Leaving the glitzy streets of West Beirut for the hardened camps of south Beirut, it's no wonder why they say the next wave of intentional Jihadi terrorists will see these camps as an easy target. But don't take my word for it; come for a walk through the Sabra and Shatila Casbah:
While many people in these camps--like the man I just quoted--have lost their faith in traditional political parties, a whole new wave of people are turning their political rubric for legitimacy to armed resistance. In other words, who kicked the most Israeli ass, mostly in the 2006 War. The clear militancy in this picture is an example of this.
You’re going to have to click on this picture to really see what I am about to point out (so do it now). OK. First off, notice the situation on the street. Chaos; a clear sign of a lack on civil planning. This should be somewhat expected, however. Many of the camps older residents never thought they’d still be in Lebanon some sixty years after the creation of the state of Israel. Second, notice the portraits near the top of the frame of former PLO leader, Yasser Arafat and Hezbollah's assassinated commander, Imad Mughniyeh. Not exactly the mixture of Sunni/Shia, Lebanese/Palestinian figureheads that one might have seen during the Civil War. After a string of Israeli invasions, however, waves of southen Lebanese Shias flooded into these crowded camps. Today it's common to see these two men hung next to each other, as they are both regarded as "martyred fathers of resistance." Keep in mind that Arafat was a man of secular nationalism; while Mughniyeh was a hardened Shia Islamist, who gave his life serving Hezbollah. Different in approach, but champions of resistance nevertheless.
Here is another street corner in the Sabra refugee camp where you can see Arafat and Mughniyah together. Just around the corner from where these kids are walking is the haggard, half-collapsed PLO office.
This one is for al-Saleebi, AKA Abu Danger. The Popular Front for The Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has some street credit in these camps. Though I don't know how much, I think they are part of a kaleidoscope of factions that fly their flags as "fighters of Israel." The PFLP was founded by Palestinian Christians, though no Christians are thought to live in Sabra or Shatila.
What is a post on anything “Palestine” these days without Hamas? Meet Sheikh Yassin, the founder of The Islamic Resistance Movements, and the cloaked man in the center of the poster. I like this picture because it shows that “someone” is doing some kind of work in the ally next to the Hamas poster. Still, who owns the tractor is ambiguous. My point? Let's just remember there is a seemingly eternal power struggle for control in these camps; and that Hamas has been giving the PLO a run for their money in the past few years. Perhaps Hamas is supporting this public works project to try and win over some of the population… Just a thought.
I never liked Samir Kuntar much. Perhaps it’s the allegation that he swift-boated into northern Israel and shot a bunch of kids in the late 70s. Regardless, it always bothered me that Hezbollah & Co. decided to use Kuntar’s story as admirable example of a brave man. To shorten the story, Hezbollah got him back as part of a deal with the Israelis just over a year ago, and instead of questioning Kuntar’s moral sanity and guilt for killing children in cold blood, he was, upon his release, given a heroes welcome. This always made me sick and I loathe his picture in places of poverty. This is the kind of political hero kids grow up with in these camps.
So in conclusion to The Casbah’s flurry of posts on Sabra and Shatila, I have to say that this was an eye-opening experience that exposed a truly dire situation. While we often hear analysts in the media lash-out at the PLO, Hamas (whoever) for various reasons, we should understand that it is also in the interest of these groups to combat the rise of al-Qaeda in the camps. The next generation, simply, will not tolerate living like this and is currently vetting “other” solutions—however crazed they may seem.
On a human level, there was not a moment in Sabra or Shatila where I felt threatened. Most Palestinians understand that if you are foreigner you are there to give aid and report their situation to the world.
In essence, these underreported camps are an embarrassment to the human experience and they must be an integral factor to any solution regarding the Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Arab conflict.
Let us not forget the camps in Lebanon.