Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Palestinian Christians in Lebanon

Lately I have been selectively reading Julie Peteet's Landscape of Hope and Despair: Palestinian Refugee Camps.  One thing she goes into is the interaction between the Palestinian society transferred to refugee camps in Lebanon and that country's sectarian politics.  As soon as the refugees started arriving in 1948, Lebanon's dominant Maronites looked to bolster Christian numbers by offering citizenship only to Palestinian Christians.  Here is a bit of a interview with a Christian which Peteet includes:
At that time, the Israelis were pushing the Arabs of Haifa down to the port and into boats.  As my parents tell it, it was mass chaos and a number of people drowned being pushed into overcrowded boats.  My parents were able to find a taxi to take them to the border.  They went directly to Sour in south Lebanon.  We didn't know anyone there.  But what they found as soon as they got there was a bunch of Lebanese Christian men looking for Christian refugees.  They offered to give them assistance and take them to (the Beirut suburb of) Jounieh.  My parents told us that the Lebanese Christians helped us because they wanted us to increase the number of Christians in Lebanon.  So that's how my parents ended up there.
In Jounieh, my father and some of the other Palestinian Christian men tried to determine how many Palestinians were in the area because they wanted to open a school for the children.  In conjunction with UNRWA, they opened a school in the Christian camp of Dbiyyeh.  That's where the Christian Palestinians who were peasants were settled.  It was church land in the Christian area.
A pattern one sees is that, as Palestians from religiously mixed areas of northern Israel entered Lebanon, they became segregated by religion as the Christians, who again dominated Lebanon at that time, adopted the Palestinian Christians in a move interpreted as trying to use them to stave off Christian demographic decline relative to Muslims.  At first Christians and Muslims among the refugees tried to maintain their links from their home country, but over time distance and divergent experiences caused those attempts to fizzle out.

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