Category Archives: Right of Return

Chasing Mirages: What Are Palestinians Doing to Combat the “Deal of the Century”?

More US measures have been taken in recent weeks to further cement the Israeli position and isolate the Palestinian Authority (PA), before the official unveiling of President Donald Trump’s so-called ‘deal of the century’. But while attention is focused on spiteful US actions, little time has been spent discussing the PA’s own responses, options and strategies.

The last of Washington’s punitive measures came on March 3, when the US shut down its Consulate in Jerusalem, thus downgrading the status of its diplomatic mission in Palestine. The Consulate has long served as a de-facto American embassy to the Palestinians. Now, the Consulate’s staff will merge into the US embassy in Israel, which was officially moved to Jerusalem last May – in violation of international consensus regarding the status of the occupied city.

Robert Palladino, US State Department spokesperson, explained the move in a statement, saying that “this decision was driven by our global efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our diplomatic engagements and operations.”

Diplomatic hogwash aside, ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ have nothing to do with the shutting of the Consulate. The decision is but a continuation of successive US measures aimed at “taking Jerusalem off the table” – as per Trump’s own words – of any future negotiations.

International law, which recognizes East Jerusalem as an occupied Palestinian city, is of no relevance to the Trump administration, which has fully shed any semblance of balance as it is now wholly embracing the Israeli position on Jerusalem.

To bring Palestinians into line, and to force their leadership to accept whatever bizarre version of ‘peace’ Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has in mind, the US has already taken several steps aimed at intimidating the PA. These steps include the cutting of $200 million in direct aid to Gaza and the West Bank, and the freezing of another $300 million dollars that were provided annually to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

That, and the shutting down of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington DC, on September 10, were all the signs needed to fully fathom the nature of the US ultimatum to the Palestinian leadership: accept our terms or face the consequences.

It is no secret that various US governments have served as the financial and even political backers of the PA in Ramallah. While the PA has not always seen eye-to-eye with US foreign policy, its survival remained, till recently, a top American priority.

The PA has helped Washington sustain its claim to being an ‘honest peace broker’, thus enjoying a position of political leadership throughout the Middle East region.

Moreover, by agreeing to take part in assisting the Israeli military in policing the Occupied Territories through joint US-funded ‘security coordination’, the PA has proved its trustworthiness to its US benefactors.

While the PA remained committed to that arrangement, Washington reneged.

According to the far-right Israeli government coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu, PA leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is simply not doing enough.

‘Doing enough’, from an Israeli political perspective, is for Palestinians to drop any claims to occupied East Jerusalem as the future capital of Palestine, accept that illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank would have to remain in place regardless of the nature of the future ‘peace agreement’, and to also drop any legal or moral claims pertaining to Palestinian refugees right of return.

While the PA has demonstrated its political and moral flexibility in the past, there are certain red lines that even Abbas himself cannot cross.

It remains to be seen how the PA position will evolve in the future as far as the soon-to-be announced ‘deal of the century’ is concerned.

Yet, considering that Trump’s blind support for Israel has been made quite clear over the course of the last two years, one is bewildered by the fact that Abbas and his government have done little by way of counteracting Washington’s new aggressive strategy targeting the Palestinians.

Save for a few symbolic ‘victories’ at the United Nations and UN-related bodies, Abbas has done little by way of a concrete and unified Palestinian action.

Frankly, recognizing a Palestinian state on paper is not a strategy, per se. The push for greater recognition has been in the making since the PLO Algiers conference in 1988, when the Palestine National Council declared a Palestinian state to the jubilation of millions around the world. Many countries, especially in the global south, quickly recognized the State of Palestine.

Yet, instead of using such a symbolic declaration as a component of a larger strategy aimed at realizing this independence on the ground, the PA simply saw the act of recognizing Palestine as an end in itself. Now, there are 137 countries that recognize the State of Palestine. Sadly, however, much more Palestinian land has been stolen by Israel to expand on or build new Jewish-only colonies on the land designated to be part of that future state.

It should have been clear, by now, that placing a Palestinian flag on a table at some international conference, or even having a Palestine chair at the G77 UN coalition of developing countries, is not a substitute for a real strategy of national liberation.

The two main Palestinian factions, Abbas’ own Fatah party and Hamas, are still as diverged as ever. In fact, Abbas seems to focus more energy on weakening his political rivals in Palestine than on combating the Israeli Occupation. In recent weeks, Abbas has taken yet more punitive financial measures targeting various sectors of Gaza society. The collective punishment is even reaching families of prisoners and those killed by the Israeli army.

Without a united front, a true strategy or any form of tangible resistance, Abbas is now vulnerable to more US pressure and manipulation. Yet, instead of moving quickly to solidify the Palestinian front, and to reach out to genuine allies in the Middle East and worldwide to counter the bitter US campaign, Abbas has done little.

Instead, the Palestinian leader continues to chase political mirages, taking every opportunity to declare more symbolic victories that he needs to sustain his legitimacy among Palestinians for a while longer.

The painful truth, however, is this: it is not just US bullying that has pushed the PA into this unenviable position, but, sadly, the self-serving nature and political bankruptcy of the Palestinian leadership itself.

Is There a Plot to Depopulate Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon?

An eerie video composed of a recorded audio prayer and a photo of one ‘Hajj Jamal Ghalaini’ occasionally pops up on Facebook. The voice is that of an alleged religious sheikh, praying for the well-being of the man in the photo for saving the Palestinian refugee youth of Lebanon, by facilitating their departure to Europe.

The video would have been just another odd social media post, were it not for the fact that Ghalaini is a real person, with his name recurring in the ongoing tragedy of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Many have credited their successful ‘escape’ from Lebanon by citing this person, who, kindly, they say, has made the journey to Europe far cheaper than all other human smugglers.

We know little about Ghalaini, except that he seems to operate brazenly, without much legal repercussions from Lebanese authorities or the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is, supposedly, the caretaker of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Something strange is going on.

Immediately after the US Administration of Donald Trump began to promote its ‘Deal of the Century’, Palestinian refugees – a fundamental issue in the Palestinian national struggle which has been relegated years ago – have, once more, taken center-stage.

Although Trump’s plan is yet to be fully revealed, early indications suggest it drives to sideline Jerusalem entirely from any future agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Trump’s own assertion that ‘Jerusalem is off the table’ is enough to confirm this assumption.

Another component of Trump’s ‘deal’ is to resolve the issue of refugees without their repatriation and without respecting international law, especially United Nations Resolution 194, which calls for the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who were driven out from their homes in historic Palestine in 1948.

Many news reports have been pointing to an elaborate American plot to downgrade the status of refugees, to argue against UN figures indicating their actual numbers and to choke off UNRWA, the UN organization responsible for refugees’ welfare, from badly needed funds.

Lebanon has been a major platform for the ongoing campaign targeting Palestinian refugees, particularly because the refugee population in that country is significant in terms of numbers and their plight most urgent in terms of its need for remedy.

There appears to be an active plan, involving several parties, to deprive Lebanon’s Palestinian population from their refugee status and to circumvent the ‘Right of Return’.

To some, this may seem like wishful thinking, since the ‘Right of Return’ is ‘inalienable’, thus non-negotiable.

Yet, obviously, without refugees collectively demanding such a right, the issue could move from being an urgent, tangible demand into a sentimental one that is impossible to achieve.

This is why the depopulation of Lebanon’s refugee camps, which is happening at an alarming speed, should worry Palestinians more than any other issue at the moment.

I spoke to Samaa Abu Sharar, a Palestinian activist in Lebanon and the director of the Majed Abu Sharar Media Foundation. She narrated that the nature of the conversation among refugees has changed in recent years. In the past, “almost everybody from young to old spoke about their wish of returning to Palestine one day; at present the majority, particularly the youth, only express one wish: to leave for any other country that would receive them.”

It is common knowledge that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are marginalized and mistreated most, when compared to other refugee populations in the Middle East. They are denied most basic human rights enjoyed by Lebanese or foreign groups in Lebanon, or even rights granted to refugees under international conventions. This includes the right to work, as they are denied access to 72 different professions.

Left hopeless, with a life of neglect and utter misery in 12 refugee camps and other ‘gatherings’ across Lebanon, Palestinian refugees have persisted for many years, driven by the hope of going back to their Palestinian homeland one day.

But the refugees and their Right of Return are no longer a priority for the Palestinian leadership. In fact, this has been the case for nearly two decades.

The situation has worsened. With the Syrian war, tens of thousands more refugees flooded the camps, which lacked most basic services. This misery was further accentuated when UNRWA, under intense US pressure, was forced to cancel or downgrade many of its essential services.

A suspiciously timed census, the first of its kind, by the Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics, conducted jointly with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics last December, resolved that the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon stands at only 175,000.

The timing is interesting because the survey was conducted at a time that the US Administration has been keen to lower the number of Palestinian refugees, in anticipation of any future agreement between the PA and Israel.

According to UNRWA statistics, there are more than 450,000 Palestinian refugees who are registered with the UN.

There is no denial about an influx of Palestinian refugees wanting to leave Lebanon. Some have done so successfully, only to find themselves contending with the misery of yet a new refugee status in Europe. Expectedly, some have returned.

Clearly there are those who are keen to rid Lebanon of its Palestinian population, thus the disregard for Ghalaini and other such human trafficking networks.

“There is more than one organized network that facilitate the immigration of Palestinians at prices that have recently gone down to make it more accessible to a larger number of people,” Abu Sharar told me. The conclusion that many of these young men and women now draw is that “there is no future for them in Lebanon.”

This is not the happy, triumphant ending that generations of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have hoped and fought for over the years.

Ignoring the misery of Palestinian refugees of Lebanon is now coming at a heavy price. Relegating their plight till ‘the final status negotiations’, a pipe dream that never actualized, is now leading to a two-fold crisis: the worsening suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and the systematic destruction of one of the main pillars of the Palestinian refugees ‘Right of Return.’

Why Is Israel Afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

When Israeli troops stormed the house of Palestinian parliamentarian and lawyer, Khalida Jarrar, on April 2, 2015, she was engrossed in her research. For months, Jarrar had been leading a Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Her research on that very evening was directly related to the kind of behavior that allows a group of soldiers to handcuff a respected Palestinian intellectual, throwing her in jail with no trial and with no accountability for their action.

Jarrar was released after spending over one year in jail in June 2016, only to be arrested once more, on July 2, 2017. She remains in an Israeli prison.

On October 28 of this year, her ‘administrative detention’ was renewed for the fourth time.

There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, most of them held outside the militarily Occupied Palestinian Territories, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, nearly 500 Palestinians fall into a different category, as they are held without trial, detained for six-month periods that are renewed, sometimes indefinitely, by Israeli military courts with no legal justification whatsoever. Jarrar is one of those detainees.

Jarrar is not beseeching her jailers for her freedom. Instead, she is keeping busy educating her fellow female prisoners on international law, offering classes and issuing statements to the outside world that reflect not only her refined intellect, but also her resolve and strength of character.

Jarrar is relentless. Despite her failing health – she suffers from multiple ischemic infarctions, hypercholesterolemia and was hospitalized due to severe bleeding resulting from epistaxis – her commitment to the cause of her people did not, in any way, weaken or falter.

The 55-year-old Palestinian lawyer has championed a political discourse that is largely missing amid the ongoing feud between the Palestinian Authority’s largest faction, Fatah, in the Occupied West Bank and Hamas in besieged Gaza.

As a member of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC) and an active member within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Jarrar has advocated the kind of politics that is not disconnected from the people and, especially, from the women who she strongly and uncompromisingly represents.

According to Jarrar, no Palestinian official should engage in any form of dialogue with Israel, because such engagement helps legitimize a state that is founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing, and is currently carrying out various types of war crimes; the very crimes that Jarrar tried to expose before the ICC.

Expectedly, Jarrar rejects the so-called ‘peace process’, a futile exercise that has no intention or mechanism that is aimed at “implementing international resolutions related to the Palestinian cause and recognizing the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.”

It goes without saying that a woman with such an astute, strong position, vehemently rejects the ‘security coordination’ between the PA and Israel, seeing such action as a betrayal to the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people.

While PA officials continue to enjoy the perks of ‘leadership’, desperately breathing life into a dead political discourse of a ‘peace process’ and a ‘two state solution’, Jarrar, a Palestinian female leader with a true vision, subsists in HaSharon Prison. There, along with dozens of Palestinian women, she experiences daily humiliation, denial of rights and various types of Israeli methods aimed at breaking her will.

But Jarrar is as experienced in resisting Israel as she is in her knowledge of law and human rights.

In August 2014, as Israel was carrying out one of its most heinous acts of genocide in Gaza – killing and wounding thousands in its so-called ‘Protective Edge’ war – Jarrar received an unwelcome visit by Israeli soldiers.

Fully aware of Jarrar’s work and credibility as a Palestinian lawyer with an international outreach – she is the Palestine representative in the Council of Europe – the Israeli government unleashed their campaign of harassment, which ended in her imprisonment. The soldiers delivered a military edict ordering her to leave her home in al-Bireh, near Ramallah, for Jericho.

Failing to silence her voice, she was arrested in April the following year, beginning an episode of suffering, but also resistance, which is yet to end.

When the Israeli army came for Jarrar, they surrounded her home with a massive number of soldiers, as if the well-spoken Palestinian activist was Israel’s greatest ‘security threat.’

The scene was quite surreal, and telling of Israel’s real fear – that of Palestinians, like Khalida Jarrar, who are able to communicate an articulate message that exposes Israel to the rest of the world.

It was reminiscent of the opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial: “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.”

Administrative detention in Israel is the re-creation of that Kafkaesque scene over and over again. Joseph K. is Khalida Jarrar and thousands of other Palestinians, paying a price for merely calling for the rights and freedom of their people.

Under international pressure, Israel was forced to put Jarrar on trial, levying against her twelve charges that included visiting a released prisoner and participating in a book fair.

Her other arrest, and the four renewals of her detention, is a testament not just to Israel’s lack of any real evidence against Jarrar, but for its moral bankruptcy as well.

But why is Israel afraid of Khalida Jarrar?

The truth is, Jarrar, like many other Palestinian women, represents the antidote of the fabricated Israeli narrative, relentlessly promoting Israel as an oasis of freedom, democracy and human rights, juxtaposed with a Palestinian society that purportedly represents the opposite of what Israel stands for.

Jarrar, a lawyer, human rights activist, prominent politician and advocate for women, demolishes, in her eloquence, courage and deep understanding of her rights and the rights of her people, this Israeli house of lies.

Jarrar is the quintessential feminist; her feminism, however, is not mere identity politics, a surface ideology, evoking empty rights meant to strike a chord with western audiences.

Instead, Khalida Jarrar fights for Palestinian women, their freedom and their rights to receive proper education, to seek work opportunity and to better their lives, while facing tremendous obstacles of military occupation, prison and social pressure.

Khalida in Arabic means “immortal”, a most fitting designation for a true fighter who represents the legacy of generations of strong Palestinian women, whose ‘sumoud’ – steadfastness – shall always inspire an entire nation.

Where is the Hope?

Situated on a coastal location on the outskirts of Tripoli, with golden sands and an expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Palestinian Refugee Camp of Nahr al-Bared could be a beautiful environment in which to raise a child… It isn’t.

Nahr al-Bared Beach location

The sense of despair is as dark as I have known it during these past three years of visiting and listening to camp residents. The US Government, under the Trump administration, has cut all UNWRA funding to Palestinian Refugee Camps. Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon are not allowed to work, own property or have Lebanese citizenship. It is only from being recognized as refugees and the international law of ‘right of return’ (resolution-194) that prevents them from being stateless. Although UNWRA funding keeps them trapped in a state of dependancy, it is also what keeps them alive. UNWRA heavily supports the funding required for medical, educational and social care. Without the contribution of the US, the over strained resources in the camps will reach breaking point. (We are already witnessing a slow, calculated genocide taking place in Gaza.) Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have offered to pick up the short fall left by the loss of the US contribution, but there are conditions…. conditions that are impossible for Palestinians to accept.

Youngsters in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Netanyahu is claiming that there are no longer any Palestinian refugees. It’s been stated by Israeli officials that only those Palestinians who were born and fled the 1948 NAKBA (Catastrophe) qualify as refugees. Under this edict the five generations of descendants born in dismal, impoverished refugee camps, would not, therefore, qualify as refugees. Trump, no doubt persuaded by deep state policy directives, would appear to agree.

‘Right of Return’ is enshrined in human rights law. This contrived political move to try to take the ’Right of Return’ away is not only a violation of international law, it makes a mockery of all that is decent and human. Although UNWRA is mandated to support refugees, without proper funding its services are calculated to collapse.

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Already medical services have been cut so that besides the limited availability of drugs and medical supplies, a single doctor is responsible for around 5,000 patients. In the UK the ratio is less than 400, and in other European countries the ratio is significantly lower. With poor nutrition and salty, undrinkable tap water the strain on doctors is likely to be even more demanding in Palestinian refugee camps.

As was stated by one of the Palestinian elders at Nahr al-Bared:

All this flies in the face of human rights. This is a fake deal made to bring about our destruction. They keep us busy just trying to survive so there is no time to plan around the crucial matters. Are we to become a non-people, who, by no fault of our own, are to be cast out of the human race without rights or the means to protect the lives of our children?

Rubble remaining from the 2007 attack by the terrorist group Fatah al Islam

UNWRA was never set up to be a permanent source of funding but with political intransigency with regard to the recognition of human rights law, Palestinians have been trapped in limbo for over seventy years. It’s only been the hope of returning to their homeland that has sustained them – (Awad Sumud – steadfastness). ‘Right of return’ is the corner stone of the Palestinian Struggle. The US in alliance with the UK and France, along with (Saudi Arabia aka Israel) and the Gulf States, are likely to herald any refusal on the part of Palestinians to give up ‘hope of return’ as a refusal to negotiate peace. The authors of this Machiavellian manoeuvre will know this to be a lie. With truth thrown into the  trash bin of fake news, the message of ‘the fault’ being placed on the Palestinians may ‘yet again’ be widely believed. The convenient label of Palestinian terrorists by subservient – cut and paste ‘mainstream’ journalism, allow those who actually do initiate terror to act with an impunity that defies credible belief. Any criticism by right thinking people that Israel is actually the aggressor here, is labelled as anti-semitic.

Palestinian leaders fear for the youth in the camp. Deprived of a future they are vulnerable to outside corruption or worse. “We are trapped by circumstances. We don’t want to be used to support anyone’s terrorism.”

Youngsters in Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp

The elders’ fears are fully justified. In 2007 the terrorist group Fatah Al Islam fled into Nahr al-Bared after robbing a bank and were pursued by the Lebanese Army. The resulting conflict resulted in a number of deaths and forced Palestinians to flee the camp. Their homes and what little they did possess were bombed to rubble. The evidence of the widespread bombing is still present today. At the time Seymour Hersh reported that the funding for the group had originated from the US through Saudi Arabia and had Lebanese connections through Saad Hariri.

Rubble from the 2007 terrorist attack

However, other sources consider that funding came from groups in Syria or Al Qaeda. Why they chose to flee to Nahr al-Bared does raise interesting questions. Nahr al-Bared was the refugee camp where the PLO financial centre was located. Whether the camp being situated on prime real estate has any relevance, one can only speculate. Whatever the truth behind Fatah Al Islam, Palestinians remain anxious about such groups ever gaining any kind of foothold in the camps among their dispossessed youth.

Today the camp is slowly being re-built and around two-thirds of the population have been able to return. Compared to many of the other camps the roads are wide, the sky is visible and fresh air is able to enter. However it was pointed out that the roads are wide so that tanks can enter. Not withstanding the impact of visual space there is in reality little room for family expansion. Families are not permitted to built beyond four floors and moving out horizontally is also prohibited. Some of the bombed buildings of 2007 have yet to be cleared. With families moving into their fifth and sometimes the sixth generation, crowding is a serious problem. This has been compounded in part by a section of the camp being allocated to Palestinian refugees fleeing terror groups in Syria.

Section of Nahr al-Bared where Palestinian refugees from Syria are housed

Security around entry into the camp is high. For foreigners, passports have to be submitted well in advance so that the intelligence services can check out anyone who wishes to enter. Does this make Palestinians safer? It’s debatable. While it might keep the likes of terror groups like ‘Fatah Al Islam’ out, it also keeps  Palestinians in a ‘prison camp’  like environment. One only has to remember how Israeli forces surrounded the entrances to Sabra and Shatilla in September 1982 and sanctioned the Christian Phalange massacre of over 3,000 undefended Palestinians to feel a chill at the thought of not being totally free to pass though the entrance unchecked

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Palestinians cannot achieve justice alone. It will require a huge awakening on the part of all people everywhere to recognize that injustice for one is injustice for all. To be silent is to be complicit.

• All photos by Heather Stroud

Where is the Hope?

Situated on a coastal location on the outskirts of Tripoli, with golden sands and an expansive view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Palestinian Refugee Camp of Nahr al-Bared could be a beautiful environment in which to raise a child… It isn’t.

Nahr al-Bared Beach location

The sense of despair is as dark as I have known it during these past three years of visiting and listening to camp residents. The US Government, under the Trump administration, has cut all UNWRA funding to Palestinian Refugee Camps. Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon are not allowed to work, own property or have Lebanese citizenship. It is only from being recognized as refugees and the international law of ‘right of return’ (resolution-194) that prevents them from being stateless. Although UNWRA funding keeps them trapped in a state of dependancy, it is also what keeps them alive. UNWRA heavily supports the funding required for medical, educational and social care. Without the contribution of the US, the over strained resources in the camps will reach breaking point. (We are already witnessing a slow, calculated genocide taking place in Gaza.) Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have offered to pick up the short fall left by the loss of the US contribution, but there are conditions…. conditions that are impossible for Palestinians to accept.

Youngsters in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Netanyahu is claiming that there are no longer any Palestinian refugees. It’s been stated by Israeli officials that only those Palestinians who were born and fled the 1948 NAKBA (Catastrophe) qualify as refugees. Under this edict the five generations of descendants born in dismal, impoverished refugee camps, would not, therefore, qualify as refugees. Trump, no doubt persuaded by deep state policy directives, would appear to agree.

‘Right of Return’ is enshrined in human rights law. This contrived political move to try to take the ’Right of Return’ away is not only a violation of international law, it makes a mockery of all that is decent and human. Although UNWRA is mandated to support refugees, without proper funding its services are calculated to collapse.

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Already medical services have been cut so that besides the limited availability of drugs and medical supplies, a single doctor is responsible for around 5,000 patients. In the UK the ratio is less than 400, and in other European countries the ratio is significantly lower. With poor nutrition and salty, undrinkable tap water the strain on doctors is likely to be even more demanding in Palestinian refugee camps.

As was stated by one of the Palestinian elders at Nahr al-Bared:

All this flies in the face of human rights. This is a fake deal made to bring about our destruction. They keep us busy just trying to survive so there is no time to plan around the crucial matters. Are we to become a non-people, who, by no fault of our own, are to be cast out of the human race without rights or the means to protect the lives of our children?

Rubble remaining from the 2007 attack by the terrorist group Fatah al Islam

UNWRA was never set up to be a permanent source of funding but with political intransigency with regard to the recognition of human rights law, Palestinians have been trapped in limbo for over seventy years. It’s only been the hope of returning to their homeland that has sustained them – (Awad Sumud – steadfastness). ‘Right of return’ is the corner stone of the Palestinian Struggle. The US in alliance with the UK and France, along with (Saudi Arabia aka Israel) and the Gulf States, are likely to herald any refusal on the part of Palestinians to give up ‘hope of return’ as a refusal to negotiate peace. The authors of this Machiavellian manoeuvre will know this to be a lie. With truth thrown into the  trash bin of fake news, the message of ‘the fault’ being placed on the Palestinians may ‘yet again’ be widely believed. The convenient label of Palestinian terrorists by subservient – cut and paste ‘mainstream’ journalism, allow those who actually do initiate terror to act with an impunity that defies credible belief. Any criticism by right thinking people that Israel is actually the aggressor here, is labelled as anti-semitic.

Palestinian leaders fear for the youth in the camp. Deprived of a future they are vulnerable to outside corruption or worse. “We are trapped by circumstances. We don’t want to be used to support anyone’s terrorism.”

Youngsters in Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp

The elders’ fears are fully justified. In 2007 the terrorist group Fatah Al Islam fled into Nahr al-Bared after robbing a bank and were pursued by the Lebanese Army. The resulting conflict resulted in a number of deaths and forced Palestinians to flee the camp. Their homes and what little they did possess were bombed to rubble. The evidence of the widespread bombing is still present today. At the time Seymour Hersh reported that the funding for the group had originated from the US through Saudi Arabia and had Lebanese connections through Saad Hariri.

Rubble from the 2007 terrorist attack

However, other sources consider that funding came from groups in Syria or Al Qaeda. Why they chose to flee to Nahr al-Bared does raise interesting questions. Nahr al-Bared was the refugee camp where the PLO financial centre was located. Whether the camp being situated on prime real estate has any relevance, one can only speculate. Whatever the truth behind Fatah Al Islam, Palestinians remain anxious about such groups ever gaining any kind of foothold in the camps among their dispossessed youth.

Today the camp is slowly being re-built and around two-thirds of the population have been able to return. Compared to many of the other camps the roads are wide, the sky is visible and fresh air is able to enter. However it was pointed out that the roads are wide so that tanks can enter. Not withstanding the impact of visual space there is in reality little room for family expansion. Families are not permitted to built beyond four floors and moving out horizontally is also prohibited. Some of the bombed buildings of 2007 have yet to be cleared. With families moving into their fifth and sometimes the sixth generation, crowding is a serious problem. This has been compounded in part by a section of the camp being allocated to Palestinian refugees fleeing terror groups in Syria.

Section of Nahr al-Bared where Palestinian refugees from Syria are housed

Security around entry into the camp is high. For foreigners, passports have to be submitted well in advance so that the intelligence services can check out anyone who wishes to enter. Does this make Palestinians safer? It’s debatable. While it might keep the likes of terror groups like ‘Fatah Al Islam’ out, it also keeps  Palestinians in a ‘prison camp’  like environment. One only has to remember how Israeli forces surrounded the entrances to Sabra and Shatilla in September 1982 and sanctioned the Christian Phalange massacre of over 3,000 undefended Palestinians to feel a chill at the thought of not being totally free to pass though the entrance unchecked

Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in Lebanon

Palestinians cannot achieve justice alone. It will require a huge awakening on the part of all people everywhere to recognize that injustice for one is injustice for all. To be silent is to be complicit.

• All photos by Heather Stroud