COMMENTATOR (COMM): Previously on Life...

AMIRA HASS: Personally, as an Israeli Jew, I, I don't understand why I have more rights here than, than Palestinians.

RAJI SOURANI: They do have the right to return or to choose another place - fully guaranteed according to international law.

SABAH TARAMSI: We want to plan our lives. Should our kids stay like this forever?

COMM: The UN estimate there are 375,000 Palestinian refugees living unwelcome in Lebanon. They and their forbears fled from Israel in 1948. Among the reasons they are unwelcome guests is that their armed struggle to return to Palestine brought about the invasion of Lebanon by Israel and the bombardment of West Beirut in June 1982. This left 18,000 people dead and 30,000 injured. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation were forced out of their stronghold in West Beirut. They left Lebanon and this left the refugees vulnerable. Refugee Camps were destroyed and whole families wiped out.

MAN (TRANSLATION): I've lost 45 members of my extended family. This woman here lost her five sons - and the sixth was her husband.

DR IKLAS MUSTAPHA: All the Palestinians we like to go to our own home, to Palestine - not to stay here in Lebanon.

COMM: Today refugees are unwelcome in a land they are desperate to leave.

DIRECTOR: Randa - how come you, you were free to work with us?

RANDA SERHAN: Hmm, because I'm not working at the moment.

DIRECTOR: Why's that?

RANDA SERHAN: Um, because I had to leave my last job which was teaching at AUB, the American University - because I'm Palestinian.

COMM: Shatila Refugee Camp in West Beirut. Here memories of the massacre are still fresh here after nearly 20 years.

RANDA SERHAN (Translating): It started on the outskirts, of Shatila and it went out all across this area and what happened was that the Phalange and the Lebanese forces came in with - under the protection of the Israelis, the Zionists. And they started killing and massacring children and women and all sorts of innocent people - Sheiks, whoever came in their way - they're all innocent and they killed them. And this area right in front of this building it was filled with bodies - dead bodies. All the way through here, this entire area, there were massacres and they were slaughtering people. They came in with knives and axes and they shot them and they, they killed them in the worst ways possible. I was nine years old.

COMM: At least 2,000 Palestinians were killed in Shatila and Sabra Refugee Camps in 1982. Three years later, the Israeli army withdrew and the PLO started to return to the camps. Wanting control, and fearing this return might provoke Israeli retaliation, the pro-Syrian Amal militia laid siege to the Palestinian refugee camps. This was largely a political struggle. Ibrahim Daoud was one of the Palestinian fighters defending Burj el-Barajneh, a camp five kilometres south of Beirut.

RANDA SERHAN: Well, the camps' war was a, a terrible war, and it was between a brother and a brother and a heart and a heart and really both sides lost. The only side that may have won were, were the Zionists. So to speak about it now, we're reopening old wounds and we're taking the dead out of the grave. the problem was the Palestinian were here - they are Sunni in a predominantly Shi'ite district - and what they needed to do was to purify the district to make it wholly Shi'ite and that's why they wanted to get rid of them. The problem of sectarianism is not new to Lebanon. It did not start in '85. This is something - this is an illness that Lebanon has been suffering from the beginning of the century - when the French came in and they divided Lebanon and the Lebanese government on sectarian lines.

COMM: Rooftops in the camps were dangerous places: they were the vantage points for snipers from both sides. When the camps' war started Jihad was engaged to be married when they finished she was mother with two children. In her life she has known 17 years of conflict.

JIHAD (RANDA TRANSLATES): That building over there - this building in particular that's - our young men shot, kept shooting at it to bring it down, or to bring it down partially, because this is where the Amal snipers used to shoot our young women and children and men from. When we were under siege the women used to go out to get food for their families because we were starving. And what would happen is the snipers would wait till she was on her way back into the camp and then shoot her in the back. They, they used to target women.

COMM: Dr Iklas Mustapha works in the PLO-funded Haifa Hospital in Burj el-Barajneh Refugee Camp.

DR IKLAS MUSTAPHA, Haifa Hospital, Burj al Barajneh (TRANSLATION): I came to the Hilal Hospital in 1985 and that was just at the beginning of the camps' war and this is where I got my training and during that period there were a lot of casualties, there were a lot of injuries and I learned to deal with all sorts of problems and all sorts of injuries.

COMM: Mahida Mounir al Habet, a Palestinian woman five months pregnant, has been bleeding. There's concern for the unborn baby.

Dr MUSTAPHA (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): The problem is she has financial difficulties, her husband doesn't work and this has caused her health issues and health problems. As a pregnant woman she's not getting enough nutritional - er nutritional food. And she doesn't have the money to buy the requirements that a pregnant woman needs during pregnancy - so this is the main issue.

RANDA SERHAN: So Mahida isn't the only one in this - situation.

DR IKLAS MUSTAPHA: She is not the only woman. We have many - most of the pregnant women here, they are suffering from anaemia.

COMM: Burj el-Barajneh Camp provides housing for 17,000 Palestinians. The camp is densely populated. Every available piece of ground is built on, and only way to create more living space is to go up. Mahida lives here with her mother in law, sister in law, and their family, in all eight people in two rooms.

MAHIDA MOUNIR AL HABET (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): At any moment the Palestinians can be thrown out of Lebanon. They don't have anything - they don't have homes, they don't have land, they don't have anything. So they could just pick them up and throw them out at any moment. There's only one working, my oldest son and he works on and off. They don't work often. My husband works for a day or maybe ten and then sits at home for a month. Women don't have rights here, the husbands don't have rights here, children don't have rights here. I mean, look at the children, they don't have any rights whatsoever and this is not what I want for my children. I wish I could leave before I give birth because I want my children's rights, my rights and my husband's rights to be secured. And they don't have any of this here - we don't have any of this here.

COMM: Mahida expresses a widely held view. Almost half the UN registered refugees have left Lebanon, going to any country that will treat them more kindly.

ABU FADI HAMMAD, Officer in Charge, Fatah Intifada (TRANSLATION): We don't see our Palestinian child as a normal child because he's deprived of so many rights. Young people can't go to school or work regularly. It's the same story for the old men. Over and over again there are all these problems. So that's why anger and frustration happens and people demonstrate for their rights - rights that have been recognised by all the nations of the world and by the UN resolutions.

SULTAN ABU ALAYNEN, PLO Officer in Charge, Lebanon Area (TRANSLATION): There are over 300,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon; the Lebanese government are implementing laws and rules banning them from having the right to work in 74 trades and professions. All international organisations who have conducted detailed research into the socio-economic situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have verified that over 65% of Palestinians live below the poverty line.

COMM: There is always pressure on the people living in the crowded Burj el-Barajneh camp, today its very existence is under threat of total demolition.

RANDA SERHAN: You look around and there are people who are experiencing nervous breakdowns, everyone's depressed and a lot of the older people can't - adults can't walk out without taking anti-depressants. And what she says and what she's worried about is that the young children are going to be taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills soon because they are looking at their parents who are doing these things, and they're looking at their parents who are depressed. And what else can they do?

BASSAM (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): Work opportunities are not open to all. Um, they are not available to all. As Palestinians they don't have the right to work. They can work on piece wage on small things but not enough to provide for their families. The real jobs are for other people not for Palestinians.

DIRECTOR: So what then is the position of a Palestinian worker?

RANDA SERHAN: Um, it's fluctuating it's - it's continuously changing and undergoing change according to the politics of the country, of the government. Sometimes they're told that they're gonna leave the country - they are gonna be made to leave the country. Sometimes they are told that the camps are going to be wiped out - they're gonna be closed down. So they feel emotionally and psychologically drained. And they don't know what to do to go on. DR ISSAM NAAMAN, Former Minister of Telecommunications: I do agree that they are not well treated. Er, well there are so many reasons for that: most prominent among them is that the Lebanese has sort of a sensitivity towards settling the Palestinians in Lebanon. This particular sensitivity that the Lebanese thinks that if the Palestinians are equally treated as the Lebanese then this may induce them to settle here against the will of the Lebanese Government; against the will of the PLO; and against the resolutions of the Arab League.

COMM: The Arab League signed the Casablanca Protocol in 1965. It states that Palestinian refugees should be treated in the same way as citizens of the host country but without being given citizenship. Lebanon is in breach of this resolution.

HUSNI AL MAHMOUD (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): Our community here is living in devastation and poverty and the thing is they tell us that it is because they want us to have the right to return. Well of course we want to return! As refugees, the first thing we want to do is return home. For me personally, if they tell me I can go back to Palestine and I'll go and live in a tent. So the idea that I should have civil and social rights has nothing to do with the right of return. I want those even though I'm a refugee. And they - and the thing is that we came here to a place where there are Arabs - we are not living amongst foreigners, we are living amongst other Arabs and we are still not treated well. We are still isolated and treated badly, and after all the years we have been here we still don't have any rights whatsoever.

COMM: Palestinians living in refugee camps around Beirut are however better off than those in the camps in South Lebanon like Burj el-Shemali near the Israel border. These camps are much more strictly controlled: refugees are not allowed to build or even repair their houses.

IRANDA SERHAN: The problem with this house is that the structure has been shaken and there, there's nothing holding it. The pillars - there's nothing to hold it, there's no pillars and the, the iron bars are rotting so they are not giving it support either. And the thing is, we sleep here and in winter we all move into this one room and the next room floods and we constantly clean out - cleaning out water all day. And at night what we do is we use the trays and the bowls that we eat with and we put them on top of the ceiling to collect the water and still water - the rainwater comes into the rooms. So we went back to UNRWA saying, 'What are you doing to us? You have to come and see how we are living and we, we are sleeping with water coming down on us.'

COMM: UNRWA is the United Nations organisation set up in 1949 to provide education, health, relief and social services to Palestinian refugees displaced by the Arab Israeli conflict.

ALFREDO MICCIO, Director of UNWRA Affairs, Lebanon': We are in contact with the Government and we hope that one day we will be able to-to fix it so that the refugees who need repair can be allowed to bring construction materials in these camps in the South.

DIRECTOR: Do you think that will happen?

ALFREDO MICCIO: Well, the decision is to the Government so that I cannot say if and when. But we are in contact with the government - we hope to be able to have an opening with this because it is an humanitarian problem.

COMM: At five a.m. women and men gather in Burj el Shamali Camp waiting for transport to take them to the orange groves. The only work available here for Palestinians is seasonal fruit picking. The day starts with passing the Lebanese guardhouse which controls the entrance to their homes.

CAPTAIN LEMON (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): And he's the Captain of a ship - he's graduated from... Who'd believe this is the Captain of a ship? Most of the men here have vocational training. Like the man over here - he finished from a vocational centre. Another man that ran away! Even if a person has a degree in medicine he's only allowed to work legally in Lebanon with a pick and picking lemons. 10,500 lira - so, basically that's just enough to get bread for the home. Even though our land is the, is the place for the religious leader - Jesus was born in our country. Jesus was born in our country and if you love Jesus then you would at least respect us for that. God will help us.

COMM: Back in Shatila Camp, Beirut, this former PLO Hospital became a refuge for displaced people during the camps war in 1986. Families have lived here; children have been born here, grown up here - trapped here by poverty. WOMAN (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): Why are you here? Why are you taking pictures of us? Why are you filming us when you leave, and then nothing happens? I went to everybody from the biggest dog to the smallest dog and I've stretched my hand out to them for assistance and nobody has helped. So when you come here look at the health situation, look what's happening to us. Don't just take pictures of the disgusting holes in the walls - you have to know what's happening inside these holes.

MAN (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): I just wanna talk about my son who's 25 years old and he's crippled and nobody helps. UNWRA doesn't help and no other NGO helps - they don't provide a penny. This house - twelve persons live here in this house. This man - this is my son, Hamad.

HAMAD: Hi!

MAN: He stays here three or four years in this room - one time I carry down.

DIRECTOR: And UNRWA? UNRWA; do they not help?

MAN: UNWRA they don't help.

DIRECTOR: Why?

MAN I don't know.

DIRECTOR Have you asked them?

MAN: I ask them - they say, no money.

ALFREDO MICCIO: The budget for 2001 is 44.3 million dollars. I cannot say we have less money but we have less money per refugee. It was 200 dollars per refugee a couple of decades ago - $70 per refugee today. This, in addition to the increase of prices concerning services which we are providing the Palestinian for, of course has created a certain strain on our capacity to tackle the needs. DR ISSAM NAAMAN: The Palestinians do think - and the Lebanese as well - that UNWRA is decreasing its budget, especially on the educational and health levels, in order to pressure the Palestinians to accept settlement in the Arab countries where they are living now.

NERIMAN AL SHABATI (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): Of course, when a person is on his or her own, own land - whenever anyone is on his or her own land, then of course on they - one is happy. It's different from being on someone else's land - there you can, you can grow your own crops you can eat from your land. Here you can't buy land, you can't grow your own crops so there's nothing - at least in your own country you can eat from the land.

OLD WOMAN (TRANSLATION BY RANDA): We want our villages - we want to go back to our villages. We want our villages, our entire country. We want to be able to go back and grow crops and eat from our land. And our water? It was plentiful and it was beautiful - it used to glisten, just like gold.

MARIAM HAMOUDA, Committee Leader, Palestinian Women's Union (TRANSLATION): The United Nations has given all people of the world the right to fight for freedom and liberate their land from any occupier. So the Palestinians have the right to struggle, to liberate their land which they were kicked out of - and not so long ago. So we say Lebanon has nothing to do with our problem. Our problem is not just what we suffer in Lebanon, our problem is that we have been kicked out of our country and we need to know how to go back.

DIRECTOR: So, you're unemployed?

RANDA SERHAN: Yes and I'm not looking for a job either because it's - it's pointless looking.

DIRECTOR: So you're suffering in the same way as all the other Palestinians we've been talking to?

RANDA SERHAN: Yeah, which is kind of ironic because I always thought I had all the fringe benefits and the extras that protected me but it proved to be nothing in the end.

COMM: Next week's Life travels to Katmandu in the Himalayas to find out why so many Nepalese children suffer from malnutrition.


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