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Monday, May 16, 2011


Much grief in Lebanon today as Palestinians and those sympathetic to their cause mourn the death of at least ten people on the Lebanon-Israel border yesterday. For those not following the situation closely, here's a synopsis: Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (Palestinian territories) as well as Lebanon and Syria (where they live as third and fourth generation, largely unwelcome refugees) held marches yesterday to commemorate what they call "al nakba," which mean catastrophe, their term for the founding of Israel in the late 1940s. On the border in south Lebanon yesterday, a crowd of mostly young Palestinians marched, some peaceful, some throwing rocks over the fence . Israeli soldiers fired on them.

I feel like a broken record repeating the obligatory "it's complicated" mantra, but I would ask any friends reading this back in the U.S. at least to try to empathize. In the West we think of refugees as people temporarily living in tents; Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been here for over sixty years, mostly living in crowded camps and facing various types of discrimination like the inability to access Lebanese health care or education or work permits. They are not allowed even to visit the homes and villages of their grandparents. Over 400,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon; one out of ten human beings here is a Palestinian refugee. Please try to imagine the context of the desperation many feel.

You might think that calling the founding of Israel "al nakba" is intolerant, racist, or unreasonable, but wouldn't you consider becoming a refugee catastrophic if it happened to you? You might think throwing stones is violent or provocative, but is opening fire--if you're one of the most powerful militaries in the world--an appropriate, scaled response? Try to have some empathy, and know that this is a problem without a solution--at least a solution on which all sides would agree. The deaths are sad and so is the injustice. All we can do is say a prayer.

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