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Racine Dominicans
Sister writes about her experience in Lebanon

Pat Chaffee, OP

With the blessing (literally!) of my Racine Dominican community, I flew to Beirut, Lebanon to sail with a flotilla attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. The promised ship, however, never appeared. I began to wonder why I was led to Beirut.

I found the answer. When I arrived, I knew nothing about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon; when I left, I was fired up to advocate for the refugees. This transformation was due largely Dr. Franklin Lamb, an international lawyer whose passion is civil rights for Palestinian refugees. Franklin was the contact for U.S. citizens planning to sail with the flotilla. He works with the Palestinian Civil Rights Organization, as well as other Palestinian advocacy organizations.

He explained that, in 1948, when Palestinians were driven from their land by the creation of the State of Israel, some fled to neighboring countries. Those who fled to Syria eventually became citizens; those who fled to Jordan eventually enjoyed most of the rights and responsibilities of citizens, without the legal status. But those who fled to Lebanon were given no rights. For over sixty years and three generations, they have lived in refugee camps, which now are extremely overcrowded shanty towns. They are dependent on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA); they have no right to work or to own property or to public education.

There are three camps in Beirut, and 11 in all of Lebanon. While I was there, there was a bill in the Parliament that would grant Palestinians the right to work. I, and four other U.S. citizens joined 5,000 Palestinians from the Beirut camps and sympathetic Lebanese in a four-mile march in support of this bill. However, the most recent email from Franklin indicates that the bill will not pass.

I learned about the horrendous history of massacre in the camps during the 1982 war with Israel from the book From Beirut to Jerusalem, an eyewitness account by the Chinese surgeon Ang Swee Chai. I highly recommend this book. When I said I would like to visit one of the camps, Franklin introduced me to Looi Pok, a Malaysian nurse who lives and works in Bourj el-Brajneh, one of the camps. Looi took me and another U.S. citizen on a tour of the camp. The place is cramped; the people live in extreme poverty, and I could only wonder how long before militant groups find the idle youth.
The U.S. has friendly relations with Lebanon, and pledged a billion dollars in aid after the 2006 war with Israel. Of course, the U.S. also provides military aid and training.

The point is that we can write our Representatives and Senators about the desperate need for civil rights—indeed human rights—for Palestinians in Lebanon.

For more information…

The Palestinian refugees of Lebanon: Imprisoned in poverty, condemned to misery
Amnesty International UK
Blog Posted Aug. 1, 2010

Unwelcome guests: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
The Electronic Intifada
July 13, 2010