Beddawi refugee camp, established in 1955 is situated in North Lebanon 5km from Tripoli. Currently housing more than 16,000 Palestinian refugees, the camp is categorised with problems of poverty, unemployment and inadequate provision of basic services.
Through UNIPAL a UK charity, I spent four weeks teaching English in summer remedial classes at Beit Atfal Assamoud; a centre providing a wide range of services to the people of the camp.
It is with the Palestinian refugees of Beddawi that I spent my summer, listened to their stories, shared their lives and returned home a different person. With a burning passion, not to forget.
The UN General Assembly 194 passed in 1948, in all of its hollow glory, champions the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Yet 63 years on, millions of Palestinians continue to live their lives in the squalor of refugee camps in surrounding countries to their rightful homeland, where basic fundamental rights and freedoms continue to be denied by the host governments.
Waiting. Waiting for return.
The camp graffiti, peoples' homes and the shops that line the streets are all characterised by the same symbols of return; the infamous 'key' and cartoons of 'Handala'. Handala is an image representative of Palestinian defiance created by the artist Naji al-Ali. The cartoon depicts the artist himself as a ten year old boy when forced to leave Palestine. The boy has his back facing the viewer whilst holding his hands behind him refusing to turn around until return is granted. Ali claimed "this being that I have invented will certainly not cease to exist after me, and perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that I will live on with him after my death".
It is this notion of prevailing resistance that characterises the Palestinian spirit; one of inconceivable resilience and the infinite ability to believe. Believe in change.
The Palestinian plight is not one of hunger, famine and disease. There are no requests for food, clothes and medicines to ease the effects of a humanitarian catastrophe. The Palestinian violation is one where hatred and greed have surpassed love and community, where oppression and racism have prevailed over justice and peace and where the power of politics has trumped humanity. The only request being made, by these lost voices; is not to be forgotten.
We're often in the know and hear about the abuses and atrocities under the military occupation in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza; the territories that make up 'Palestine'. But what we fail to understand that Palestine transcends these geographical boundaries.
I may have been geographically in Beddawi refugee camp in Lebanon, but in truth I was in Palestine; for Palestine follows the hearts of its people. Even the ones forced to live outside of her borders.
Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homeland. It remains to be seen, when this 'internationally recognised' right will materialise.
The Palestinian refugees also have the right not to be forgotten. A right which does not reside in the hands of those satiated by power politics play. But a right for which believers in justice, truth and humanity; for those who hold Palestine in their heart can truly uphold.
For the beautiful people of Beddawi, I commit to sharing your story. x