Poverty of Terror How Fanaticism Finds Favor Among Lebanons Poor Jan. 19, 1998 CHRIS WALLACE It was a little more than four years ago when President Clinton brought an Israeli prime minister and the leader of the PLO to the White House for that historic handshake and what seemed to be a new peace in the Middle East. This week, Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat are coming to Washington for more talks. But if you want a sense of where Mideast diplomacy stands now, they will have separate meetings with the president two days apart and a White House spokesman admits prospects for progress are rock bottom. But while the world watches what happens in Washington, the forgotten people in the peace process will continue to be ignored -- hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, some of whom were displaced from their homes 50 years ago when the state of Israel was formed and who are still forgotten today, even by Arab leaders. For these people, its not just politics, but poverty, for they lead the most desperate of lives. And that combination has made them a breeding ground for terrorist causes. John Laurence went to Lebanon to talk with a forgotten people about lives that make them dream of revenge. JOHN LAURENCE, ABC NEWS (VO) Supper for Hamal Achmad Akbar (ph) and her five children is lentils and bread. They cannot afford more. Giving her children a proper diet is a problem, one of many for Hamal and her family. They eat on the floor because they have no table. Hamal, who is 31 - yearsold, is a Palestinian refugee. She and her family lived in a refugee camp in Beirut, where they were born. The camp is named Shattila (ph). Of all who suffered in Lebanons long civil war, the residents of Shattilla suffered most. Hamal was wounded four times. She lost an eye. Her mother was killed. Each day, Hamals husband leaves the camp to look for work. Mohammed Hassan Yusuf (ph) is 37. He, too, was born in Shattila. Although it is illegal for Palestinians to work in Lebanon without a permit and it is virtually impossible for Mohammed to get one, he tries to find day labor as a painter. When he gets work, which is not often, the pay is $1.25 an hour, $10 to $15 a day. (interviewing) How hard is life here in the camps? MOHAMMED HASSAN YUSUF (through translator) It is very hard. For us, death would be better than life. For the Palestinians in Lebanon, death would be better. There is no work. There are no services. There are no schools. We dont have proper houses and you cannot live a good life. If your sons shoes get ruined, you cant replace them because there is no work. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) Poverty affects every aspect of their lives. Ten days earlier, Hamal gave birth to her sixth child, a son. When he was a week old, the baby broke out in a rash and Mohammed took it to a Beirut hospital which treats Palestinians. There, the medical staff referred him to another hospital with better pediatric facilities. Mohammed then brought his son here, to the Hotel Deu De France, a private hospital in East Beirut. The hospital was under contract with the United Nations to treat Palestinian patients. The UN paid the bills. In this case, Mohammeds son was examined by a doctor in the emergency ward, diagnosed and referred for admission. But a hospital administrator demanded $3,000 to treat the baby, a sum of money Mohammed did not have. (VO) We went to the hospital emergency ward to find out what happened to Hamal and Mohammeds baby. (interviewing) A young boy and his father came here and you would not give him treatment. 1ST HOSPITAL WORKER We would not give him treatment? JOHN LAURENCE He says you would not give this baby treatment ... 1ST HOSPITAL WORKER Well, this is not ... JOHN LAURENCE ... until he paid some money. 1ST HOSPITAL WORKER No, no. If you want to photograph anything, whatever you want, talk to the administration. This is not permitted. JOHN LAURENCE I understand. Do you ever refuse people? 1ST HOSPITAL WORKER No. 2ND HOSPITAL WORKER No. DR MARIECLAIRE ANTAKLY, CHIEF OF INTENSIVE CARE We give him treatment when he arrived. All emergency treatment are given to patients before he pays. JOHN LAURENCE In this case the baby was sent to a hospital in Sidon because people herethe administration here asked for $3,000. This is what we were told. DR MARIECLAIRE ANTAKLY No, no, no. Go to the administration and they will answer to you ... 1ST HOSPITAL WORKER Those who have decision take the permission ... DR MARIECLAIRE ANTAKLY ... but it is, I am sure that it is not true. JOHN LAURENCE Have you never heard of someone being turned away? DR MARIECLAIRE ANTAKLY No, no. JOHN LAURENCE You sure? DR MARIECLAIRE ANTAKLY Yes, sure. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) We checked the emergency room register. It showed that when the baby was brought here, he was suffering from jaundice with complications and hypothermia. DR MARIECLAIRE ANTAKLY And the doctor who see the patient decided to hospitalize him. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) But the baby was not hospitalized, despite his critical condition. (interviewing) Was there a problem because he was Palestinian? DR MARIECLAIRE ANTAKLY You have to ask administration of hospital what are conditions to admit a Palestinian patient. JOHN LAURENCE So its possible that this boy, this baby was rejected? DR MARIECLAIRE ANTAKLY Yes, its possible. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) A member of the staff confirmed that the administration asked Mohammed for $3,000. Embarrassed, the hospital security chief ordered us to leave. As we left, an administrator was asked if she cared whether the hospital turned away sick babies. She said, its not my problem. Mohammed had been trying to get his son treated for nine hours. He ended up at a hospital in Sidon, 50 miles away. There, too, they demanded money. MOHAMMED HASSAN YUSUF (through translator) They asked for $1,000 and I pleaded with them to show some humanity. I told them, this is a child here. The main thing is that the child, if the Lord wishes, lives. The man felt a bit sorry for me when I started crying and said okay, but I had to bring the money the next day. The boy was admitted but he died. The next day I went back to Sidon and the man said that he wouldnt give me the boys body until I gave him $220. I said to him my son has died, may he rest in peace. I havent even got enough money to buy a shroud for him. Bury him where you like, you bury him. But he gave me a paper to collect my son. HAMAL ACHMAD AKBAR (through translator) Our hearts have been broken to pieces. We are the living dead. There is no life here. If somebody just held out one hand to support us, to provide us with the things we need, then we could carry on. Otherwise, we will fall to the ground and die. MOHAMMED HASSAN YUSUF (through translator) Poverty creates despair and despair creates even more things and you cant blame us if we were to do certain things. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) When Mohammed says certain things, he is talking about violence. For Palestinians like him, violence and revenge have become compelling outlets for their anger and despair. (Commercial Break) JOHN LAURENCE (VO) Ten thousand people live in the Shattila camp in Beirut, some of the 3.5 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. They have been refugees for 50 years, since Israel became a state. Since then, their care has been in the hands of UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency. Their lives are impoverished and getting worse. WOLFGANG PLASA, DIRECTOR, UNRWA LEBANON Just imagine that you belong to a people, that, of course, you are born in, nobody asked you. Youre living in a country which is not yours. You have no citizenship. You dont have a real passport. You may have been living so since you were born and your father was already born in the same country under the same conditions. Sooner or later you have this victims mentality. SUHAIL NATOUR, PALESTINIAN REFUGEE LEADER Were stuck in Lebanon. Were not accepted outside. The Israelis are not accepting to implement the right of return and the Lebanese are insisting not to give us the opportunity of work and social security. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) Forty percent unemployment, inadequate housing, limited education, poor diet, bad hygiene, ill health. Refugee life is constantly at the edge of catastrophe. For Hamal, the death of her infant son was one more wound. (interviewing) Who do you blame? Whos responsible? HAMAL ACHMAD AKBAR (through translator) Who do you think? Who is responsible for us and has forgotten us? The United Nations, UNRWA. Nobody else. Whatever happens, I will never forget my son and that they killed him. WOLFGANG PLASA I can perfectly well imagine this case to happen in Lebanon because the situation is that in lots of hospitals, in Lebanon, in particular, in the private sector, money is the most important factor. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) Money is also a factor for UNRWA. Last year, in a move to save money, it ordered Palestinians to pay part of their major medical costs. WOLFGANG PLASA We are unable to pay everything. Im talking about hospital bills which are exactly as high as in Europe or the United States. Im talking about bills of $10,000 or $20,000. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) But most Palestinians hardly have enough to pay for food much less thousands of dollars for hospital bills. SUHAIL NATOUR Most of the Lebanese hospitals, they dont accept any Palestinian without previous payment. Even in cases of emergency, if you dont pay $1,000 or $3,000 as a previous payment before entering to the hospital, youll never enter it. We had last year, for example, a list of approximately 100 cases of kidney problems. Now, the list diminished to be only 15 cases. The others died. Every Palestinian who has a serious illness is condemned to death in Lebanon because there is no way to give these services. JOHN LAURENCE (on camera) The Lebanese have a saying for difficult situations that do not affect them directly. It is mishmishklite (ph)its not my problem. When you ask Lebanese officials about the plight of the 350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, you are likely to be told mishmishklite. (interviewing) What about the Palestinians? RAFIQ ALHARIRI, PRIME MINISTER, LEBANON What about them? JOHN LAURENCE (VO) Rafiq alHariri is prime minister of Lebanon. (interviewing) They are suffering. RAFIQ ALHARIRI I know. They are suffering because of the Israelis, because of Israel. JOHN LAURENCE Is there anything that the Lebanese government can do to make their suffering less acute? RAFIQ ALHARIRI Listen, Israel have taken their country. It is totally the responsibility of Israel. I dont accept that, OK, this is happened a few years ago, 20 years ago, 50 years ago and now it is our responsibility. No, it is not our responsibility. It is the responsibility of Israel and it will be always the responsibility of Israel. JOHN LAURENCE Is it fair for the head of the Lebanese government to say its not our problem? RAFIQ ALHARIRI You know, it depends how you put it. It depends how you put it. We cannot integrate them in the society. We cannot give them the Lebanese nationality. We cannot consider them as Lebanese because they are not and if we did so, we feel that we are implementing the plan of Israel. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) So the refugees are stuck. Even Yasser Arafat appears to have forgotten them. Financial aid from the PLO has been cut. Contributions from wealthy Arab nations, once generous, are next to nothing now. SUHAIL NATOUR Everyone all over who were assisting the Palestinians were thinking that this is Oslo agreement. Im finished with the Palestinian problem and that means finish their obligation towards the Palestinian refugees, which is not true because the occupation of Israel is continuous and the oppression done by the Israelis on all stratas of society is continuing and the Arab regimes treatment of the Palestinian refugees, they didnt change. So they cut their assistance to the Palestinians, but we didnt find alternative solutions to that. Thats why the problem is turning to be acute. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) In a country where the cost of living is as high as the United States and onethird of the population lives below the poverty line, the most ambitious and expensive building project in the world is under waythe reconstruction of Beirut. When its completed, the public and private costs will amount to at least $35 billion. CHRIS WALLACE Palestinian refugees are not the only group of poor, dispossessed and profoundly alienated people in Lebanon. There are also more than one million Shiah Muslims, many of whom live in poverty, many of whom have turned to the radical Islamic group known as Hezbollah. Part three of John Laurences report, when we come back. (Commercial Break) JOHN LAURENCE (VO) Emergencya babys life is on the line. The staff of this Beirut hospital works to save it. At this stage, no one cares what it will cost. No one has been asked to pay in advance. The infant is admitted on the spot. Of Beiruts 32 private hospitals, this is the least expensive. It is also one of the most efficient. It is owned and operated by the Islamic fundamentalist organization, Hezbollah. AlRassoul Aazam Hospital started 10 years ago as a first aid station for Hezbollah soldiers in the civil war. Now a full hospital, it treats 5,000 patients a month. (interviewing) Which is the priority here, the business or the immediate care? MOHAMMED HIJAZI, ALRASSOUL AAZAM HOSPITAL No, for sure its the care. Its to care for the patient because in many cases, really, we take them into the emergency, after we treat them, they cannot afford to pay so we have to take the case as he cannot pay and then from there we have to take the bill, you know. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) The hospital survives by operating on a low profit margin, renting rather than purchasing expensive medical equipment and raising money from its Islamic supporters around the world. It serves a south Beirut community of 800,000 Lebanese, almost all Muslim, almost all poor. The governments medical care program has failed them. (interviewing) Do people die because they cannot pay for medical care? DR KAYED TFAYLY, ORTHOPEDIC SURGEON (through translator) Yes. Yes. I know several cases where people died because they could not afford the costs of treatment. With a very low standard of living and bad education, people dont get the treatment they need and the result is that theyre left to die. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) Gotta Samat (ph) has just given birth. Her hospital bill will be met by an insurance policy paid by her husbands employer. Gotta is a refugee from South Lebanon. There, Hezbollah is engaged in a guerrilla war with the Israeli Army. The families of Hezbollah soldiers killed in action receive free medical care for life. Hezbollah also offers private education, trying to fill gaps left by the poorly funded state system. Hezbollah is active in all major areas of social welfare, education, health care, housing, humanitarian aid as well as religion. Its constituency of Shiah Muslims makes up onethird of the Lebanese population, the largest and fastest growing group in the country. By most accounts, Hezbollahs welfare programs are honest, efficient and gaining support. The same cannot be said for the government. The poor are not its priority. Most of its money is being spent on construction programs to rebuild the physical infrastructure of the country and get back to the business of making and spending money, something the Lebanese have excelled at since Phoenician times. But the government is deeply in debt and only the wealthy few are able to enjoy the riches of the new Beirut. A few streets away, Shiah Muslim refugees from South Lebanon live in bombed out buildings no one else wants. Poor, unemployed, outside the reach of the governments social welfare system, the Miri (ph) family struggles to survive. They say life is miserable. Nobody wants to help. 1ST LEBANESE (through translator) In this country, there are people who have absolutely nothing and those who have everything. There are no people in the middle. The strong devour the weak. One is dead and the other lives in luxury. Thats how it is, like a master and a slave. Nobody accepts that. Humanity does not accept that. 2ND LEBANESE (through translator) The war is over, 17 years of war. It is good to be like any other country in the world again. But we had hoped the Lebanese state would think more of the poor people and not only think of reconstruction, roads and bridges. There are also people who want to live. JOHN LAURENCE (VO) If the plans of Lebanons are fulfilled, in a few more years, Beirut will be a bright, shining star in the Middle East, once again a center of commerce, tourism and culture. Then, some of the expected prosperity may reach the lives of those who now have least, like those living in the shadow of Beiruts new $65 million sports complex. In the meantime, as one wealthy businessman said, the poor will have to wait. Those who dream of peace in the Middle East ignore the needs of these people at their peril. John Laurence for Nightline, Beirut. Copyright ABCNews. All rights reserved. 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