Shatila Camp, BEIRUT — Maybe it was the really loud celebratory Ak-47 Kalashnikov and small arms gunfire and fireworks in my South Beirut neighborhood that triggered the intense New Year’s Eve nightmare. Or I guess it could have been the seemingly, just below my bedroom window, launched RPG-7’s which followed minutes past midnight on January 1, 2011.
Anyhow, in my News Year’s dream, I was back in my childhood home, Milwaukie, Oregon, nearly half a century ago. Our farming and lumber town on the Willamette River had a population of around 2000 in those much simpler and less crowded days. I dreamt it was Saturday afternoon and as we always did during our middle school years, my best friend and Lake Road neighbor, David Inabnit and I went to our town’s decaying WWII era movie theatre called the “Victory”, at exactly 1 p.m.
We stood in line to watch the Saturday Matinee, paid the 20 cents for admission, used the dime his sainted mother Martha always gave us for spending money and bought either Milk Duds or Good ‘n Plenty candies and settled into the comfortable over stuffed seats.
We always enjoyed the afternoon complete with Realtone News, a bunch of cartoons, the latest episode of an action serial like Dick Tracy, Hopalong Cassidy or the Cisco Kid, and usually a Cowboys and Indians movie. Or sometimes, my favorite childhood action hero, “Tarzan, King of the Jungle.” Tarzan’s very pleasant friend Jane, who always seemed to twist her angle and had to be carried by Tarzan, swinging on vines through the treetops (Jane reminded me of Miss Whitehead, our Milwaukie Grammar School 4th Grade teacher) was quite pretty.
But the jungle duo’s screeching and too hyper chimpanzee ‘Cheetah’ regularly got on my nerves. It was not until two decades later that I learned to my horror that the film producers sometimes would beat, drug and apply electricity to our presumed distant cousin to get the dramatic shots they wanted. These revelations shattered my idolatry towards “Tarzan, the Ape man” because I figured he knew about and should have prevented the animal abuse that his partner ‘Cheetah’ suffered.
My New Year’s nightmare was centered on one of those terrifying scenes (besides a giant boa constrictor slithering down a tree or dropping from vines overhead and wrapping around and crushing someone-or a zillion silvery flesh eating piranhas splashing in a bloody feeding frenzy and quickly stripping their victims skeleton right there on the huge screen in front of us) that still upsets me a lot. It was a quicksand pit scene where the victims would sink out of sight and disappear forever while flailing their arms and screaming–swallowed up by the shifting and sinking sand despite all their intense struggling to save themselves.
In my nightmare this vast quicksand pit kept getting wider and broader. David and I were high up in the treetops watching the swirling deathtrap cork-screwing downward as it expanded. To our horror, futilely struggling to extricate and save themselves were thousands of soon to be suffocated Palestinian refugees, some of whom I recognized from today’s refugee camps in Lebanon.
David and I could see in the distance people huddled in groups and watching. They appeared to be discussing whether they should try to rescue the condemned. But they all just stood there. Some shedding crocodile tears as they gawked—but no one made a move to save the perishing wretches.
Tarzan was nowhere to be seen and we kept looking for him to swing down from the overhead vines.
He never came.
This observer admits to possessing a fragile and perhaps nightmare susceptible psyche these days, after long observing the lives of friends in Palestinian camps in Lebanon. But it is one thing to study the statistics, read well-meaning NGO studies, and attend three dozen or so Palestinian Rights ‘Workshops/Conferences of one kind or another over the past few years. It’s quite another to share greatly valued personal relationships with some of those whose life experiences provide the sociological data.
NEW YEAR’S 2011 STATISTICAL UPDATE: LEBANON ‘LOWEST OF THE LOWS’
In Lebanon this past summer, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), conducted a socio-economic survey of 2,600 Palestinian refugee households.
The depressing survey results are not encouraging. As bad, if not worse than in Gaza, the data reveals a ticking social, moral, political and perhaps literal time bomb.
The data graphically illustrate the urgent need for immediate Lebanese and global governmental and civil society support, advocacy, and political pressure to encourage Lebanon’s parliament to enact internationally mandated elementary human rights for Palestinian refugees.
Both the international community and Lebanon have created and perpetuated the quicksand death pit tragedy unfolding in Lebanon’s camps. The good news is that either can fairly quickly end the nightmare if they can be motivated to develop the political will.
Half of the population is under 25 years old. Two-thirds of the Palestinians live shoe horned inside camps the square footage of which has not appreciably increased over the past six decades but whose population has more than quadrupled.
One-third live in gatherings mainly near one of the 12 camps’ vicinity. Nearly 7% are extremely poor, meaning they cannot meet their essential daily food needs, five times the percentage for the poorest Lebanese.
Nearly 67 per cent of Palestine’s refugees in Lebanon are poor and cannot meet their basic food and non-food needs. This is double the number for the Lebanese poor and one of the highest in the World.
Nearly 56 per cent of Palestinians are jobless. Two-thirds of Palestinians employed in elementary occupations (i.e. street vendors, construction or agriculture workers) are poor.
A major part of Palestinians refugee problems in Lebanon are caused by the fact that Lebanon’s government refuses to grant them the internationally mandated rights required and enjoyed by all the world’s refugees. These include the right to work and to own a home, the two deprivations, among those most severely impacting Palestinians in Lebanon.