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Another brick in the wall

posted on: Dec 2, 2016

BY: Huda Dawood from We Are Not Numbers/Contributing Writer

Visitors to Ain El Helweh must pass through a gauntlet

Imagine living in a town where checkpoints monitor who goes in and out. Every time you leave or return home, you must show your ID. Same with friends and family members. And if you happen to have an acquaintance from overseas who wants to visit, she will have to apply a week or more in advance for permission from the military. And if she has the temerity to take a photograph of the entrance to your town, she will be detained and perhaps denied entry altogether.

No, that’s not George Orwell’s 1984. It’s my home in Lebanon, Ain El Helweh—the country’s largest “refugee camp” (actually a town of more than100,000). That scenario above actually happened when the international director of We Are Not Numbers came to visit. And yes, it is humiliating. (By the way, I was born in Lebanon, so I’m no outsider.)

But it gets worse. Now imagine hearing on the street one day that construction has started on a wall that will surround the rest of your town. That’s what happened last week. I was shocked. When I checked the news, what I thought was a rumor was true!

Walls seem to be the trendy way to ignore “unwantables” these days. U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump (who would call us a “basket of deplorables”) declared during his campaign that he will build a wall on the American-Mexican border. In Germany, a wall that will be more than 12 feet high (taller than the Berlin Wall) is being built in Munich to separate a neighborhood from a shelter housing 160 unaccompanied young migrants. And in Hungary, a new and even “more massive” fence is planned to prevent refugees from crossing its border on their way to western Europe.

Walls separating people never offer true solutions to problems. Unless we are ready to agree to sit and talk and accept each other for our differences, nothing will change. Walls increase hatred and violence and destroy the brotherhood we should share as humans.

The wall under construction

Nevertheless, Lebanon clearly decided to “join the crowd.” No one told us in advance—much less consult with us. Well, according to the media, our political leaders knew about it. While Hamas leaders denied agreeing to the wall, Shakib Ayna, political relations officer for the Islamic Jihad movement, was quoted as calling the proposed wall, “a fortification of joint Palestinian-Lebanese security. The Lebanese Army is a national army and we are in the trenches together, facing the common Israeli enemy.” (That’s a bit ironic, since Israel is the “king” of apartheid walls.) How could a Palestinian party support this ‘wall of shame’ as people began to call it? How could they betray us by making deals that affect us without our knowledge?

The Lebanese army tried to say it was not that bad, declaring that the camp entrances won’t be affected and that the wall is “just” for security, to protect the country from the spread of terrorists. (Sound familiar? That seems to be the mantra of every repressive government.) Five checkpoints all over the camp aren’t enough to remind us of how unwelcome our presence is in this country? People need more excuses to be racist, violent or ignorant?

This is what most of us in the camp feel. That’s why many residents vented their anger and frustration by demonstrating in the streets November 24 and 25. And our anger had some effect. The military has been quoted as saying it has halted construction of the wall while the Palestinian leadership prepares a report in the next two weeks on alternative ways to deal with “security risks.”

The question is whether we’ll know anything about the plan until we read about it in the media or hear it on the street.