On Wednesday, 28 28 July 2021, the Ghassan Kanafani Brigade, the Samidoun delegation to Lebanon, spent its seventh day in Lebanon in the city of Saida, specifically in the Ain el-Helweh refugee camp.
Ain el-Helweh refugee camp is populated by 100,000 refugees, of which 90-95% are Palestinians. All of them are located in an area of 1 square kilometer. The camp was created in 1948/1949 to shelter all those Palestinians who were forcibly displaced from Palestine during the Zionist ethnic cleansing in 1948 (the Nakba). During the war in Lebanon, many other refugees from other camps, as well as Lebanese who had been displaced from their homes in the south, sought shelter in Ain el-Helweh, which has become the largest refugee camp in Lebanon.
The Samidoun delegation began its day in Ain el-Helweh with the coordinators of the “Nuwat – Social Solidarity Center Association.” This organization was created in 2004, mainly by young people. As its name suggests, “Nuwat” (“seed”) was born with the main objective of providing educational services to the new generations of Palestinian refugees in the camp. However, as time went by, it expanded the breadth of its activities to include health services, education, psychological support, sports, political training, media, training on international law and refugee issues, leadership training, etc.
The following programs are currently underway: a gymnasium for girls and sports activities; extracurricular reinforcement classes; alternative education programs to fill the gaps in the curriculum provided by UNRWA schools; psychological care, especially for women; recreational activities; bookstore and library; care and assistance for women in contexts of gender violence; courses for computer use; providing gas and other basic needs in the camps.
Between 2013 and 2018, the organization played a very important role also for Syrian refugees, just as they had in 2006 for Lebanese refugees fleeing from other areas of Lebanon, especially from the South. This was the first time that many Lebanese would have to come to Palestinian refugee camps.
Secondly, the delegation visited the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine office in Ain el-Helweh. This office is named after Abu Saleh al-Assadi, one of the founders of the Arab Nationalist Movement and later the Popular Front. Abu Saleh was a legendary figure of the Palestinian liberation movement, who repeatedly secretly passed through Zionist lines, from 1948 when he was forcibly exiled, until 1967, to be with his wife, who remained inside occupied Palestine.
He fought in the 1936-39 revolution in Palestine, defended Palestine in the Nakba; joined the organized Palestinian resistance from its earliest days; and fought back against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Read this 1983 interview with Abu Saleh al-Assadi in the PFLP Bulletin (on page 20, English, 1983).
The delegation met with Abu Ali Hamdan, the leader of the Front in the Saida region. He explained the role of the front in the camp as well as the role of weapons in the camp. Weapons are not shown and presented in offices and only used when necessary for the defense of the camp and confrontation of the enemy. In the office we were told about inspiring stories of strugglers and martyrs who overcame sectarian barriers to confront the enemy.
The brigade also visited the martyrs’ cemetery in the camp, visiting the gravesite of Abu Saleh al-Assadi and paying tribute to all those who laid down their lives to defend Palestine and the Palestinian people and struggle for liberation.
Next, delegates visited the shop of Abu Bayram, a Tunisian internationalist fighter for Palestine, who joined the armed wing of the Palestinian revolution and defended Beirut against Israeli invasion during the siege of the city in 1982. Abu Bayram lives steadfast in the camp, even after his son lost his life. Abu Bayram continues to live in the camp amongst the people and considers himself a Palestinian. He is yet another example of the Arab character of the Palestinian revolution and its broad international scope.
Finally, the delegation had a meeting in Al-Nidaa hospital (Human Call) with its executive director, Abu Atieh.
Al-Nidaa hospital was established in 1986 but became officially operational in 1988. There are many things that characterize and differentiate the Human Call Association, and one of them is that they openly recognize that they are an organization politically positioned on the left, unlike most of them that claim to be neutral. The Human Call Association was established in order to provide health care through a team of professionals in the field.
The hospital provides primary care services, inpatient facilities and admission wards and ICUs. Palestinian doctors working in the center are not allowed to work in the Lebanese hospitals and health centers, nor are they allowed to unionize, due to Lebanese labor law excluding Palestinians in registered professions. As Palestinians, they are only allowed to work in UNRWA or other specifically Palestinian centers. This is just one example of the many discriminatory laws and forbidden professions for Palestinians in Lebanon.
There is only one UNRWA hospital in Ain el-Helweh; further, it covers only 50% of the necessary medical services and does not provide services to undocumented people. It mainly provides primary care services, Mainly those related to primary care. More complex diseases and surgeries, including cancer, are not treated. The two private clinics in the camp are very expensive and only open from 9 am to 2 pm. Al-Nidaa however, is open to anyone for the price of 40,000 Lebanese lira (2 USD at the current unofficial exchange rate) per appointment.
Another essential characteristic of Al-Nidaa, which is part of the historical and political context in which it has been developing, is that it not only works in the health sector, but also provides services for Palestinian children. In the last year, Al-Nidaa has carried out three projects focused on consolidating the awareness and active political role of young Palestinian refugees. They brought together 2,000 young people from different social, family and political backgrounds in a program that aimed to strengthen the bonds for a healthy community and prevent them from falling into violence and idleness in the streets.
This project included all kinds of training, especially those related to human rights, the environment and a specific course on humanitarian and international law for Palestinian refugees. At the end of the course, a large conference was held to evaluate and continue the project in the long term.
Al-Nidaa hospital and Human Call Association represent not only a specific infrastructure that provides the necessary services to maintain optimal health in the camp; it also represents a project that goes beyond the limits of mere humanitarianism to become a political idea that seeks to elevate the Palestinian struggle on the political agenda. That is why they consider it essential to strengthen relations and collaboration with other leftist organizations at Palestinian, Arab and international levels to press and raise the issue of the liberation of Palestine and the return of the refugees to an ever higher level.
- Read the Day 6 Report: Samidoun Delegation to Lebanon Day 6: Borders of occupied Palestine, Khiam prison and Mleeta resistance landmark
- Read the Day 5 Report: Samidoun Delegation to Lebanon Day 5: With the Democratic Popular Party in Saida
- Read the Day 4 Report: Day 4 of the Samidoun delegation to Lebanon: Ghassan Kanafani Brigade at the Al Naqab Center
- Read the Day 3 Report: Samidoun Delegation to Lebanon Day 3: Generations of struggle for return and liberation
- Read the Day 2 Report: Samidoun Delegation to Lebanon Day 2: Political and cultural discussions at Mar Elias camp
- Read the Day 1 Report: Samidoun delegation to Lebanon begins: Visit to Shatila camp, meeting with boycott campaign
The delegation will proceed throughout the coming days, with ongoing reports of the delegation’s meetings and work throughout Lebanon. You can also follow the progress of the delegation on Samidoun Stockholm’s social media (@samidoun08), Collectif Palestine Vaincra (@collectifpalestinevaincra) and Samidoun Spain (@samidoun.esp).
The delegation is self-funded by Samidoun Network and the participants taking part in the delegation and its meetings. However, the delegation also aims to support organizing and build resources in the Palestinian refugee camps and throughout Lebanon, which is currently experiencing an extreme financial crisis, the greatest burden of which is falling on the most marginalized.
Your contribution can help the delegation to support the work of grassroots organizers in the Palestinian refugee camps to sustain and build their work as well as launching new centers for organizing for liberation and return for Palestine. Make your donation below to support this important initiative.