Today marks the anniversary of the 1982 slaughter of 2000 + unarmed Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon on the outskirts of Beirut. For the Palestinian refugees still in the camps, nothing has changed; in fact, getting worse and more crowded. The world is still indifferent to them. Israel, the reason for their expulsion into miserable camps, is defended as a democracy and continues to grow, expropriating more land for settlement, which US $$ via tax breaks help to fund and upon which Canadian developers build illegal homes and buildings. Yet, the places that Palestinians have been confined to shrink and become strangleholds, cut off from each other and barricaded from the communities and peoples around them.
Who even sees these camps? Israelis? no. The Lebanese? no. We in the West? we don't even hear about them on the news.
When I was in Lebanon, I did not see the camps, although they are there. There is a big refugee camp on the north side of Tripoli, Nahr al-Bared, but I did not see it. It, too, is a hard scrabble camp with not much hope in sight: "The failure of the international community, and Arab states in particular, to fund an emergency humanitarian appeal for Nahr al-Bared means life for refugees living there is set to get harder." For more on Nahr al-Bared, blogger Rami Zurayk at Land and People has a number of links on his sidebar to posts he has written.
Like with the First Nations reserves here in Northwestern Ontario, most non-native city-dwellers have never seen a reserve nor borne witness to the unequal standard of living that we, the dominant society, subject them to. History has been re-written and our role has been white-washed.
The images that came out of Shabra and Shatila, which my husband and I watched on tv 27 years ago while we cradled our newborn son, like the images from Gaza this past January, were horrific. How is it that we have been so effective in teaching people to dehumanize others? Why is the racism and classism against Palestinians tolerated?
It seems Palestinian lives are worthless, especially those who live in poverty and are the underclass, as the world seems not to mind seeing or hearing about the dead bodies of Palestinians over and over again. Indeed, they are blamed for their own deaths. They brought it on. No matter what, Israel must be defended, never mind how many more Palestinians are killed, maimed or left homeless, whether in mass slaughters or in everyday acts unnoticed by most of the world, everyday acts that are not even news to report as our indifference is so large.
dump of the Sabra refugee camp. from the slide show and article After the massacre: Sabra and Shatila, twenty-seven years later on Ma'an News Agency.
"Leaving the mass grave memorial and moving into the open-air market of the Sabra camp, a bullet-ridden wall stands separating a camp dump from its market. In all likelihood the half-block dumping ground was once on the fringes of the camp, but not anymore. The camp had no urban planner, so it grew until the market fully encircled the awful collection of stench, sewage and a sore reminder that nobody really intended to be living in the Sabra camp some sixty-years after the Nakba- the Palestinian exodus of 1948.
At the far end of the bullet-chafed wall stood a child of about ten years, a refugee. With little hesitation he immersed himself into the filthy heap, heaving his woven sack of valued rubbish over the rotting mounds. For all the archetypes of the poverty-ridden Palestinian refugee that exists in a foreigner’s consciousness, this is surely it. There was to be no school for this boy. No passport, no rights and no state.
What happened at Sabra and Shatila is still considered the bloodiest single event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is also among the most egregious and underreported aspects of the Palestinian calamity to date.
On the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, 16 September, the issue of the refugees and the right of return reaches again for the surface of Palestinian politics. With the newly-charged peace process being pushed by the United States, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s recently released strategy to establish Palestinian state in two years, the issue of returnees has been subsumed by talk of settlements in the West Bank.
American efforts, and Fayyad’s plan focus more on securing infrastructure and borders than focusing on the estimated 500,000 refugees without rights in Lebanon, or the hundreds of thousands of others in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and in the Gulf."