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Aug-21-2010 22:13printcomments

Lebanon Puts Palestinians Underground to Keep Them From Phoning Home

The idea that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should not be able to communicate with certain family members underscores the rootless existence to which they have been relegated by the Lebanese government

Ein el Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Saida, Lebanon: One step up from underground. (Image from
A bustling main street within Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in July 2005. Courtesy:

(BEIRUT, Lebanon) - Earlier this year in Lebanon, I paid a visit to Roumieh prison outside Beirut to see a Palestinian friend who had ended up there thanks to a business endeavor involving a series of fake checks and a fake ambassador of Somalia.

Shouting from behind two metal fences and surrounded by scores of other inmates also shouting to their visitors, my friend informed me that he had additionally been suspected of false patriotism and had been removed from Roumieh last year for a weeklong interrogation session to determine if he was an Israeli spy. Methods of determination reportedly included blindfolding and being inserted into a hole in the ground for several days.

Lebanese suspicion had been aroused in part by the discovery that my friend had been telephoning his relatives in Israel, the descendants of an uncle who had avoided expulsion in 1948. Impediments to phoning the enemy state from Lebanese territory were skirted either via phone cards that directed the calls through a third country or via a certain Western Union in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, where one was permitted to call Israel as long as one referred to it as Occupied Palestine; another way to get around communications restrictions vis-à-vis the occupied entity is presumably to work for Lebanon’s Alfa mobile phone network.

I had recently been quizzed on the proper name for Lebanon’s southern neighbor during my own interrogation at the hands of Lebanese General Security, which was conducted above ground and consisted of 4 hours of questions such as whether I had ever talked to anyone in Israel. It was never established why my interrogators were permitted to use this term and I was not, or why they claimed to be on a tight schedule but still managed an extensive critique of the manner in which I held a pen.<

As for other Lebanese contradictions, the idea that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should not be able to communicate with certain family members underscores the rootless existence to which they have been relegated by the Lebanese government, which capitalizes on the excuse that Palestinian assimilation will weaken the struggle to render Occupied Palestine unoccupied. Other forms of Palestinian occupation have meanwhile been addressed by my friend at Roumieh, who suggested that a livelihood unrelated to fake checks and Somali ambassadors might have been more feasible were Palestinians not prohibited from pursuing the majority of professions in Lebanon.

Belén is a feature writer at Pulse Media. Her articles also have appeared in CounterPunch, Narco News, Palestine Chronicle, Palestine Think Tank, Rebelión, Tlaxcala, The Electronic Intifada, Upside Down World, and Her book “Coffee with Hezbollah,” a humorous political travelogue chronicling her hitchhiking trip through Lebanon in the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli assault, is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble.

Born in Washington, DC, in 1982, Belén earned her bachelor's degree with a concentration in political science from Columbia University in New York City. Her diverse background of worldwide experiences, created a fantastic writer; one whose work we are extremely happy to share with viewers. You can contact Belén at:

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