RashidiyyaThe camp of Rashidiyya lies on the seashore seven kilometres outside the south Lebanese town of Tyre. The 267,000 square metre camp site is surrounded by agricultural areas and citrus plantations providing the camp with a rural setting. The camp is divided between an "old camp" inhabited by the first wave of refugees who came during the early fifties, and a "new camp" inhabited by refugees who were transferred from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon in 1964.
Most of the residents in Rashidiyya are 1948-refugees originally from the Galilee region. Rashidiyya is the refugee camp closest to the Israeli border. The refugees can see the hills of their one-time homeland of Palestine across the border, and feel that they are under constant Israeli military surveillance. The sea has at times transported activists and enabled them to carry out attacks on Israeli territory. The camp has therefore frequently been at the centre of warfare, of which the biggest episodes happened in 1973, 1978 and 1982 each time leaving houses in the camp in a total and sem-total demolished state.
The Lebanese army controls the camp's entrance. There were several entrances before 1985, but now both cars and people have to go through the entrance guarded by the Lebanese soldiers.
Until 1987 Rashidiyya housed approximately 21,000 refugees4 and was regarded as the largest camp in terms of inhabitants compared to al-Buss and Burj al-Shamali, the other two refugee camps in Tyre. The current number of residents is however by the local camp committee assumed to be reduced to approximately 13,000 inhabitants, mainly due to displacement following the five major destructions of the camp.
The high rate of mobility and displacement of refugees is a direct result of the constant search for personal security throughout the Lebanese Civil War which erupted after the collapse of the country's fragile sectarian political system in 1975 and lasted until 1989.
Individuals and households in Rashidiyya have thus experienced a continuous long term imbalance between their immediate security, consumption and labour needs enforcing them to move in and out of the camp in order to meet these needs.
Former camp residents prefer to continue living in the places where they sought refuge during the civil war, residing either in squatter areas, in forlorn houses, or by relatives in Lebanese towns and villages.5 A large number of camp residents have migrated to Western and Arab countries.6
A large portion of Rashidiyya residents work as seasonal workers and day-labourers in agricultural fields and citrus plantations. Average male income per day is 9,000-10,000 Lebanese Lira (LL) (5,4 - 6 USD). Females can work two shifts enabling them to earn the same sum as males if they work both shifts. Males are also engaged in the construction industry earning approximately 15,000 LL (9 USD) per day. Underemployment among day-workers is, however, very common, and day-workers complained that they only worked 3-4 days per week.
Perceived unemployment is widespread. Many have income generating labour not related to their profession. Electricians, car mechanics and carpenters are prone to work in the fields as they do not have the means to open up stores neither inside nor outside the camp. Women are able to have an income through canvas-work which they deliver to two organisations. Single women without heavy home-duties are thus able to earn at least 100,000 LL (60 USD) per month provided they work regularly.
UNRWA operates a welfare system which includes three schools and one health centre. In addition, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) operates a hospital. There are disputes concerning responsibilities for electricity- and water systems where UNRWA takes partial responsibility. Special hardship cases7 enrolment amount to 11.8% of the registered refugee population in 1992/93 (United Nations 1994:34). According to UNRWA's guidelines, special hardship cases are entitled to rations every second month of basic foodstuffs, cash assistance, access to shelter rehabilitation and self-support project programmes. Before the Lebanese civil war there were restrictions against enlarging dwellings, but these were by-passed during the war, and houses have been rebuilt and enlarged vertically.
Prior to the Lebanese civil war Palestinians enjoyed the benefits of a pluralist society and the freest press in the Arab world. A substantial segment of the native population supported the Palestinian cause. The PLO headquarters were located in Beirut from 1970 until 1982. During this period, the Lebanese authorities withdrew from the camps leaving them as "liberated zones" where the PLO developed into a significant military force in the country (Sayigh 1994a:25).
What started out as an alliance between Lebanese and Palestinian groups was to change character dramatically during the 14-year civil war. The ambivalent attitude between the two communities prevails at present in the south, but does not undermine the fact that there exist mutual bonds between the two groups which are reflected in intermarriage.
Following the Taif Agreement in 1989, Syria's influence and political role in the country became manifest; the presence of Syrian troops was to stabilise internal affairs while Lebanese security and foreign political issues were to comply with Syrian policy.
One of the main effects of the Syrian presence in Lebanon regarding the Palestinians is Syria's support of Palestinian groupings who oppose DoP, enhancing thus the political cleavages within the PLO where Fatah, Arafat's group, is part of the peace process.
In Rashidiyya, the political scene is currently marked by the undisputed leadership of Fatah proponents who display positive attitudes towards DoP, a standpoint which does not necessarily reflect the political attitude of camp residents nor the majority of Palestinians in Lebanon. In fact, PLO leadership at the camp-committee level in south Lebanon can be attributed to the non-existence of Syrian influence south of the Awwali river. The river's borders mark, unofficially, the Syrian and Israeli spheres of influence in south Lebanon where the area of Tyre lies within the latter. The Syrian non-presence has therefore indirectly enabled Fatah to remain in power in Rashidiyya.
Rashidiyya inhabitants indicate that the possibility for them to return back to their homeland is not up for them to negotiate and decide. The decision to migrate to the homeland is mainly in the hands of the international community and politicians, Palestinians and non-Palestinians, who live outside Lebanon. Camp residents have a collective consciousness of being left behind, and this has resulted in a sense of insecurity and apathy concerning their immediate future. Lebanon, previously an important arena for Palestinian affairs, gradually lost political significance since the PLO moved its field of interest from Lebanon to the occupied territories after the PLO-leadership left Lebanon in 1982. This process has been even strengthened following the Oslo-Agreement. Palestinians in Lebanon are aware that the fate of 1948-refugees is not currently on the agenda in the ongoing peace negotiations which build on DoP, while the overall majority of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon belong to this category.
4.) UNRWA-figures show that the number of refugees living in Rashidiyya
is 21,543(Map of UNRWA's Area of Operations, 30 June 1993). Residents
themselves say that this was the number of residents before 1987, and that
the camp has not housed the original number of residents since the camps
war in 1987.