It was a once in a life time chance and an experience that could never be duplicated. The air was electric- with song and dance and a feeling that is hardly felt in Lebanon; the feeling of unity. 50,000 Palestinians joined hands and embarked on a journey to Maroun Al Ras back to their homeland, even if it was just for a couple of hours. Palestinians of all ages, from babies to the elderly, rightfully took advantage of this opportunity to lay their eyes on their beloved Falasteen once again.
I woke up at 6am, a time that is a stranger to me, pumped with energy and my excitement was at a level I could never explain. I didn’t know what to expect as it was my first protest, but I knew that I had to be there. Time felt as it was passing quickly and as soon as I knew it, I was out the door and heading down to Bourj Ishamil where I would enter a Palestinian refugee camp for the first time. Although these refugee camps have existed for decades, Lebanese seldom ever visit them and most just drive on past. Most have their excuses, some blame the fact that they are afraid for Palestinian refugees are often perceived as violent. Knowing the superiority the Lebanese in my city have over everyone- I did not care, I was willing to ‘take the risk’. I joined some friends who were going to join the thousands of Palestinians from this particular camp in the march to Maroun Al Ras.
As we went inside the very confined camp I remembered being warned by other activists previously that the state refugees lived in Lebanon was depressing, so I braced myself for tears. Knowing how vulnerable my emotions are, I just knew I would leave the camp crying. But I didn’t. The atmosphere was full of happiness and I assume it was the first time in a long time that Palestinians here were full of glee especially with the conditions our government forces them to live under. The most inspiring were the older generation. The very little seventy and eighty year old Palestinians that were left were the most uplifting because although they might have been weak physically, mentally they were as strong as rocks. They were determined to go back home. And that was definitely something I needed to witness in the start of the day for it made me fearless. At that moment, I wished to myself that I was Palestinian. The sense of humbleness filled the tight camp and every stereotype I had heard of them was blown away in an instant. These people were friendly. These people were no different than me. These people wanted me to know their story. And like them, I feel as though I don’t belong in Lebanon. Like them, I am rejected because I am an outsider. I understood them and they understood me. I was comfortable in the camp and if I had to stay there with them forever, I don’t think I would have minded.
I left the camp with hundreds of refugees, marching the streets of Bourj Ishamil to our transportation. There was some trouble with the buses, so my friends and I had to separate from the refugees and take a personal car to Maroun Al Ras also known as my father’s car! Though I did snag some photos of some lucky ones that got a bus:
My village Yaroun, which is right next to Maroun, is a village I often travel to. It is nothing more than a 45 minute ride to a land of green valleys and villas, but that day the car ride felt like it was taking forever. Even though I tried not to show it, I was ecstatic at an unhealthy level! When we got there, we first went to the Israeli line that bordered with my village.
We kept getting warnings that Lebanese and foreigners would not be allowed inside of Maroun Al Ras because of the amount of people that were already there. At this point I was petrified that I would not be let in. So I begged my father to please try and negotiate with the Lebanese army into letting my friends and I in. We took the chance. Boy, was it easy negotiating because all we had to do is ask twice and the Lebanese soldier let us in. We walked our little distance inside Maroun Al Ras straight to the border only to have our breath taken away by this amazing scene:
Loud music and cheers were all you could hear and Palestinian flags was all you could see. And to my surprise, thousands of Palestinians were standing maybe half a mile away from the border which has been a forbidden area since the 2006 war. I knew that if I did not join them, I would regret it later despite how dangerous it was.
About an hour into the protest, we were left with another shocking scene: a small group of Palestinians who marched RIGHT to the border fence.
Many were fearful for what might happen next. And now, instead of Israeli soldiers firing warning shots in the air, they were firing right at the protesters. By this point, you would think the Palestinians would run off but instead more started marching down. The sight was unbelievable and I was left speechless.
I have to admit, I grew a bit scared by now. But it only took a couple of minutes for that emotion to fade and I started getting closer along with the Palestinians. I had to stop myself though for my safety and let’s just say mom wouldn’t be to pleased if she knew how close I had gotten! So I stayed at my half mile mark and stared in awe at the brave Palestinians, risking it all to get near their home.
Another video of protesters close to the border line: http://yfrog.com/42fojz
I unfortunately had to leave earlier than I wanted to as my parents called and started to grow weary. The situation was getting tense and news of martyrs was floating amongst the crowd. At this moment, ambulances zoomed in and out of the park almost every 3 minutes. As I was leaving, more army was being deployed. When protesters asked them what was happening, they shrugged their shoulders. I didn’t know how to feel, but I knew this would happen. It is not the first time Israel has fired at peaceful protesters and blamed us for it. I heard the chatter amongst young Palestinians who said they went to Maroun to become martyrs. Many of them were born and raised in this cooped up refugee camp, isolated by society. They were ready to die for Palestine, to die for the next generation’s freedom.
Walking out, I looked back and yearned to be in the crowd again. It only took me a couple of seconds to miss the people. The loud chants and patriotic anthems started to fade and I was finally realizing what I had just witnessed. I had witnessed history in the making, something that might not ever happen again. I saw what real love was between people. Nobody asked me if I was Sunni, nobody asked me if I was Shia. Nobody cared if I was Lebanese. Because at that moment we were all Palestinian. Whilst in the crowd, I forgot who I was. I didn’t have a label. I didn’t see race, I didn’t see color, I didn’t see refugees. I saw bravery and determination. I saw passion and frustration. I saw hope. I saw the most important thing: Palestine.