After 75 years of the Nakba, the features of any settlement that preserves the rights of the Palestinians are not on the horizon, and the dream of return is gradually fading away, even if “Palestine has always existed in the heart and memory,” according to what a refugee woman says.
In the Shatila camp on the outskirts of Beirut, Palestinian youths have nothing left but broken dreams and a single hope of emigration from a country that did not embrace them enough, even before an unprecedented economic collapse destroyed it.
With the passage of the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, the new Palestinian generation, born in Lebanon, recalls the stories of their ancestors about the towns and cities from which they were forcibly displaced in 1948.
“Palestinian youth are afflicted with a kind of despair, because they are unable to achieve what they aspire to, and there is something that limits their capabilities,” said Nermin Hazena, a 25-year-old graduate in social sciences.
She adds, “Immigration has become the main solution for the youth of the camp. Everyone you talk to says they want to travel, legally or illegally. It doesn’t matter.”
And she affirms that the idea of traveling to a country that “respects me and offers me an opportunity and a job” also haunts her, at a time when the Lebanese are not finding opportunities in the midst of the economic collapse, “So how is it with refugees in camps amid difficult circumstances?”
However, the tone of despair quickly changes to a mixture of pride and enthusiasm when the young woman talks about Jaffa, specifically the Manshiya neighborhood, the hometown of her family, as if she lived in the city from which her grandparents fled with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948.
However, after 75 years of the Nakba, the features of any settlement that preserves the rights of the Palestinians are not on the horizon, and the dream of return is gradually fading away, even if “Palestine is always present in the heart and memory,” according to what she says sadly.
In the narrow and crowded alleys of the camp, recent photos of young Palestinians recently killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank rise, next to them old photos of the late President Yasser Arafat, in an indication of the organic link between the Palestinians of the interior and the Palestinians of the “diaspora”.
According to the Director of the United Nations Agency for the Employment and Relief of Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), Dorothy Klaus, 489,292 refugees are registered with the Agency. These people live in difficult conditions, exacerbated by the ongoing economic collapse since the fall of 2019, with 80% of them below the poverty line.
“There is no economic or political prospect for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon,” says Klaus, explaining that “without hope for a meaningful future and with their basic rights denied, they try to emigrate whenever the opportunity arises.”
They are deprived of the most basic rights
Muhammad Abdel Hafeez (29 years old), who roams the narrow alleys of the camp on his motorbike, says, “We do not enjoy our most basic rights, and we live every day.”
And the volunteer in the Palestinian Civil Defense continues: “I used to dream of being a doctor or an engineer, but I cannot work in these fields.”
Lebanon prevents Palestinian refugees from working in 39 professions, including law, medicine, pharmacy and engineering. They are also prohibited from owning property, for fear that this would constitute a prelude to their settlement in Lebanon and prevent their right to return to their lands.
Abdel Hafeez does not hide his desire to emigrate, but his hope of obtaining a visa is almost non-existent, while the option of illegal immigration is fraught with dangers.
He recounts how three young men from the camp died in September when a boat carrying dozens of immigrants, most of them Syrian or Palestinian refugees, sank, and their means of subsistence were limited.
“They died because they wanted to secure their future,” he explains.
In an office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, where he spends his free time, Walid Othman (33 years old) does not see emigration as a solution, speaking of “a project aimed at striking Palestinian youth by starving them and reducing job and life opportunities.”
Othman hopes that he will be able to complete his studies in political science “in order to work in the field of defending the Palestinian cause in international forums,” considering that “Palestine today needs educated and intellectuals who represent this cause in front of the whole world.”
However, the circumstances of his life prompted him to stop pursuing his education at the secondary level, to devote himself to learning the profession of blacksmithing.
“our main home”
75 years ago, Othman’s grandparents fled the village of Nahf in the Acre district, then his parents were displaced from the Tal al-Zaatar Palestinian refugee camp in the northern suburbs of Beirut, which was flattened in 1976 during the civil war (1975-1990).
During rounds of the same war, the Shatila camp witnessed its share of tragedies with the massacre of Tatla and the neighboring Sabra camp during the Israeli invasion in 1982, and then during the war of the camps in 1985.
Likewise, the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, including Shatila, are home to about 30,000 Palestinian refugees who fled from neighboring Syria following the outbreak of conflict in that country in 2011, especially from the Yarmouk camp in southern Damascus, according to UNRWA, which suffers from a chronic lack of funding.
There are still approximately 400,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the Agency in Syria, where they enjoy the right to work, compared to 2.3 million registered in Jordan, where they enjoy the same rights as Jordanians, unlike Lebanon, which fears resettlement and deprives refugees of these rights under the pretext of guaranteeing the right their return.
Othman says, “There is no Palestinian, even if he is comfortable in any part of the world, who forgets Palestine. It is our permanent and basic homeland.”
He added, “People are born with a homeland, but we are born with our homeland in our hearts.”