Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #44: Chronicles of a Refugee

Part Five

Issa returned to Lebanon in 2006, just weeks before the Israelis invaded. We chuckled about the seeming causality between her arrivals in Beirut and the onset of war. This time, the war would last 34 days, and would ravage Beirut again. During such extreme violence, the violated tend to band together. And in Beirut, Issa worked with many others to set up a sort of informal support and networking area in Saniyeh Gardens. The Gardens soon became a hub for Lebanese (for, everyone was Lebanese this time). "The news channels even started announcing for people come to Saniyeh," she said, still in slight disbelief.

I read her reaction as a sort of acknowledgement of the fundamental desire in people to create sanctuary, in communion with others. There's a look that people get when they reflect on their own witness of absolute humanity in times of barbarity. Staring out over the ferocious Mediterranean, Issa had this look.

It reminds me of the Bertolt Brecht lines about singing in the dark times.

While working in this new, human, Gardens, Adam Shapiro told her of a group of Palestinians forced to live in a literal no-man's-land between the Iraq-Syria border. Palestinian refugees in Iraq (a little over 30,000), have apparently enjoyed decent treatment in Iraq for years, a fact that has cause considerable resentment of the Shia minority, who have endured rotten living conditions under the Baathists. The US invasion effectively wiped out any protection that these refugees had, and Iraqi militias started targeting them.
Palestinian refugees that fled Iraq report arbitrary arrests, disappearances and torture. Sometimes they would be picked up by uniformed Iraqi secret service, other times people in civilian clothing would just knock down their doors and kidnap them. Those kidnapped would be found dead, thrown away on the streets after being tortured with electric drills, many times their limbs amputated. Those not murdered were held for ransom, forcing their families to sell all they owned to get them out. Armed men hand-delivered death threats to several Palestinians in Baghdad, setting off widespread panic among the Palestinian population. (Rafeef Ziadah, ZNet)

Many of these people fled to the Syrian border, only to be denied entry. Beyond that, Iraq refused to allow them to come back, and terminated their legal status. They literally had nowhere to go.

Issa, along with Shapiro, set out for this netherworld once the Israelis were done trying to destroy Lebanon. They began working on a plan to resettle these nonpeople. The plan looked something like this: Issa knows a guy in Chile who knows a lawyer whose uncle is a judge who plays backgammon with the person in charge of immigration. In this way, Issa and Shapiro were able to get Chile to accept about 150 Palestinians. They then thought about people in other countries who know people who know people. They made phone calls and sent emails hoping to see if some small spark would catch flame.

Each to each.

As of now, a number of countries followed Chile's precedent, though we're not out of the desert yet. This long and furious networking process is the foundation for "Chronicles." While working to resettle a relatively small group of refugees, Issa, Shapiro and Anseel Mansour decided to create this film. And they wanted to push the possibilities of the medium, to not simply make something to view passively, but to be used as an organizing tool.

I'm so heartened by their work. The depth of vision they display is instructive. Their dogged efforts to build relationships from the ground up, quite literally, is a model of true solidarity. A solidarity not concerned with rhetoric, or doctrine, but with the person next to me, next to you, and on and on.

It is my profound honor to share this story with you all. I hope I have done it justice.

**You can find "Chronicles of a Refugee" at

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