Lebanon sees rare unity

Thousands of Lebanese have reached across the sectarian and religious divide to help hundreds of thousands of mostly Shia refugees fleeing Israel’s bombardment in the south of the country.

Lebanese Shias have borne the brunt of the Israeli attacks

In one east Beirut district, refugees found sanctuary in a place that they would least expect to find it – a school in an area dominated by the Christian Lebanese Forces where posters of civil-war era Christian leaders Bashir Gemayel and Samir Geagea adorn the streets.

The refugees are mostly Shia and many of them are supporters of Hezbollah, an Islamic political party that some Christians blame for starting the current war with Israel.

For the most part, locals from the area have accepted the presence of the newcomers and some have even embraced them.

“We feel their reaction has been very positive. They have brought things for us like milk for the children. I feel like I am home,” said Ali Hassan who fled the Haret Hreik area in the southern suburbs of Beirut.


In the wake of the chaos following Israel’s targeting of civilian infrastructure some Lebanese say they have been forced to forget civil-war era suspicions and tensions in order to help each other.

“We have been expecting something different because of the political differences in Lebanon. But here I found that we are all Lebanese and I found a spirit of humanity. If you leave the politicians out of this then we are all unified,” said Mohammad Kafani, a refugee at the school.

Amid growing shortages of food, petrol and other essentials, many Lebanese take pride in helping each other.

The UN has called for an end to the violence
The UN has called for an end to the violence

The UN has called for an end to the violence

Issam Bishara, the head of the Pontifical Mission of the Catholic Near East Relief Mission in Beirut, thinks the sense of unity among the Lebanese will help in overcoming prospective political in-fighting once the guns fall silent.

“This war will end, the Lebanese will have to manage their internal affairs and I think this welcome towards the refugees by the Christian community is a significant step toward this.”

“You know there’s nothing like home. These people are displaced but when they see a smiling face and people care and provide them with food and water that really helps,” he told Aljazeera.net.

Social juxtaposition

In west Beirut, an umbrella organisation called Samidoun (The Resilient) has been set up to help refugees.

Fatima Hachem an activist working with the group said she was also surprised by the reaction of Beirut residents to the arrival of the refugees.

“Everyone was expecting to have some problems between Sunni and Shia. But a lot of Sunni people have been cooking food and taking it to refugees. We didn’t expect this to happen,” she told Aljazeera.net.

The relief effort has created some other strange social juxtaposition.

In west Beirut an office for the gay NGO Helem has been turned into the coordinating centre for Samidoun.

Underneath the rainbow flag the activists work around the clock to make sure the refugees in their care are provided for.

“I don’t think the refugees really care about the fact that we are a gay rights NGO. They only care if the NGOs helping them are American,” Helem activist Ghassan Makarem said.

Palestinian aid

Earlier this week the Rashidyeh Palestinian refugees camp near Tyre took in around 82 families who had fled their villages near the border with Israel, although that number dropped after the Israelis bombed the camp.

The Lebanese are united by anger
The Lebanese are united by anger

The Lebanese are united by anger

“They are helping the Lebanese of course. They told me that there was enough food for all people. We are helping them with everything they needed. The food was enough for all people,” Ghada Ajawi, a Palestinian refugee from Rashidyeh told Aljazeera.net.

But the irony that Lebanese were seeking refuge in a refugee camp was not lost on Ajawi.

“You feel with them more than anybody because we understand what they have been through,” she said.

Long-term effects

Despite the gestures of solidarity, many activists are concerned by the prospective long-term fallout if the fighting continues and the displaced are unable to return to their homes.

“I think the longer this continues the harder it will become. The government is not helping and the NGOs are running out of resources,” Samidoun activist Hachem said.

But many refugees are determined to do whatever it takes to return to their homes.

“If this goes on and we can’t return to our homes then we will fight. We will not be made into refugees. We are all Lebanese and we will fight for Lebanon,” said refugee Majida Hawila, a mother of eight from the southern village of Bazouriya.

Source: Al Jazeera