Lebanon/OPT: January 2010 Trip Diary

Report
from American Near East Refugee Aid
Published on 14 Jan 2010 View Original
by Bill Corcoran, ANERA President

Lebanon

A walking tour through Sabra and Shatilla camps is never easy. But when we were in Shatilla, after a day of rain, the dirt was transformed into pools of polluted water flowing down the narrow three-meter-wide streets. Most alarming was the predominance of electrical wires hanging down loosely within easy reach of children standing in puddles.

It is unsettling to ponder that "politics" largely have forced people to live in dire poverty in a cramped, stranglehold of a maze with no clear areas for children to play or exercise. Observers say that conditions in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon are the worst in the region. After every visit I make to Lebanon, I am left with little doubt about the accuracy of that view.

ANERA's role is ever more clear and urgent. We hope to set up vocational training for Palestinians, but in non-traditional roles. Anecdotal evidence shows normal jobs are full but vacancies exist for positions that Palestinians are not trained to fill, like agricultural specialties, forestry, etc. ANERA is also looking at innovative projects like recycling for profit in partnership with local hotels and other institutions.

One ANERA success story in Lebanon has been the design of the DHIAFEE program to promote responsible tourism by teaching local bed & breakfast and country inn owners how to better market and promote their services. DHIAFEE trained staff in hospitality and helped create flyers, websites and displays to promote local products. We want to explore the potential this program could have for Palestinian communities in the West Bank, especially tourist areas in and around Bethlehem, Jericho and Nablus. (Read more about DHIAFEE.)

West Bank

We spent several days in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a whirlwind of project visits and meetings with staff and partners.

In Jerusalem, we had supper at the home of ANERA's attorney in the West Bank. He is a marvelous example of what could happen if Arabs were given full rights. After being raised in Nazareth, he attended Hebrew University. He is a member of the bar in both Israel and Palestine, speaking Arabic, Hebrew, English and French. He and his wife have collected art of Palestinian artists since 1986 amassing a real history of Palestinian culture. He has also started a gallery in East Jerusalem which is now self sufficient. Eventually, he dreams of creating a Palestinian Museum of Art.

On the following day, we had a visit to our IT Center at Al Quds University. While the Center is impressive, the proximity of the Wall, right outside of the building's windows, is a stunning reminder of the dissected community outside of the campus.

Gaza

Entering Gaza for this, my fifth visit since the war, I was impressed by how little rubble remains. Much of the cement and steel have been cleared and is being recycled for house and street repairs. The city streets are clean and trees are being planted. On the surface, it looks better than some West Bank areas.

In conversations with Gazans of all walks of life, I found a profound fear that the tunnels along the Egyptian border are soon to close. They have become the lifeline for daily existence. The word is that Egypt will flood the tunnels with seawater after building an underground wall to close them off. Even now there are fewer trucks allowed to head toward the Rafah border. Prices for basic goods and luxury items in Gaza are soaring and hoarding has already begun.

As commercial opportunities appear to be drying up, Palestinian officials believe agriculture may be the only viable business venture for the future. In this vein, the Palestinian Authority has declared 2010 the Year of Agriculture.

We already had begun expanding our agricultural development programs, including initiatives aimed at more environmentally-friendly projects to compensate for the lack of fertilizers and pesticides that aren't permitted to enter.

American Near East Refugee Aid:
To learn more about ANERA, please visit http://www.anera.org/.