Bitter mountain exile ends as peace beckons: A shameful saga of Palestinian deportees closes this weekend, Robert Fisk writes from Marj al-Zohour

THEY'VE dismantled Professor Abdul-Fatah Awaisi's university and dispersed Dr Aziz Dweik's library. Today, they'll roll up the carpets of Sheikh Bassam Jarrar's mosque. And sometime over the weekend - Sunday is the best bet - the Islamic Republic of Marj al-Zohour will come to an end.

Its passing will be recorded by the 215 Palestinian deportees in southern Lebanon with an inscription carved on a rock in the middle of their tent encampment. No one has yet decided on the words. Inevitably, Allahu Akbar (God is most great) is the favourite but one of the younger men, sitting on the mountainside on Wednesday, felt something more personal was called for. 'I would like to write on this rock one sentence,' he said. 'I would like to write: 'This land is not my land'.'

His land, of course, he calls Palestine and in the hours before Israel is supposed to begin its military withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho on Monday, the deportees of Marj al- Zohour will be allowed to recross the Israeli lines inside occupied southern Lebanon and enter Israel itself. And from there - after a day or two in prison - most of the 215 will return to their homes, bringing to an end a miserable and shameful saga that began almost exactly a year ago.

For most of the past 12 months, there have been well over 400 deportees living on the cold hillsides here, deported by Israel after the killing of an Israeli border policeman because they were supporters of Islamic resistance groups in the West Bank and Gaza.

At one point, their deportation seemed likely to disrupt the Middle East peace talks in Washington although many of the Palestinians now suspect they were exiled with the PLO's connivance - to get them out of the occupied territories before the secret PLO-Israeli talks began in Norway.

Not that they idled away their hours below the snows of Golan. The deportees are - most of them - men of learning; English professors and imams, medical doctors and journalists, mixed in with some harder, less thoughtful, more angry figures.

And in their year of exile, 19 of them have written 30 books, all but two of them the story of their experiences of exile amid the snakes and frost, the mosquitos and baking summer heat of Marj al-Zohour. 'It was time that was given to us to study and learn and understand ourselves,' Sheikh Jarrar mused as he piled his food trays and chipped cups and plates at the side of his tent. 'We learnt to know the people here, the Lebanese, who have suffered so much these past years. We have benefited from their kindness. It was a unique experience and it will all be passed on when we return home.'

And that is the point. The Israelis intended to scatter these men to the corners of the Arab world. But when Rafiq Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister, refused to allow them into his country, they stayed where they were on the front line, to return this weekend with a resolve and cohesion they could never have achieved had they not lived in exile together. Hamas, Mr Arafat's principal Palestinian opponents, may prove immeasurably stronger because of their experiences here and because of the thousands of hours of night-time discussions that have gone on in the tents of Marj al-Zohour.

Dr Dweik of Hebron University was still teaching on Wednesday, explaining the movements of the earth, its axis and seasons to a group of bearded men, illustrating his lecture with drawings of tiny worlds spinning across a page. 'Ozone layer' it said in one corner. 'The fault of the West,' Dr Dweik announced with delight. But most of the men were packing, tying up bundles of clothes, preparing to hand their cutlery and plates and cups and water jugs, their generators and battered television sets back to the local villagers who provided them a year ago.

Fifteen of the deportees are so fearful of further imprisonment that they have refused to return, asking their lawyers in the West Bank and Gaza to arrange a deal with the Israelis: that they will voluntarily stay away from the occupied territories for two years if Israel promises they can then return in freedom. But at least 200 Palestinians will troop back down the narrow road from Marj al- Zohour when the Israelis tell them to.

Sheikh Jarrar was phlegmatic about it all as he stood among the hillside boulders, staring up to the first snows of Golan. The mountains loomed blue through a haze of rain. A few shafts of sunlight crept down the valley. 'Yes, it's very beautiful here,' he said. 'But it has been very hard. Like eating sugar and salt at the same time, month after month.'

The Israeli army arrested dozens of Hamas followers on Wednesday night in Gaza, Palestinian sources said last night.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Year 3 Welsh Teacher vacancy in Penarth

£110 - £120 per day + Travel Scheme and Free training: Randstad Education Card...

Senior Developer - HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, VBA, SQL

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are working with one o...

Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

£450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz