Two Months in the Middle East #2

Sabra Refugee Camp, Beirut – June 8th, 2000
An utterly depressing place. The Palestinian refugees here live in absolute squalor. Forced out of Palestine by the Zionist ‘pioneers’ in 1948, most fled to Jordan. Misrepresented by the PLO, they again were forced to leave Jordan after the ‘Black September’ massacres of 1970. The refugees soon found themselves hated by the local Lebanese as the PLO used Lebanon as a platform to attack Israel.

In September of 1982, after the PLO had left for Tunisia, the residents of the Sabra and Chatilla camps were victims of one of the worst massacres of the 20th century. Christian militia men, ushered in by the Israeli troops, killed 2000 unarmed Palestinians in 36 hours.

Despite the tragedies that have befallen them, some of the people here have not given up hope. One old woman called us into her home and showed us a black and white photo. It was of her house in Haifa which she was forced to leave in 1947. “One day I will go back” she declared in pigeon English. Unfortunately for her, she will never return home.

Ragheb Harb Street, Beirut – June 7th, 2000
Finally meet with Hizbullah. Takes numerous faxes and phonecalls before we can talk to what the CIA calls “the most dangerous terror organisation in the world”. This area of Beirut obviously saw a lot of street fighting as the pock marked buildings testify. Hizbullah roadblocks are everywhere, as are Iranian flags. Finally find their headquarters. Escorted to a lift by two rather large bodyguards. The tiny lift is covered in bloodstains which doesn’t exactly set my mind at ease. Get half an hour with Sheik Attolah, Hizbullah’s information minister, who talks to me about everything from Israeli secret service activity in Beirut to the IRA. “Hizbullah”, he states, “will not launch any attacks on Israeli positions, providing they retreat from every inch of Lebanese soil”. Given a glossy booklet about Zionist massacres and told to talk to the people down South.