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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bourj Al Barajneh

Nicole and I finally made our way to one of the refugee camps in Beirut, a visit I wish more Americans could make. The living conditions are shocking. Estimates vary, but some claim that as many as 40,000 Palestinian refugees live in the one-square-kilometer camp at Bourj al Barajneh, located in the suburbs south of the city. A woman we met who helps to run a women's programming center said she thinks that number is more like 25,000. Either way, we're talking about perilously overcrowded conditions. The refugees there have no official access to utilities, so as you walk through the narrow alleys of the camp, you constantly have spliced electric lines above you and leaky water pipes below you, both rigged in the attempt to access basic needs. The water, we were told, comes straight from the sea and is "very salty." The rigged lines represent a dangerous combination and death by electrocution is common.

The women's center, formerly a U.N. facility but now independently operated, runs various education and vo-tech programs in some of the fields in which Palestinians are allowed to have jobs in Lebanon. Until August, they could not get work permits at all. That has changed but they are still legally barred from most professions including law, medicine, and engineering. The woman who works at the center, incredibly dedicated, mentioned that she has little hope for young people, but that she keeps working anyway. Nicole and I agreed that conditions seemed bleaker than we had expected. You want to find a sustainable, just solution, but all indications seem to suggest some combination of studying hard, getting into University, and leaving Lebanon is the best thing for many young refugees to do. A first step Americans can take? Recognize that empathic representations of Palestinians are virtually absent in American media.

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