Camps verses Neighborhoods: What’s in a name?
4:10 AM. The call to prayer drifts hauntingly through the cool morning air. I am reminded in the depths of my sleep that I am not in Ohio anymore; I am in Beirut, Lebanon—a predominately Muslim country. Our visit happens to fall during the religious season of Ramadan. The call to prayer is a reminder for devout Muslims that daylight is coming and the daily fast will begin again soon—if you want anything to eat or drink, it must be taken now before the sun rises.
The day breaks and it is splendid, it is gorgeous…again here in Lebanon. At break-fast Peter (Makari), our group leader, shared a story with me that the people of Lebanon often tell each other:
“We are so blessed here in Lebanon! God, how is it that you have created for us the beauty of the Mediterrean Sea, the majesty of the mountains and in the valleys between the mountains and the sea…such rich and fertile soil that it produces for us the most delicious fruit?! Why God, why did you give us so many blessings…it is too much like heaven!”
But then God said, “Yes but you haven’t met your neighbors yet.”
It is Thursday, August 25. Our day today in Lebanon is full of these very same contrasts of heaven and hell on earth. Today we spent most of the day with Ms. Sylvia Haddad.
Sylvia was a hoot to say the least.
To be able to maintain such a sense of humor and justice in the face of such overwhelming poverty makes her nothing less than a saint. Sylvia keeps a vocational training school, a pre-school, afterschool tutoring, and an elementary school all operating on a shoe string. We were able to witness a blessing being bestowed on the Palestinians through our One Great Hour of Sharing by Sylvia’s hand.
I was struck most by a phrase that was often used today, but I never thought much about it until my visit to the two Palestinians refugee camps Sabra and Shatilla.
To me the word “camp”
…means something…pleasant…like summer camp;
or…means something…dark…like concentration camp;
But mostly, it means temporary.
When we visited Sabra and Shatilla, I was expecting something totally different than what I saw. I was expecting temporary housing; I was expecting maybe shacks of cardboard; maybe canvas tents hastily thrown up in the desert, maybe a squatter’s village made up plastic sheets.
But what we saw were permanent, huge, concrete, six and seven-story tall apartment buildings with several families living on top of each other with narrow alleys and streets knitting them all together.
To me, these were not camps.
To me, these looked like neighborhoods.
I had to wonder…and ask:
What does it do to families to tell them they lived in “camps”?
What does it do to their self-esteem…to call their homes “camps”?
(These refugee “camps” were birthed soon after the 1948 United Nations resolution that created Israel.)
Why…after 63 years…do we still call their homes “camps”? How long must a pilgrim people live in a place before they can call it home?
1 By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
2 Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
3 For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How can we sing the LORD’S song
In a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
Psalm 137:1-6 NASB