As the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues, international solidarity with the people of Gaza has only grown, with protests, vigils, and the like happening all around the world. But solidarity has always been ever-present in the Palestinian refugee camps of southern Lebanon. Established in the aftermath of the 1948 mass expulsion of the Palestinians from what would become the State of Israel, the camps themselves came under Israeli occupation when Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982, until Israeli forces were repelled from the country in 2000. Despite years of exile and isolation from Palestine, as well as discrimination against Palestinians in Lebanon, the Palestinians in both the Rashidieh and Burj Shemali refugee camps are steadfast in their solidarity with Palestine.
"All Palestinians – in the West Bank, in historic Palestine, and especially in Gaza – are suffering due to the aggression of Zionism," said Mahmoud, the director of a local children's school in the Rashidieh camp. Like most refugees in the camps, Mahmoud's family were themselves expelled from their homes in what is now Israel, barred from returning. "There are two hundred martyrs, mostly children, women and elders. This indicates that Israel is very aggressive and violent. We are calling on the international community and human rights organisations to be in solidarity with Gaza to stop this blood-letting of innocent people."
Ihab, a volunteer at the school also emphasises the solidarity that all Palestinians hold with Gaza. "All of us are Gaza. All of us are Mohammed Abu Khdeir," he says, referring to the Palestinian teenager that was burned alive by Israelis following several days of incitement by Israeli leaders. "All of us in the Shatat," or the Palestinian diaspora, "from south to north are with Gaza. We want human rights organisations to stop these crimes before everyone dies."
The feelings at the Burj Shemali camp, nearby, are similar. "I love Gaza and God willing we will return to it," says Mohammed, a student at a local school in Burj Shemali.
Addressing the people of Gaza directly, Sara, another student in Burj Shemali, said: "I hope that you do not give up, and that you keep hope inside of you. And of course we will return to Palestine, and surely you will return to it as well." Although Gaza is a Palestinian territory, Sara is referring to the fact that the majority of Gaza's population consists of refugees from '48 Palestine or present-day Israel.
Despite Israel's bombardment of Palestinian civilians – or perhaps because of it – many of the residents at the camps are steadfast in their support of Palestinian armed resistance and see it as a necessary aspect of demanding the recognition of their rights.
As such, the struggle of the refugees in demanding the recognition of their right to return is understood as one and the same with the armed resistance in Gaza. Haneen, a young Palestinian student, says: "We hope for victory by the Palestinian resistance over Israel. We want the right to return [to Palestine]." Israa, a teaching volunteer in Rashidieh camp, similarly claims: "We pray for the resistance and all the Palestinians in Gaza. After they bombed [Lebanon] last night, we feel the same fear as the people of Gaza do," referring to a brief exchange of fire between Israel and unknown individuals at the Lebanese border the night before.
After decades of exile, the continued subjugation at the hands of pliant Arab states, and the periodic bombardment and occupation by Israel, Palestinian refugees in southern Lebanon remain steadfast. While much of Israel's historic regional strategy has depended on the use of violent repression and occupation to deny Palestinians their rights, including the current mass bombardment of Gaza, it is clear that multiple generations of Palestinians remain united in their refusal to allow Israel to take their rights away.
Amith Gupta and Yeou-Shiuh Hsu are US-based Palestine solidarity activists. Amith is currently volunteering as a teacher at the Rashidieh refugee camp in southern Lebanon, where he teaches Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Yeou-Shiuh volunteers as a teacher at the nearby Burj Shemali refugee camp, where he also teaches Palestinian and Syrian refugees.