The Palestinian/Israeli crisis is not specific to Israel/Palestine. The refugee crisis and the Occupation affects hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who linger in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Parts of this piece are taken from my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.
I write from Beirut where I am visiting the Shatila Refugee Camp, site of the 1982 massacre of some 2,500 Palestinian civilians. While Shatila is some distance from Palestine and is not under Israeli occupation, its plight is no less stark. Under deplorable, overcrowded conditions in cinder-block units, piled helter-skelter, one atop another with no heating, proper windows or doors to ward off the frigid rainy winters; with an inadequate sewage system, staggeringly high unemployment, one free medical clinic, no hospital and insufficient primary and secondary schools to cope with the ever-growing population—the residents, some of whom have lived there since 1948, are generous, warmhearted, feisty and tenacious. They work tirelessly for the overall good of the camp and are an example of discipline and determination.
The residents of Shatila know the names of their home villages in what is now Israel. On May 15th they marked the 67th year of their exile in what Palestinians call the Nakba—the Catastrophe.
I lived in Beirut from 1969 to 1984. When the Lebanese war began in April 1975, my neighborhood, on the Green Line, was shelled by Palestinian-led forces. Their snipers fired on my children. In 1982, I witnessed the Israeli invasion and saturation bombing of Beirut and stood silent during those infamous September days when Christian militiamen entered Shatila Refugee Camp to slaughter Palestinian civilians. Our apartment was but a few blocks from the camp. Some of those militiamen were neighbors. That massacre marked the beginning of my political epiphany, the day I began to recognize a people both manipulated and abandoned by their leaders, a people who still live in squalid conditions both inside Sabra in Beirut and under Israeli occupation in Palestine. Since that time I have authored four books. My memoir A Beirut Heart shares my experiences during my time in Lebanon.
Through my writing and activism, I became acquainted with Interfaith Peace Builders, a Washington, D.C. based NGO which leads delegations to Israel-Palestine to meet with peace activists from both sides. Their delegations provide an in-depth look at the situation on the ground which helps each delegate come away not only as eye-witnesses but as first-hand experts. I have co-led three of their delegations and accompanied an IFPB delegation to the Gaza Strip in 2012.
I was invited to sit on IFPB’s Board of Directors four years ago, and will assume the responsibility of Chair in June. It is a privilege and an honor to be part of an organization, unique in the movement, that offers its delegates not only the opportunity to witness first-hand the Occupation, but that also supports their peace building efforts in their own communities by coaching them in writing editorials, giving radio and television interviews, scheduling speaking engagements, and more. As Interfaith Peace Builders approaches its 15th year, the impact of our work grows exponentially. In 2015 we took our 1000th delegate and celebrated 50 delegations. IFPB inspires new activists and contributes to the growing global movement for peace with justice. Help us continue to grow so that we may someday, together with the residents of Shatila and Palestinians everywhere, share a future of hope and peace.
This book is available for purchase here.