June 7, 2007

The Core of the Problem

With all the carnage resulting from the latest eruptions in Gaza and Lebanon, it seems almost obscene to discuss an extinct amphibian. Yet the fate of the Palestinian Painted Frog, including its posthumous name change, is a profound illustration of the Israeli government’s reckless disregard for life and Orwellian revisionism.

The Palestinian Painted Frog inhabited the wetlands surrounding Lake Huleh, just north of the Sea of Galilee and in adjacent parts of Syria. In the early 1950s, the newly established Israeli government drained these freshwater swamps in order to build houses. A fraction of the land was set aside as a nature preserve in 1964, but it came too late for the Palestinian Painted Frog, the last reported sighting of which was in 1955.

As if destroying a unique ecosystem isn’t crime enough, the species’ name was changed after it became extinct. In many circles, it is now known as the "Israel Painted Frog" or the "Huleh Painted Frog" part of an ongoing attempt by Zionists and their sympathizers to erase any vestige of the name "Palestine" from human memory. And we’re worried about Israel’s "right to exist?"

Coincidently, the Palestinian people who were forced to flee from the Lake Huleh area in 1948 after Al-Nakba (The Catastrophe, known to the West as "Israeli Independence Day") are playing a major role in current events as they pertain to Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole. These people, along with their children and grandchildren, now reside in the Nahr el-Bared (Cold River) refugee camp, north of the Lebanese port city of Tripoli. The camp was originally established by the League of Red Cross Societies in 1949 to accommodate refugees specifically from the Lake Huleh area of northern Palestine.

It is this camp, home to 31,023 refugees, that is currently under siege by the Lebanese Army, pounding militants and children alike with indiscriminate cannons. A lull in the three-day battle is allowing some 10,000 refugees–some on their third or fourth displacement–to "escape" to yet another refugee camp.

Media and politicians alike can blame Fatah al-Islam, a relatively unknown group with dubious links to Al-Qaida, for destabilizing the country. They can blame Syria. They can blame the complex layers of religious factions that contributed to Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war.
Yet the facts are simple. The people of Nahr el-Bared, like those in eleven other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, live in overcrowded squalor. Residents cope with an inadequate water supply and open sewers. Furthermore, Lebanese law defines Palestinian refugees as foreigners, despite the fact that many have lived in Lebanon for over 50 years.

Living with this status means Palestinians in Lebanon may not work unless they obtain a permit, valid for a maximum of two years. They are not easy to come by; in 1994, out of a workforce of 218,173, only 350 workers were granted permits.

According to Human Rights Watch, the situation of Palestinian women in Lebanon is particularly harsh. Women who work in the garment industry are paid below minimum wage and earn half the salary of Lebanese citizens. Because most do not have work permits, they do not receive benefits, including medical insurance. Eighty percent of Palestinians in Lebanon live in dire poverty, prohibited from seeking gainful employment.

Thus the Lebanese government is reaping the rewards of imposing such inhumane conditions on the 400,000 Palestinian refugees forced to live there. What else is there to do but foment terrorism?

Yet many of Fatah al-Islam’s members are not even Palestinian; they hail from all over the Muslim world, from places like Bangladesh, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They came to Iraq as "foreign fighters," received training and plenty of experience, then took their expertise to fight other battles.

So the Bush administration’s genocidal foreign policy can chalk up yet another series of disastrous consequences. Civilian casualties within the camp are unknown, as no one has been able to enter Nahr el-Bared since the fighting began. Buildings that were flimsy to begin with have collapsed due to the heavy artillery used by the Lebanese Army; burying people alive.

However, the stories are emerging. Indeed, these stories are all that the thousands of refugees have to take out of the camp with them. According to one Associated Press report a couple and their six children, ranging in ages from three to thirteen, hid in a mosque for three days. The adjacent cemetery was bombarded, uprooting bodies and bones.

The Lebanese Army is currently abiding by a 38 year-old agreement that they cannot enter Palestinian camps. I hope it sticks better than it did in 1982 when the Phalangist militias, aligned with Ariel Sharon, invaded the Sabra and Shatilla camps and butchered nearly 2,000 women and children.

But in all fairness, the Lebanese Army had no control of that Phalangist militia. And to be fair now, the Lebanese should not have to deal with 400,000 disenfranchised Palestinians in their midst.

The core of the problem is the U.N.’s 1947 decision to partition off 53 percent of Palestine in order to accommodate a foreign population in the middle of Arab land. Subsequent Israeli aggressions have whittled Palestine down to a mere 20 percent of its original area.

However, the Palestinian people will never go as quietly as the Painted Frog by the same name, much to the chagrin of Zionists, both Jewish and Christian alike. Until the world realizes the root cause of Mideast turmoil, we can brace for more of the same violent images on the evening news for generations to come.

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