Barren exile teaches useful lessons: The Palestinian deportees believe they are winning the fight to go home, Robert Fisk writes in Marj al-Zohour

'WE are winning,' Mahmoud Zahar said, jabbing his index finger skywards in the general direction of God. 'Warren Christopher will fail. The Palestinian delegation can never go to the talks until we all return as one unit. I have learnt this as I sat here on the mountain. I have learnt that even if we are the weakest people in the world, we can win if we express our feelings. At the moment, we here on this mountain are the focus, the most important point in the Arab-Israeli conflict.'

Across the hills, far to the west, the boom of Israeli artillery fractionally changed the air pressure and allowed Mr Zahar the opportunity to glance meaningfully at his audience of bearded Palestinian deportees, sitting around him on the grey rocks like Old Testament prophets. 'Mr Christopher will fail until he solves our question - we are at the centre of everything,' he repeated, more slowly this time.

On the broken roadway behind him, the deportees were holding their Korans in one hand and clasping transistor radios to their ears with the other. English, Arabic and Hebrew whispered across the hillside as BBC, Lebanese and Israeli broadcasts told them of the refusal of the Palestinian delegation in Jerusalem to return to the peace talks. The 396 Palestinians of Marj al-Zohour have even acquired a battery-powered television and nightly watch the Hebrew news on Israeli television - most of them speak the language of those they regard as their oppressors - and are talking privately of their chances of returning home by mid-summer.

They are well aware of the irony that lies behind Mr Christopher's mission. None of the deportees in southern Lebanon supports the current Middle East peace talks or the work of the Palestinian negotiators in Jerusalem. But all know that the desire of the Palestinians and the Americans to restart the 'peace process' represents their greatest chance of going home - because no Palestinian delegation dares talk to the Israelis until the deportees return to the West Bank and Gaza. Hence they were scenting victory yesterday, if a little worried by the enthusiasm of other Arab delegations - the Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians - to press ahead with negotiations.

Moussa Amro, still limping from the broken foot he suffered before his deportation in December, walked from his tent towards the deportees' morning prayers with a harsh glance at the sun. 'We are going to have hard times before this is over,' he muttered. 'It is getting hotter. It will soon be very hot. Even now, the stream of water over there is drying up. There are snakes here in summer - and many scorpions.' The deportees have just discovered to their consternation that the hillside upon which their grubby tents are pitched is known to local Lebanese villagers as Mother of Scorpions Mountain, a sinister prelude to a long hot summer.

The deportees' encampment is slowly turning into a theological college with a tented mosque, religious discussions and regular prayers on the road.

A 'University of The Return' has been opened by the academics among those expelled by Israel, complete with a dean and rector. Several expressed the view yesterday that their presence in southern Lebanon would ultimately end Israel's system of deportation and thus bring about a real political victory for the Palestinians.

Perhaps. There are those among the detainees who would accept Middle East peace talks that were more formally tied to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 - calling for the withdrawal of Israel from occupied land - and which envisaged a UN protection force in the West Bank and Gaza. Even these sages, however, are having difficulty convincing their colleagues that the UN should still be trusted.

'If thousands of Muslim girls are raped in Bosnia, the UN does nothing,' a Palestinian engineer complained. 'But when a single Israeli soldier is killed, this allows the Israelis to deport 400 Palestinians.'

Since Mr Christopher arrived in the Middle East, there has also been growing among the tents a more palpably anti-Western - rather than anti-Israeli - sentiment, harshly articulated by Mr Zahar. 'The West is a cancer,' he told his little congregation yesterday. 'Do you know what the meaning of cancer is? It is defined as 'an uncontrollable and purposeless growth'.' And there followed a litany of condemnation, of the West's immorality, of the infliction of Aids, and assertions of the purity of Islam here amid the Lebanese foothills where high principle is as clearcut as the snows of Golan and reality as slippery as the diminishing stream of water that flows past the tents.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?