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Palestinian refugees urge protesters to help turn their dream of a return home into a reality

by Steve Sweeney
in Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp, Lebanon

PALESTINIAN refugees at the largest camp outside the occupied territories urged supporters around the world to keep up demonstrations and increase pressure on their governments to isolate Israel as an apartheid state.

At Bourj el-Barajneh on the southern outskirts of the Lebanese capital Beirut, student Amina H told the Morning Star ahead of tomorrow’s march in that she was “proud to see the numbers on the streets.

“Something has changed. People aren’t afraid any more,” she added, saying that the Palestinian people gain strength from the global demonstrations, which they see as part of “a united struggle against injustice.”

The camp she calls home was established during the 1948 Nakba, in which thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes and driven from their land by zionist forces.

It was besieged by Israeli troops and Lebanese Christian Phalangists in 1982, a period which also saw the massacre of thousands of Palestinian refugees at the nearby Sabra and Shatila camps during the Lebanese civil war.

Between 1984 and 1987, Bourj el-Barajneh was surrounded by the now-disarmed Amal militia during a battle for control of west Beirut.

Today, conditions at the camp are squalid. Some 50,000 people are crammed into just one square kilometre blighted by air pollution and a lack of natural sunlight.

Narrow streets are inaccessible to ambulances and healthcare is at a bare minimum, with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) and NGOs including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) providing only limited services.

Posters encourage take-up of the Covid-19 vaccine, promising that it is safe, while others warn: “Drug dealers are Mossad agents” — an indication that, perhaps unsurprisingly, narcotic use is a problem.

Electricity cables are dangerously intertwined with water pipes, which has led to the fatal electrocution of at least 80 people in recent years, according to camp officials.

One wall painting depicts a young man “martyred” in such a way in 2018.

The Lebanese authorities have turned their backs on the residents, refusing to provide clean water and banning construction work, which is desperately needed to improve living conditions in the camp.

“This is not a life. Nobody cares if you die,” Amina said, adding that all the residents want is the right to return to the homes and land that they were driven from 72 years ago.

Fellow refugee Abu Omar agrees, saying that he holds the British government responsible for their plight since it “shamefully” gave their land away with the 1917 Balfour Declaration and is “continuing to support the oppressors of the Palestinian people.”

“Britain must take a fierce stand in fighting injustice and oppression,” he said.

“We ask the people to stand by the Palestinians and help make our dream to return to our homeland become a reality.”

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