Sabra & Shatila Palestinian Camp
In 1948, around 750,000 Palestinian men, women and children had no choice but to leave their homes, professions and lands–with no right to ever to return. This violent experience of being dispossessed from their lands and property is now known as ‘Al Nakba’–meaning “Catastrophe” in Arabic.
Today, about 455,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, 53% of those living in one of 12 camps in the country. As they have not citizens of another country, they cannot claim the same rights as other foreigners in Lebanon. In order to prevent them from taking jobs away from Lebanese citizens, Palestinian refugees are prohibited from working in 20 different professions, such as driving a taxi. It is estimated that 56% of Palestinian refugees do not have jobs, and 2/3 live on less than $6.00 per day. The United Nations Relief Works agency reports that among the five countries they oversee, Lebanon has the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees living in abject poverty.
Sabra-Shatila Camp is a 1 square km of property located in South Beirut. Although it was built in 1949 for a maximum capacity of 3,000 people, it is estimated that up to 22,000 refugees live there today.
Electricity is unreliable (maybe six hours per day), and the salty water that runs through the pipes is undrinkable.
The densely crowded buildings give the camp a dark, labyrinth feel.
There are many shops and businesses in and surrounding the camp—one of the few ways of earning a living.
This mosque in Shatila Camp contains the names and photos of those killed in what is known as the 1982 Sabra and Shatila Massacre. Between 762 and 3,500 civilians–Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites–were murdered over the course of three days by The Phalanges (militia for the Christian Kataeb Party) after being instructed by the Israel Defense Force to remove any remaining PLO members from the camp. From 6:00 PM Thursday to 8:00 AM Saturday, Phalange soldiers killed men, women and children while IDF forces circled the camp to prevent any escapes. At the request of the Phalange, the IDF fired flares above the camp each night to assist the Phalange. Afterwards, few signs of weapons or terrorists were ever discovered. No IDF or Phalange soldiers were seriously injured.
Muhammad (on left) is a medical doctor who has lived at the camp since he arrived in 1950 at six months old. Muhammad founded and operates the Shatila Camp Museum.
The Shatila Camp Museum is a large room that contains a large assortment of personal items brought by families leaving Palestine. These items, from kitchen utensils to walking sticks, serves as a reminder of the life they had in Palestine.
Today, the camp is filled with posters of loved ones who have been killed (revered as Martyrs), and messages encouraging the continued fight to one day return home.
The JCC (Joint Christian Committee for Social Service in Lebanon) was established in 1950 to aid the Palestinians in coping with their new life as refugees. While it initially provided relief services, today is focuses upon empowering Palestinians through education and vocational training.
The JCC Nursery and Kindergarten has been serving the community for over six decades. The teachers insist upon the rooms being adorned with bright colors, a contrast to the camp surroundings. Here, children develop literacy skills, a love for books/reading, good hygiene practices, and social skills.
The JCC playground is a luxury amidst the congestion of the camp. After the space was acquired, attempts were made to grow grass, which most of the children have never seen. After these attempts failed, the concrete is regularly painted green.
Literacy is a significant issue for Palestinian refugees. Regular classes are offered for people wanting to learn to read and write for the first time.
The JCC operates a beauty school, giving women the skills necessary to earn an income.
Training in electronics is another way of being able to provide for one’s family.
Family—in this camp, you see a lot of families: parents taking their kids to school, kids trying to be kids.