Playgrounds in the Rubble
We’ve collected about two and a half cubic meters of humanitarian
aid for the refugee settlement of Palestinians in Shatila, Lebanon.
The aid, in two large packages, is all ready to go and there seems to
be no way to send it. It is sitting on wooden supports, covered for protection
from sun and rain, full of clothes for adults, plus toys and some clothing
for the kindergardens and womens’ self-help groups operated by the Najdeh
Association in Shatila.
The current obstacles to sending the package are a combination of:
political obstacles - the government in Lebanon makes every
support for the refugees very difficult, while the United Nations have
not been very warm,
financial obstacles - so far we have raised only a part of the
money for the shipping, which will cost a few hundred Cyprus Pounds.
Two contacts with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees so
far produced nothing, but we have not given up on that angle yet. We have
been asking for their help to facilitate the movement of the humanitarian
aid at the port in Lebanon, from the ship through Customs and out, to reduce
the bureaucracy and difficulties which the local government is expected
to throw in our way. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Lebanon,
has 2,600 employees and a $50 million a year budget (plus an additional
$20 million for special projects). But the UN High Commission on Refugees
in Cyprus, only 150 miles away, has never heard of them, "believes they
exist", but has no way to contact them.
We still believe there are some good people within the UN Commission
on Refugees in Cyprus, so we are going to be asking for their help again.
We really hope for a better response this time.
This humanitarian aid campaign was born from our contacts with Beirut
IndyMedia, and the efforts to create an Eastern Mediterranean IndyMedia. Face-
to- face meetings last year led to warm personal bonds among some of us,
and this resulted in a short visit to Shatila by Maro, Katia and Orestis,
guided by Raida who is a Najdeh Association refugee aid worker and an IndyMedia
Shatila was levelled three times in less than ten years, and it was
the site of one of the world’s most disgusting massacres aimed at ethnic
cleansing. (Ariel Sharon and the Lebanese Phalange- militia who carried
out the massacre are being prosecuted for it in the World Court.) In Cyprus,
where both of the island’s main ethnic communities have been targets of
similar attacks, and where more than half our country’s population are
refugees, we have a painful understanding of what all of this means.
Conditions in the Shatila settlement are appalling. The government does
not allow repair on building
structures, does not allow work permits for the residents (even if three
generations so far have been born in Lebanon and lived their entire lives
there), and classifies the Palestinian refugees as "unregistered aliens".
By this, and through many other policies, it denies the people of Shatila
basic human rights such as access to clean water, food, shelter, electricity,
jobs - all these are "luxuries" which are being continuously stripped down
to less and less.
Most of the refugee camps in Lebanon are under military siege
for most of the time. There are about 400.000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
In Shatila, the sewers are forced to run in the streets so that the government’s
ethnic cleansing policies can attack the people with infections and diseases
so as to reduce their numbers. The electricity wires are left to dangle
in long loops close to the ground, and when they carry electricity, they
are an immediate danger to anyone close by - especially if it’s windy or
rainy. The community is forbidden to repair them. Garbage is left to rot
in the neighbourhoods, and the community is prevented from organising a
garbage collection system. Shatila is home to about 10.000 Palestinians
and about 10.000 Lebanese, Syrian, and Gypsy refugees, who all struggle
to survive together, in endless efforts to make the community liveable
- it’s obviously a place where ethnic cleansing has not yet succeeded.
The Najdeh Association in Shatila operates kindergardens, vocational
skills schools, womens’ self- help groups, and community programs aimed
at handling violence in the family and similar social problems which are
the artificially created poverty and the inhuman conditions which are enforced
on the community. The vocational skills training is aimed at creating income
and self- sufficiency, both for the individuals and for the community.
The classes involve skills such as embroidery (traditional embroidery items
are made and sold by co-ops to raise funds for the community), video and
photography, plumbing, carpentry, electrical skills, etc.
The material and social realities in Shatila are terrible, but they
have not succeeded in breaking the people yet. A condensed image of this
reality contains everything about the clash between the forces aimed at
crushing the spirit, and the resilience, persistence, patience, and inventiveness
of the resistance to them : individuals and groups, sometimes alone, sometimes
in organised efforts, keep going through the garbage to salvage any item
of value - there is use value in everything, and ways to make use
of everything. The
bottom of a broken bottle is a magnifying glass; the soles of torn shoes
can be attached to another pair; a piece of leather can help repair a leaking
faucet; a battery- rusted radio contains all the parts needed to
make a radio which does not require batteries. Nothing is wasted; everything
is re-used, recycled, repaired.
We admire the spirit toward community organization and self- sufficiency
promoted by Najdeh and other groups, and also the spirit in which people
like Raida carry out this work, aimed at community empowerement through
concrete, practical activity involved in everyday reality, and guided by
Universal principles such as the commitment to see a world without
racism, a world with freedom and equality for all, and a return of all
refugees home. All
this is part of what inspired us toward this particular humanitarian aid
campaign: we collected items from supporters for a few months, and recently
worked on assembly, sorting, and packaging. The last remaining step, sending
everything to the Shatila workers of the Najdeh Association, is still to
materialise, as we need to keep raising funds for shipping, and to sort
out the bureaucratic steps with the appropriate authorities.
Volunteers and supporters from three groups have been working together
on this humanitarian aid campaign, pooling together our resources to make
it happen. The groups are:
is One - Universal Life Church.
If you would like to help us in this project in any way, no matter
how big or small, please contact Petros, at Humanitarian-Aid@Universal-Life-Church.net
. All the help, whether you’re donating your work, time, money, materials,
very valuable, it is very appreciated, and most welcome. Please remember
that your donation will go a long way toward helping people who are in
terrible conditions, to survive one more winter and to keep the faith alive
for an eventual Peace in our region and a return Home.
From the Cyprus
* * *
Further readings and photos:
About the Najdeh
The photos in this article are from our visit to Shatila: a kindergarden
operated by Najdeh, and images from the neighbourhood. (Many thanks to
Katia, Maro, and Sue for the pictures).
A broader view of the Najdeh projects, seen in a wider social
A visit to Shatila - from a fact-finding mission of the Fellowship
of Reconciliation (FOR), the oldest and largest interfaith peace
organization in the United States:
A Report on the status of Refugees in Lebanon by
the Secretariat of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN),
published with the financial support of the EU Commission. The EMHRN is
based in Denmark:
"….Our right to return to Palestine, to our old towns and villages,
is not even on the agenda of the agreements". From a visit to Shatila,
a report by Georges Mehrabian, Maria Plessa and Natasha Terlexis:
Jan. 31, 2000 (Maria and Natasha, who are supporters and friends,
visited Cyprus from Athens recently to report on the BiCommunal efforts
since the easing of movement restrictions on our island.)
Images from the Najdeh vocational
training center in Shatila
of the NAJDEH Association, detailing some of the projects
wall now covers the spot where a firing squad lined up the health care
An open letter to the survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacre
"The Sabra and Shatila Case in Belgium: A Guide for the Perplexed"
by Laurie King-Irani, International Campaign for Justice for
the Victims of Sabra and Shatila, 16 June 2003
This is a current and up to date analysis of the court case,
for those of us who have been getting confused by the recent legal developments
around it and by misleading news articles. Despite rumours of failure,
the legal case to prosecute Sharon and his allied genocidal maniacs continues:
(many thanks to the Electronic
Intifada for these materials)
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