Sunday, November 22, 2009
Beirut Journal Day #15: Bourj Al-Barajneh
It's the day before Lebanese Independence Day, and I have just returned from Mukhayim Bourj Al-Barajneh ("Moo-hkay-yim"). There's definitely no small amount of bitterness to this irony: the Lebanese celebrate their independence from France,while Palestinians here are still living in hovel conditions.
Much has been written about Palestinian refugees. The ones who make their lives in the Bourj Al-Barajneh camp are from Acre, and the descendants of the original wave of flight in 1948. There are still a few of the originals who shuffle the streets. They fled Acre, at the demand of the invading European soldiers (who would become Israelis). They were told that if they stayed, they would be killed. They were told that they would be able to return. So, they packed up some of their belongings, whatever they could carry, and any important documents (like deeds to their property), locked their doors and sought out a safe place to take shelter until the war passed.
They were not fighting the invaders. They were fleeing a war. These original refugees were protecting their families and themselves.
It's the cruel irony of the entire discussion of Palestinian refugees. They did not want to fight! They did what most reasonable people would do when confronted with a live-or-die ultimatum.
They chose to live.
And now, these refugees and their (three generations of) descendants are subjected to what can only be described as truly barbaric treatment. If you've seen District 9, you have an idea of what I'm trying to describe.
It takes a callousness that I can't comprehend to treat human beings the way the Lebanese treat these Palestinian refugees. Penning them into cinder block hovels and, after all the young men have been rounded up and disappeared, massacring the rest of the women and children with knives the way the Christian Phalange did in 1982, with the Israeli army providing them cover.
"Softening up" Bourj Al-Barajneh from air and with tanks, then literally sealing the gates and starving people to death. These are things that are not within reason. They don't fit within my framework of understanding.
Aren't these the people who fled fighting? Don't you think that they are the best people to negotiate with? The ones who demonstrated a desire for peace and only peace?
That simple desire, through decades of torture and unspeakable horror, has become a fierce demand for freedom and the right to return.
I wonder how long,how much abuse I would endure before I would take me to take up arms with my brother, my cousins, my father?
Mistreatment breeds rebellion. History bears this out, and the Israelis, of all the people on this planet, understand that.
I don't mean to be making an apologia for Palestinians. I recognize that they, through their poor leadership, ineffectual organizing and now internecine fighting, that they share responsibility for their history. Certainly for their future. I am not trying to turn them into "Noble Savages," or anything of the like.
They have not acquitted themselves well here in Lebanon. They have made more mistakes than I have time to mention here.
But the mistake of the Refugee has different consequences than the "unintended consequence" of the superpower. The Refugee will feel the toll of both, actually. For, the superpower makes a mistake and bombs a school. The superpower moves on. The refugee makes a "mistake" and he is a murderous Other. A "plotter." The superpower sells an F-16 fighter jet to another superpower, and that jet drops a bomb on a furniture factory, killing numerous workers and destroying the livelihood of hundreds of others. The refugee defends his bantustan with a rifle from World War II, and he's a terrorist.
Though history in Lebanon is a chronology of mistakes, who am I to criticize?
I have never been stateless.
I have never pulled my daughter's hands from her mouth to prevent her from ingesting the sewage that seeps through the streets that she plays on.
I have never had to hold a meeting in secret, for fear of my life.
I have never had to fight for my faith against those who despise that faith.
I am not a refugee.
I will allow for complexities in the life of a refugee, in the context of any discussion around political failings.
Hell, in the US our political organizations can't even get legislation passed that the majority of the country wants! How can I legitimately criticize the failures of anyone else? Simply put, I don't have a leg to stand on!
So, call me an apologist if you will. Say that I ignore historical acts and historical facts.
Say what you will.
Today the people of Mukhayim Bourj Al-Barajneh taught me how to make Arabic coffee. They taught me how to prepare lahm bi ajeen. They taught me a Dabkeh.
One young woman in a pink lace hijab and white Dr. Martin boots laden with buckles and zippers shed tears when we left.
Labiba, my guide for the day, was patient with me and my broken Arabic.
Mohamed opened the home of his grandmother,and showed us the key to the home she fled.
This was not a political ploy. It was not a charade.
It was the genuine open-armed welcome that Palestinians , in particular Palestinian Refugees, have always offered to me.
If you don't believe me. If you're skeptical, good! "Fadl!" You're welcome to come see for yourself!