Ain Al-Helweh camp for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon suffered a security set-back recently, which led to the mobilisation of all the forces, political and security, within the camp, nationalist and Islamist. The mobilization was carried out to impose law and order anew, and ensure the natural movement of the refugees in the camp, amid an air of tension and uncertainty.

The security tension came in the wake of an incident in which Abu Bassam Al-Maqdah, Secretary General of the Peoples’ Committees in the Sidon region was wounded in the foot after a member of Fatah attacked the headquarters of the Peoples’ Committees in the camp. The assailant identified as Hussein Al-Sayed, brandished his military issue pistol and fired inside the committee’s headquarters, objecting to the arrest of his son charged with theft of a mobile phone. This also led to his son sustaining slight injuries.

In the aftermath, a climate of tension overshadowed the camp. Bursting with refugees - a count of up to 75,000 people, crowded into an area not exceeding two square kilometres.

Al-Maqdah was taken to Al-Nidaa’ Al-Insani hospital in the camp, where medical sources stated that his injury was slight and had not affected the bone. The Fatah movement was quick to condemn the incident, calling it the action of an individual. All the Palestinian factions and powers, Islamic and nationalist, as well as prominent personalities and groups in the camp condemned the incident. They regarded it as unnecessarily creating security tensions and diverting people’s attention from the vital issues, especially in light of the events unfolding rapidly in Occupied Palestine.

Hussein Al-Sayed was later detained by forces belonging to “Al-Kifah Al-Musalah” (Palestinian Armed Struggle). A decision was taken to lift his political immunity while the matter was subjected to investigation as to whether he should be turned over to the Lebanese security forces.

This incident comes in the wake of the fire fight between the Fatah movement and the joint security forces on the one side and Jund Al-Sham on the other side, on Friday 29/7/2004. Soon after, a widened meeting was held in the camp on Sunday 31/7/2004 to study the new security developments. The meeting was attended by the Allied Palestinian Forces, the Islamic forces, peoples’ committees, and representatives of the PLO.

The meeting resulted in the formation of a field oversight committee made up of 11 members, comprising three from the Islamic forces, three from the alliance, three from the PLO factions, a member from “Al-Kifah Al-Musalah”, and a member from “Ansar Allah”. The parties agreed to form an investigating committee, which would summons the appearance of persons responsible for provoking the exchange of fire inside the camp.

Observers look with wariness and unease at the events in Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp, and the need to maintain control over the security situation and not permit their recurrence, especially as in these days eyes are fixed on the internal Palestinian events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that the sole beneficiary from the Palestinian-Palestinian infighting, whether inside Palestine or abroad, is the Zionist enemy, who puts this to his service, and the service of his regional and international interests.

Palestinian reconciliation and … the reappearance of masked men in Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp

The joint effort of the Peoples’ Committees, and the Palestinian Nationalist and Islamic factions was successful in securing a recovery in the wake of the security problem that occurred on Saturday 31/7 after the attack on the headquarters of the Peoples’ Committees in Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp by one of the members of Fatah movement, called Hussein Al-Sayed, and injuries sustained by the Secretary General of the Peoples’ Committees in the Sidon area, Abu Bassam Al-Maqdah.

In a gesture of good faith, the family of Al-Maqdah, and to avoid any security escalation which would embroil the people of a single nation in Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp, held a traditional Palestinian meeting of reconciliation at the home of Abu Bassam Al-Maqdah on Monday 2/8, in which many distinguished guests, and notables from the family participated. At their head, the venerable Sheikh Abu Hani Al-Maqdah, chief of the Fatah militia in Lebanon, Colonel Mounir Al-Maqdah, Abu Ahmed Fadl from Hamas, a delegation from Al-Sa’iqa headed by Abu Emad Al-Hassan, and the presence of a delegation from Fatah including Maher Shabaita, in charge of the Ain Al-Helweh branch, and Khaled Al-Shaib, and Muhammad Ali. From the Islamic forces, Sheikh Jamal Khattab, Abu Tareq from Al-Ansar group, Shakeeb Al-‘Aina from Islamic Jihad, Adnan Rifa’i from the Peoples’ Committee, and members from the “Palestinian Oversight Committee”.

Sheikh Abu Hani who was the first to speak, pointed to the pardon of Hussein Al-Sayed, who had shot and wounded Abu Bassam Al-Maqdah, on condition that he not raise his weapon in the face of anyone but the Zionist enemy. Mounir Al-Maqdah added that the Al-Maqdah family “pardoned and forgave from the position of caring for the security and welfare of the camp and its inhabitants, not muddying the issues, and not granting an opportunity for those who gamble on creating security tensions within the camp, because this would present a free service to the Zionist enemy”.

After that Abu Ahmed Fadl spoke of “the challenges faced by the Palestinian people at this critical time, especially in light of the situation in Palestine, and so what is required of us at this time is the highest levels of awareness and caution”. He called for overcoming the pains of the wounds of the moment, and to not give the opportunity to those who were intent on provoking Palestinian infighting.

The chief of “Al-Kifah Al-Musalah” (Palestinian Armed Struggle) in the camp, Colonel Muhammad Ali, gave a speech in which he pointed out that Hussein Al-Sayed had been placed at the disposal of the Al-Maqdeh family, emphasising that what he had done was wrong, and that the pardon and forgiveness shown, would be met by a deterring moral punishment on the part of the Fatah movement, such that he would not repeat this again, because harming others was forbidden, as it only serves as an opportunity to those intent on interfering with the security of the camp”.

At the time when the efforts to bring under control the security problem, had been successful, another new security problem reared its head in Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp. Its features became more apparent in the early hours of 3/8, with talk of the reappearance of masked elements, who would appear in the first hours of daybreak in the alleyways of the camp, and then melt away, with no-one able to identify them.

Information gained told of an incident where a man belonging to Fatah, living in the Barracks refugee complex, neighbouring Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp, had thrown a hand grenade and fired rounds of bullets into the air from his weapon, in the direction of one of the masked men, who had been spotted in the early hours moving between the Barracks complex and Al-Saf-Saf neighbourhood. This provoked a state of fear and terror in the complex, and a security mobilisation in which all the factions in the camp participated, with the intention of containing this phenomenon, through awareness of its seriousness, and seeking to eradicate it.

There is no doubt that the sole beneficiary of this train of security incidents is the Zionist enemy. Especially, as these incidents principally target Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp, the largest of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which represents the Palestinian point of reference for the presence of all the different political persuasions, nationalists and Islamists.

With the start of the reappearance of this phenomenon, after it had been stamped out years before, no more is required than to raise the level of awareness and attention to the plots against the Palestinian cause and the scheming taking place in the shadows.

Source: Ali Huwaidi - Lebanon
One cannot draw a line separating the state of the Palestinian woman in Lebanon, and the conditions of the Palestinian community generally. The Palestinian woman was not at all remote from the reality of injustice, and grim daily suffering, of all the Palestinians in Palestine and in the Diaspora, touching upon all spheres of life; economic, social, sanitary, and educational. Rather, she was always closely involved in events at all levels, whether cultural, social, political and economic.


However the Palestinian woman in Lebanon bears all her suffering with the aim of preserving the Palestinian cause. She shoulders her responsibility and complements the Palestinian man, in raising and caring for her children, enduring the years of poverty, destitution and denial.


In shedding light on the suffering of the Palestinian woman in Lebanon, one must speak about the woman population. With the increasing worry and responsibility caused by the great many martyrs in husbands, fathers, brothers and sons (there are more than 13,000 families of martyrs in Lebanon), in addition to the emigration of the youth because of the security problems in the mid-‘80s, and the state of poverty and need as a result of economic and social restrictions, which created a crucial vacuum in the process of creating awareness, educating, and building up the new generations, such that the Palestinian woman shouldered the role of both woman and man facing up to the different problems. However, with the passage of time and accumulation of problems, studies indicate that the ratio of females to males in the Palestinian refugee camps and population centres in Lebanon has reached 58%, reflecting a demographic problem for women, a matter that places the woman in front of compounded and direct responsibilities on the level of social duties and improving the conditions of the family in general.

Unmarried women and widows


The studies also show that the percentage of unmarried women in the Palestinian society had reached 37% and widows 11%. This is because of the successive wars, whether with the Zionist enemy or internecine wars on the one hand, and on the other the difficult economic conditions that prevented young men from securing the bare necessities for marriage, in addition to emigration, which after many years has affected natural population growth negatively. One of the immediate indicators of this phenomenon is the fall in fertility rates from 4.5% in the years 1987-90 to 3.9% in 1991-94. This in addition to the worsening state of economic conditions and the drop in level of income, spiralling unemployment, brought on by the denial of right to work and diminishing job opportunities. This reflects the worst on those women breadwinners for their families, especially widows and wives of martyrs. The Palestinian woman is hardest hit by the conditions of unemployment; only 7.3% of the total female workforce was engaged in economic activity, as revealed by the Norwegian Institute for Applied Social Science (FAFO). This of course is not due to the unwillingness on their part, rather the lack of opportunities, and the lack of vocational qualifications because of the different conditions.

The economic state and employment


Observers point out that 90% of the members of Palestinian refugee society live below the poverty line. This is because of the level of annual income of the Palestinian family that currently averages 5,476,000 Lebanese Lira (US$3,650), according to the estimates of FAFO, noting that 30% of Palestinian families in Lebanon rely for their continued survival on seasonal payments and transfers from abroad. As for UNRWA, it points out in some of its sources that the minimum income required by the Palestinian family needed to be 12.6 million Lebanese Lira (US$8400). In comparison, the average annual income for the Lebanese family is 18.5 million Lebanese Lira (US$12,333).

State of education


The observer of the educational establishment dedicated to the Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, the UNRWA, will notice a rise in the year on year retreat, which reflects back on the Palestinian community in Lebanon generally, and the state of women’s education in particular. The latest studies on this matter indicate that a third of Palestinian women were illiterate, which rises amongst the elderly. The percentage attaining education to primary level was 26.8%, secondary 12.1%, and those in higher education only 1.4%.


The Palestinian woman comes to education with energy and enthusiasm, with the conviction that her education and development of knowledge is one of the vital means depended upon to regain the legitimate Palestinian rights. Hence we see her present in all the different levels, where conditions allow. This is very clear in the statistics that show the number of registered females surpassing males in the primary and intermediate schools run by UNRWA, however they are equal in the higher levels. However, entry to later stages of education especially university is low, where there are only partial opportunities for secondary schooling in UNRWA schools, as for places in Lebanese government schools, these are very limited, and fees for universities and private schools are extremely high when compared with the abysmal income of Palestinian families. This is an obstacle preventing Palestinian women completing secondary and university education, or that some families provide education to only one female member, allowing her to complete her education at the expense of the others, because of their financial inability to provide for all.

State of health


The state of health of the Palestinian woman is generally no better than that of her social or educational state. The state of women’s health is a reflection of the general state of health of the Palestinian society in Lebanon. Studies point out that 19% of women suffer from permanent illness, 9% acute health problems and disabilities, 3% war injuries, and there are 29% who were injured during wars. If we add the health problems specific to women resulting from pregnancy and birth, then 48% of women suffer recurrent miscarriage. The Palestinian woman is most at risk from illness and dismal sanitary conditions that in some cases could cause death in the future. In contrast, the required resources for treatment and cure are not available. Women seek medical attention particularly in the UNRWA clinics inside the camps and some refugee population centres, and depend on the UN agency as the principal source of treatment, bearing in mind that the agency has drastically reduced its health services, to such a level as has affected and continues to affect the quality of service currently and in previous years. This has led in many cases to many fatalities and human tragedies arising from illness and the difficulty of obtaining the right treatment especially for women and children; the Palestinian community witnessing many such cases.

Undoubtedly, the difficult humanitarian state of the Palestinian woman in Lebanon, whether to do with health, education, social, or economic, was not a result of one or two years of suffering, rather the accumulation of this suffering and tragedies over 56 years, the years of Nakba. What the Palestinian woman aspires to, as do the Palestinian people as a whole is an end to the state of being refugees and a just and fair resolution of the Palestinian problem, with the return of the refugees to their homes and possessions.

Source: Ali Huwaidi - Beirut
Palestinian refugees in Al-Qasimiyya camp live in real economic and social hardship, deprived of the most elementary requisites for a decent existence. Like other Palestinian refugees, the cause of these Palestinians remains one of human beings who suffer, grieve, dream and hope… Stripped of their land, they inhabit history, overwhelmed with a vivid awareness of the historic injustice perpetrated against them. Even homeless, they remain unwaveringly committed to their right to return to their homeland.

Al-Qasimiyya camp is situated in southern Lebanon between the cities of Sayda and Sur, approximately 65 kilometres away from Beirut, with a population of around 2500 to 3000. The camp is divided into two sections: one close to the main road on the coast, the other, the Al-Jami’ district compound, is located approximately one kilometre away from the road. The Palestinian refugees who reside in the camp were forced to leave their homes in northern Palestine following the 1948 catastrophe.

Most have come from Al-Jalil Al-A’la and Al-Hawla and have had to settle in the villages of Marj’ Uyun, An-Nabatiyya, Bint Jbeel and other southern Lebanese villages, for what they thought would only be a temporary phase, after which they would return home. No sooner did they manage to impose some order on their new lives in their villages of asylum were they driven away anew, to other locations. Throughout the sixties decade, they lived in hardship, unaccustomed to the novel reality of exile. They finally assembled, with other families of the likes of the Basheers, Musas, Diabs, Yusufs, Rheemas and the Ramaydas in Al-Qasimiyya area. Since UNRWA recognises only 12 camps in Lebanon, three of which are located in the South (Ar-Rasheediyya, Al-Burj Ash-Shimali and Al-Bass), Al-Qasimyya camp has only been acknowledged officially as a congregation of refugees.

Since the land where they had settled and built their homes is a private property, the refugees remain threatened by the dangerous prospect of eviction. Recently, the landowners have appealed to the courts and demanded legal repossession of their property. No verdict has been reached yet. With strict regulations banning construction materials from camps, penalising those guilty of the act and prohibiting Palestinian refugees from owning residential property -in the rare instances where they can afford to do so-, what awaits evicted families is the street.

These refugees cling to their homes to ward off the threat of homelessness, even if these are tiny, severely crowded and so old as to shield them from neither the bitter cold of wintertime, nor the glaring heat of summer, with zinc roofs they are prevented under Lebanese law from altering. Hajj Abu Salah from Al-Jalil Al-A’la (64) who runs a modest corner shop and is currently threatened by eviction says: “The pipes in my shop are leaking and I cannot repair them, since I am forbidden from bringing zinc into the camp… We will only leave our homes for Palestine… If they fill my shop with gold and diamonds, it will not recompense me for my homeland… even if I were to see it for a single day… I ask God to make my final abode there, in my homeland, Palestine”.

The Educational Situation: In Al-Qasimiyya camp there exists a single UNRWA school under the name of Al-Manusra, with 532 male and female students in both the primary and middle levels, who attend a single morning teaching period. These are distributed as follows: -------- Males Female Total Primary 198 188 368 Middle 67 79 146 The school has only been recently modernised. Its roof remains of zinc. Secondary students have no school to attend and have to travel to surrounding areas, where they can attend Al-Aqsa high school in Ar-Rasheediyya refugee camp, or private schools elsewhere.

There are only two nursery schools: Al-Irshad Al-Islami Nursery in the Hayy Al-Jami’ area and another nursery run by the Palestinian Woman Union in the Lower Region. Both are attended by a small number of pupils. Even though both offer their services almost free of charge, most parents are unable to afford the minimal costs, or the extra transport expenses involved.

The principal difficulty confronting parents is the remoteness of the schools, which requires them to rent minibuses for their children. Those who cannot meet the travel costs send their children to school on foot. These have to walk long distances whilst carrying heavy books under the scorching sun heat in summertime and heavy rain during the cold days of winter. During both seasons, the student is dripping wet by the time he/ she reaches school, due to flooding sewage water that fills the main road to school, causing children to slip and fall or be splashed by passing vehicles. Umm Ashraf, a mother of school children says, “ My little daughter always returns home in tears with clothes and bag drenched in sewage water that causes her to slip, trip on muddy narrow streets and fall… I cannot afford to buy her a new bag, or hire a minibus because of our difficult financial situation…” This is compounded by the grave danger of crossing the highway stretching from the coast to the camp.

Rabab, a 15 year old student says: “If we make it to school unharmed after crossing the road, we still return home muddy and wet, slipping in sewage water and tripping in holes…” The highway has been the scene of many a horrific accident, with camp residents having to swiftly cross it to use buses and cars to get to school, college and university. The camp is devoid of any sports, cultural, or social club where students can spend their free time; neither does it have any employment training centres. In the absence of play areas, children have no choice but to play in the tiny, shanty houses and across the narrow alleys.

Those who venture near the large sewage drain in the camp run the risk of falling inside, being severely damaged and even killed, as has happened to many. The Social Situation: In accordance with a set of highly restrictive, and intensely complicated regulations, Palestinians have been barred from tens of occupations. The Palestinian refugee is thereby compelled to seek the only available manual and extremely harsh jobs with minimal financial returns. This equally applies to those who succeed in qualifying professionally. Since the camp is surrounded by farmland, the majority of its residents tend to work as seasonal labourers in farms nearby, during banana and citrus fruit harvests, after which they are confined to unemployment. As a result, immigration has reached 75% among young men, which has generated an acute crisis of demographic imbalance.

Palestinian refugees have to pay for water and electricity, like other Lebanese citizens, when they have no right to have their streets repaired or cleaned. These have deteriorated to such an extent as to be nothing more than a collection of filthy holes. Health: There exists a single UNRWA surgery in the camp, open two days a week only, on Mondays and Thursdays. Whoever falls ill during the week has no choice but to wait for these two days.

There is also a centre for the disabled, supplemented by a dental surgery that offers its services almost gratuitously. The camp provides no medical centre or hospice for urgent cases. Furthermore, refugees have struggled for years in the absence of a sewage drains’ network. Recently, however, a non- governmental international organisation has begun constructing such a network in the lower part of the camp, leaving the upper side untouched. Sewage water passes near the camp’s tiny houses and pours unto the main road, causing infinite discomfort and damage to passers by, with the despicable sight and unbearable stench of excrement.

This is also at the root of many accidents, as it causes both passers by and vehicles to slip. Furthermore, in the absence of public waste bins, or garbage collection cars, the residents are forced to burn the mounting waste for fear of contamination by insects and rodents, with all the stifling and dangerous gases this generates. One is often struck by the sight of waste being burnt near schools, with wind blowing the poisonous smoke inside, only to be inhaled by students.

This is the atmosphere where Al-Qasimiyya’s children grow! Al-Qasimiyya’s refugees’ circumstances are painfully strenuous, economically, socially and educationally. The situation only gets worse with the passing of time, with the absence of employment opportunities and rising demography.

The climate where the new generation finds itself serves to discourage educational achievement. The refugees endure all these hardships in the hope of one day returning to Palestine, their motherland. * Palestinian writer & researcher

Source: Lebanon- Hanan Qaddura*
According to statistics for the month of May 2003, amongst the 329,498 refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, there are 2000 Palestinian refugee families, who had initially settled in camps and refugee centres following the 1948 Nakba (the Catastrophe) in Palestine, but who had then been forced out of that place of refuge.

The number of these internally displaced refugees is estimated at around 12,000, living in extreme deprivation in terms of social and economic conditions, as well as health, and education. They are to be found squatting in the cellars of abandoned or partially complete buildings, and underground car parks.

Reasons for Internal Migration This state of internal displacement of refugees started in the early seventies, a product of the Israeli attacks on the camps and Palestinian refugee centres. Attacks from the air, field artillery, attack boats, or seaborne landings by the Israeli Navy on the beaches of the refugee camps, resulted in many atrocities being committed - the killing and maiming of helpless refugees.

A case in point is Hassan Ajawi, a Palestinian refugee, who lost his youngest sister, and he himself had his left arm amputated as a result of an Israeli raid on Al-Rashidiyeh refugee camp in 1974. This forced internal migration then continued, this time because of the civil war in Lebanon.

The war broke out in 1975, and lasted for seventeen years. However, the most dangerous period in the migration of refugees from their places of refuge was in 1982, at the time of the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon. According to observers, 198,000 Palestinian refugees, of the total 239,000 registered with UNRWA in that year, were affected. This was followed by the war waged against the refugee camps in 1985, which went on until 1987.

This contributed to a steady stream of refugees moving between camps, and cities in an attempt to flee the raging battles, this in addition to the large number of refugees who fled abroad, and left Lebanon altogether. In a survey by the popular committee for Shateela refugee camp, it was found that there were around 500 families that had fled to the outskirts of Beirut.

Many had been concentrated in the area of Al-Sabeel, the Salwa Al-Hoot Building in Fekahani, and buildings belonging to the PLO in the area of Corniche Al-Mazra’a. As for the internal feuding, that occurred in the Palestinian camps, in the form of inter-factional, Palestinian-Palestinian fighting, this also had prominent effect in widening and encouraging further internal displacement and migration.

According to informed observers, all these factors have helped lead to around 7000 families moving out of their camps, and refugee population centres seeking safe haven. By far the majority migrated to European states like Germany, and the Scandinavian countries like; Sweden, and Denmark. The rest still remain scattered in the different parts of Lebanon.

The Refugees Migrating from Nabatieh Camp: Before it was obliterated, the number of Palestinian refugees forming the population of Nabatieh camp reached a peak of 5023, according to UNRWA. Following the continuous barrage using heavy and destructive weapons on the camp, and then the threat - leave or else – issued to the inhabitants by the Zionist enemy, the refugees fled and were dispersed to other camps like Burj-al-Shamali, Al-Awda centre near Ein-el-Helweh camp, Auozu refugee centre, Mieh-ou-Mieh, the area of Shuhaim in Al-Khuroob Province, the City of Sidon and Tel-el-Zaatar refugee camp before it too was destroyed.

The Refugees Migrating from Tel-el-Zaatar Camp This camp lies in the eastern part of Beirut, and up until 1976, housed 30,000 refugees comprising 17,000 Palestinians, and a mix of 13,000 Lebanese and Syrians. Tel-el-Zaatar camp is considered one of the largest refugee centres in the eastern part of Beirut, a predominantly Christian part of that city. In 1976, in what is now referred to as the “Massacre of Tel-el-Zaatar” - the refugees were systematically murdered, kidnapped and subjected to gruesome treatment. The inhabitants of this camp were forced to flee, abandoning their livelihoods and belongings in search of a safe refuge. The camp was then razed to the ground, and those few remaining refugees expelled. The tragedy of once more seeking refuge after expulsion was played out once more. The refugees fled the camp living out in the open, the ground their bed and the sky roof over their heads.

In time they were scattered across other refugee camps and the Lebanese territories; from Shateela to Ein-el-Helweh and Burj-el-Barajneh camps. According to UNRWA records for 1980, four thousand persons formed the number of Palestinian refugees expelled from Tel-el-Zaatar camp and living in the desolate Dammur area - an area whose inhabitants had themselves, previously, been forced to abandon it. However the refugees were forced to flee again because of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Some were to continue this nomadic existence of constant flight in the Beqa’a Region, others to Syria, another group to the areas of Roosha and Ras Beirut, where they were forced to take up residence in abandoned buildings, car parks and public spaces.

The Communities of Al-Maslakh, Al-Naba’a and Al-Qaranteena These closely assembled refugee centres lie in the Northeast, to one side of Beirut Port and next to Tel-el-Zaatar camp. As the civil war raging around them reached new levels of violence, the inhabitants fled these centres. Especially so, after witnessing the horrific scenes of young men crucified on the walls of the Sleep Comfort industrial complex, after being killed in front of their families, in the month of December 1976. Historians of the civil war relate these incidents.

Women, children and old people made their way to the cellars of Al-Ashrafiya neighbourhood, from which they were later transported to camps in Al-Ramla Al-Baydaa’ and Al-Awzaa’i. Observers reckon that the number of people forced from the refugee centres mentioned above was 780 families, i.e. 4500 refugees.

The War Ends The security situation in Lebanon stabilized after the Taif Agreement in 1989. A great number of; security, political, economic and social problems were resolved for the many Lebanese forced to migrate from their homes, as this phenomenon was not restricted to the Palestinian refugees. This change for the better affected a number of Lebanese families, who had also been forced either to migrate abroad or seek refuge away from the war zones. As a result, the inhabitants of Dammur area were repatriated, as were the inhabitants of other areas.

However the problem remained for those refugees whose camps had been completely destroyed. Moreover, they were now not allowed to return to them, even in their ruined state. After plans were made and implemented to reconstruct the country, however the problem of the Palestinian refugees remained unsolved, in spite of the efforts of the Lebanese state through the Department of Palestinian Refugee Affairs. In 1993, payment of between 2000USD to 3000USD was made to all those internally displaced persons, be they Palestinian refugees, or Lebanese citizens. While this payment was inadequate to meet the needs of the Lebanese individual, in any case he would be able to return to his home as part of the settlement.

The greater problem remained for the Palestinian families, who had nowhere to return to, following the destruction of homes, and the impossibility of return to Tel-el-Zaatar and Al-Nabatieh camps in particular. So some were forced to build on top of the houses of relatives in other camps, renting temporarily or to remain without home in their place. In February 1993, of those who stayed, some were forced to vacate their place of refuge, and had to live on the street for ten days, in full view of the national, regional and international media.

UNRWA in its capacity as the international agency specifically charged with the welfare of Palestinian refugees tried to play a role in resolving this problem, but found it difficult to broker agreement between the Lebanese state and the PLO. Where are the displaced refugees and how do they live? More than 25 years have passed, the Palestinian refugees are embittered, continuing to live, day after day, as they do in conditions nowhere near fit for humans:

1. Semi-non-existent infrastructure, in terms of water, electricity and sanitation services.

2. Lack of schools, nurseries, dispensaries or clinics.

3. Social problems due to high unemployment amongst youths.

4. Outbreaks of a number of infectious diseases, due to the crowded conditions and densely populated area.

Proposed Solutions After the passage of a quarter century on the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, their humanitarian situation is worsening. Aggravated so long as the refugees’ status is at odds with the laws and decisions put in place. These forbid the return of refugees to the destroyed camps, any expansion of the present camps, or the building of new ones.

Hence the refugees, living in conditions not remotely fit for humans, and indifferent toward these places where they had sought refuge, only demand and aspire to their problem being tackled at its very roots and that they return to their original homes in Palestine, in common with all Palestinian refugees abroad.

However, and until this hope is realized, they demand that the Lebanese state, UNRWA and the PLO grasp the nettle and solve their problems, and build dwellings for them that satisfy their basic needs.

Source: Ali Huwaidi: Beirut


Gaza Refugees Compound is situated in the Lebanese capital Beirut. It emerged following the Zionist massacre of Sabra and Shatilla in 1982. The seven floor building had been used as a Palestinian Red Cross hospital and served as a refuge for the traumatized Palestinian families fleeing Zionist air and land strikes against Palestinian camps. The hospital continued to offer its services until 1985.

As a result of the continuous strikes, the four top floors were completely destroyed. The three remaining ones incurred serious damage, and are still riddled with cracks, holes and humidity. The building continues in this state and serves as a home for 338 families, that is around 2028 Palestinian refugees, all living in its dilapidated rooms.

The building is on the verge of collapse, due to the vast quantity of water that has penetrated into its foundations. There used to be seven rooms on every floor, which had been divided into tiny rooms, of no more than 25 square metres. Those rooms became home to whole families, a tiny narrow room per family.

No services are provided by UNRWA or by the government, since the place is not registered in either of their records. The residents have to fend for themselves, without any outside help. Refuse piles up at the foot of the building attracting rodents and insects. This remains an acute problem even with the help of the Popular Committee, especially with sewers being inside the building itself.

To the residents, night is like day… Wax from burnt- out candles is scattered everywhere. The division of rooms from the inside has compounded the problem generating high levels of humidity. In the absence of lighting, humidity has become unbearable and has caused numerous contagious and deadly diseases… In addition, the use of candles for lighting places the building in serious and constant danger of fire.

There is no drinking water in the camp. This is the cause of much chaos, since the residents have to resort to transporting water from the neighbourhood going up and down narrow dark stairs... This inevitably results in accidents, injuries and even deaths, as the residents struggle to climb up and down the staircases carrying the water filled containers…

Statistics indicate that 40 percent of residents suffer from chest infections; that is, around 535 individuals out of 2028 people. 49 percent of these are children, that is, 240 out of 535 children. Muhammad has been staying in “Bahans” Hospital for respiratory diseases for over a month. He is 21 years old, married with two children. He lives in the Gaza hospital and was transferred to hospital after contracting tuberculosis. His brother and mother suffer from asthma. Muhammad serves as a precursor of what could become an epidemic if conditions inside the building do not improve. The building is in fact not suited for habitation, but the residents have no choice but to remain there to escape homelessness, since they cannot return to their homes in the Western district of Sabra and Shatilla camp. Those who came from Tal az-Za’tar and Nabatiyya camps have nowhere to go to since both camps had in the seventies been reduced to ruins.

Hajj Abu Muhammad as-Sammak from Yaffa in Palestine lives with the other 11 members of his family in the entrance to the building in a thoroughly unacceptable inhumane manner. He refuses to talk to anyone and continuously repeats “We have no one but God” Hajj Abu Riyad A. ar-Rahim from ‘Anqa Village in Palestine is a disabled man who lives along with 13 members of his family in a single room, used as a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom… Abu Muhammad says: “There is nothing but “Panadol” in the surgery, used to “treat” all ailments. We have thus had to resort to traditional methods to try to cure the widespread asthma. In addition to respiratory diseases, the residents suffer from other sorts of illnesses. Humidity has affected many residents’ hearing, who needed treatment and operations as a result. Over 80 percent suffer from nephritis (kidney infections) as a result of polluted water consumption. There is also a hospice run by some international organization, which charges 7 dollars for every medical examination. “We cannot pay this sum, since we are unemployed”. In fact only 10 percent of all residents are employed.

Muhammad al-‘Isa A. Samir, an official of the popular committee in Western Beirut, which supervises the running of the compound says: “We spray disinfectants, collect the garbage and try to ensure some supply of drinking water… But we cannot meet all the needs of the residents… We are sponsored by the Norwegian government, UNICEF and the European Union, but our needs are great, pressing and urgent. What happened to Muhammad that young man of 21 is a product of this catastrophic situation… it will inevitably reoccur if nothing is done”. He adds: “What the residents are longing for is to break away from this misery and to live like other human beings”. He calls on UNRWA to “meet its responsibilities towards these refugees until they return to their homes, to resolve their problems just as it had done in the case of those refugees who had escaped to Beirut hotels during the war”. Let the international community look at the terrible tragedy daily lived by the Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora in general, and in camps in particular.

How long is this state of indifference to go on, when refugees are dying in the absence of decent living conditions and adequate medical care?

Source: Ali Huwaidi
Schools in Lebanese refugee camps play an extremely important role in the lives of Palestinians, educating and forming individuals and creating an educated society. The crucial importance of these schools is manifested in many forms.

Most important of which, it seems is their ability to bring together a vast section of the Palestinian community in Lebanon. A study we conducted this year on such schools shows that approximately 90% of Palestinian students attend UNRWA schools at primary, middle, and secondary levels.

Many students are obliged to attend schools more than 15 minutes’ distance from their homes, even though Lebanon is a relatively small country whose inhabitants are generally able to travel easily to reach their workplaces, schools, and places of leisure. The families of students frequently expressed their desire for schools to be closer to their homes particularly in view of the variety of functions schools serve in the lives of students and the entire community.

It is notable that the areas surrounding schools in Lebanon tend to be more densely populated and to have higher house prices than other areas, due to the ability of house owners in the area concerned to raise prices in the knowledge that their properties’ proximity to a school makes them greatly sought-after. In some areas, it is evident that schools have served to populate entire residential areas and have made these areas attractive to individuals and businesses.

In refugee camps, this natural flow of migration towards schools has exacerbated the existing problems of overcrowding. The problem can only get worse, given that these camps have not been extended despite witnessing a 400% increase in the refugee population.

The role of schools in the Palestinian refugee camps is not limited to the educational sphere but extends to the social sphere as well, playing an important role in the social lives of students and providing them with the opportunity to take part in various enriching activities, such as:

• Allowing more than 45,000 students to attend UNRWA schools, which can be found in more than 20 refugee camps and Palestinian communities, and which are closely linked to UNRWA’s educational committee.

• Giving schools access to the media in order to put forward UNRWA’s position and view in relation to student issues and to bring attention to the various activities undertaken by schools throughout the refugee camps.

• Visiting Palestinian civil organizations in order to inform them of educational issues and of the methods used by the schools to deliver their message to members, as well as participating in discussions between the various sections of Palestinian society. These activities are undertaken in a considerable number of schools, depending on the nature and extent of the relationship between the school authorities/board and the local population, and serve to instill in them manners, religious values, and national pride, and to resist the erosion of Palestinian culture.

• The provision of social services to the community in many schools, such as financial aid for poorer students through the waiving of their school fees, and various welfare services. Furthermore, schools play a vitally important role in building a cadre of Palestinian youth leaders and making them aware of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim issues in the Middle East and elsewhere, in addition to advising the various Palestinian student associations. Thus, these schools are distinguished by their function as natural focal points of Palestinian society in the Lebanese refugee camps, making the new generations of Palestinians in Lebanon aware of, uniting them around, and allowing them to participate in, their national struggle.

Due to their importance in playing all the roles outlined above, schools in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon have been the targets of a campaign by the United States’ administration aimed at discrediting Palestinian and Islamic education by attacking the curriculum, accusing schools of being vehicles of extremism and fanaticism, and putting pressure on the UN (and UNRWA) to remove the teaching of Palestinian history and geography from its curriculum.

The US has also attacked education in various Arab countries, describing it as a breeder of terrorism. UNRWA response to this has been to ban the inclusion of “political issues” in the pages of textbooks and to resurrect a long-forgotten UNRWA directive to its employees not to participate in any political activity. This directive is now being strictly implemented, leading to the prevention of employees from expressing their condemnation of the massacres perpetrated against the Palestinian people by way of an hour-long picket in UNRWA offices and schools last month. In addition to this, an hour’s pay was deducted from the employees’ wages, on the orders of the UNRWA regional director in Lebanon, who claimed that the picket suggested that the UNRWA was “biased”.

The directive on the ban on “political activity” was used by directors of UNRWA schools and departments to justify a ban on the Palestinian national anthem, which was previously played in schools at the start of each day.

It is evident that all educational systems are in need of constant improvement and reform, but this must involve careful planning and implementation in order to yield beneficial results for Palestinian education and for its students. But schools for the children of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon suffer from a long list of problems, which do not seem to have been addressed by UNRWA’s recent ‘reformative’ measures. Overcrowding and the sorry state of schools built several decades ago are only two areas where improvements are urgently needed.

Very little modernization, if any, has been undertaken on these schools, leading to a situation where, in some schools, walls have to be propped up by wooden poles in order to prevent them caving in on pupils. Some schools are so structurally unsound that they tremble under the feet of pupils entering and leaving them; yet, it has never occurred to those in charge to move pupils into new buildings for their own safety. One must remember that the school is made up of buildings, students, teachers, director, and texts.

If the building is what brings together the elements of the educational process, and the pupil is the product of this process, then it is clear that the pupil’s relationship with his teacher has a great impact on his interaction with, and response to, the knowledge he is taught. Teachers are generally pleased with pupils who show a real interest in their subject and wish to know more about it. The best way to please a teacher is, naturally, to make an effort in his lessons.

There are thirteen ways with which to win the respect or admiration of a teacher, which we have taken from a book titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, New York Press, 1936, which instructs the pupil to:

• Make sure not to criticize, or complain about, a teacher’s method of teaching.

• Let the teacher know that you like the subject he teaches.

• Let the teacher know that you think he is important.

• Avoid arguing with the teacher.

• Acknowledge when you are wrong, and do so quickly and honestly.

• Ask questions, and do not demand answers.

• Genuinely try to understand the teacher’s point of view.

• Let the teacher know that you intend to work very hard for his subject.

• Take the relevant textbook with you when you visit the teacher.

Teachers play the extremely important role of conveying knowledge to pupils, and the success of the entire education system depends upon this. The successful teacher is one who follows closely his pupils’ progress and work, and, if resources and equipment are scarce, makes the best possible use of them, as well as seeking to implement the recommendations and findings of research on education, psychology, and modern teaching methods.

The successful teacher should be flexible in his methods and willing to make changes and improvements to adapt them to his pupils’ needs, abilities, and attitudes, and the needs of the society in which they live. He should not limit his attentions to his pupils’ intellectual development alone, but should aim to aid their development in every sphere and by every means possible, such as encouraging pupils to engage in the subject fully by visiting places of interest to their studies, asking questions during the lesson, and by taking notes on the pupils and encouraging debate and genuine engagement. It is said that the mother is a school, to which we reply, “the mother is a school sustained by a smile, even in the darkest of moments, possessing a strength that inspires confidence, hope, and determination, opening its arms to embrace the flowers, and providing fertile land for their growth.

The school is a vast place, opening horizons beyond our imagination. It bears the heavy responsibility of carrying the torch for future generations, lighting up the future through kind words, wise advice, firmness, and infinite generosity. It is universally accepted that the director of a school is the foundation stone of the education system. He is responsible for the day-to-day running of the school, and the scope of his work is vast. He deals with pupils of different ages, characters, abilities, talents, and behaviour, as well as teachers of various outlooks, and abilities in different subjects and fields of interest, who come to work loaded with their own personal preoccupations.

He is inundated with rules, recommendations, advice, and suggested methods from higher authorities, as well as from inspectors and advisors. He is observed by many and assessed by many more. It is the director’s responsibility to meet the demands of those around him as far as he is able, and to satisfy the needs of his pupils and aid their development.

He is required to meet the needs of his teaching staff, those of his pupils’ parents and community, and to fulfil the requirements of higher authorities. His job is not a simple matter of giving orders, but involves daily interaction with fellow humans with their idiosyncrasies and differences, requiring him to be flexible and astute. He must consult his teaching staff and involve them in the decision process, while directing them and encouraging them to overcome any difficulties.

Thus, his job requires co-operation with teachers to ensure pupils receive the best education possible in the circumstances, as well as collaboration with parents through the school’s parents’ committee in order to identify and solve any problems, be they educational or social.

This co-operation between the school and the community it serves can be a great source of strength for the director and can greatly facilitate his own job and that of teachers, as demonstrated by the director of a secondary school in the Algerian town of Al-Barwaaqiya, who solved the problem of lack of seating for the pupils by insisting that 40 pupils bring chairs from home. The parents of these pupils co-operated with the school, and obtained the necessary number of chairs by borrowing them from other families and even from local cafes.

Thus, by involving the local community and calling on their assistance, the director solved this potentially disruptive problem. In conclusion, it is necessary to point out that the school’s fulfillment of the above-mentioned roles and functions is not unprecedented in the history of the Palestinian cause.

It is, rather, a natural return to the original role of the school in the educational life of the community. This return has been made necessary by the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and their experience as a migrant community searching for, and affirming, its identity, institutions, and way of life in an Arab environment characterized by a high degree of unity and freedom, helping schools in Lebanon to regain their historic role in a spontaneous way. Books have, of course, played a fundamental role in this process, due to the good judgment shown by those in charge of these schools.

Source: Ali Huweidi - Beirut