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Hate in the Middle East

Simon W. Barker

As the Palestinian Israeli conflict continues, both the Israelis and Palestinians continue debasing themselves through acts of violence that kill innocent people. President Bush will soon lay down a framework for peace in the hope that the gulf between both sides can be bridged. The key to its success will be to stop the hatred that is being created on both sides. My own experience is with the hatred the Palestinian community carries.

Last summer I taught English in El Buss, a Palestinian Refugee camp in Southern Lebanon. These people were among those who fled Palestine in 1948 and 1967, expecting to return to their homes within weeks but always being prevented from doing so. There are 600,000 registered refugees outside Palestine; many are third-generation refugees and the tents in which they initially took refuge in have become sprawling concrete settlements. They can never be part of what would already be an overcrowded Palestinian state, and even if they could be it is no more their homeland than the refugee camps where they are currently living. In this sense they were not only betrayed by the Balfour declaration in 1917, a British document which favored a Jewish homeland in Palestine, but were also betrayed when their leaders signed the Oslo accords.

The people in El Buss were luckier then most of the refugees in Lebanon because it wasn’t yet desperately overcrowded. I lived within the camp and when we weren’t teaching, our small courtyard became a temporary kindergarten for the local children. The young children played, laughed, colored pictures or tried to teach us Arabic. While living and teaching within the camp however I saw how early the children were confined by the situation into which they were born.

The Lebanese Government won’t let the Palestinians refugees in Lebanon work professionally or build better homes within the camps (or own land outside them), and it levies higher fees upon Palestinian refugees who study at University. It is a policy created because Lebanon, with its delicate politics, cannot cope with the number of refugees, and wants Israel and the international community to be responsible. Although the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees does some welfare work, it can’t solve the problem. People I met of my own age were despondent and had little hope. They had no means of improving their lives or leaving the camps to which they were condemned them. However, I spoke to many people about how they felt about Israel and most wanted to return home and live there alongside the Jewish community.

I traveled to the refugee camps in Beirut one weekend; there, even amongst the younger children there was no hope left. Buildings stumbled up four or five stories into the air leaning out to meet each other and left just a sliver of light to touch the stench of the dirty streets below. Not only did the people there live in appalling conditions, they also lived without hope of escaping them. A hatred of Israel propagated easily through the people in these conditions. In all the camps I visited there was the striking correlation between the conditions in which the Palestinian people were trapped and the hatred they bore. All those I met wanted to return to Palestine, but those forced to live in the filth of Sabra and Chatilla want to hurt rather then find peace. The same relationship is often true in the occupied territories. While the oppression of Palestinians continues, there will be a constant stream of volunteers eager to sacrifice themselves in their hate and despair.

Peace will not be achieved by beating, or bombing, a people into submission. It won’t be found with the latest weapons, the best trained army, or degrading policies. If it is to succeed it must include everyone and be based on giving people the opportunities and freedom we take for granted in the United States and United Kingdom. The accumulation of over 50 years of hate and violence will make the process long and difficult, but the way forward must elevate both communities, not debase them.

Simon Barker is a CMI exchange student.