War threats and conclusion of a successful project

Last Report from the Sumud delegation
Elisa Wiener
Amid war threats Sumud concludes its project with screening the films produced with the youth of the camp. It met also Hezbollah' MP Ali Fayyad.

Tuesday, August 3: A new war to come?

On Tuesday, we heard about the escalation at the border in the south that had happened the day before. The Israelis decided to cut a tree on the Lebanese territory because the tree didn’t allow an Israeli camera the full view on the Lebanese land which they seek to observe. The Lebanese army didn’t give the permission to cut the tree on their territory and as the Israelis did it anyway the Lebanese started to shoot. At first they shot in the air as a warning, then they shot on target. The result was three dead on the Lebanese side (two soldiers and one journalist), one on the Israeli side, many injured on both sides, and the danger of a new war to begin.

In the camp we discussed about that issue with the Palestinian refugees. We wanted to know their estimation of the situation. Most of them are counting on a new war, starting already to make emergency plans and getting ready for it. None of them believed the war would start the next day or the day after, nor because of this single escalation with the tree, but in a long-term perspective they all doubted that a war is to be prevented in this very tense situation. Somehow it seemed they would be relieved to stop waiting for it and also they seemed to have hope to improve their situation if they could start to fight for it improvement again. For the delegations members is was a shocking incident, for we had been at the same border just a few days before and it was hard to believe how rapidly the situation can change completely.

As the Lebanese people and the Palestinian refugees we were all eager to hear the expected speech of Nasrallah, the general secretary of Hezbollah, who was supposed to judge the escalation and the situation of the country. His speech treated three main aspects, the actual clash at the border, the international tribunale of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri (the former prime minister of Lebanon) and the spy affair. He pointed out to be ready to fight back an expected Israeli invasion, but that he would wait to join in until the Lebanese army would ask them to do so.

Besides that tragic escalation, everyday life in the camp still continued and so the delegation also continued their work. Last shootings for the documentary were made, some really important ones, such as the opportunity to accompany one of the main characters into the house of his family and film his surrounding there. The teenager workshop was about to end as well, but since our possibilities to work with the computer are very limited, there were some discussions about when, how and who was supposed to capture and edit the filmed material. In the end the issue could be arranged to everybody’s satisfaction. In the evening the delegation visited the old town of Saida, a small area with a medieval center. We visited the old mosque and had dinner at a big square close to it. Altogether it was a relaxing evening after the tense atmosphere of the day.

Wednesday, August 4: Finalizing our work

Marwan Abdulal

In the morning, some of the delegation members had a meeting with Marwan Abdulal, member of the committee for rebuilding Nahr el-Bared, the refugee camp in northern Lebanon. It was originally planned to visit Nahr el-Bared Camp as a delegation, but we didn’t get the permission to enter. Abdulal, also member of the political bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was born in the camp and is still living there. During the clashes between the Lebanese army and the group Fatah al-Islam (about 40 fighters, just 10 Palestinians) in 2007 nearly the whole camp was destroyed by the Lebanese aircraft. Abdulal is shure that the battle was just a 'good' reason to destroy the temporary home for some Palestinians, as the main bombarding happened directly after(!) the battle. Until now only 20 000 of the original 50 000 inhabitants live inside the camp, most of them in temporary metal containers where it is not possible to live during the extremely hot summer time.

For the Palestinian refugees the camps are a major part of there identity and a symbol for there struggle. ‘Rebuilding the camp means rebuilding the hope for youths’, gently said Abdulal when he told us about the long and difficult process to get building permission. Palestinians aren't allowed to own land, consequently from a judicial point of view they are also not allowed to build houses there. Abdulal is very optimistic that some permissions will be given soon - three years after destruction.

The camp is divided into an old and a new part. In the old part, which is about 1 km² big, UNRWA is in charge of the reconstruction. Until now they have build 512 flats, but they are facing big financial problems. Due to the financial crisis the obliged supporter countries aren't paying the promised money.

The camp is still declared a military zone where it is only possible to enter with a special card, given and controlled by the Lebanese authorities. Before the destruction the population’s main income was selling and trading with goods at the market inside the camp, where a lot of Lebanese did their shopping because of cheaper prices. The security issue nowadays destroyed the main part of the camp’s economy as the customers outside of the camp aren't allowed to enter any more.

After the meeting the teenager films got their final cut plus English subtitles. They were now ready to be shown the next day at the final presentation. The delegation finished their preparations for the celebration providing for a video beamer, a sound-system as well as food and chairs and whatever else was needed.

In the evening we had our final football game with the Palestinian teenagers at a big, rather dirty football square. The Sumud-Nashet-delegation was able to win the game with 2:1.
Unfortunately one of the participants got bitten by a street dog and had to go to the hospital. It was the second time we had to consult the medical care facilities in the camp. Luckily the infrastructure is, compared to the general situation, quite good. The participant received good treatment and didn’t have any further complications with her injured leg.

SUMUD – football game

Thursday, August 5: The big day of film presentation and works’ closure

On Thursday we started the day with a long meeting for feedback and evaluation. We listed some aspects such as general expectations of the camp versus reality, political meetings, the film project, social aspects within the group, the organization Sumud-Nashet, as well as suggestions to improve. Based on these issues we asked the members about their views and general satisfaction with participation in the project. In general the feedback was very good, the participants were very grateful to have had the opportunity to see such a refugee camp from the inside, to be able to get in touch with the people who live in the camp, and to get in contact with all the political fractions and have the possibility to form their own opinion about them independently from the western media propaganda. Also the excursions we have made seemed to leave a big impression.

There were some critics about the film project, as the participants had wished for more precise introduction of the work as well as generally a stronger lead. Nevertheless in the end they were all very proud of what they had produced autonomously. Critizism raised about the organization concernced the wish for clearer information about the duties of the day and a stricter structure. There was general agreement on this issue, although we had to add that setting priorities on political meetings means to organize the day around the timetables of the political representatives we wanted to meet, which is linked to a certain necessity to have a flexible structure of the day.

The social situation in the group was judged very positively. It seemed that the participants got along with each other very well and really enjoyed the time together. This is, in any case, quite remarkable considering the very limited area twenty people had to stay two weeks together, not to forget the single bathroom and toilet.

Altogether we share the evaluation of the participants. We think the project was a very big success. Not only did we have the possibilities to experience the situation in the refugee camp and get in touch with its inhabitants, understanding their problems, but we were also able to meet with various political fractions and authorities of the resistance movement. Last but not least producing our own documentary means that we have a testifying document about the situation of the Palestinian refugees to bring back home to Europe in order to enforce the solidarity movement there.

After the feedback discussion we made the last preparations for the final presentation in the evening and we made the last interview for our film, with film maker and workshop director Arab Lotfi, who was supposed to give some information about the workshop.

The presentation intended to introduce the work of Sumud here in the camp and to present the teenagers’ short films. We laid the focus of the presentation on the teenagers’ films, since we believed that this was of most interest to the people in the camp, while our own documentary had another target group, namely the European solidarity groups.

Already at seven o’ clock the first visitors came into the youth center, some of them were family members or friends of the teenagers to present their films, some were political representatives, some were members of other NGOs, and others were just simply interested in the project itself. After a short introduction of Sumud and Nashet-members, Arab Lotfi led the presentation and explained goals and purposes. After that the teenagers presented their films themselves followed by the actual screening. The shortfilms found high approval from the audience since they were funny, interesting and a touching expression of the problems their authors are facing – not necessarily only concerning their situation in the camp but also simply typical problems in a teenager’s life. For the young people it was an important evening which left them proud to show their family and friends that they were capable of producing their own quite professional movie. For the Sumud delegation the presentation was a big success and it was the appropriate conclusion of the delegation’s work.

At night the Italian part of the delegation left to fly back home and it was a touching moment when we had to say good bye for we had all grown quite close during those two weeks.

SUMUD – Zentrum

Friday, August 6: Last political meetings and farewell

The German speaking part of the delegation spent their last day in the camp which was quite filled up with last political meetings. At first, we met the Popular Democratic Party, a classical marxist-leninist-communist party.

They are quite close to the PFLP, from whom they once had split. Now they are the Lebanese equivalent to the PFLP. According to them, they are the only left Lebanese party that did not lose the backing of the people or suffered from an internal split after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now they don’t have any strong left supporter outside of Lebanon. Within the country they proclaim Hezbollah as their strongest coalition partner. Speaking of the 2006 Lebanon war, they jugde it as an American war, which was executed by Israel but mainly supposed to serve US-interest in increasing their area of influence.

Right after that we met Ousama Saad of the Lebanese Popular Nasserist Party. Concerning the Palestinian question their goal is to fight for the rights of the Palestinian people, to improve their education and health system, but in the end they also stand for the Palestinian’s right to return to their homeland. Another main goal is to protect the resistance movements, regardless of the religious or ideological differences, such as Hezbollah, who they regard as important political movement. They consider the resistance as a security shield between Lebanon and Israel and believe that their most important role is to prevent a civil war to break out in Lebanon. A civil war, concerning to them, would lead to weakness inside the country, and to subordinate the real danger from outside under internal tensions. It is Israel’s and their supporting powers’, namely the USA, real intention to create this kind of confusion and weakness inside Lebanon. Just as the Popular Democratic Party they stressed the point that the USA’s project for the Middle East is to divide the Arab countries in order to control the region and to make Israel the most powerful country of that area. The United States therefore instrumentalizes Israel to reach their goals.

After that meeting we drove to Beirut to meet Ali Fayyad, a member of parliament of Hezbollah fraction. Fayyad was Hezbollah’s former responsible for public relations. He explained Hezbollah’s self-perception in comparison to the western view. Hezbollah regard themselves as freedom fighters, as the main resistance movement against Israeli aggression in Lebanon. Hezbollah being an Islamic movement, Fayyad stressed that their goal was not to build a ‘despotic Islamic state’, but that they believed in a consensual democratic system. Regarding the multiple confessional situation in Lebanon, he considers it to be ‘a control to the expansion of Islam by force’ (admitting that former Hezbollah leaders in the 1980s had this vision in mind). According to Hezbollah, all Lebanese sections should take part in politics. The religious ideology, according to him, is not the base to build alliances; actually he regards some Marxist movements closer to Hezbollah and being more cooperative than others. Furthermore he explained that Hezbollah has a substantially defensive position. They want to protect Lebanon. It is not their intention to go to Palestine to fight there or in general, to extend their activitiy beyond Lebanese borders. Anyhow he believes that another war is to come, although not in a short time, but for sure in a mid-term or long-term perspective. Concluding, he underlined that Hezbollah was prepared for such a war.

SUMUD – Ali Fayyad, Hisbollah

The meeting with Hezbollah was the last one for the delegation. After that the official Sumud project was concluded. In order to relax and enjoy the days left, the participants went to Balbek in the Bekaa valley. After a one day stay they then traveled to Damascus. This was a nice completion of a successfull project, that will hopefully be continued soon.