A new friend ‘Alaa'(pronounced ‘Alya’), took me for a tour of the camp the other day, he’s a bright young guy who speaks good English. Like many of the young guys from the camp he has a good education, he studied Engineering at University, but he is struggling to find work. There isn’t a job centre in the camp either and as I’ve mentioned before there is a bar on Palestinians working in over 20 industries in Lebanon so people have to work extra hard just to find the most basic jobs. Alaa searches for all kinds of businesses throughout the region and travels to them to personally inquire about job vacancies. Recently he’d also applied and been accepted to University in Australia- his dream destination- but due to the strict entry rules and the fact he is Palestinian, the Australian government has blocked him from studying. He paid two full semesters so he’s waiting for the money to be reimbursed.
After we went for a swim at the beach he asked if I wanted to meet his grandfather. I spend a lot of time meeting younger people at the camp so I was keen to meet older people too to see what different perspective they have of life here. On the way we passed some murals which Alaa’s uncle had painted. I had been admiring these murals in passing so it was a nice to surprise to know the people who had painted them.
His grandfather lives on the rooftop of the building where his wife and other family members live downstairs. Apparently he likes the peace and quiet he gets living alone on the roof. On our way in I pointed out the large number of bullet holes on the interior walls of his house. Alaa, corrected me, they were in fact shrapnel scars from tank shells.
Abed is around 80 years old. Palestinians don’t have a tradition of remembering birthdays so ages can be a bit vague. He was exiled from Palestine when he was around 7 years old and has lived in this refugee camp his whole life. He’s a keen painter, the walls are adorned with his work. They offered me a painting to take home, another example of how generous the people here are. I couldn’t possibly have accepted the offer. He paints scenes of old Palestine, Jerusalem and ones from religious stories- he had a painting of the story of Joseph as his brothers were throwing him into the pit. He even spoke some English to me which was surprising, we had a short conversation and it turns out they had education in English when he was a child and Palestine was under its British mandate, pre-1948. A keen artist throughout his life, Abed worked mostly as a builder in the camp in order to pay the bills. Along with his artwork he keeps some of his old tools in his room and a collection of religious texts on his bookshelf. He has suffered from lung cancer for the last 5 years so has to sleep with an oxygen mask through the night. He seems content in his life on the rooftop, he hasn’t been outside of the small camp since the last time he was forced out in 2007 by the Lebanese bombardment. Asking about his memories of Palestine, he recalls the violence his family suffered when being evicted but then went on to say that he lived his whole life in Lebanon and Palestine has become just a memory and a dream for him.
He’s just another in a long line of talented people, including his grandson, that I have met here at the camp. Since being evicted from his home in Palestine almost 70 years ago Abed was forced to spend his entire life in a small camp in Lebanon. The prospects for his grandson don’t look much better and the same goes for dozens of people I’ve met. Almost all have education, skills and want to work and despite there being work that needs done all around here in the camp and in Lebanon- avenues are closed to the majority. Opportunities for work in Lebanon are gradually declining further and the possibilities for Palestinians to emigrate are also declining. With so many others arriving from Syria it’s difficult to see these problems going away any time soon.