communities where I found this less common.
There is a significant population of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Youâ€™ve spent quite a bit of time in Lebanon as well as in Occupied Palestine. What is your sense of the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon compared to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories?
Iâ€™ve written about this in an essay called â€œBanishment: The Palestinian Refugees of Lebanonâ€ which appeared in Roane Carey, ed.â€™s The New Intifada in September, 2001 (Verso Press). I still write to a number of my students from the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp in South Beirut and plan a return visit next summer. The mail I get from some of my students there is among the most anguished imaginable. The conditions in the refugee camps are unimaginably bad: rat and roach infested, breezeless apartments; corrugated iron shacks, bacteria-filled water, no municipal services for garbage or sewage control; hazardous power lines; bombed out buildings dating from the Civil War; no green places or spaces for children to play in at all, desperately overcrowded classrooms (sometimes two students to a desk where there are desks at all) with few school supplies, under-qualified and under-paid teachers, the list is endless.
The hopelessness I encountered in the camps in Lebanon often surpassed what I found in Palestine. I believe this is because they are not directly involved in the Intifada and so donâ€™t even have this struggle to keep them going. Palestinians in Lebanon are less than second class citizens in the eyes of the government. They are stateless people without passports. They are not welcome in many parts of the country and cannot get jobs outside of the camps, other than low-level construction jobs or road work. They are barred from at least 70 different professions so that, for example, a Palestinian medical doctor can only work in the miserable camp hospitals whose resources are severely limited and where a salary of $200 a month is typical. I taught English to doctors at Haifa Hospital in Bourj al-Barajneh in the summer of 2000 and can only say that the conditions in those hospitals are beyond wretched. There is limited technology; there are constant power outages in the camps and in the hospital; patients must rely on their families to bring them fresh clothing and food. The rooms are suffocatingly small and hot; there are no waiting rooms or receptionists. Half of the patients who show up on a given day cannot afford to pay for their medical care. And Bourj al-Barajnehâ€™s medical (and other) conditions are markedly better than those of many other camps, such as Ein al-Hilweh in the south with its 70,000 inhabitants closed into a space of about two square kilometers, and nearby Chatila.
Life in these camps is stifling and often hopeless unless one is unusually lucky. Almost anyone with money will leave as soon as it becomes possibleoften giving up their right to return to the refugee camps even to visit once they do so. A law passed in the summer of 2001 forbids Palestinian refugees in Lebanon from buying homes outside the camps and forbids those Palestinians who were lucky enough to get out of the camps in the past from passing along their homes, apartments, or land to their children. Many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the camps have never left them because they feel themselves (rightly) as unwanted in mainstream Lebanese society. One can only imagine how insular and oppressive their lives in the camps are and the extent to which many refugees are, as a result of their virtual imprisonment, barely functional in mainstream society.
As with any culture, there are exceptions. Some Palestinians have managed to integrate into Lebanese society (a Palestinian woman who marries a Lebanese man is freed from the bondage of the camps; a Lebanese woman who marries a Palestinian man loses many of her former privileges and her children are considered Palestinian). For the most part, however, the issue of the refugees especially in Lebanon needs far greater attention. Few realize just how appalling and desperate the conditions in these camps are.