The World According to...

Forgotten people cry in despair: Hope dies in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon

July 1994: ‘New realities’ do nothing for the 2 million Palestininians now condemned to permanent refugee status, writes Robert Fisk

Saturday 21 August 2021 21:30
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<p>PLO chairman Yasser Arafat waves to a crowd of cheering Palestinians after he crossed the Rafah border point on 1 July 1994, entering the newly self-ruled Gaza Strip for the first time in 27 years</p>

PLO chairman Yasser Arafat waves to a crowd of cheering Palestinians after he crossed the Rafah border point on 1 July 1994, entering the newly self-ruled Gaza Strip for the first time in 27 years

The posters of Yasser Arafat are pasted from gutter to hovel rooftop outside the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Rachidiye. “The decision-maker in war and in peace”, it says underneath.

But down the road where the Mediterranean thrashes the beach 12 miles from Israel – “so close you can smell the breeze from Palestine”, as one of them puts it – the Palestinians of Rachidiye have never felt such despair. Um Hussein, withered after 46 years in the refugee camps of Lebanon, lives within sight of the land she fled in 1948. “Yasser Arafat has ruined our lives,” she says.

Her arguments are simple, unanswerable and hopelessly unrealistic. She came from a village called Safa outside Acre, a 16-year-old Palestinian girl who walked into Lebanese exile on the assumption she would return home “in seven days or seven weeks”, once the first Arab-Israeli war was over. But like the other 700,000 Palestinians who fled their land in 1948 – they and their children now number 2 million in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan alone – Um Hussein is forbidden to return, her refugee status consigned to a sentence in Mr Arafat’s “Declaration of Principles”.

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