Every time I return from visiting Palestinian refugee camps dispersed throughout Lebanon, I’m haunted by the monumental suffering that has been systematically imposed on the twelve million Palestinians. There are between 5-6 million Palestinians in exile, and 6 million under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Whether they live in historic Palestine or among the exiled diaspora in Lebanon and beyond, the level of discrimination Palestinians experience on a daily basis is relentless. In this proxy ‘war on terror’ tearing apart several Middle Eastern countries; whether identified as an eschatological ‘last days’ scenario or viewed as a competitive agenda of dominance over land and resources, the Palestinian people are the primary victims.
Palestinians have suffered massacres and ethnic cleansing beginning with the events of the 1948 apocalyptic catastrophe (Nakba), when more than 750,000 were expelled from their homes. During the succeeding years Palestinians have known further massacres (Jenin 2002), and death, injury and imprisonment within the West Bank. Exiled Palestinians in Lebanon later fled the destruction of the refugee camps including Tel al-Zataar (1976) only to take sanctuary in Sabra/Shatila where many faced the massacre in 1982. In 1985 the war of the camps Sabra/Shatila and Bourj Barajneh, Palestinians again became victims. Palestinians were victims, alongside their Lebanese neighbours during the 2006 Israeli attacks on Lebanon; a year later they suffered during the siege and bombing of Nahr Al-Bared Camp, (2007) when fourteen members of the Fateh Al Islam, an Islamic extremist group fleeing the Lebanese Army, took the camp hostage. The extremists escaped but the entire camp, home to 32,000 refugees, was flattened. Today, more than twelve years later, from a total population of 32,000, only 22,000 Palestinians have been able to return. Many are still living on containers.
Current day Palestinian exiles fleeing the war in Syria are also fleeing Islamic extremist groups who infiltrated Yarmouk Refugee Camp. Palestinians in Gaza, under an Israeli controlled siege, have suffered huge military bombardment from the air, sea and land as they struggle to ward off a creeping genocide. The litany of crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians are too numerous to enumerate in this short article. These targeted attacks and an endemic discrimination that has pursued Palestinians around the globe has continued for more than seven decades. It is a holocaust on a time-scale that shows no sign of ending. In a collective mindset of cognitive dissonance, the irony is that given that Palestinians are of the semitic race, those who speak out about these crimes are frequently labelled as anti-semitic.
Despite what Palestinians have already been through the situation for them in Lebanon is rapidly deteriorating. Through a complex system of changing laws on residency Palestinians are regularly denied travel documents and the right to work legally. They are specifically denied the right to work in several leading professions such as doctor, teacher, banker, nurse, pharmacist, lawyer and engineer. By identifying Palestinians as foreign they come under the Lebanese law of reciprocity which is impossible to be complied with given that their country of origin is occupied Palestine. In addition Palestinians don’t have the right to own property and in circumstances where a Palestinian refugee has acquired property under earlier laws, the property can now no longer be passed on to their children.
Palestinian refugee camps are insecure, overcrowded, unsanitary and with electric cables strung haphazardly in the narrow passages the rate of death by electrocution, of both children and adults, in Shatila Camp alone number around fifty. Sabra/Shatila, situated on the outskirts of downtown Beirut is approximately one kilometre in size. It was designed to accommodate a population of around 800; however, with the influx of Palestinian refugees fleeing earlier massacres in South Lebanon and the current war in Syria, Sabra/Shatila now has a population of around 30,000. At the time of the 1982 massacre, the population was about 80,000 since all the South Lebanon camps were flattened. The same holds true for the twelve refugee camps dispersed around Lebanon. There is no room to accommodate those who are being born or to bury those who die.
A year ago Trump withdrew the US share of financial support for UNWRA, the organisation charged with responsibility for the economic well-being of Palestinian refugees. The US contribution to the UNWRA budget was 50%. Saudi Arabia has agreed to pick up the shortfall; however it’s widely believed that acceptance of this money will soon become conditional on Palestinians giving up their legal ‘Right of Return’. This is a Machiavellian choice — feed one’s children or give up one’s lawful right to a homeland in their lost but not forgotten, paradise. Palestinians will be unlikely to accept such an offer since feeding their children today would condemn these children to a life of exile, poverty and statelessness. It’s the hope of returning that has kept them alive.
Lebanon is facing a new dilemma which could indicate a further hardening of opinion against the Palestinian refugees and a strengthening of pro-Zionist forces outside and within Lebanon. With the return from America of one of the Lebanese Zionist Israeli collaborator administrators at the Khiam Detention Centre (1982- 2000), where many Lebanese and Palestinian political prisoners were subjected to years of brutal torture, questions are being raised as to whether those who collaborated with Israel in the torture of prisoners should be allowed to return without penalty. Sectarian Lebanon has always had a core of pro-zionist supporters who have historically collaborated with Israel. The prime example of this was the orchestrated massacre of an estimated 3,000 Palestinians in Sabra/Shatila carried out by armed Christian Phalange with Israeli support. No one has ever been held accountable in a court of law for this crime against a defenceless population of women, children and old men. The PLO men of fighting age had agreed to leave Lebanon and go into further exile because they believed the promise made by the International Community that their families would be protected.
It’s not possible to look at this injustice without first understanding the role of both Christians and Jews in the eschatological belief system of messianic zionism. Were it not for the support of these evangelical Christian Zionists the initial Jewish Zionist endeavour to claim Palestine as a Jewish State might have been resolved with people of different faiths living together, as was the case within historic Palestine. Christian Zionist supporters hold with the Prophesy that when Jews ‘return’ to the Holy Land (historic Palestine and beyond) and King David’s City and Solomon’s Temple is ‘restored’ in place of the Haram al-Sharif; the Islamic sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, the world will enter into a state of final days. Destruction of Islam’s third most holy site would certainly risk plunging the world into a full scale global war. Israel has never defined its borders and Eretz Israel maps Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Sinai and parts of Saudi Arabia as its promised land.
(For a full understanding of this complex Christian evangelical movement I would refer the reader to the studies of Stephen Sizer and Don Wagner.) Christian and Jewish Messianic Zionism as a theological and political belief system would not be significant were it not so widely supported within the US establishment and also within several European countries, including the UK. The war with Iraq, John Bolton’s moves toward war with Iran, Trump’s move to place the US Embassy in Jerusalem and his declaration that the Syrian Golan Heights is part of Israel, are all indicative of the strength and power of this movement to propel events in order to bring about this Armageddon ‘last days Prophesy’.
This brings me back to the question of who are the drivers of conflict in the Middle East. Since I am neither a Christian or Jewish messianic zionist I would be amongst those left to face the ‘last days’ in the rivers of blood as foretold in this ‘prophesy’. Were that to be a natural event (or even assuming by ‘God’s’ hand), it would be a tragedy; however, were the event to have been engineered by messianic zealots who are seeking the (first…/or if Christian, the second) coming of the Messiah, such an act would be a war crime of genocidal and epic proportions. Given this possible scenario and the decades-long persecution of the exiled Muslim and Christian Palestinians I’m lost as to the reason why the mainstream Christian Church is so silent on this and almost by default supportive of this Israeli endeavour to requisition Palestine and beyond as a Jewish State. Where is the Christ message of love and inclusiveness in Christian Zionism?
Britain has a clearly documented history which has led to the establishment of Israel on historic Palestine beginning with the Sykes/Picot agreement 1916 and the letter by Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild in 1917. Palestine never was a country without a people. In fact, it has a rich cultural heritage where Muslim, Christian and Jew lived comfortably side by side (Jews having always been a small minority). In 1948 the population of Palestinian Christians and Muslims was 1.5 million. Of these 50% were uprooted by force and fled into exile and remained refugees in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and beyond to this very day. One might think that given Britain’s promise to the Arabs of sovereignty over their own land and having liberated Jerusalem from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Britain would be honour-bound to keep that promise.
Not so…. It’s quite evident from Parliamentary discussions and the recent (2017) centennial celebration when Theresa May (totally ignoring the Palestinian catastrophe that resulted in exile of now around 6 million Palestinian refugees), proudly welcomed Netanyahu to the UK in acknowledgment of Britain’s role which led to the 1948 establishment of Israel. The message constantly repeated by successive US and UK leaders is that we stand by Israel regardless of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Other than receiving some criticism from international leaders purporting Israel’s ‘response to be disproportionate’, Israel operates with complete immunity. It is also clear from a recent Parliamentary debate in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords that the UK government also stands by Israel and the US in proscribing the political wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. French President Macron has chosen not to follow the US and UK lead stating that France and no other power has a right to decide what Lebanese political parties are good and which are not. This, Macron says, is up to the Lebanese people.
So why this move on the part of the UK government, now?’ The NOW raises interesting questions. What clearly has changed is that Hezbollah, as part of a Syrian coalition, has been largely successful in halting ISIS and along with Russia, preventing regime change in Syria. Given that ISIS is a known fundamentalist terrorist umbrella group one might have thought that defeating them was in the UK’s interests. From an Israeli perspective, however, Hezbollah’s strengthened resistance capabilities will not be viewed as serving their expansionist interests, particularly as Lebanon shares a border with Israel.
Had ISIS not been defeated and had regime change taken in place Syria (an ally of Iran) this would have weakened Iran. Iran, an oil and gas rich country with an Islamic interest free banking system, has been viewed as a military target these past few decades. Israel regards Syria, Hezbollah and Iran as hostile to their illegal occupation of Palestine, the Golan Heights and repeated invasions of South Lebanon. One wonders if Israel initiated the move for the US and UK to proscribe Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation as a prelude to gaining support for an attack on Iran? Trump’s rejection of the agreed nuclear peace agreement and recent allegations made against Iran nudges us closer to war.
The majority of Lebanese are aware that were it not for the Hezbollah resistance, Israel would have likely acquired South Lebanon years ago. Besides the gas fields of Golan Heights, Lebanon’s Litani River has a natural supply of fresh water. Hezbollah came into existence after the 1982 Sabra/Shatila massacre. If there was no threat from Israel to Palestinians and to Lebanese, there would be no need for Hezbollah to form a resistance group. Those who responded to the call to protect Lebanon would likely melt back into the community and take up earlier professions. When Israel invaded and bombed Lebanon in 2006 it was the Hezbollah resistance fighters who forced them back across the border. Lebanon is a sectarian country that has not only been invaded and attacked by Israel on numerous occasions, it has also known devastating civil war. It holds together by a delicate balance of sharing power between the various factions. The political wing of Hezbollah holds a significant role within the Lebanese government.
Just days before I arrived in Lebanon, Israel dropped bombs on the Al Manar media office in Beirut and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) office in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Israel also dropped bombs in Syria and Iraq killing several Iranian citizens who were there by invitation of those countries’ leadership. It was the skill of Hezbollah in capturing a drone that identified Israel as the perpetrator, which made it clear that Hezbollah’s military response was retaliatory and not an unprovoked attack. Such action by Hezbollah may have averted a full scale attack by Israel on Lebanon.
The UK government’s insistence on Israel’s right to defend itself (even when Israeli forces are dropping bombs and white phosphorous on the defenceless population of Gaza or sending drones into Beirut), fails to acknowledge that Palestinians and Lebanese also have a right to defend themselves. It is the Palestinians who are suffering from an illegal occupation and genocidal siege. Are these moves the precursor to the US, Israel and UK creating a World War Three scenario by heightening the likelihood of war with Iran and other major powers — a war that could easily escalate into an Armageddon ‘Last Days’ scenario? Or is it that the UK, like the Anglican Church, is unwilling to take a strong public stance against the prevailing power by addressing this decades long injustice and very real threat to all of humanity?