Do Palestinian refugees in Lebanon care about Gaza?
Standing beneath banners bearing the smiling face of Yasser Arafat, five Palestinians in Beirut’s Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp gathered transfixed around TVs showing live images of Israel’s aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip Wednesday morning.
“We’ve been watching ever since it started,” said Hassan Bakir as images of smoke rising over Gaza flickered on the screen behind him.
But although the Israeli Army has killed at least 40 Palestinians over the past two days, residents of the camps said Lebanese people and even some Palestinians had been apathetic to the bloodshed.
“It’s sad. Everyone is watching football,” said Bakir. “People are so desensitized.”
“The people here in the camp wanted to do a rally for Palestine, and only 50 people came,” agreed Walid, a car mechanic in the camp.
Pointing to Brazil and Germany flags fluttering next to tattered Palestinian party flags, he said the World Cup had generated more interest than the deaths of civilians in Gaza.
“After the Brazil- Germany game was done, there were thousands of people on the street in Beirut. I don’t know what’s wrong with people,” he sighed.
A young man in the camp wearing a Germany armband and a Pele T-shirt said he was too busy to follow the events unfolding in Gaza. “I’m always at work. I don’t watch TV,” he shrugged before mounting his scooter and disappearing into the maze of narrow streets.
But not everyone agreed. Working in a small tool shop in Sabra refugee camp, also in Beirut’s suburbs, Ali was keeping one eye on a TV screen showing a grainy image of smoke rising over Gaza City. “It’s very important for Palestinians, it’s our blood,” he said.
The near silence of the Arab leaders on the latest bloodshed has proven frustrating for many Palestinians.
“No one cares about the Palestinians. No one is challenging the Israelis except the people in Gaza, who are very courageous,” said Khaled a middle-aged Palestinian refugee, as he raised the metal security grill on his grain and nut shop at the entrance to Burj al-Barajneh camp.
“I’m disappointed in all Arabs,” he added.
“They forgot about us, as usual,” agreed Zalim, a Palestinian refugee, as he left a small grocery store in Sabra camp, also in Beirut’s suburbs. “I’ve been closely following the news on Facebook and other sites.”
While several Lebanese political parties have issued statements condemning the violence in recent days, several Palestinians said Hezbollah was the only party that had steadfastly supported their cause.
Over the weekend, Hezbollah became the first Lebanese political party to issue a statement about the latest round of bloodshed in Gaza, calling for a broad campaign of solidarity: “We must stand by the Palestinian people and provide all forms of support in their battle, in which they defend everyone else from the Zionist danger.”
“ Hezbollah has a good stand on the situation,” said Walid, wiping car grease from his hands.
Hosni Abo Taka, a Fatah official and chairman of the Popular Committee at Burj al-Barajneh camp, furrowed his brow when asked about Hezbollah.
“ Hezbollah is a friend and a supporter of the Palestinian cause,” he said, carefully choosing each word.
“We see eye to eye because we agree that negotiations [with Israel] won’t lead to anything.”
But according to another camp official who asked to remain anonymous, the relationship was not so straightforward: “ Hezbollah does support the Palestinian cause, but they have their own agenda. Hezbollah goes back to the people who are funding it, Syria and Iran.”
From behind his desk in Mar Elias camp, Palestinian activist Edward Kattoura said that while Palestinians support Hezbollah’s resistance creed, the party did little to improve the lives of the Palestinian people in Lebanon, whose ability to work and own property are limited under Lebanese law. He described Hezbollah as “supporting the cause and working against the people.”
But as Israel prepares for a potential ground offensive in Gaza, Hezbollah’s commitment to the Palestinian people is far from Kattoura’s greatest concern. “My biggest fear is about civilian loss and demolition of the infrastructure,” he said.
The Palestinian leadership, he said, seems to be in disarray. “Until now, I haven’t seen a plan of action from either the factions or the Palestinian leadership that tells every Palestinian what is his role.”