Saturday, May 20, 2006

Totten in Ramallah

Michael J. Totten's journalism is better than home-made bread. That's as good as it gets. Anyone who doesn't go read this most recent account of a visit to the West Bank, Ramallah, is just cheating himself. Lots of pictures. Lots of good observations. Lots of insights. We need more of this.

When he had earlier asked what I wanted to do in Ramallah I told him I wanted to meet Palestinians opposed to Hamas. I already knew what Hamas had to say. They get all the attention in the newspapers now. There is no point in going all the way to the West Bank just so I could publish more of the same predictable bombastic slogans. I had no idea what their opponents were thinking now, and it seemed more worth my time to meet some of them. Sufian himself was a good start.

“Let’s walk around a bit first,” I said. “I want to see what Ramallah is like.”

So we walked.

There is no more political propaganda on display in Ramallah than there is in Israel. This surprised me after several visits to Lebanon’s Hezbollahland where portraits of “martyrs” and tyrants are literally everywhere.

Hezbollah is moderate and civilized compared with Hamas. So I expected even more visible evidence of derangement in the Hamas government’s capital. But there are at least 100 times as many psychotic billboards and posters in Hezbollah-occupied Lebanon as there are in Ramallah.

He linked to Lisa Goldman's blog, which in turn linked to Laila's delightful Lebanese blog. If you're in trouble for reading time, do not click on these sites or you might be sitting in front of the screen until you have to take a potty break. Reading blogs can get out of hand. There are simply too many good ones, so you have to remain disciplined to keep on task.

Great, really great weekend reading ahead...
But start with Totten.

Oh, and don't miss his comparison of the conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon with conditions he is describing in Ramallah. His conversations with a local leader is most revealing.

“Do you feel the Arab countries have betrayed the Palestinians?” I said. “They are treated like animals in Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria.”

“Yes, I know,” he said. “I wouldn’t say Arab governments are innocent. They are not doing what they should do. It is below the capacities that they have. Still, Israelis are the main enemy and the main source of suffering.”

“But Palestinians are treated worse by Lebanese than they are by Israelis,” I said. “Do you know about the conditions in refugee camps like Ein El Helwe?”

“They are not treated worse in Lebanon,” he said. “That is not possible.”

I blinked at him.

“I have seen these places myself,” I said. “The conditions there are vastly worse than they are here in Ramallah. It’s impossible to even compare them.”

“Here a pregnant woman cannot get to a hospital because of the checkpoints,” he said.

It’s possible the Palestinians in the West Bank have no idea how bad the refugee camps in other countries really are. Or they are so consumed with their own problems that they just don’t care. I do not know.

I’ll say this, though: Those refugee camps in Lebanon have been there for more than 50 years. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon are not allowed to live anywhere else unless they are Christian. (They aren’t really “camps,” by the way. They are urban, and they are sub-Dickensian slums.) And until last year, vehicles entering the camps were searched by the Lebanese army. Building materials were confiscated. The Lebanese didn’t want the Palestinians to get, you know, the wrong idea. If you want to know what those places are like, just imagine the worst slums you’ve ever seen. Then subtract all the modern building materials. Unspeakable doesn’t even begin to describe them.

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