By Tae Markey

I often think about fashion as something that is relatively superficial, something that people spend too much money on, something that deserves very little to no reflection. We try to say so much of who we are through what we look like. But the fact that it is so close to the mundaneness of every day life – we dress and undress today, tomorrow and yesterday – makes clothing tell so much about people, their stories, the trends in their lives.

The history of Palestinian fashion develops alongside the history of its people. A couple weeks ago we went to the Palestinian museum in Beirut “Dar el-Niwer” at which we saw an exhibition on the evolution of Palestinian fashion trends. “At The Seams” chronologically depicts the changes in embroidery as physical reactions to political trends and occurrences in the world. The exhibition showed how powerful it can be to study a trend in fashion, because it can reveal those in politics in a material way. History books may permit you to imagine while art physically manifests what you’ve imagined.

The Nakba, or the Catastrophe, broke the daily life of around seven hundred thousand Palestinians. The craft of creating traditional Palestinian dress became a social activity in refugee camps both inside and outside Palestine. During the 1960s, machine-made dresses increased in popularity because of the lack of resources in the terrible conditions of the camps. These left no time and no money to properly conserve a tradition that became luxury – a problem that surely persists today as locals compete with multinational industries.


The new trends of the 1970s highlight the changes in Palestinian power structures. The Palestinian Liberation Organization emerged as a more structured form of resistance and as an embodied form of nationalism. This naturally coincided with the development of Israeli settlements, as did the feeling for a revival of heritage. The PLO’s economic arm claimed that “the worker behind his machine is no less important than the combatant behind his machine gun”. It seems to be that when the role of resistance was given to the entire nation, each individual assumed a particular form of executing this. The female peasant became associated with endurance both symbolically and physically: the female was both the mother and the land, and her embroidery the preservation of a fractured identity.



And no culture is isolated from the international sphere. Palestinian fashion trends evolved as they inspired themselves from foreign clothing. For example, during the 1980s, experimental colors and motifs surged as a result of the Gulf oil boom. The use eight-point stitches instead of crosses necessitated twice the amount of thread – evidence of regional politics playing out in Palestinian dress.


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The beginning of the first Intifada in 1987 also shows its traits in traditional Palestinian clothing. As the exhibition curator puts it, it was the time of the “conceptual militarization of embroidery in the Palestinian resistance” of the 70’s and 80’s. Flags were confiscated, so Palestine was embroidered onto the dress. I liked the point made that “resistance is usually associated with immediacy and urgency, while embroidery is by its nature hand-made, labored, private and slow.”

And I think that this idea is then applied to embroidery as an art in the globalizing world. What is the future of such a delicate craft in the globalized world? What is the future of a tradition as such when many Palestinians can only dream of going back? The progression shown in this exhibition was a beautiful way to understand the abstract patterns of ‘influence’. It exhibited trends in fashion and trends in politics and how closely knit these two are, if they are even two separate threads at all.


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Amanda Day – FInal reflection

Other than the caves we saw a couple weeks ago, my favorite part of our DukeEngage trip has been the Extracurricular Day with the students at Dibbeyeh.  I was nervous the couple of days prior to Extracurricular Day, because I worried (as I always do) that something would go wrong.  I wasn’t worried that we had skipped over anything, but that I would personally mess something up and ruin a part of the day for the students.  When I went to bed the night before, I had more than one bad dream where I knocked over the vegetable oil and it spilt onto the computers, or knocked everyone else down while trying to complete the dance for the talent show.  Being as clumsy as I am, I knew there were a million ways I could embarrass myself and take away from the students’ experience, so I was concerned.
The first half of the day I lead two sessions of a science workshop, where we made simplified lava lamps using vegetable oil, food coloring, and effervescent tablets.  When I got to the classroom to check out my supplies, I noticed that the vegetable oil (I had requested 20 liters) was split into these two huge containers with gaping holes at the top covered by small plastic lids.  I was supposed to be pouring the oil into little 1/2 liter water bottles.  I felt anxious and worried that I would spill oil everywhere in front of the students.  I met the volunteer who would be helping me out in the science workshop, and she was also anxious about the vegetable oil issue, so she insisted that I be the one to pour it from the massive containers.  Because I’m not one for conflict, I agreed to do it, and we started the session.  With each water bottle my hands became shakier and clumsier; however, after about the 15th or so bottle, I became more confident in my ability to pour without spilling.  I began to enjoy the workshop more, and ask students questions about what they thought was going on.  They were happier because I got it together and starting acting like a knowledgeable teacher (which supposedly I am), and became more lively with more burning questions.  This was fun for me because the volunteer in the room knew a lot about the reaction that was going on, so we took turns talking about density and how it made the “lava” come up into the oil when the tablets were dropped in.  My first big worry had been unnecessary – as most of my worries are.
Knowing this, I was more focused and together for the second workshop. Unfortunately, this meant that I sped through the oil pouring and we were done early.  Then I had to try to find a way to keep the students entertained for a few minutes so they wouldn’t get bored or leave early.  I had another “project” ready, this one with m&ms and water.  I got three cups, filled them with water, and put in the m&ms.  Thankfully most of the students seemed to think this was interesting, and I kept them intrigued with solubility for the rest of the time allowed for the workshop.
My next worry was cleaning up the classroom.  There was food coloring on the tables and someone knocked over a bottle and spilled oil everywhere.  I thought about pouring the food coloring myself as well as the oil to (hopefully) make less of a mess, but if I had done that, the students wouldn’t really be adding anything to their lava lamps except the tablets.  I knew it would be more fun for them to do it, so I just had to deal with the mess that was made afterwards.  My original plan was to clean up the classroom during the soccer game (which was right after lunch), but then had a student come to me and ask if I would come watch the soccer game because 5 of my students were playing (and it was the finals!).  He asked very nicely, and I was there to spend a final day with the kids, so I watched the soccer game and cleaned up the room afterwards.
Lastly, we had the talent show.  I’m really not one to get up in front of people to do anything – talk, sing, dance, etc – so this was the part I was really dreading.  The teachers had come up with a dance that we would all do together, so at least I wasn’t doing anything by myself.  For some reason, it was decided that we would go last in the show.  This meant that while everyone else was singing, dancing, or reciting monologues or poems, I was waiting.  I was dreading going up there in front of all those people.  I felt nauseous; I just knew I was going to make a fool of myself (which was kind of the point, but I still worried about it).  After Yash led the Bollywood dance he had taught the students earlier that day, it was our turn.  We got up, went to the “stage” area, and waited for the music to start.  I could see all my students, and my mind went back to the very first day I met them and we went to the soccer field.  I was talking to them and trying to walk around at the same time – multitasking really isn’t my thing.  So I’m walking and thinking of what to say next, and I wind up getting my foot caught in the soccer net and falling down, landing right on my face.  What a great first impression.  I was thinking of this as the music started playing and we started to clap.  At least, I thought, if I fall down now or do something embarrassing, it’ll be a nice way to bookend the experience for the students: something funny on the first day, and something humiliating on the last day.  I should probably mention that this dance we did is about a minute long, so I’m worrying all day about an entire minute of my life.  We go through the dance, and I’m doing my best to make it look like I’m not terrified.  Marivi and I had two 8-counts all to ourselves, and I know I was probably the deepest shade of red a person could get when we had to do that. Even so, the sixteen seconds ended and I got back in line with the group.  Before I knew it, the other teacher pairs had all gone up for their sections, and we were doing the final part of the dance!  I was relieved, and also having the tiniest bit of fun at this point – mostly because I knew it would all be over soon.  When our choreography was done, we grabbed students from the audience to dance for the remainder of the song.  When that happened, I could breathe a sigh of relief that I (hopefully) hadn’t made a fool of myself any more than was necessary.
All in all, I pretty much dreaded Extracurricular Day in the beginning, because I wasn’t used to teaching by myself or putting myself in a situation where I’m dancing in front of many watching eyes.  I worried the day would be a disaster, but it actually ended up being a fun day and a great way to spend extra time with the students that wasn’t all about academics.  I got to hang out with some of my students, watch a soccer game, and see everyone outside the SAT prep.  I would definitely recommend having an Extracurricular Day next year, and enjoying the extra time with students, even if it scares you a little.

Not Only for Lebanon, but for the World

I am thinking about where I was before this experience, where I have “gone” with it over time, and the fact that I am leaving this place too soon. The culmination of these thoughts is bringing me close to tears. I can’t use words to describe what this trip has done to and for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t answered the questions I had 3 months ago: “How do I know when I am ignorant and should observe/listen?” “How do I know when I must speak up for the good of the group?” Despite their continued dancing through my mind, unanswered,  they have been extremely relevant throughout this whole trip.

I am moved to tears because, to a large extent, I have achieved every goal I had for this experience. I know from watching my students improve and reading their essays, emails, and letters that I have made a real, positive impact upon them. If only they knew the impact they have had on me. I care for them so much. I feel responsible to help them achieve all of their dreams. This started and may end, inevitably, being about my personal growth. It hasn’t been about me for the past 5 weeks, though. It is all about them. They are so smart, talented, generous, ambitious, and I can’t leave my own mark on this world knowing that I didn’t do my best to show others that they can and are obligated to do the same. I want them to feel important and loved and valuable to society. I want them to know that they matter. I don’t know what that means for me and my purpose, but it changes everything.

My wish for them also presents an internal conflict for me when I think about their political status in this country that I have grown to love. These kids, who matter so much to me and have so much to offer to the world, probably won’t ever be able to use their gifts for the betterment of Lebanon. Lebanon is an extremely diverse, rich, resilient nation with breathtaking topography and its own beautiful, unique cultural flavor. It is also a broken nation. Lebanon has endured endless war, attacks from all sides, and complex internal conflicts. It also treats its Palestinian refugees completely differently than any other country that absorbed a large population of them following the Israeli occupation. Palestinians in Lebanon don’t have rights. They can’t own property or get legitimate jobs outside of refugee camps. It’s extremely painful for me to be so in love with a country, yet completely disagree with and feel heartbroken over one of its most concrete policies.

In light of that, maybe Lebanon doesn’t deserve the talents that my kids have to give. If that is the case, my experience feels even more rewarding. The whole purpose of me being here was to help them become familiar with their international options for college and arm them with the tools to take advantage of them. If my students must leave this breathtaking but ungrateful environment and offer themselves up to a new society that will appreciate them, then so be it. They will still be using their gifts for the good of the world, and that is all that matters. I only pray that one day Lebanon will understand the horrible waste problem on their hands, and I’m not talking about their enduring trash conundrum.

My day at the beach

By Tae Markey


Last week I spent a day at a beach club called Lazy B about an hour south of Beirut. Indeed, it was a lazy place; the atmosphere begged it. Palm trees shaded my toes and hammocks swayed in the Mediterranean wind. Pools sat nestled all around, the water peeking out towards the sea and infinity. Beautiful bodies laid frying in the sun while waiters scampered around serving tutti-frutti drinks. I sat in awe at what seemed like the closest thing I would ever be to heaven, and comfortably sat in my chair ready to begin a day of relaxation. And as I sat there, enjoying myself, I realized how easy it was to forget my problems at Lazy B. And although I knew that my worries would come back the moment I left paradise, I let them slip away. I would soon think of the papers I had to grade, the chaos of the city, the activities I wanted to organize for my students and the list went on. But I thought to myself, what if I never had to leave this lazy paradise? What if I could live in the splendor of a perfect place with perfect people for the rest of my life? Wouldn’t you?

The fact is that many people in Lebanon do. Many upper class Lebanese people of my age are incredulous when I tell them I work with Palestinian and lower class Lebanese students. Why would we come to Lebanon to do that, when there is so much more to enjoy from the country? From what I’ve gathered, social classes in Lebanon rarely interact.

Indeed, the Lebanese economy is controlled by three large banks, a couple importers and contractors: all of which are controlled by a few wealthy families. I’m sure some of these include the multiple houses we’ve been to. In fact, 90% of direct taxes go to pay debt so “the majority of people pay taxes that are reimbursed to the banks by the state” (AUB). It seems like the money that should be used for public services funnels back into the wealthier classes of Lebanon. However, this is not unique to Lebanon. I think that something that is unique is how social class is often covered up by sectarianism, when in reality wealth is as defining a factor as religion.

During my stay in Lebanon, I’ve repeatedly been told that the country is divided by sects: 41% Shia, 27% Sunni, 16% Maronite and then the other minorities of Christian and Druze (image). The sectarian divide is evident both inside and outside of Beirut, but only talking about the sectarian divide means reducing a society to religious affiliation as the sole factor of communal identity. In one of its reports on demographics, the Lebanese Information Center expressed the difficulty for them to conduct research on sects because population numbers can have effects on how politics work. But in this case, it is strange to think that such an obvious economic divide – between Lazy B and its poorer surroundings – should not have as much importance in defining Lebanese politics (LIC).

Social classes existed before and after the civil war, but the political system of confessionalism has hidden the importance of thinking about them. According to Fawwaz Traboulsi, the existence of sects is stressed so much that it often hides the divide of social classes (Fawaz). Apparently this has stopped even the United Nations from reporting on disparity within social classes. Now it mainly computes on poverty, but not wealth disparity (AUB). Accepting these sects as a political system permeates the way people think about everything in Lebanese life, but perhaps hides other factors that also define Beirut’s divides. I wonder to what extent the policy that controls the places and activities we’ve done throughout this trip play a role in the daily economic disparity within Lebanon.





Earthquakes are one of Earth’s natural forces that are necessary to accommodate the changing inner workings of the planet.  Earthquakes affect lives all over the world, and bring damage and desolation to the forefront.  Though there hasn’t been one in Lebanon in a while, due to the tectonic setting, an earthquake is a likely possibility that could wreak havoc on the lives of those living there.  If there were to be an earthquake with an epicenter along the DSFS, the results could be detrimental to parts of Lebanon, including bigger city areas and refugee camps, because Lebanon is not prepared for an earthquake.

Earthquakes are common around the edges of tectonic plates, and since Lebanon is located near the subduction zone between the African and Arabian plates, earthquakes are more likely to occur there than if the country was not located near a plate boundary.  There are several faults in and around Lebanon including the Yammouneh, Hasbaya, Rachaya, Roum, and Serghaya faults.  These faults make up the Dead Sea Fault System (DSFS).  The Roum fault is on line for Beirut, which could be problematic if a big enough earthquake were to occur with the Roum fault as its epicenter.  There has been reported seismic activity offshore between Beirut and Cyprus.  In 1956, there was an earthquake that rocked Lebanon.  This was the Chhim earthquake, which caused extensive damage to parts of Lebanon and claimed the lives of one hundred and thirty-six people.  This earthquake was tragic, but more earthquakes are bound to come in the future.

Over time, the fault could extend to the northwest and inch closer to the country’s capital.  The sheer amount of people living in Beirut and surrounding areas would be cause for concern if an earthquake were to occur.  The refugee camps themselves are not built to withstand any substantial earthquake.  The buildings are deteriorating cement apartments built by stacking a new layer on when one is needed, and the “streets” below are narrow walkways.  Space is limited in the camps, so the residents’ main concern is how to best compartmentalize the area and to get the most people in the most comfortable setting.  This is a demanding task alone, so there isn’t a whole lot of room to be concerned with earthquakes – the possibility – when there’s limited space – the reality.  This leaves a gaping hole in the camps’ readiness for a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

Even college educated students underestimate the risks associated with earthquakes in Lebanon.  Students realize it is a risk and that an earthquake could happen, but given the unlikely nature of the quakes themselves, most students take no preparatory action toward safety during an earthquake.  Lebanon’s young adults minimizing the threat of an earthquake will only make the inevitable event that much more surprising and therefore dangerous.

Lebanon and surrounding countries have a long history of earthquakes, a great number of them being of magnitude seven plus.  Given the evidence, it is not a question of whether another earthquake will happen in Lebanon, but how much damage and tragedy it will cause when it comes.


Al-Qutub, Ishaq. “The Challenge for Urban Development Policies: The Case of Refugee Camp-Cities in the Middle East.” (n.d.): n. pag. ProQuest. Journal of Arab Affairs, 31 Oct. 1989. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Baytiyeh, Hoda, and Mohamed K. Naja. “Are Colleges in Lebanon Preparing Students for Future Earthquake Disasters?” Science Direct. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, Dec. 2015. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Elnashai, Amr Salah-Eldin, and Ramy El-Khoury. Earthquake Hazard in Lebanon. N.p.: n.p., n.d. ProQuest-ebrary. Imperial College Press, 2004. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Lateef, A.s.A. “Geological History of the Bekaa Valley-Lebanon.” Research Gate. N.p., July 2007. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Shen, Ivy. “The Sabra and Shatila Refugee Camps, Lebanon, 2009.” ProQuest. Palestine – Israel Journal of Politics, Economics, and Culture, 2009. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Walley, C.D. “The Geology of Lebanon.” American University of Beirut, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016.


Palestinians in the Lebanese Criminal Justice System

!Shatila lock

During the eight weeks we’ve spent in Lebanon, we’ve only begun to witness the state of limbo that Palestinians experience in regard to their rights, or lack thereof, in Lebanon. Our friends at ULYP are very open about the fact that our Palestinian students don’t have the same employment opportunities as their Lebanese counterparts, all of whom sit in the same classroom doing the same studies. Palestinian lack of civil rights and ambiguous status in Lebanon leads to abuse and unfairness across the board. Not only is this situation unfair on a day-to-day basis, but it also puts Palestinian refugees at a disadvantage if they have to interact with the criminal justice system for any reason.

To be clear, there are a lot of reasons that any person would have to interact with the criminal justice system, not just because they’re guilty of a crime. Working at the Duke Innocence Project has confirmed my belief in the fact that any criminal justice system will be prone to succumbing to wrongful convictions, and this is so often more common for marginalized groups. Further, I believe that even if someone has made a mistake they are still entitled to a defense and a fair judgment. This is not a defense of wrong or immoral values; it is simply an expression of the belief that people deserve a fair and proper trial when facing an accusation. This is essential to even have a chance of finding justice, preserving human rights, and ensuring innocent people don’t go to jail. This value is written into multiple country’s legal policies as well as international law. For multiple reasons, the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has made a fair interaction with the criminal justice system almost impossible to achieve.

Lebanese law treats Palestinians as a “special category of foreigners” (Suleiman, 2016). Palestinians are limited in where and when they are allowed to travel, and these limitations are often subject to fluctuations with the political climate. They are excluded from a list of jobs that is created and revised yearly by the Minister of Labor in conjunction with current needs arising in the Lebanese labor market. They can’t attend public school in Lebanon or own property. Perhaps most detrimental to their wellbeing, Palestinians don’t have the right to vote in Lebanon or hold political office, so they have no say in the policies that govern their lives and often determine their destiny (Haddad, 2000). These policies not only publically label Palestinians as second-class citizens (to say it nicely), but also create huge economic obstacles. Lebanon currently has the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees living in poverty, with two out of three living on less than $6 per day (“Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” 2012). Of course individual Palestinians all have different experiences, and we have met some incredible people who have overcome unimaginable barriers and achieved success in the Lebanese community; still, being Palestinian automatically subjects you to confines imposed by the Lebanese government.

The targeting of Palestinians in criminal justice systems is not solely an issue in Lebanon. In a 2005 book by Lisa Hajjar, the author argues that the Israeli military court system is a political and legal tool used to target and oppress Palestinians (Hajjar, 2005). She even goes so far as to say, “The military court system is an institutional centerpiece of the Israeli stat’s apparatus of rule over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Palestinians facing prosecution in Israeli military courts often aren’t given the rights guaranteed by international law, including the right to counsel (Omer-Man, 2016). Israeli indigent defendants are regularly provided state-funded public defenders, but Palestinians are not.
While written policies in Lebanon create discrimination, unwritten practices also play a role in creating injustice for Palestinian refugees facing conviction in a Lebanese criminal court. Sari Hanafi, a professor at the American University of Beirut, stated that “Lebanon is a country governed by unwritten law and the administration of written law often takes place in an arbitrary manner” (“Stateless Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” 2014). This applies directly to the legal system.

Lebanese law does not explicitly inhibit refugee access to legal representation in the criminal justice system, but the economic policies that hinder Palestinians make it almost impossible for many of them to afford a lawyer if they need one (“Stateless Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” 2014). If money is not an issue, there is also the problem that proper representation and fair treatment in the Lebanese legal system often depends on having connections. As one article said, “If someone is in need of protection, he cannot depend on the judicial system without making use of his network and connections” (“Stateless Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” 2014). Palestinians are generally in a weaker position than Lebanese nationals when it comes to getting protection and having connections. Lastly, even with money and connections, a Palestinian is at a disadvantage. According to the Human Development Center, “Palestinians are the object of bad press and are often singled out in the media as criminals and put in connection with certain issues.” The majority of Lebanese surveyed in a 2000 survey reported thinking of Palestinians as an impetus for destabilization in Lebanon that could upset the balance of religious sects (Haddad, 2000). This bias, whether explicit or implicit, affects Palestinian experience with the criminal justice system.

Palestinians often suffer at the hands of prosecutors in the Lebanese criminal justice system (“Stateless Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” 2014). Similar to the American system, prosecutors have incredible power in shaping the outcome of a case. The amount of time that a defendant spends in jail awaiting trial is affected both by the connections he/she has and also by prosecutorial decisions. According to Pursue, a company focused on research and consulting in relation to Palestinian rights in Lebanon, there are a number of Palestinian refugees in jail in Lebanon awaiting trial for events that occurred in the Nahr al-Bared camp in 2007. The maximum sentence they could get if put on trial is shorter than the number of years they have already spent in jail. Further, in many cases, prosecutors can use the ambiguity of the legal status of Palestinians as a “refugee” or a “foreigner” to manipulate the case in favor of the state and against the defendant. As the Palestinian Human Rights Organization states, “In the situation where the state wishes to deprive Palestinians of a privilege, they are treated as foreigners, and when the state wishes to degrade the rights of Palestinians, they are treated as refugees.”

This issue of discrimination due to the immense power of prosecutors is an issue that is prevalent in the United States as well. In Lebanon, the ambiguity of Palestinian “status” in the eyes of Lebanese law allows the prosecutor to be as punitive as he or she wants. In the United States, while all American citizens are purported to have the same unalienable rights, American prosecutors are given so much power with no supervision that there is inevitably bias between different cases and different defendants. There is evidence that prosecutorial power also contributes to systematic bias against minority groups. I think this shows how important policy research and analysis is. Lebanon’s policies suppressing Palestinians have created discrimination in the criminal justice system, but this discrimination exists in the American legal system as well even though the United States preaches equality of all people under the law.

The struggle for Palestinian defendants in the Lebanese legal system is only exacerbated by the fact that Palestinians aren’t Lebanese citizens, so while the policies affect them, they are not eligible to vote for changes. This is a recipe for abuse. Politicians are not dependent on Palestinian votes, and thus their complaints often fall on deaf ears. An example of this is that according to Lebanese law, children under 18-years-old are required to have a guardian present if placed under arrest, but this is not a requirement for Palestinian children (“Stateless Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon,” 2014). Without the voice of Palestinians in policy-making, legislation is not likely to change; as Rafik Hariri famously quoted in 2003, “Lebanon will never, ever integrate Palestinians.”


Knudsen, Are. “The Law, the Loss and the Lives of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon.” CHR Michelsen Institute (2007). Web. 2 Aug. 2016. .

Suleiman, Jaber. “Marginalised Community: The Case of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon.” Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty (2006). Web. 2 Aug. 2016. .

Haddad, Simon. “The Palestinian Predicament in Lebanon.” Middle East Quarterly 7.3 (2000). Web. 2 Aug. 2016. .

Omer-Man, Emily Schaeffer. “Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Dual Criminal Justice System in the West Bank.” Palestine-Israel Journal 21.3 (2016). Web. 2 Aug. 2016. .

“Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon.” Anera Reports on the Ground in the Middle East 3 (2012). Web. 2 Aug. 2016. .

“Stateless Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon.” Danish Immigration Service (2014). Web. 2 Aug. 2016.

Hajjar, Lisa. Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza. London: University of California Press, 2005. Print.


Hezbollah Flag

Hezbollah Flag

Hezbollah, which translates to “Party of God” from Arabic, is a major political party and militia group whose origins come from Lebanon. The group first originated as a faction and came about after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Hezbollah is generally associated with Shiite Muslims and originated in the predominantly Shiite regions of Lebanon, which include the Bekaa Valley, southern Beirut, and southern Lebanon. Current estimates predict that about 1.4 million of Lebanon’s 4 million citizens are Shiites (Norton). Throughout the history of Lebanon, Shiites have traditionally been the weakest religious sect within the nation. The major Shiite party within Lebanon as the Amal movement; the Amal movement was quite moderate and secular. After Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979 and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, a group of Lebanese Shiite clerics formed Hezbollah with the intent of driving Israel out of Lebanon and transforming Lebanon in to an Islamic state (“Hezbollah”). Hezbollah has been historically tied very closely to Iran, from which is receives large amounts of both financial and logistical support. Hezbollah’s manpower came largely from disillusioned, more radical younger members of the Amal movement within Lebanon. After its formation, Hezbollah was very involved in Lebanon’s civil war and in various complex and serious attacks against Israel. Hezbollah has since been accused of engaging in several terrorist attacks such as car bombings and kidnappings, predominantly against Westerners. Despite its terrorist activities, Hezbollah was also able to establish “a comprehensive social services network for its supporters” (“Hezbollah”). After the Lebanese civil war, Hezbollah emerged as a major political party within the country.

Hezbollah was able to gain legitimacy and support within the country because of both its military feats and through development and renovation work within the nation. Hezbollah emerged as a champion for the poor and middle class Lebanese Shiite community in a society that had long marginalized them (Cammett). Although Hezbollah’s work has focused on Shiite areas, its work has reached beyond the Shiite community and its broader movement has been acknowledged by both Shiites and non-Shiites alike. As of 2006, “Hezbollah has implemented more than 10,000 projects to promote agricultural development, build homes and businesses, and provide water, sewage, and electricity (Cammett). Despite this work, Hezbollah has many opponents within present-day Lebanon and throughout the rest of the world. The United States and other nations have deemed Hezbollah to be an official terrorist organization, and Hezbollah’s rivals within Lebanon fear that Hezbollah has a covert agenda to convert the country in to an Islamist state despite its outward acceptance and attachment to Lebanon as a pluralist society (Norton). On the other hand, with the increasing threat of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), also known as ISIS, in neighboring Syria and other neighboring regions, some supporters of Hezbollah argue that the party’s militias are the driving force behind keeping Lebanon safe and secure from these increasing threats. Given the variety of opinions surrounding Hezbollah within Lebanese society and around the globe, it is unclear how the future of the group will pan out.

Based on my own personal experience both here in Lebanon and back at home in the States, I have been able to see two unique sides of this existing debate regarding Hezbollah. In the US, the only times I really hear about Hezbollah are on the news. The general rhetoric surrounding the group is that it is a dangerous terrorist organization that poses a threat to our freedoms and liberties. I grew up hearing this perspective and it was pretty much the only thing I really knew about Hezbollah. Coming to Lebanon changed that. On one of our first days here we took a trip to a friend’s home (who happens to be Shiite) in the Bekaa, about 30 minutes away from the Syrian border. Naturally, I was concerned about my safety, being so close to a war zone. I voiced my concern to our hosts, and they assured me that we were extremely safe despite where we were given that the area was controlled by Hezbollah. I was a bit taken aback; this was the first time I had heard Hezbollah’s name in a positive context. After doing more research about Hezbollah later on, I became exposed to differing perspectives than the one repeated in my home country; this allowed me to make more sense of my time in the Bekaa. I remember feeling almost thankful for Hezbollah in the moment, which confused me quite a bit. Given what I’ve experienced both at home and here in Lebanon, my outlook on Hezbollah is cloudy. Should the US expend resources to actively target Hezbollah? Truly how crucial is Hezbollah in regards to Lebanon’s safety? Is there potential for Hezbollah’s motives to change in the near future? I guess only time and research will tell what comes out of this cloudiness.


Works Cited

Cammett, Melani. “Habitat for Hezbollah.” Foreign Policy 17 (2006): 1-2.

“Hezbollah”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 01 Aug. 2016 <>.

Norton, Augustus Richard. “The role of Hezbollah in Lebanese domestic politics.” The International Spectator 42.4 (2007): 475-491.

A Bowl of Mixed Fruit

Before beginning my DukeEngage experience in Lebanon, I prepared myself to be fully ‘engaged’ in an immersive civic engagement service-learning project. I knew the basics; I, along with my group, would be working with our community partner Unite Lebanon Youth Project (ULYP) service organization, for 8 weeks. I knew I would be there to teach the SAT to Palestinian refugee high school students to help prepare them for higher education. I thought that having planned to eat each little grape from just a bunch of grapes was enough. Little did I know how much more was set to take place ahead of me; I had to eat a giant bowl of mixed fruit. Also, not just consisting of grapes, apples, and bananas, but of mulberries, janeriks, and loquats.

Lebanon harbors one of the richest diversity of local fruits in the world, thanks to its variety of altitudes and a good 300 days of sunshine. Saying I have learned an incredible amount already, being still half way through our time here, remains an understatement. This has further confirmed my belief in that there is no better way to learn than living through the knowledge and absorbing in everything through real experiences.

I feel immensely fortunate to be here, doing what I am doing. It is such a crazy experience to be the “teacher” in the classroom with 22 students. Having so much responsibility and power in the classroom is something very new to me. Despite having tutoring experience, I am surprised by how much more energy-consuming it is to be a teacher. In spite of the hard work, my students make me happy. I am amazed by how motivated and engaged these 16 year olds are. Most of them come from different refugee camps in Lebanon. We were welcomed into two camps before we began teaching. I found it very hard to digest the transition between the conditions of life inside the camps versus those outside.

Attending and celebrating the graduation of around 100 Palestinian refugees was beautiful. It is amazing to be able to see the life changing results that have emerged through the opportunities offered by ULYP.

Lebanon has got it all. Beautiful beaches, mountains, greenery, mosques, churches, ruins… So much to see. We are staying at a hostel in Beirut, on one of the most popular and hip nightlife streets. We are also taking colloquial Lebanese Arabic lessons 6 hours a week, which is pretty fun!  

We have journeyed through multiple group excursions. For instance, we visited mountain farms, beach homes, Baalbeck ruins, Shatila and Burj al Barajneh camps, the US embassy, the Hezbollah Resistance Museum in Mleeta, the Ceders, and more, all on the very fertile land of Lebanon.

We have met a lot of interesting people, who are more than happy to share their perspectives and personal experiences with us about Lebanon. Listening to what each person has to say and hearing about everyone’s different opinion about the complex political, historical, and religious situations of Lebanon has been very valuable. This highlights Lebanon’s diversity and how I see Lebanon as a bowl of mixed fruit. I am now excited to discover the next new funky fruit from the bowl to eat.

Bourj Barajneh and Blindspots

We arrived in the main street of Bourj Barajneh in the same huge blue bus that took us up a little past Byblos to a Duke friend’s private beach house .

Apparently a ton of trash and general waste is dumped into the water off Beirut’s Mediterranean coast, so if you want to take advantage of Lebanon’s beaches it’s smartest to drive a good bit away from the city. So this friend graciously welcomed our group of 12 people to one of his family’s several vacation homes and our service-learning group spent a peaceful (and a little shocking) day lounging around a beautiful beachside house. And then, at the end of the day, we drove about 25 minutes to our first visit to a Lebanese Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Bourj Barajneh.

I think the street we entered the camp on is their main road. A wide street lined with small shops up and down both sides, bustling with people running their evening errands. A lot of eyes on the pale blue bus taking up a quarter of the entrance square with foreign faces sticking up against the windows.

Stepping out of the bus, an excited woman with a huge toothy smile met us after a few minutes of waiting in the square and led us through the camp to where we assumed we’d be having Iftar. The main road quickly tapers off into the narrow pathways familiar to urban alleyways and Palestinian refugee camps that were never built to become permanent cities. Apartment additions are piled high on top of each other, and anything and everything happening within each home echoes throughout the community. My eyes accidentally wandered inside an open doorway where some guys sweltered in the heat, sprawled on their living room couch watching tv, before bouncing back out in chagrin. I’m pretty sure the two guys are used to their home lives being open books to their community, but I’m not their community.

There were lot of mysteriously colored puddles that needed to be stepped over.  And after hopping over the wet portions of the alleyways my feet often found refuge on food wrappers, on toy guns, on the different types of trash lining the streets. Live electrical wires are casually streamed overhead. Either without considering the danger or carefully ignoring it, someone hung Ramadan lanterns on almost every inch of the power sources that are responsible for 48 deaths in the past 5 years.

Not a lot of people were out because we were creeping up on Iftar, and I felt a little bad about being a little grateful less people were around to witness me violating their home. You know, being essentially a foreign kid admitted to their camp and their time and their privacy simply because of my status as a student.

The main event of our visit took place at an elderly women’s home that provides a venue to (surprise!) older women to build community amongst each other. Grandkids can go and play, extended family can go and hang out. The building itself was elaborate and cottage-like, filled with inescapable life from the moment our group lumbers in and every eye swivels to us.

The woman seated next to me was 98. She talked about the Nakba and being a pretty young girl, hiding from Israeli soldiers in a barrel to avoid being assaulted. Another woman across the room started singing a Palestinian folk song that the whole room knew, and soon every member of the home was toothily chorussing and clapping. When we leave they all act as though it’s too soon, hugging us, grabbing our shoulders and kissing our cheeks.

Right before exiting the camp we stop at Jafra cafe, a brightly colored coffee shop run by a group of refugee youth that could have been right at home in Brooklyn. The two working that night explained their goal of providing a place for young people living in the camp to come and hang out, to think and express themselves. They even showed us a recording studio being built for local artists. That room stunk of recently dried paint, and reeked of murals and talented kids getting the opportunity to create.

You can read more about Jafra Cafe here.

The two running Jafra that night ingenuously reminded us that we would be welcome there at any time, and it was impossible not to think of how to work more visits back into our stay in Lebanon, to not want to accept their automatic extension of community.

And there’s no thought to question the thorough kindness emitting from every encountered member of the Bourj Barajneh community. Maybe one woman had a long day and still had to perform “Daily Refugee Camp Life” for the American students, or a sweaty young man melting in the urban heat would have preferred to not have a herd of gawking Western teens clogging up an already-cramped street outside of his already-cramped house. Even then, I would never have had even a fraction of a reason to wonder at the constant generosity. You’re always welcome here, echoes.

What is a wonder is how anyone can go to Bourj Barajnah, see the existence of undisguisable humanity that is being undisguisably systematically attacked, and be at a loss as to how everyone concerned could allow this to happen. How can we see the stigma of a Palestinian “accent” in Beirut, see that same stigma interact with our Palestinian program coordinator, and not connect that to elitist interpretations of African American Vernacular, Nuyorican, or other varieties of urban, colored English? How can we deal in, first hand, students who are so smart but put at such a disadvantage after the lack of resources invested in them, and not understand how the same problem of specific minorities being sequestered into improperly supported School’s needs to be undone in the States? Or hear about Lebanese military and police and their disinterest in serving the Palestinian community, their allowance of the Sabra and Shatila massacre, and not immediately think of, most recently, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (Rest In Power)? Or Charles Kinsey? How can we consider how exhausting it must be to be Palestinian, born in a country that inherently appears to reject your existence, and not see at least a few parallels with the black experience, with the experience of black and brown bodies back home?

How can we come to somewhere like Lebanon, hear so many Lebanese express how “Lebanon is for Lebanese,”—saying still that Palestinians are not treated fairly—and not see how we who say “It’s no one’s responsibility to have to make space for anyone, across the board,” would be of the same opinion of most Lebanese were Palestinian refugees a domestic US issue?

If we can support Palestinians, even just while we’re here, why can’t we support our own violently disenfranchised groups at home?


Bar Farouk Cabaret Show

Friday night. While exploring different clubs, bars, and all that is Beirut nightlife is interesting, on this night, we were exposed to a different side of Lebanese culture. Turning away from the bustling street of Hamra, we were heading underground to a “metro” bar and theatre for a Lebanese cabaret show called Bar Farouk. The bar was dark and groovy with a variety of colored lighting that resembled something like a 1950s disco room, but on a miniature scale. The entrance doesn’t seem like a typical one to a theatre at all – it was a bar lounge/dance area – so I wondered if this is event the right place. But sure enough when the time came, the modest doors to the theatre room opened, and we stepped from the hip underground bar into an artfully designed and decorated theatre room, whose spaciousness was hard to imagine as we sat in the underground bar, waiting to enter.

After we sat down, I took in the atmosphere around us. We were early – the room was empty. The red curtains on the stage and warmly colored walls encircled our tables along with those of our neighbors, completing the mood set by two dim candles set at the ends of tables. The cozy room fit about 60-70 guests, varying from parties as large as 10 people to couples who came to enjoy a classy evening show. As we chatted along, the guests slowly trickled into the room, filling it with whispers and laughter.

After about an hour at our table, the intro music to the show stealthily crept into our ears and we fell to silence one by one. The other tables, however, did no such thing. Chatter was in full force, and no regard was made to the music coming from on stage. I was a little awestruck but just dismissed it as a cultural habit that I wasn’t used to. Having performed in bands, orchestras, and musicals, a quick descent to silence was the norm in the United States. I was eventually able to accept the mélange of noise and music because the actual show had not started yet. Fortunately, the audience gave up its full attention when the curtains pulled back and the characters came out on stage.

The show began with a slow rhythmic melody, with all the instrumentalists in the dark. After each scene, more characters were gradually introduced. It began with this ridiculous eccentric man, poking fun at his fellow musicians and the audience. He had thick round glasses with a black rim, ambled around in a stiffly hinged but enthusiastic manner, and had no reservations about teasing others. Then came in his partner, a much more broadly built man: forthright and proper but still easygoing. The major dialogue began at this point. Our levels of Arabic prevented us from getting many of the jokes, but fortunately, there was much more to the show to enjoy than just the dialogue.

As the show progressed through the many periods of Lebanese history and culture, we got to see various characters appear. From beautifully dressed seductive femmes to jockeying and joking workers, there was no shortage of eye-catching performances. I especially enjoyed the utter release of several ear shattering shrills by this vibrant-pink dressed actress during the period of the Lebanese
Civil War (war cries?). Ok maybe not enjoyed, but it was definitely seared into my memory. This girl had some lung gusto.

As we approached the end, the tunes became much more modern. This came hand in hand with the increasing portions of audience singing along and chiming in. It really struck me that for the last 3-4 songs, virtually everyone knew the lyrics. It showed that the memories and culture from even a few decades ago still thrive within the elderly and middle aged community, if not the youth as well. I don’t know how much of the audience was Lebanese or travelers, but seeing everyone so engaged with the performance really testifies to the passion of the Lebanese people despite a tumultuous past. Props to the singers!

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