Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Making It Hurt Less

I had a chance today to visit the Burj Al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in the southern slums of Beirut. The pictures I had seen of it were fairly accurate, but walking in the gate gave me a real feel for the spirit of the place. “Prison” is the most fitting description that comes to mind. Having spent some time in jail, I can say that the feel is the same.

This is a prison for poor families, where the children play in dark alleyways no wider than a dining table.  The cramped alleyways are congested with water pipes and exposed electrical wires that form a sort of lethal web just over head height. Some of the wires hang down and brush against people as they walk through, and electrocutions happen fairly often. There are few streets as such. The buildings are built so close together that one can barely walk between them, and they are packed in side-to-side, back-to-back in a jumbled mass.

We were allowed to take photos only of this building located
on a main street.  It houses a World Vision relief project.

There are no police here. There is no law. By agreement with the government they never enter the camp, even to pursue a fleeing criminal. Instead, different militia groups control areas of the camp. Each one has it's own stations with flags and armed fighters. It's very much like gang turf in poor slums in the US, except these gangs are armed with AK-47s, grenades, and rocket propelled grenade launchers.

Those living in the camp can leave any time they choose, so one immediately wonders why anyone would ever live here. They have no other choice. By law they are unable to own any property or operate a business. They are also not allowed to work in any job other than a small list of menial jobs like collecting garbage. Even those who earn college degrees cannot hope to ever improve their lot in life. There is illegal work available but the employers exploit them by paying very low wages. So, the people live in the camp.

The most disturbing thing about the generational helplessness is that nothing can be done to change their situation. The answers are all political and none of the parties involved in that will make a decision to end their situation. So, all that aid agencies can do is continuing relief work. Just as you might aid a family who lost their home in a flood, so these families live in a permanent disaster. All that can be done for them is to make it hurt less.

It's exactly the sort of place that Jesus would visit. He would talk to the militiamen about loving their neighbors. He would sit down and eat with a poor family, or gather up those children playing in the dark alleys and tell them a story. As I consider what he would do I am confronted with the question of what I, then, should do.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

No comments:

Post a Comment