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Last Updated: 06/09/2003
Diary from the Lebanon
Sina Rahmani

Sina Rahmani continues his thoughts on living among the Palestinian refugees and includes a comment on the new middle east Road Map to peace.

In the Mountains


The Koura Plateau is a mountain range that is home to predominantly Christian Lebanese.  The region is known for its beautiful lakes and the source of some of the finest olive oil in the world.  I stayed with a friend from university in a small village, which was mostly Greek Orthodox--a minority in the predominately Maronite Christian community
in Lebanon.  His house was situated on a smaller mountain, thus causing his housed to be dwarfed by beautiful, luscious mountains. Many of the men in the town had fought in the
Civil War and told me some stories. "William's dad, he has a bullet stuck in his ass."  My friend tellsnme, with the group of fifteen people my age hooting and hollering to
William's dad to show us the bullet. "Its on his thigh."  William defensively points out.


Back in the Bourj


Everyone here smokes.  Convenience stores abound and whole shops dedicated to cigarettes.  The smoke competes with the smell of garbage as to who has supremacy over the camp.  A film begins to collect on your clothes that creates a beautiful blend of B.O. and cigarette smoke.  The long-term effects of the cigarettes become clear when the
people smile. A more social form this culture of smoke takes the shape of is the Nargileh.  Known to Westerners as the Shisha or Hooka, it is the beautiful, slender tool through which flavoured tobacco is filtered through water.  Men sit for hours smoking, laughing, playing cards, yelling at their kids, screaming at their friends.  The nights become a haze; a poor man's nightclub. 



While they hate America and all her politics, they sing along quite amazingly (considering their English skills) to America's biggest cultural exports.   They wear Gap jeans and Nike shoes.  They watch (bootleg) Hollywood movies while drinking Coca-Cola and Pepsi.   In this place, where nothing seems to make sense, why bother keeping track of these paradoxes?




The inability to buy fun is understood implicitly.  The internet cafes are ridiculously cheap (even compared to Lebanon), with one hour of computer usage costing about 90 Canadian cents.  One internet shop that I have been frequenting (in the camp) is consistently filled with kids, even as midnight.  Parents coming to grab the kids by the ear drag themnaway from their games.  The older kids then move in, and play network games until the wee hours of the morning.  (One of the oddest moments I had here in camps consisted of a network computer game that took place in a Jordanian marketplace.) No one actually pays very much for the service, and thus the shops don't make all that much money.  Making money would imply a permanence, a stability, that the camp itself
inherently denies anyone.  How can one be successfully rich among the
poor?    This boredom seeps into one's very essence, making daylight an enemy,
needing to be hidden from and loathed.  The only salvation can be found
with the question "Want to smoke?"


Road Map


On the whole, people are doubtful that the Road Map will accomplish anything.  They feel betrayed and forgotten, and the Road Map is another American and Israeli ploy to answer the question Palestine without any real justice for these refugees. 

       Incidentally, the Road Map is vague on the Right of Return.  It only speaks of a "just solution."  I am suspicious this means tawtin, or naturalization, into their respective countries, with miniscule financial compensation.  Opposition to tawtin in Lebanon is one of the few issues that unites all the factions, even sympathetic Hezbollah. Other plans that have been studied are based on the "Lebanon first" principle--with Palestinians in Lebanon being the first to be dealt with because theirs is the worst plight.  Canada was chair of what was called the "Refugee Working Group," where it proposed to take in 30,000 refugees.

No matter what happens, the flicker of Palestine will still live on. Even if you send them to Norway, I have the feeling they will never consider themselves to be Norwegian-Palestinian.  To these people, their nationality is all they have, for good or ill.