Citation
Interview with Olfat Mahmoud

Material Information

Title:
Interview with Olfat Mahmoud
Series Title:
Middle East Women's Activism
Creator:
Mahmoud, Olfat, 1960- ( Interviewee )
Pratt, Nicola Christine ( contributor )
Place of Publication:
Beirut, Lebanon
Publication Date:
Language:
English

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Women's activism ( UW-MEWA )
Women -- Political activity ( LCSH )
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine ( UW-MEWA )
Jabhah al-Shaʻbīyah li-Taḥrīr Filasṭīn ( LCSH )
الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير فلسطين حزب فلسطيني ( UW-MEWA )
Israel-Arab War (1967) ( LCSH )
Cairo Agreement (1969) ( UW-MEWA )
اتفاق القاهرة (1969) ( UW-MEWA )
הסכם קהיר (1969) ( UW-MEWA )
UNRWA ( UW-MEWA )
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ( LCSH )
وكالة الأمم المتحدة لإغاثة وتشغيل اللاجئين الفلسطينيين في الشرق الأدنى وكالة غوث وتنمية بشرية ( UW-MEWA )
UNRWA ( UW-MEWA )
Islamic sects ( LCSH )
Amal (Movement) ( LCSH )
Discrimination ( LCSH )
وكالة الأمم المتحدة لإغاثة وتشغيل اللاجئين الفلسطينيين في الشرق الأدنى وكالة غوث وتنمية بشرية ( UW-MEWA )
برج البراجنة (مخيم اللاجئين) ( UW-MEWA )
Refugees ( LCSH )
Refugee camps ( LCSH )
NGOs ( UW-MEWA )
Non-governmental organizations ( LCSH )
منظمة غير حكومية ( UW-MEWA )
Islam ( LCSH )
Nahr al-Bārid (Refugee camp) ( LCSH )
نهر البارد (مخيم اللاجئين) ( UW-MEWA )
Fatḥ (Organization) ( LCSH )
فتح (منظمة) ( J9U )
Women's empowerment ( UW-MEWA )
Hamas ( UW-MEWA )
Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-Islāmīyah ( LCSH )
حماس ( EGAXA )
حركة المقاومة الإسلامية ( UW-MEWA )
Justice ( LCSH )
Human rights ( LCSH )
Oslo Accords (1993) ( UW-MEWA )
Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (1993 September 13) ( LCSH )
September 11 Terrorist Attacks (2001) ( LCSH )
Persian Gulf War (1991) ( LCSH )
Lebanon ( LCSH )
Palestine ( LCSH )
United Nations. Security Council. Resolution 1325 : Women, Peace and Security ( UW-MEWA )
United Nations. Conventions ( UW-MEWA )
Israeli Intervention in Lebanon (Lebanon : 1982-1985) ( FAST )
Lebanon -- History -- Israeli intervention, 1982-1985 ( LCSH )
Spatial Coverage:
Asia -- Lebanon -- Beirut Governate -- Beirut
Coordinates:
33.886944 x 35.513056

Notes

Abstract:
Olfat Mahmoud was born in Burj Al-Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon in 1960. Her parents are both Palestinian. Her father worked as an accountant for a small car company and her mother worked as an embroiderer. After 1967, Olfat became involved in the Palestinian students' union and was trained in first aid. After high school, Olfat attended nursing college and worked as a nurse during the 1982 Israeli invasion. Then she completed a course in clinical instruction in London and a course in community nursing in Australia. She worked as a nurse during the Camp Wars, which she found to be a terrible experience so she left nursing. Olfat felt more attention needed to be given to women's health issues inside the Palestinian refugee camps and she founded the Palestinian Women's Humanitarian Organization after 1982. She completed a diploma in women's studies in 2010. At the time of the interview, Olfat was teaching courses in psychology and pursuing her PhD at the Beirut Arab University. ( en )
General Note:
Funding : Women's Activism in the Arab World (2013-2016). This project, funded by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, examines the significance of middle-class women's activism to the geo/politics of Arab countries, from national independence until the Arab uprisings. It was based on over 100 personal narratives of women activists of different generations from Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
General Note:
Interview conducted on: 22 October 2013
General Note:
Duration: 1 hour, 47 minutes, and 29 seconds
General Note:
Language of interview: English
General Note:
Audio transcription by Captivate Arabia, Amman, Jordan , info@captivatearabia.com.
General Note:
آسيا -- لبنان -- بيروت -- بيروت
General Note:
VIAF (name authority) : Pratt, Nicola Christine : URI http://viaf.org/viaf/49147457
General Note:
VIAF (name authority) : Mahmoud, Olfat, 1960- : URI http://viaf.org/viaf/313304681

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Warwick
Rights Management:
© 2013 the Interviewer and Interviewee. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.

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Full Text
Interview with Olfat Mahmoud
2013
TAPE 1
Nicola Pratt: ...but If it becomes noisy, you can close the door.
Olfat Mahmoud: Ok.
NP: Ok. Can I begin by asking when and where were you born?
OM: Ok. I was born in Burj Al Barajneh camp, this camp in 1960.
[Inaudible: 00:19]
NP: Did you grow up also in Burj Al Barajneh as well?
OM: In Burj Al Barajneh, Yes. I left the camp only ten years ago.
NP: Okay.
OM: Yeah.
NP: And what did you parents do?
OM: My parents...they fled from Palestine very young. My mother was about 12 and
my father 14. So... this interrupt their education of course because they were
unsettled, like going from one area in Lebanon like south, Beqa'a then Beirut and
you know... So they lost the opportunity to continue their education but they were
brilliant. And my mother learnt sewing and things like that, and my father went to
college. Like vocational center, and he studied accounting. So my father was an
accountant and my mother, she did beautiful work like... Blake you call it? I don't
know, with the sheets and the beds, she [Inaudible: 01:34] I don't know, so...
NP: Okay. Embroidery
OM: And she... Yeah, but on the machine.
NP: Okay.
OM: Yeah, they have holes in the middle, I don't know what you call this. Blake?
Blaik? Something like that.
NP: I am not sure actually.
1


OM: Yeah. So... and she had good business. They were married here in Lebanon.
They were from the same village in Palestine, and they were married here, and I
remember growing up, she was still working... having good business making these
things and selling them to shops. And my father worked as an accountant in a car
company, weak car company. As a child I had a very safe childhood so... but my
father lost his job during the civil war in Lebanon, and my mother because she had a
big family, she stopped working to pay attention to us. They focus on education;
they wanted us to be very well educated. And my father used to say, Identity... like
education is another identity. So, instead of people looking at you only as a refugee,
poor, humble, you know... they look at you as a well-educated person. So, this is an
identity to you. And may they rest in peace, they passed away in 2002, both of them,
they had really difficult life. And I always brought up in a war zone. Like I never... the
first thing I remember... the early early childhood, when I saw like... when PLO came
to Lebanon and there were clashes here. So all my life, until now its war, fighting,
expecting war.
NP: What are your first memory event outside the house? Like political events?
OM: Political events! My uncle was a journalist and he wrote an article, he used to
work in a Lebanese newspaper. He wrote an article and he was arrested for this
article. So this is the first memory, I was very young, maybe 4, 5 years old, and my
father and my mother brought us up to be really strong, and I remember my parents
were at my grandparents house, very close to my parents house. So they went
because of my uncle and I was alone with my sister at the house, when this guy from
the security or whatever... he came to my house pretending that he is an electricity
like company man, collecting money or whatever. And he wanted me to open all the
wardrobes and everything, they were searching for papers my uncle based his article
on. And I remember I screamed at him and I said "but I know you only come in the
morning, how come you are coming in the evening?" and I started to scream so my
neighbor could come here and he ran away. So this is I remember the first thing
like... memory, and I remember this gives me like, I have to be careful
NP: Thank you!
OM: and my parents said congratulations like, "You've done well" because you
should have not opened for a stranger our wardrobes and everything. So this is the
first thing and then... I think in the same period, few months later, my mother asked
me to buy tomato paste from the shop, and I was leaving the house when I saw two
people, they cover all their face except their eyes and they were running and I
started to scream like you know... so my mother hurried out to see what's going
wrong. And I told her "they were covered, they were covered". She said "don't say a
wrong word, if someone come ask why you are screaming, you saw a dog". And I
was surprised, why my mother want me to lie. She always taught me not to, so why
now she wants me to lie, I was shocked. But there was no time to explain. So after
that we saw two from the Lebanese force or the army or... They were asking "have
you seen any this and that". "No, No, No". I didn't open my mouth. And then when
we went home my mother explained to me, she said "Sorry, I asked you to lie but
2


this to safe these two guys their life, so it is not a lie, It is something to save... I am
sorry to do that but this is the situation". Then I started to ask what my mother
meant so... When my father came, he explained more, he said these people are
Palestinians who came here to help us to this and that... so, we have to protect them
and the army was after them to arrest them. And this is why your mother asked you
like... not to say the truth. And this is started the question myself like, what is
Palestinian? What is?... you know its difficult as a child all these concepts, so this is
when I started asking lots of questions. Then one day I was helping my grandmother
in this house, spring cleaning, when I saw big key, rusty key, and I was saying why
you keep this? Shall I throw it? She and my grandfather, "No", like a big no, like, you
know! I said "But it's a rusty Key". And then he said "this is the key to my house in
Palestine"... I said "Your house in Palestine! But you are here now, and your house is
lost". This is the first time I see my grandfather really angry. Angry. Angry. And he
said, "No, I did not loose my house". So I felt... I was very fond of them, so I felt like I
annoyed him, I apologized, and he started to tell me.., you know, the story. All of
this, it is a small events, but it makes you think deeply about what's going on. And
when you go to school and when you grow up, like, you start to question, why I am
here? Why do we have, police... army around the camp? Why we should not leave
the camp in the evening? All those questions starts to come, also, as a child, I
witnessed few things, like, for example... and this is not written in books or anything.
They only look at Palestinians in the civil war in Lebanon but what before that
period? like all the camps were... its not sieged but it is like., it would be police
outside and you are not allowed to leave the camp before seven and after seven, It's
like if you want to put nail on your wall you need to get permission from the
government. Which takes lots of time. Women were not allowed to do for example,
housework during the daytime, why? Because we had open sewage, The system was
open sewage system. So the police will march in the camp and they don't want to
march in mud, so old woman, all woman have to finish work before dawn.
It's like; you know this is my childhood. Waking up very early. The houses in the
camp were really shabby houses, very cold in winter, killing you in summer, we had
you know, at first people lived in tents. But then they replaced tents with mud
houses and the roof was a metal roof with lots of holes. Like you will never sleep all
night, sleep in winter. You will have all these buckets hanging, then your parents will
empty them, they will move you because... its, it's really... the injustice. Yeah, and
the... so... watching all of this. Watching your parents how miserable they were, they
were not happy, makes you involved. And my father was lucky because he had job
outside the camp. He had a job in a big company. So, for him also, the contrast. Like
being in the camp with this, and having fun and life in the other part of like... I think
it is not easy. Even me as a child I used to go with my father to the company, and just
comparing the life inside the camp and outside the camp, it was abit taking. Really
not feeling ok. It's like why we are really, jammed in this camp, why there is not
place to play? Why its like... a dull place? Like no trees, nothing. And even at that
time, the situation was much better than nowadays. So this is all happened... I was
born in sixty so... 65, 67, between this period when I started to ask a lot of questions,
and become involved, and why this is happening?
3


Then we had the 1967 war. We were, it was, we were... Lebanon was not involved in
this war, but because we are Palestinians, we were really watching the news, we
were also afraid that that will move to Lebanon. So I remember also this period...
woman became active socially and they started to buy flour and prepare bread,
incase of war there will be ready to like to do all these things. And I remember,
woman started making jumpers and scarfs for the PLO members. And I remember it
was night when, someone will knock your door at night, and say "we need anything
to the fighters". So people will give them food from their own house, like whatever
you have in your house, they will give you bag, and you will fill it with whatever you
have, so people will donate it from their heart, they wanted to despite they were
poor, they wanted to help. And I remember those women making all those jumpers
and scarfs and put them in a bag and give them to the people who collect items.
Because the fighters were up in the mountains and in the south of Lebanon, so they
want to support them. And because... I will tell you why, because people looked at,
when we heard that PLO is coming to Lebanon, people were saying... they looked at
it as a massage from God. Because they really, during the 50s and 60s, they suffered
a lot in the camps here. We were not welcomed from the beginning in Lebanon. Of
course, there were many supporters I must say, but at the same time, the
government position was against us, they want us to leave but it wasn't in out
hands. And we were treated badly, so when PLO we hear, after the Cairo first Arab
Summit in 1969, that they are coming here to Lebanon, after the Jordan clashes
and... people were really very happy. Because we thought they were coming to save
our lives, they are coming to help us and so.
One day, actually, this is again like, we always hear from people here, "you invaded
Lebanon". We did not invade Lebanon, actually we came as... they opened their
border. And if you ask old people they all will tell you, we never thought we are
refugees. We thought they asked us to leave our villages because of the situation to
go to a safe place. Like usually what happens, now we have many Syrians coming
from Syria. In 2006, many Lebanese went to Syria. So, neighborhood countries
usually, open their borders in such situation. And people never felt that they will
become refugees. Otherwise, they wont move. So, we were not wanted. And we was
looked at as we invaded Lebanon. Its not true. Also, when PLO came here to
Lebanon. They did not invade Lebanon. And they did not come illegally; it was after
this Abdel Nasser meeting. And they all agreed and they all signed. The Lebanese
president, and the army officer, was at that meeting, and they all signed, and they
came here, because of this agreement to Lebanon, but they were not welcomed of
course. And they were not welcomed military. So there were heavy fighting and I can
just remember these things, heavy fighting in the street everywhere and... also
something happened, in Burg Al Barajneh, all the UNRWA schools are outside the
camp. Because the size of the camp is very small. So I remember, I was in the
elementary school next to the camp here. When there was heavy fighting, they close
the school and ask you to go home. So, I remember when they were shelling and this
bomb hit close by us and I still see this guy, who was killed, and his brother, saw him,
so he run to save him and then another bomb came and two of them were killed
from this camp. So, I still recall this. I., one... as a child you will be shocked. What is
happening?
4


And I came to the camp, my uncle had a house outside the camp, with some of my
relatives, we had to eave the camp, because it was very dangerous, this is what I can
remember, and hearing about this family lost one guy, and this family lost her son
and this family lost... you know. This is what I can remember after 1967 war, and...
In 1970 also, I remember the camp was bombed from the air. From the Lebanese
forces. So, people never talk about these., people start hear, if you ask any
Lebanese, they will start telling you about the civil war in Lebanon. Ok. What about
before? No one mention it, because it was against Palestinian. And PLO very well
trained. Military trained. They trained in Jordan and Syria. So they were able to
defeat the Lebanese police and army and they came into the camps. After that, they
started to change things inside the camp. They build hospitals, they build like... social
system.
PLO, I know, they are very well known with their military body, but actually, for
Palestinians internally, they did lots of good things, like, women used to collect
water by hand, the camps... the agreement between the United Nation and the
UNRWA., the Lebanese government, is temporary place for Palestinians, so, no signs
of settlement which means no electricity no water, no phone lines, all these
facilities. When PLO came here, they discovered we have water underneath so they
make wells, which provide people with water, not to drink but to wash and so.,
better than nothing. And people until now, they still have these wells, but its very
untreated. So its not drinkable its not for cooking, even people here they build their
immune system, but people like... if you come and live in the camp, we will ask you
not to even brush your teeth with this water. Electricity, its irregular, its not really
legalized, not because people don't want to legalize it. The government don't want
to legalize it. So, still electricity is very bad. Phone lines, its impossible. But thank
technology that we have now mobile phones, before, it was nothing in the camp.
As Palestinian in the 1970s, when they came here, as all governments, Lebanon has
right wing and left wing, right wing they were against, and left wing they supported
them. But left parties they are very good in politics, but not in military things earlier
in the 70s. The right wing is the opposite, so when there was... in 1975, when the
civil war started, its not us. It was away from Palestinians, actually, there was a
funeral for Palestinians from Beirut to Demascus, when these buses, were attacked
by Lebanese forces, and many people were killed. This is when big incident happen.
And then there were a fishermen's tribe living in... Lebanese fisherman's tribe
nothing to do with Palestinian in Saida, lead by a Lebanese MP. Maroud Saad. He is a
very well known character. He was assassinated at that time. And the Lebanese
political parties, all started to you know, fighting each other. Because Palestinians
were welcomed by the right., left wing party, so Palestinians also involved,
supporting the left wing parties by training them, by fighting, by everything. So they
accused, now if you speak to many Lebanese, they say, "who caused the civil war?"
actually, no, its not true.
5


It was a fisherman's tribe, and we were part of it, but not the reason. And this is the
difference, different story, so... I'll tell you, PLO did very good things like providing
Palestinians scholarships to continue their education and they build social system
etc. but, they also have negative, like, like... first of all, you came to Lebanon to help
us as Palestinian and to contribute in liberating Palestine but not to take over
Lebanon. This is a mistake actually done by PLO by Arafat. Like, left wing parties, felt
they have to do something because they help them. So they, like, I was in teenager
that time, when I saw checkpoints, Palestinian checkpoints out in Beirut, I will be
angry. Because its... why? Enough, you came into the camps, why you are outside
the camp? This is one thing, the other thing I did not like. They did never think for
the future, only now. This is why after 1982, when they left Lebanon, everything
collapsed. The third thing, is like I heard when they accepted young people, children
in the army. This is I did not really like also. Because in one hand you help people to
get better education, on the other hand you are encouraging children to leave
school. So, that was my three criticism to the PLO. So, but all of these accidents,
actually, make me strong from inside. Like I have a cause I should be involved, this
idea came to me since I was young, hearing the story of my grandparents, and how
they left like our night, like our daily night story, we did not have books, our daily
night story was from our parents and grandparents, on stories from Palestine. Like
even if you ask me I have an image to my village here, I have never seen it, but I have
image I have a picture from their story actually. And all these stories, plus the feeling
of the injustice plus what I have seen in the war, made me strong and I want to do
something. I want to do something to my people, I want to be... like to be active. And
this is how I started.
I started very young, I did not like to be involved in political parties. Because I did not
like the division and I get this... character from my mother, but I wanted to help in
social on health, so I remember, I joined the Palestinian student union. We have
structure before, but after 82 everything collapsed. So within this student union I
was active, I did lots of activities. I also did a first aid course, and I started to help in
emergency, then I did nursing after I finished my high school. It was heavy fighting I
could not go to my university, lots of things so I joined the nursing college. And I
started to be active, from this point of view, like, I have in all wars , I was involved, I
was working as a nurse, in ambulance car, this is where I felt I can support my
people.
In 82, the Israeli invasion to Lebanon, I was a nurse, so you can imagine what we
have seen , and I went to London then and I did a course in clinical instruction in
Epping Forest college there, then I went to Australia and I did a course in community
nursing, then I loved working within the community. I came back here, It was the
camps war, which was the war with our neighbors, who were supposed to be our
colleagues. And I don't know if you read about this war, its with Amal movement.
And I was involved much in... I was in this camp, and this camp was under siege, we
had no hospital. As a nurse I had to do minor operations, we had no doctors with us
also, because the war started on Sunday. So it was really... Oh my God! A terrible
situation. When we saw all these like, you know... when I felt like, even if I had, I
mean, I am skilled in nursing, and I was very skilled nurse. What to do when such
6


circumstances, when you have no operating room, no doctors, when you have no
facilities, like at the end of the war, we used to boil water and salt to clean the
wounds and its like, I had to do lots of women's delivery it was like... it was
impossible. And when you have casualties and lots of causlties coming to the
emergency room. I decided which one you will work with and which we will ignore. It
is a horrible feeling. This is Trimage, they call it Trimage?
NP: Triage.
OM: Triage. Triage. Yeah. It's like, who I am to decide who will die and who was not.
But we don't have enough resources, and you do evaluation of course, assessment
and you say like, okay, this person needs operation so why I should spend gauze and
things... I will be like, enough! I will work with someone who I can save. That was
terrible. So after this war, I quit nursing, in spite I loved it but its like, that was too
much for me. And because I did this course in Australia and in the community I like
to work within community so I started to work as a health educator thing. But then I
went back to university and did sociology, psychology, and philosophy. It was
compulsory to do three of them. I enjoyed it, and I started to work with the
community, I felt there was a need for a woman center, because if you are a general
NGO, you tend to think of general things and unfortunately, we look at women
always as caregivers, but not as a person who herself needs support also. So this is
why we established this organization. Women humanitarian organization, just
because we felt there was a need for woman organization and your focus will be on
woman not because we are against men. No, we work with both actually, but for the
sake of women. So... you can ask me questions because I can go on.
NP: Sure. I will. Please have a sip of your tea... can you tell me more about how you
became involved in Palestinian student union?
OM: Yeah, it was war. And I felt like I have to do something. I can't just sit at home
and watch. So, I saw the student Palestinian union, they do lots of activities like they
have center where it opens everyday and they do lots of activities inside the center
to take away children from the street because of the fighting and first aid course to
do, they have library, they have... so I felt like I should join this union. So this is why I
joined it. And I said, from there I can help my people, I can be active. So the first
thing I did was the first aid course, to be able, and then I remember, we had duties,
like for example, my duty was on Friday because I have school. My duty was on
Friday from this time to that time I have to be like... we were very well organized.
You have t be at that corner, so if something happened, you have your bag and you
have to do something, so, this is how it started, so I saw from this point of view I can
help my people. And then of course it developed. I finished my high school and I
went and did nursing because of that. And I felt through nursing I can help my
people. Also, I felt its my duty, of course I don't want to be involved in political
parties, but I want to understand politics, and I want to do something on the political
level also, like raising awareness about my people. And until now, I have been ding it
for many years, from 1984 until now I do lots of speaking I travel a lot I raise
7


awareness about my people I sometimes write papers or something in conferences,
to tell people we are not... we want justice, that's all what we want. And this is one
of our rights, Palestinians image for a period of time was terrorists of course, so I
wanted to change also, to contribute in changing this image. And I want to talk on
behalf of ordinary people, not politicians and I felt this is my duty and I am happy to
do it. Because when I go and meet with people and talk with people there are lots of
misunderstanding I feel. So I am happy with what I am doing.
NP: What are the greatest challenges that you faced?
OM: Yeah. Actually, people show you full understanding but at the same time they
are like... I hear it everywhere... everywhere, they say "what is the solution you
think?" as Palestinian I want to return back. Yeah! But this is impossible. Or this is
not going to happen. Or this is unrealistic, I hear these three a lot. I say okay, fine.
What is realistic solution in your opinion? No, they don't give me any solution. So
what do you want? Do you want us to... 65 years now and we still suffer. So what do
you want? You want us to keep suffering? This is what makes me really sometimes,
it's a challenge, its like... you know. Once I was in Sweden and someone was talking
and I said this, and he said, but this is not realistic. I said okay, give me a realistic
solution. I said, so what? Throw us in the ocean for example! He said, maybe this is
the solution. I was like you are joking I am sure, but its like people always say its not,
but why is it not realistic, I want to understand. Why its not realistic? Why? It's like
every year we hear Israel brought ten thousand people from this country and that to
come and join, why? Those people live in their country where they are, they have
their nationality, they have their culture, they have their language, so why you want
to bring them. There are may Palestinians are waiting to return. Also, we believe like
Jewish, they have to be everywhere, not only in one piece of land. This is very
dangerous. And we can't... okay then. Jesus was born in Nazareth, so all Christians
should say, okay, Jesus was born there, so we all should go there. This is profit
Mohammed in Saudi Arabia., so, this is not logic really. They always say its
unrealistic. No, actually, what is Israeli present is not realistic. They can't bring all
Jewish people form all over the world, to have them in one piece of land. They
should be everywhere. This is normal. Like Muslim should also be everywhere,
Christians should be everywhere. Hindu should be everywhere, like you know... This
is freedom of religion. Sometimes I don't understand the international community
position. We are all like... Yeah. Human rights. Democracy.
TAPE 2
OM: Democracy, all these fancy nice words. Why when it comes to Palestinians, this
appears. This is what always makes me angry. It's always when it comes to the
Palestinians; those words loose their meaning. This is one of the challenges also. So...
I don't know, these are the most terrible things. Also, when I am, like... this is the
first challenge, like always we are out of those fancy words. The second thing is as
Palestinian people have lots of misses and misunderstandings, very strange. I feel
very strange. We all live now very proud, we live in a small village, like internet and...
you know. But sometimes makes me, when I meet people and they don't
8


understand anything, they don't understand anything about the situation but they
made statements, like, even politicians. One politician came to visit us and he said,
"oh, I felt like I am coming to a real camp", and I said "what do you mean by a real
camp?" tents and... sorry, you don't know that we have been refugees , this was five
years ago, for 60 years. Do you expect us to still live in tents and... you know.
Like, he is a politician, and he could make effect like... you know. And he doesn't
know how the Palestinians live. Also, the thing is like, our problem was created by
human beings, it's not a natural catastrophe, not a flood or earthquake or... it was
created by the international community, both Arabs and... in 1947, when they
divided Palestine into two states, and I think... if you take, now we teach children, if
you make any decision, its your decision, and you have to be responsible for that
decision. So when they did this division, when they all agreed and voted and they
create a problem to both, us and also the Jewish community, they didn't take
responsibility of their decision, and now as Palestinian, working activist and working
in an NGO, we suffer, we suffer to find support to our projects, why? Because we
have so long been refugees, it's the opposite, instead of ignoring our needs and get
fed up from us, and you are really bored from the situation, I think the international
community should be ashamed. They haven't solved the problem for 65 years. There
is like my other challenge, is when I don't see support, real support. Talks yes, but no
real support. This makes me as Palestinian, makes me angry. But thank god, I learned
how to manage my anger, because sometimes you feel, really you want to explode,
like, but I learned how to manage my anger and be diplomatic, but it is annoying,
really, it's annoying. And we are always nowadays, we are not the fashion,
Palestinians are not the fashion. We are not bleeding especially refugees outside the
territories. So, all our needs are really ignored. Most of our needs. People are very
tired. Very sick. Everyday in the office, I receive at least 5, 6 requests from the
community asking for help because they are sick, they have a child wants to go to
university, they have like... but unfortunately, even the United Nations agency,
UNRWA, I am not talking about them because they are bad, No, but they have lack
of fund, and they don't meet the needs of the people. So, what do they expect? You
expect people to wait patiently while they suffer, I believe suffering is more
important than bleeding, and I think the international community should keep their
support to the Palestinians regardless whats happening in the world. Like now, the
fashion are the Syrian. For a period of time, the fashion was Iraqis. Now for example,
we lost many of our projects. Because the donors... oh, Syria. If we put Syria in our
proposal, we will get fund. And this, you really feel disgusting. You feel like this is...
you know. Until now, you have not solved our problem, the problem you created in
1947, and you ignore our needs. This is a big challenge.
NP: When you began the women's health... Humanitarian, sorry, women's
humanitarian organization... did you begin with help from Europe or...
OM: Yes, Australia, and Australian NGO.
NP: Australia.
9


OM: We had a lovely lady Helen MacCue from Australia who worked for us for many
years from 1982, she helped us a lot even in the setting up and everything. And we
started, from where otherwise? You know the other challenge that I face as an
activist in the Arab community and in the Middle East and within... its being a
woman. Being a woman is another challenge also, because, they look at you you
cant do anything, you are a woman, you have to be backed by a political party, we
faced a huge problem when we established this organization, because we refused to
take any political cover, until now, from 1993 until now we still suffering, just
because we refuse to take any political cover. How women can do it without us?
Nearly paid our lives for that. Like, every now and then we have a big clash. It
smooth down, not soft, just smooth down a bit, then it comes back again. It's like
that. Just because we are woman. And that means we are like running the
organization without political support, that means you are strong, how can you be
strong without us?
And recently, the last ten years, we have the extremists, this is another... First, we
had problem with the political parties and challenge from that. Now, we have the
extremists. We are, even they look at... I am a very bad Muslim, I am not covered, Im
outspoken, I do lots of activities which they see against Islam, which is not actually,
so all of this again is another challenge.
NP: Do you have extremist groups in Burj Al Barajneh?
OM: We have them everywhere? Everywhere, we have them. Yes, of course. But
maybe in some areas they are stronger than other areas, but they are here. And they
are active. They have money. So they can do lots of activities to attract people
attention.
NP: And you said these groups have been here... they started coming about ten
years ago?
OM: Yeah. There are ten years, yeah. Do you know...
NP: Do you...
OM: The group that are involved in Nahr El Barid Camp, which are called Fateh el
Islam its called. They first came to this camp. Then they moved to other camps. So,
they have their own agenda, and they work you know towards implementing their
agenda. Also, you feel like you are competing with them. Because they also run
social programs, as I said to attract more people to them, and because they have lots
of money, and you know, as NGOs, we focus on development. These groups focus on
relief, and people are in need. This is again one of the challenge we face with the
international donors and development is important, I believe in it. But can you
educate someone if they have empty stomach? So we should as an NGO, because
we still work with people who have no structure, they are deprived from most of
their rights, we have to make a balance between development and relief. But
unfortunately, no one is. So we focus on development, when these people always
10


provide help to the people, so now what we do if I have a workshop, I have to fit my
workshop, I have to schedule it, in a way when the others are not doing anything.
Because if it is two together, even if women say we prefer to come to you, they will
go to them because at least they will get something out of them. And this is other
challenge we face. As activist also, you remember challenges, first we talked. They
have the power, they have, like, as an activist within social work, I write projects, so
they have their own agenda and I have to work my agenda according to their
agenda. Like all those fund opportunities, it will come with, what we will fund? What
we prefer. We always talk about peoples needs. Yeah, peoples needs, but the
agenda first comes from the donor. It's not about the immediate needs here. Yes,
we do need analysis, but we also need to have projects, I know we should, I myself I
try, I try my best not to direct my project towards the agenda of the donor, because
in 2007, after Nahr el Barid camp, if you put Narh el Barid in your proposal you will
get money, if you have a project in Nahr el Barid, well., rain of money. I refuse to do
this. I said, I... before, as an NGO, we did not work in Nahr el Barid, why I should
work now?
When they come to Burj al Barajneh, we have lots of projects with them. But now,
they have enough NGOs there, why I should go and be there? But many NGOs I
know, they did. Because they want funds. We should not actually donors driven. But
sometimes if you are in need, and this is the only way, they force you to do it. Which
I don't like, but sometimes you have to do it. But first, I look at the ethical value, for
Nahr el Barid I will never do it, because we did not have office there or project, so
why now? But now for example, we have Syrians all around, Palestinian Syrians so,
ethically its accepted. They are here, I can work with them, and I can make a project
between Syrian displaced and Palestinians from this camp, but this is another
challenge. Like, always you have to be... its not you decided what's your need. It's
what is the need they... like sometimes they need for a period of time additional
training and income generating projects. We have no right to work in Lebanon, what
are you telling me vocational training, why? To train people and then leave them
without work and when you come to evaluate the project, people are not working so
that means I failed. What is this? So, this is another challenge.
NP: Do you find., so... how do you manage to keep the core projects going?
OM: We do our best, we write proposals, we search and we are dependent on
friends also to introduce us to other donors. So, this is like, you know, and now you
don't try proposal for three years, the common now, its by the year. It's for one year
and this is killing because by the time you fund them, you start to look for the next
cycle. Very dependent on searching on the Internet for possible donors friends from
all over the places also, to introduce us to some NGOs, this is what we do.
NP: Can you tell me a little more about the, you know, the events leading up to you
creating woman's humanitarian organization?
OM: Yeah. I told you it was observing, I was involved, so I noticed that there is
nothing really designed for woman. We have health education programs but not for
11


woman. Woman will be invited, but it is to talk about her children, babies, elderly,
always looked at caregiver, okay. What about her own needs? Her own health? And
woman also, the community, they brought up, you are a woman you have to
sacrifice, and you know, sacrifice in all religions, it's a good word. People feel good
about it. So, the woman are very happy to be the sacrificer. To be the one who
always... since we were little, they tell us, you are a candle, to light for others to burn
for others, you know, all these things made women feel happy, to sacrifice, to be the
person who only care about others. We notice this of course, we notice this because
we are part of the community and we noticed it, nothing in the community designed
for a woman as a woman. It's a time for woman, Really, I think I get a good
opportunity when I was little to watch many events to empower me, now
Palestinians, we wee looking at ourselves as survivors if you like. Now, people look at
themselves as victims. And there is a huge difference in the way you react. You are a
survivor, so you want to overcome all the problems, you want to be strong. You are a
victim, you are poor, so you want to change this. So, we felt like we should really
work with women. Because woman, she is important part of the house, like you
know, if she is strong, then she will have strong children, the third thing we felt, we
don't want... we want an NGO, without any political support, religious background,
anything like that. Any woman can come, because if I am supported by a political
party, all my support will be to the woman who are in that political party, so what to
do with other woman. The other thing is, it is still a conservative community, more
actually... Unfortunately, earlier we were more open, so, if it's woman oriented, or a
woman center, parents, husbands, they will be more at ease, for their wives to join.
So, all these events, made us feel like we should be stronger, we should really prove
that we can do it. So a group of women from this camp who were active. Like, one
was a nurse, PRCS UNRWA, teachers, woman union, we all came together and sat
and decided to establish an organization. So we started the organization, but let me
tell you, it wasn't an easy experience at all. We were threatened, we were... like,
many... try to put obstacles in our ways so we can't continue. I nearly lost my life
once, just because of the organization. First of all, the first accident they steal my
car. The second accident, I was going... someone invited me and my husband, and
we went to them, we parked the car outside their house, they played with the...
NP: The engine?
OM: The tire... they...
NP: the tire!
OM: and it was highway, going back home..
NP: Unscrewed the...
OM: Unscrewed the whole...
NP: The things on the wheels.
12


OM: Yeah. And we were driving back home, the person who invited us did it. Yes.
We knew that later. Coming back home, I was with my husband and with my little
son, a year and a half was. 1993. When my son wanted to drink, he said. So we
stopped the car. And we saw, you know these small shops in the streets, so, we
stopped the car, bought water, and gave him, and my husband just started to drive,
when we did not know what happened. The car was... So, we were lucky, but if we
were really driving fast, we would have been killed the three of us. So, we were
lucky, that we stopped and that we just starting when the wheel... people who
witnessed, who were there when the police came, we were coming to Beirut, like,
that direction, and the direction coming from Beirut and the sea. We did not find the
wheel even, the tire. The people who witnessed they said, it's like into the sea, yeah.
And lots of you know... annoying, and lots of troubles. It was really not easy. Not
easy. Just because you are a woman and you don't want any political or religious
cover. So that was a big accident, and no one invited us... like, we have an umbrella,
like a forum, they did not invite us to join the forum, like, you know, all of this is
because of that. So, until 2006. In 2006, we had another big huge problem. One, we
were threatened. And there was news letters distributed in the camp about us like,
you know, we are ruining women's minds, we are converting the children to
Christianity, all this thing, it was on news letter distributed in the camp. They wanted
to close the organization. It was a battle for five months, at the end they... we
continued. We did not like, respond to them, we were more active, we were... and
instead of spending this energy on our project we spend the energy raising
awareness in the community, and to talk to the community, all of these things. At
the end, when they saw like we had a good beings and the community still respect
us, they sent us threaten letter, that was a horrible one, to say like, I am not a good
Muslim, by name also, the coordinators, they tried to make a division in the
organization. Like you the employees we can forgive you, but the people on the first,
like the coordinators, they are not good, and I am not a good Muslim and my
husband studied in Ukraine, he is not a believer, you know, all of these things in the
letter and then they say, don't worry, we will not kill you. But we will make you cry
all your life, what do you expect? Like, they will kill someone, who I will regret, or I
will blame my self, this is the only... I was, that was a horrible letter. I couldn't... like,
five months I was very strong and then, I could imagine, oh my god, if they kill my
children. If they kill one of the staff, Oh my god, I don't know what the reaction. So,
that letter made me stay at home for a month. For a month, I was so depressed not
knowing what to do. I brought up my children to be free and they lost their freedom.
Like, they couldn't go to school by themselves, they couldn't leave the house, it was.
.. it was horrible.
Once, what they did here in the camp. They called in the mosque that my son, that
my son died. And thank god I was not in the camp, I was at home when I had the first
call from staff here. "Olfat, what happened? What happened to your son?". I said
"come on, what's happened to my son?", I came home, I didn't see my son, but
when I came home I asked my other son, "Where is Shakir?", he was asleep. I said "I
think he is asleep in his room, I just arrived, whats...", she said, "here, in the mosque,
they are calling that he died and the funeral is...", what? I dash to the room, before I
was saying what, my son came out of the room screaming, he was at that time, he
13


was about 15 years old. He came screaming and he said "Mum, I am dead, I am
dead". And then later he told me, one of his friends called his mobile, and they
though, because it was announced in the mosque here, like, he is dead. So they
thought the person who picked up the phone is his brother. So they are saying "tell
me how Shakir died, tell me how your brother...". And Shakir said "I'm dead, I'm
dead" he was vast asleep you know. So he came from the room screaming, "Mum, I
am dead, I am dead". "You are not dead, you are alive". I gave him water and I think
it was horrible minutes you know. Then I started having phone calls on my phone
call... Oh my god, what is this, my brother, my sister in law, called and she said
"Olfat, whats happened?" and I said nothing, my son is alive and he is next to me its
like, my brother went mad, the one who lives... he said, "I'm going to burn the
mosque", then I said, oh my god, now they will be inside the camp, so, I was.. I want
to stay with my son because he has this cries, and I want to come to the camp
because I don't want more troubles. So, I was oh my god, what to do? I called my
friend next door and said "stay with my son and I will go to the camp". I came to the
camp and the camp was boiling. Like, you know. People were around the mosque,
and my brother took gasoline and he wants to burn the mosque, its really, and I
asked them, the Sheikh, "who tell you that my son died and you announced it in the
mosque?", because people announce this in the mosque. He said "I don't know, a
young guy came, with the Kufyah" you know the Kufyah, around his neck, you know,
people when they see the Kufyah, they respect and they don't question or ask. He
said "he told me and he gave me this piece of paper, to announce it in the mosque",
"do you know this person?", "No". Then another child, he said, "I know, I know, he
came from outside the camp, because when they were in the mosque to announce
and talked to the Skeikh, Shakir is my friend, I was unhappy to hear that, so when he
left the mosque I went behind him, hoping that I will join him, but he went outside
the camp".
I felt this is also a sign, like, you know, this is what we will do, it was a horrible period
of time. And then, I thought, "What I'm ding here also? Sitting at home? Doing
nothing!". The organization was still working with the staff but on you know, a very
low scale. I felt I was talking to myself and I said "Why? Why I'm sitting at home?" so
I went and started to speak with them, and then the Israeli war came, and faded
everything. Just a minute.
NP: Sure. All these threats that you faced, was there no was to get accountability to
get justice, a way to stop these people?
OM: I tell you, when we talked about this, that was in 2006. In February 2006. After
Hamas won the election in Palestine, and I think they wanted to show their strength,
so they decided to start with us because we are a woman organization, we don't
have any political party, so they want actually... if it was an organization that has a
political party, then there will be support... so they felt we are an easy target, if you
like. And they said it clearly that they will... I asked them. "Why? All NGOs do the
same work?" he said "No, you are different, but will follow". And I think everyone
was afraid and waiting what will happen. I don't want any support from political
party because they will make me pay back, and they did not offer even. Maybe they
14


wanted me to go to them, so then they can say "you came to us so you belong to us"
or something like that. The Sheikh of this camp was with them, because again, they
told him I was converting the children to Christianity. We don't involve in any you
know, political crisis or anything like that, other NGOs, they were waiting to see what
is happening. And you know sometimes there is competition, you know, if someone
got rid of one NGO, its not a bad Idea. I felt this, really, we did not get any... people
will, some people will talk to you, but no action. They will talk to you and say, sorry
to hear that. Ok, I don't need your sorry, I need your back. So, I think the strategy we
decided to do since like, no one involved, no one asked if they can interfere or help.
So we thought we should enlarge this problem, and not hide it, because if we hide it,
they will maybe get what they want. So, let us do it publically, everyone would know,
so they can't really... and we started to write abroad to all our donors, supporters,
etc. these newsletters, they distributed, we also talked about it, so we felt like ok.
They have to think till one hundred before they do anything because, they were
stupid, they were signing the news letter, so they are known. The Lebanese security,
they called me. And I went to see them. They were not interested to help me or
protect the organization or to protect us, they were just interested to gain
information and they wanted me and this is of course, again won't because I know
some people were involved stupidly, like the Sheikh, because he was told, and this is
something he want to prove. And the people who are behind it are hidden. So they
are not really like, the people who are... if I give any information, these people will
be hurt, not the people who are behind it. So, when I realized they are not interested
in protection, and interested in just getting information. I don't want to be spy and
give information. So, that's the only thing happened. After the problem was nearly at
the end, PLO members came, and I told them "Sorry, too late", yeah.
We get great support from our participants and the projects from the elderly, we
had an elderly project, wow, I get great support from them, actually also, what we
did, I said okay, because we were insulted inside the camp, after midday Friday
praying, I should contact the Mufti, the highest commission, the Muslim Sunni
Commission. I rang him, but he was on leave the next day. So, he told me you can
come and meet this Sheikh and that Sheikh, and tell them the whole story and I will
call them now and ask them to help you, so I went to them and I told them, okay, do
you accept., because even the mosque belongs to the Muslim Sunni Commission
here in Lebanon. Do you accept, that the Sheikh insult woman without any evidence,
I know in the Quran it says you have to have evidence, and the evidence is
impossible even to find. So he said "No, Of course not, we will call the Sheikh and we
will really..." I said I wanted proof. I want one proof like, whom I converted to
Christianity and how. Give me proof, then we can talk. So, they helped actually,
yeah. Yes, they called the Sheikh and... so, and I started to speak with the Sheikh, I
said I want evidence, he said "Okay, I get you evidence"
TAPE 3
OM: Two weeks and no evidence. I said "Sheikh, Really?" I have now to say sorry,
because they told me they have evidence, when I ask for evidence, there is no
evidence, so they were from group to group to group, but, the real group were
15


behind this are those not even Hamas. The extremists like Fateh el Islam, because
they were everywhere in Lebanon, everywhere in Burj Al Barajneh at that time. Even
Hamas, when I asked for a proof, they couldn't. So it seems that the Fateh el Islam,
the new group who came to the camp in 2006, which they are a part of Al Qaeda, it
seemed that they studied the camp and information so you know, they wanted to
start with woman, to destroy all woman structure and things, and they believed that
we are the easy target, but we were not. We were able to stand against them. Yeah,
I remember we only asked they... to help. Yeah.
NP: Just something I wanted to clarify, earlier you said that., from 1993 until 2006,
also, there was a forum that you...
OM: NGO Forum.
NP: what for is this?
OM: the Palestinians created, because we have many NGOs, created a forum, so
they can you know, become together, and do activities and... we were not invited to
this forum. When I asked why we were not invited, there was no answer. So, also
there will be some like, you know... lots of rumors, bad reputation spreading about
us, and if there will be like joint activities, we will be also excluded, yeah. Even for
example, I remember one of the accidents, they distributed to all the KG's
kindergarten toothbrush and toothpaste and toys, but they did not give our
kindergarten. When I went and checked, I said, you know, I think the kids who come
to our kindergarten are Palestinian refugees also, they are not from another world.
So, why all kindergartens... they said "Ah, we thought you only have babies". Only
babies, like they don't need the... but what about the toys if you... but then, how do
you think, you should ask me to fill... like you should ask us. You don't sit behind your
desk and think we have babies or children. You should contact us and say you have a
pre school center, what ages you have? And who told you babies can't brush their
teeth. They can keep it, even if we have two months, three months, parents would
love to keep this tooth brush for them one day when they have teeth. So, things like
that also.
NP: So are you unusual, in that you are independent of political parties?
OM: Unusual, yes. It is unusual. Because most NGOs now are part of political party
or religious group. Yeah. Very rare to find an NGO without political cover.
NP: When you first started this organization, were there any other associations
working in Burj al...
OM: Yes, yes. Of course, we have NGOs since 70s, they were part of PLO. But when
PLO left, they stayed.
NP: Okay. Can you... before we were recording, you talked abit about war of camps,
would like to say more about this period and your work?
16


OM: Yeah. Now I teach positive psychology at the university, and I always tell them,
we have to look at positive things, even in very dark issues. So, one thing I like,
during the war, it really empowered woman, really. This is the only positive. During
the camps war, women were very active, like, PLO left Lebanon in 82, so we did not
have real fighters. We have boys who are trained some training, but they are
unarmed and... so I remember, we have no weapons in the camp because the
Lebanese army took all the weapon. And all of a sudden, we are faced by fighting. So
woman were collecting Pepsi cans Humus and Beans and all these cans, and make
it... what we call this kind of bomb.
NP: like a Molotov?
OM: Yeah. Yeah. Something like that. Woman were taking from their homes,
blankets and sheets and make them beds and fill them with sand so they can use
them as a protection, something like that, woman used to cook, like in this area, all
women will come to place were it is safer and cook and give young people who are
fighting and... to give them food. They were also coming to the hospital donating
blood. They were organizing things in the camp. Like visiting shelters, we had some
shelters, looking if people need anything, I only saw few woman with guns, only few
not many. Young women were involved in military action but not many, like you can
count them on hand. But one really involved in social activities which help the camp
to resist. Because otherwise, how can people resist, when they have no resources.
During the camps war... now we have many shops in the camp, before we didn't
have many shops in the camp. It was the first siege for about one month, but people
didn't have enough to eat even. It was one meal a day, people would share what
they have. Then we had a six months siege. From a health point of view, it was
better, because we build a hospital inside the camp. The first siege was in 1985, in
May, June. They were only 10 days, but we had horrible days in September in 85
also.
In 1986, we had again war in June. And then we had another war in 1986 in October,
which last for 6 months. Seige around the camp and people were not able to leave
the camp, after the war... so, during the war, woman had really good role. After the
war, woman could leave the camp, but men couldn't, because there were many...
like, each... we have different entrances to the camp, they all locked, except one
entrance to the airport road and one entrance here, down here where we bus today.
These are only two entrances to the camp, with many check points, so men couldn't
leave, because if they leave the camp, they will be arrested. Only woman would be
able to leave the camp. Even that was not easy, like woman suffered a lot, by
searching her, sometimes arresting her, sometimes... you know. The situation kept
like that from 1987 to 1994, so that period of time also, woman were also running
their business their houses, men couldn't leave. Women were doing everything, and
woman started to prove that they can do lots of things, they are strong enough, they
were also able to face the army outside, Amal movement soldiers... men started to
change their view to woman. They felt, like without woman, they couldn't really
survive, that was for that period of time, which really woman proved lots of things.
17


Then when the camp siege was over in 1994, still it was not was for... imagine from
1987 to 1994. So, that was also on the psychological level affected men more than ...
they lost the opportunity to work, and the boys lost their opportunity to continue
their education as the schools were outside. It seems, I don't know... Many things
happened after that, like we had the 11th of September, when people felt, like those
are not Muslims like, Qaeda and so, Muslims are looked at badly, and we think west
are intelligent, and they can differentiate why they attack on Islam now. People
started, they wanted to prove, they wanted to defend and protect their identity, so
they became more religious, that was their reaction, and we wanted to prove that
Islam is not Al Qaeda. We are Muslims, we are good, So started people to become
more conservative. And again, Palestinians, the Oslo Accord happened, like many,
many things happened to effect Palestinians in Lebanon. And people started to say,
ok, looks like we did something to god, we should improve this relation, people
became more religious. Palestinians were more open, they became more religious. I
think this period of time, nine months for men to be in small camps, prisoned in
small camps, it affected also their mentality; in spite of they looked at woman,
during that period with respect and it seems when they became more closed they
became more conservative. I never, hardly to see a woman without a scarf in the
camp, it was not... I was brought up in this camp and my mother is a Muslim and my
grandmother is a Muslim, My grandmother died in 2004, I remember she was still
wearing like half sleeves, not covered completely, even her hair, the scarf was the
Italian style, you could see her braided hair, we were not really conservative, but
now unfortunately, we are conservative, for many reasons, as I said, all these wars,
people thought like, God is angry from us, we should improve our relation. Some
women told me this. Also 11th of September, they want to protect the Islam identity,
because west started to talk about Islam as something bad. And Qaeda, as Muslims,
we don't see them as Islam, the Oslo Accord, the international community, after the
Oslo Accord pay attention to the territories and ignored the Palestinians here, so
people lost their jobs even PRCS, the Palestinian Red Cross Society, they lost most of
their structure, they don't have enough fund, nobody have enough fund. So people
became really furious, and frustrated, so all of this, unfortunately, made our
community more conservative. Of course, all of this will affect woman badly. Despite
now you see woman covered and active, but still not free.
NP: Would you say then, its now harder or its easier for Palestinians in Lebanon?
OM: No, its harder. Its harder. It is harder in all aspect. Like in 2001, we have new
regulation imposed in Lebanon, Palestinians, if they own any property, like they are
not allowed to. So now, if I own my own house even, if I die I can't inherit it to my
children. It will go to the government, its like we feel unsafe because you never
know what new regulation, its not a set of regulation, that's it. Any new prime
minister can add any regulation. We have no right to work. There are not enough
work opportunities within the camp. Before, we had PLO. We had all their factories
holding were destroyed, so people lost their job also, lack of fund everywhere, with
NGOs, UNRWA, PCRS, so how people can survive, also, people were very dependent
on relatives abroad. After the Gulf war in 1990, Palestinians were kicked out of
Kuwait. So, many people lost this support they used to have. Also, the others who
18


were not in Kuwait, even in Dubai in Abu Dhabi, now they are there, but they work
on a minimum level, like, salaries, and if they open their mouths, they fire them.
Because now their own people are educated, they have from other countries, so
they feel they are threatened, and they don't earn much money. Despite Dubai is
very expensive for example, and Abu Dhabi, so they can't support their families like
before. We all know about three years, like you know, the financial crisis in Europe.
So also the Palestinians who migrated to Europe and used to support their families
many of them now they can't. So, all of this made the situation harder, and more
difficult.
NP: Does that have an impact on women's health?
OM: Of course.
NP: Do you see...
OM: of course, because, like as I said, woman puts her needs at the end, so if she has
any health problems, she won't even go to doctor. Because at the end when she is
really dying. She will go. We have noticed that we have many... like, we don't have
research, I don't have study, I will one day, but from observation, increase in
cancers, breast cancer, uterus cancer within women. Even in other people, but this is
a noticeable thing with women, people you look at them, they feel tired, exhausted,
diabetes... myself, I have better life I think than many in the camp, and I am already
diabetic and hypertensive patient, I am already. It's like yesterday, and the day
before
My brother in law, my sister husband. He is 49 years old, he was at home, fell down,
he is now unconscious in the hospital, and we have lots of heart attack and you
know brain damage, all this because people really can't cope with what is
happening, we hear, many people die early here now, like early fifties, heart attack,
brain... like, you know. Many illness, like, you know, very old people get it, but now
very young people get this.
NP: do you coordinate at all with Lebanese organizations? Is there any coordination?
OM: yes, but not on a high level, not on a high level. On events, but you know, I feel
in spite of everything like I know many people are very depressed now, but there are
also many woman are stronger, they wanted to do something, and when you
experience more injustice, you become stronger, because you want to... like, why?
Why I live in injustice situation? No, I should ask for my rights, I am very... when I
travel and give speeches, at the end I tell people, look I'm not [inaudible: 18:37], We
were not as Palestinians, it was the opposite, during the WWI and WWII, Palestine
was the place where many Lebanese went to, because it was rich. So people...
Palestinians were rich, well off. But this crisis created as I said by human beings
made them... we are not begging, this is our right when we ask for help for support
for fund, this is our right. Because the international community create this problem,
and they should help us in this problem. So don't look at us as "oh, poor people", No,
No, No, we are a very good survivor, and we are able to improve our life but if we
19


get supported. Unfortunately, in the 1980, when we had great support from
everywhere, people build lots of things, but nowadays, they have no means like,
within where they live, they are not allowed to work, how can you support your
needs if you are not allowed to work. We are very dependent on money comes from
abroad, from international NGO's and from family members, now this is affected
also. In the gulf in Europe and everywhere, How do you expect those people to
survive? I think, like, I always say, someone asked me once, you regret being
Palestinian? You wish to be another, you know? I said it's the opposite, I am very
happy to be Palestinian, because I have a cause to live for, and my life is not empty, I
feel now, when you ask me when I look back on what I have done, I feel I am one
hundred years old, So my life was full, It's not easy, but it feels it gives me really,
strength. And I want my children to be also strong. My eldest son who is in Canada,
he is very active, an activist, he wrote a book in Canada, which is very famous now,
you can get it from Amazon, its "The child of convention" something like that, I
forget, Imagine! I became...
NP: whats his name?
OM: Shakir Khazaal. If you Google, you will find, he is very activist, he gets lots of
prizes for his social and political activism. He got last month a prize from Florida. So,
my other children are also strong and active, I know its not easy life, my other son
graduated three years ago, as an accountant, it wasn't easy, he couldn't find work,
its like, oh my god, then he found work that did not pay him much, but still I tell him,
like, look always at the positive, I always support him, my other son is studying
media, he is in his last year. Also he is very active and he is proud to be Palestinian,
my other son is also at school. He feels like, yes, I am Palestinian...
I wish I had a baby again, but never mind, its like, my boys are very active, and they
like to do something and help. Yes, we have two kinds of people, people who really
are tired and we have some people who are strong, always feeling proud, and want
to do something.
NP: have you found it difficult to balance your work and activism with being a
mother?
OM: actually, I am lucky I have a good husband, and you know, and always in our
culture its not easy, but I have very supportive husband and children, so I travel
alone, and I do all my work, I work at university, I work here, I am an activist, I am
doing my Phd in psychology now, its like, you know, so no, it is not difficult, so I had
my family to support me, so, no, I survived and not., of course, not easy, but it was
possible. Yeah.
NP: Can I ask you, what's your best memory from your life until now?
OM: my best memory, you mean in general or in...
20


NP: Perhaps you can say about... if you want, your personal life, but also your public
life.
OM: Okay. My personal life is having my children. Also in my personal life, its two
things having my children and I am really getting what I want. It's like, I couldn't
study when I was, when I should have studied, I couldn't go to university... but then I
went to university, and I studied and now I am doing my Phd, so I am getting there.
What I wanted from before. From my work experience, my nice memory in spite of
when we started the organization lots of pressure and nearly lost my life, but I feel
like, this is my baby. You see, it's my work, so a nice memory is when we established
the organization, and all the... all these projects, when we started these projects
which are unique in the camp. And really, met lots of people, like, for example we
have a woman center, there is no woman center in the camp, they invite woman to
activities but not woman centers, so we have woman center, where woman come
and do lots of activities. Elderly projects also, old people. Looking after old people,
because they are the most forgotten, there is no, except on organization, they
started after us, an elderly project but mostly like, food and things, we are more
social and health, so these projects, very happy to start them. These are nice
memory, yeah.
I have nice memory from war. It's a joke but a reality, I remember in 1985, during
the month siege, we had not hospital but we call it a hospital, it's a poli-clinic, like
clinics and emergency room, so I joined it to be able to work, before I used to work
at Gaza hospital, but when the siege hospital I couldn't go to Gaza hospital so I
joined that hospital. And I used to always work in emergency room, when there
were heavy bombing, and the hospital was exposed to heavy bombing also, I used to
go to one corner, and feel this is the safest place, because behind this corner there is
many houses, I used to go there when... and all nurses will join me, and like this is
the best place. When the war was over, the Norwegian Organization came to help,
they wanted to make this Poli-clinic into a hospital, so you know, they were doing
maintenance and then I saw these workers knocking the wall and making a hole and
I said, "but there are peoples house here", what are you doing, and he said "we will
put air conditioner". On the peoples home! He said "No, there is nothing here", it
was just a field, like, so all the war for one month, I used to feel this is the safest...
maybe its my... I made it up to feel okay, like made up this view behind this wall
there are houses, so this is the best place, to protect us and at the end there was
nothing behind it. It was empty. Easily any rocket could hit there, but maybe this is
to survive, you made up your own, you know, your own picture, your own space
where you feel its safer, so we laughed and laughed and laughed. Ok, for one month,
we thought it is the safer place, but it was the most dangerous place. This is
something I remember and I always laugh.
NP: What's your worst memory?
OM: The triage, this one, I couldn't, like, Oh my god, this is horrible thing, its like,
who am I to decide who will die and not.
21


NP: I want to go back and ask for clarification, earlier you said that, now people see
them selves, or Palestinians see themselves, as victims, whereas they used to see
themselves as survivors. Is this a result of the war or...
OM: it is a result of the war and the life style, before we had a big window, hope, so
this is; they want to survive, to be able because they had hope. Now, unfortunately,
once on journalist asked me about like, "do you still have hope?", I said its not easy
for me to give up hope, because then this is the end. My hopes are frozen now, so I
use this term frozen hopes because if I loose them, I think my life will end. But if I say
yes, I still have hope and... you know, look whats happening, I don't know, with the
Arab... whats called spring, which I see it dark winter, its like, how can I have the
hope now? But I don't want to loose it. So, its frozen. This is what term I use. And I
think people unfortunately, they look at themselves as victims because they started
to loose the hope, and not all people think positively, unfortunately. We here
encourage people to think positively, because then this will help them to become
survivors, not victims, but due to the war, due to the lack of all services, due to life
style, people started to loose their hope and look at themselves as victims, and they
don't see any solution, they don't see any justice, so this causes the people to be
victims.
NP: can I just ask you to clarify... when you want to university, and why you decided
to study psychology?
OM: yeah, because I want to similar work, I tell you, after the war, because I felt like,
horrible things happened during my nursing period, so I want to quit in spite I
enjoyed it a lot. So I did this course in Australia for community, I like to work with
community, I like the idea. So I said ok, psychology, sociology, this will lead me to...
when I went to university, it was compulsory to do the three of them, sociology,
psychology and philosophy. When I did it we had no credit system, so I had to do the
whole year, the whole thing, its like, and I felt its okay even if I take five subjects, you
know, and leave four for the next year. When I asked the university, they said no,
you have to take the nine subjects, if you don't want to do the four, you will be failed
in them, what an image to give to my children? Failed! No, I cant do this, because on
the certificate, they don't say I didn't do them, it will say failed. So, I struggled, really
for four years, to take all the topics and to get good marks and otherwise, I will not
be good image to my children. So I did it four years in raw and I did not miss any
topic. And I get very good grade.
NP: and which year did you graduate?
OM: My Masters? Psychology, sociology, We have the three of them, then I did
masters in psychology, before, with children learning difficulty, because I noticed it's
a big problem, and I looked at some personality traits and social skills for these kids.
And now I am doing my Phd on women's health, psychology of women's health.
NP: so what year did you graduate from your first degree?
22


OM: Sorry, what?
NP: Which year?
OM: which year? 1997
NP: 1997, and then your masters?
OM: 2006 I started it then I stopped it for a period and then... 2006 finished.... There
was the war and Naher el Barid, so I stopped, so I finished it in 2010, and I get a
distinguish, so they offer me to work in the university, teach, and assist, you know,
teaching so I am doing it from 2010 til now, I teach psychology, I teach positive
psychology, clinical psychology, industrial psychology, health psychology, and mental
health.
NP: Wow, its a lot.
OM: It's a lot, yeah. In two semesters, someone them first, some of them second.
NP: how do you... do you like teaching?
OM: I like teaching.
NP: and when did you start your Phd?
OM: Recently. So, now I am in process, we have here abit funny one, you do
entrance exams in spite I graduated from that university....
TAPE 4
OM: ...then you do first semester, second semester, four topics, then you do
comprehensive test, which is any question from psychology, and we do small
researches, small studies, like the first semester I did two, one on autism and one
on... gosh, styles of treatment, like you know, different styles and I wrote a paper
about that and now I am doing one on... we are doing case study, I have to choose
any case study and one I need to do on special needs. You know, special needs again.
These are small papers, then I do the comprehensive test the end of this year and
start writing my thesis next year.
NP: and that's which university?
OM: Beirut Arab University. It's near my home, so it's handy.
NP: Yeah.
OM: as I did in 2010, I did one year women's diploma, women studies diploma,
Which we do everything about women, law and women, trafficking, literature on
23


women, psychology of women, sociology of women, gender, I mean half... history... I
enjoyed it a lot. It was a one years diploma.
NP: so lots of topics in one year.
OM: yeah.
NP: in your work, did you ever refer to or use any of the UN instruments or...
OM: Yes, yes, we do. Yeah we do. Like [inaudible: 02:00], and we work on that and
we write each other reports also. We have also the 1,2,3,5 like all this... tomorrow
there is a training also here, on working with men. Like we have here someone
coming to train the staff. How to approach men and how to work with men.
NP: do you find the UN instruments used well?
OM: Some of them, yes. But I told you, always we have to prepared, like, most of
them are not applicable to the Palestinian, still we have to...
NP: is it something that you use when maybe you are talking to the donors? Or do
you use it with...
OM: also with the community, yeah, its their right to know, when you know this is
my right, I can speak strongly, I am not begging please, like when we look at
children's rights, and I look at human rights, like everyone has the right to be born
with a nationality blah blah blah.... So when I talk I say that is one of the rights that
are guaranteed by the international community, why its not applicable to me? So
you will be in a strong... you will make your own, like your argument on a strong
base, if you are right, its not something people will feel they are giving it to you, its
your right. Yeah.
NP: I have a particular interest in 1325,
OM: yeah, 1325, unfortunately, it's a good tool but its not really can be used well,
but now there are lots of training on that.
NP: when you say its not being used well...
OM: like I know it's a tool but, its not really implemented, that's what I wanted to
say, its not implemented, at least here in the... not like human rights, like women's
rights, like people talk more about it than this tool.
NP: is there anything I haven't asked you about you think is important that you want
to tell me? Anything about you or what you do now?
OM: No, only, only, like, people should investigate more, they should not take what
is said in the media as guaranteed. People, god give us brain to use it, and give us
24


many resources to help us, so the justice will come, when everyone start to really
investigate and ask why and what's happening, I believe in peace but not peace
alone, but I believe in peace with justice, when it gives everyone their rights, and I
want the world to know that we as Palestinians, we are not really terrible people, we
are... we want our basic rights, at least, until the problem is solved, I know the
problem is as everyone say its not complicated but we made it complicated, but you
can't expect from people to suffer until the international community solve the
problem. They should support people until the problem is solved. So, don't accuse
people being always questioned why they become. I am not giving them justification
for terrorist work for example, action, but always, if people basic needs are met, at
least they will, they will be patient and wait the biggest solution, until it takes place.
So, Palestinian should not suffer, because they were exiled from their country and
they live as refugees for 65 years, its not fair. So, this is my massage to the world.
NP: Thank you
OM: Thank you. I hope I answered all your questions.
NP: You did.
25


Full Text
Interview with Olfat Mahmoud
2013

TAPE 1

Nicola Pratt: …but If it becomes noisy, you can close the door.

Olfat Mahmoud: Ok.

NP: Ok. Can I begin by asking when and where were you born?

OM: Ok. I was born in Burj Al Barajneh camp, this camp in 1960.

[Inaudible: 00:19]

NP: Did you grow up also in Burj Al Barajneh as well?

OM: In Burj Al Barajneh, Yes. I left the camp only ten years ago.

NP: Okay.

OM: Yeah.

NP: And what did you parents do?

OM: My parents…they fled from Palestine very young. My mother was about 12 and my father 14. So… this interrupt their education of course because they were unsettled, like going from one area in Lebanon like south, Beqa’a then Beirut and you know… So they lost the opportunity to continue their education but they were brilliant. And my mother learnt sewing and things like that, and my father went to college. Like vocational center, and he studied accounting. So my father was an accountant and my mother, she did beautiful work like… Blake you call it? I don’t know, with the sheets and the beds, she [Inaudible: 01:34] I don’t know, so…

NP: Okay. Embroidery

OM: And she… Yeah, but on the machine.

NP: Okay.

OM: Yeah, they have holes in the middle, I don’t know what you call this. Blake? Blaik? Something like that.

NP: I am not sure actually.

OM: Yeah. So… and she had good business. They were married here in Lebanon. They were from the same village in Palestine, and they were married here, and I remember growing up, she was still working… having good business making these things and selling them to shops. And my father worked as an accountant in a car company, weak car company. As a child I had a very safe childhood so… but my father lost his job during the civil war in Lebanon, and my mother because she had a big family, she stopped working to pay attention to us. They focus on education; they wanted us to be very well educated. And my father used to say, Identity… like education is another identity. So, instead of people looking at you only as a refugee, poor, humble, you know… they look at you as a well-educated person. So, this is an identity to you. And may they rest in peace, they passed away in 2002, both of them, they had really difficult life. And I always brought up in a war zone. Like I never… the first thing I remember… the early early childhood, when I saw like… when PLO came to Lebanon and there were clashes here. So all my life, until now its war, fighting, expecting war.

NP: What are your first memory event outside the house? Like political events?

OM: Political events! My uncle was a journalist and he wrote an article, he used to work in a Lebanese newspaper. He wrote an article and he was arrested for this article. So this is the first memory, I was very young, maybe 4, 5 years old, and my father and my mother brought us up to be really strong, and I remember my parents were at my grandparents house, very close to my parents house. So they went because of my uncle and I was alone with my sister at the house, when this guy from the security or whatever… he came to my house pretending that he is an electricity like company man, collecting money or whatever. And he wanted me to open all the wardrobes and everything, they were searching for papers my uncle based his article on. And I remember I screamed at him and I said “but I know you only come in the morning, how come you are coming in the evening?” and I started to scream so my neighbor could come here and he ran away. So this is I remember the first thing like… memory, and I remember this gives me like, I have to be careful

NP: Thank you!

OM: and my parents said congratulations like, “You’ve done well” because you should have not opened for a stranger our wardrobes and everything. So this is the first thing and then… I think in the same period, few months later, my mother asked me to buy tomato paste from the shop, and I was leaving the house when I saw two people, they cover all their face except their eyes and they were running and I started to scream like you know… so my mother hurried out to see what’s going wrong. And I told her “they were covered, they were covered”. She said “don’t say a wrong word, if someone come ask why you are screaming, you saw a dog”. And I was surprised, why my mother want me to lie. She always taught me not to, so why now she wants me to lie, I was shocked. But there was no time to explain. So after that we saw two from the Lebanese force or the army or… They were asking “have you seen any this and that”. “No, No, No”. I didn’t open my mouth. And then when we went home my mother explained to me, she said “Sorry, I asked you to lie but this to safe these two guys their life, so it is not a lie, It is something to save… I am sorry to do that but this is the situation”. Then I started to ask what my mother meant so… When my father came, he explained more, he said these people are Palestinians who came here to help us to this and that… so, we have to protect them and the army was after them to arrest them. And this is why your mother asked you like… not to say the truth. And this is started the question myself like, what is Palestinian? What is?... you know its difficult as a child all these concepts, so this is when I started asking lots of questions. Then one day I was helping my grandmother in this house, spring cleaning, when I saw big key, rusty key, and I was saying why you keep this? Shall I throw it? She and my grandfather, “No”, like a big no, like, you know! I said “But it’s a rusty Key”. And then he said “this is the key to my house in Palestine”… I said “Your house in Palestine! But you are here now, and your house is lost”. This is the first time I see my grandfather really angry. Angry. Angry. And he said, “No, I did not loose my house”. So I felt… I was very fond of them, so I felt like I annoyed him, I apologized, and he started to tell me.., you know, the story. All of this, it is a small events, but it makes you think deeply about what’s going on. And when you go to school and when you grow up, like, you start to question, why I am here? Why do we have, police… army around the camp? Why we should not leave the camp in the evening? All those questions starts to come, also, as a child, I witnessed few things, like, for example… and this is not written in books or anything. They only look at Palestinians in the civil war in Lebanon but what before that period? like all the camps were… its not sieged but it is like.. it would be police outside and you are not allowed to leave the camp before seven and after seven, It’s like if you want to put nail on your wall you need to get permission from the government. Which takes lots of time. Women were not allowed to do for example, housework during the daytime, why? Because we had open sewage, The system was open sewage system. So the police will march in the camp and they don’t want to march in mud, so old woman, all woman have to finish work before dawn.

It’s like; you know this is my childhood. Waking up very early. The houses in the camp were really shabby houses, very cold in winter, killing you in summer, we had you know, at first people lived in tents. But then they replaced tents with mud houses and the roof was a metal roof with lots of holes. Like you will never sleep all night, sleep in winter. You will have all these buckets hanging, then your parents will empty them, they will move you because… its, it’s really… the injustice. Yeah, and the… so… watching all of this. Watching your parents how miserable they were, they were not happy, makes you involved. And my father was lucky because he had job outside the camp. He had a job in a big company. So, for him also, the contrast. Like being in the camp with this, and having fun and life in the other part of like… I think it is not easy. Even me as a child I used to go with my father to the company, and just comparing the life inside the camp and outside the camp, it was abit taking. Really not feeling ok. It’s like why we are really, jammed in this camp, why there is not place to play? Why its like… a dull place? Like no trees, nothing. And even at that time, the situation was much better than nowadays. So this is all happened… I was born in sixty so… 65, 67, between this period when I started to ask a lot of questions, and become involved, and why this is happening?

Then we had the 1967 war. We were, it was, we were… Lebanon was not involved in this war, but because we are Palestinians, we were really watching the news, we were also afraid that that will move to Lebanon. So I remember also this period… woman became active socially and they started to buy flour and prepare bread, incase of war there will be ready to like to do all these things. And I remember, woman started making jumpers and scarfs for the PLO members. And I remember it was night when, someone will knock your door at night, and say “we need anything to the fighters”. So people will give them food from their own house, like whatever you have in your house, they will give you bag, and you will fill it with whatever you have, so people will donate it from their heart, they wanted to despite they were poor, they wanted to help. And I remember those women making all those jumpers and scarfs and put them in a bag and give them to the people who collect items. Because the fighters were up in the mountains and in the south of Lebanon, so they want to support them. And because… I will tell you why, because people looked at, when we heard that PLO is coming to Lebanon, people were saying… they looked at it as a massage from God. Because they really, during the 50s and 60s, they suffered a lot in the camps here. We were not welcomed from the beginning in Lebanon. Of course, there were many supporters I must say, but at the same time, the government position was against us, they want us to leave but it wasn’t in out hands. And we were treated badly, so when PLO we hear, after the Cairo first Arab Summit in 1969, that they are coming here to Lebanon, after the Jordan clashes and… people were really very happy. Because we thought they were coming to save our lives, they are coming to help us and so.

One day, actually, this is again like, we always hear from people here, “you invaded Lebanon”. We did not invade Lebanon, actually we came as… they opened their border. And if you ask old people they all will tell you, we never thought we are refugees. We thought they asked us to leave our villages because of the situation to go to a safe place. Like usually what happens, now we have many Syrians coming from Syria. In 2006, many Lebanese went to Syria. So, neighborhood countries usually, open their borders in such situation. And people never felt that they will become refugees. Otherwise, they wont move. So, we were not wanted. And we was looked at as we invaded Lebanon. Its not true. Also, when PLO came here to Lebanon. They did not invade Lebanon. And they did not come illegally; it was after this Abdel Nasser meeting. And they all agreed and they all signed. The Lebanese president, and the army officer, was at that meeting, and they all signed, and they came here, because of this agreement to Lebanon, but they were not welcomed of course. And they were not welcomed military. So there were heavy fighting and I can just remember these things, heavy fighting in the street everywhere and… also something happened, in Burg Al Barajneh, all the UNRWA schools are outside the camp. Because the size of the camp is very small. So I remember, I was in the elementary school next to the camp here. When there was heavy fighting, they close the school and ask you to go home. So, I remember when they were shelling and this bomb hit close by us and I still see this guy, who was killed, and his brother, saw him, so he run to save him and then another bomb came and two of them were killed from this camp. So, I still recall this. I.. one… as a child you will be shocked. What is happening?

And I came to the camp, my uncle had a house outside the camp, with some of my relatives, we had to eave the camp, because it was very dangerous, this is what I can remember, and hearing about this family lost one guy, and this family lost her son and this family lost… you know. This is what I can remember after 1967 war, and…

In 1970 also, I remember the camp was bombed from the air. From the Lebanese forces. So, people never talk about these.. people start hear, if you ask any Lebanese, they will start telling you about the civil war in Lebanon. Ok. What about before? No one mention it, because it was against Palestinian. And PLO very well trained. Military trained. They trained in Jordan and Syria. So they were able to defeat the Lebanese police and army and they came into the camps. After that, they started to change things inside the camp. They build hospitals, they build like… social system.

PLO, I know, they are very well known with their military body, but actually, for Palestinians internally, they did lots of good things, like, women used to collect water by hand, the camps… the agreement between the United Nation and the UNRWA.. the Lebanese government, is temporary place for Palestinians, so, no signs of settlement which means no electricity no water, no phone lines, all these facilities. When PLO came here, they discovered we have water underneath so they make wells, which provide people with water, not to drink but to wash and so.. better than nothing. And people until now, they still have these wells, but its very untreated. So its not drinkable its not for cooking, even people here they build their immune system, but people like… if you come and live in the camp, we will ask you not to even brush your teeth with this water. Electricity, its irregular, its not really legalized, not because people don’t want to legalize it. The government don’t want to legalize it. So, still electricity is very bad. Phone lines, its impossible. But thank technology that we have now mobile phones, before, it was nothing in the camp.

As Palestinian in the 1970s, when they came here, as all governments, Lebanon has right wing and left wing, right wing they were against, and left wing they supported them. But left parties they are very good in politics, but not in military things earlier in the 70s. The right wing is the opposite, so when there was… in 1975, when the civil war started, its not us. It was away from Palestinians, actually, there was a funeral for Palestinians from Beirut to Demascus, when these buses, were attacked by Lebanese forces, and many people were killed. This is when big incident happen. And then there were a fishermen’s tribe living in… Lebanese fisherman’s tribe nothing to do with Palestinian in Saida, lead by a Lebanese MP. Maroud Saad. He is a very well known character. He was assassinated at that time. And the Lebanese political parties, all started to you know, fighting each other. Because Palestinians were welcomed by the right.. left wing party, so Palestinians also involved, supporting the left wing parties by training them, by fighting, by everything. So they accused, now if you speak to many Lebanese, they say, “who caused the civil war?” actually, no, its not true.

It was a fisherman’s tribe, and we were part of it, but not the reason. And this is the difference, different story, so… I’ll tell you, PLO did very good things like providing Palestinians scholarships to continue their education and they build social system etc. but, they also have negative, like, like… first of all, you came to Lebanon to help us as Palestinian and to contribute in liberating Palestine but not to take over Lebanon. This is a mistake actually done by PLO by Arafat. Like, left wing parties, felt they have to do something because they help them. So they, like, I was in teenager that time, when I saw checkpoints, Palestinian checkpoints out in Beirut, I will be angry. Because its… why? Enough, you came into the camps, why you are outside the camp? This is one thing, the other thing I did not like. They did never think for the future, only now. This is why after 1982, when they left Lebanon, everything collapsed. The third thing, is like I heard when they accepted young people, children in the army. This is I did not really like also. Because in one hand you help people to get better education, on the other hand you are encouraging children to leave school. So, that was my three criticism to the PLO. So, but all of these accidents, actually, make me strong from inside. Like I have a cause I should be involved, this idea came to me since I was young, hearing the story of my grandparents, and how they left like our night, like our daily night story, we did not have books, our daily night story was from our parents and grandparents, on stories from Palestine. Like even if you ask me I have an image to my village here, I have never seen it, but I have image I have a picture from their story actually. And all these stories, plus the feeling of the injustice plus what I have seen in the war, made me strong and I want to do something. I want to do something to my people, I want to be… like to be active. And this is how I started.

I started very young, I did not like to be involved in political parties. Because I did not like the division and I get this… character from my mother, but I wanted to help in social on health, so I remember, I joined the Palestinian student union. We have structure before, but after 82 everything collapsed. So within this student union I was active, I did lots of activities. I also did a first aid course, and I started to help in emergency, then I did nursing after I finished my high school. It was heavy fighting I could not go to my university, lots of things so I joined the nursing college. And I started to be active, from this point of view, like, I have in all wars , I was involved, I was working as a nurse, in ambulance car, this is where I felt I can support my people.

In 82, the Israeli invasion to Lebanon, I was a nurse, so you can imagine what we have seen , and I went to London then and I did a course in clinical instruction in Epping Forest college there, then I went to Australia and I did a course in community nursing, then I loved working within the community. I came back here, It was the camps war, which was the war with our neighbors, who were supposed to be our colleagues. And I don’t know if you read about this war, its with Amal movement. And I was involved much in… I was in this camp, and this camp was under siege, we had no hospital. As a nurse I had to do minor operations, we had no doctors with us also, because the war started on Sunday. So it was really… Oh my God! A terrible situation. When we saw all these like, you know… when I felt like, even if I had, I mean, I am skilled in nursing, and I was very skilled nurse. What to do when such circumstances, when you have no operating room, no doctors, when you have no facilities, like at the end of the war, we used to boil water and salt to clean the wounds and its like, I had to do lots of women’s delivery it was like… it was impossible. And when you have casualties and lots of causlties coming to the emergency room. I decided which one you will work with and which we will ignore. It is a horrible feeling. This is Trimage, they call it Trimage?

NP: Triage.

OM: Triage. Triage. Yeah. It’s like, who I am to decide who will die and who was not. But we don’t have enough resources, and you do evaluation of course, assessment and you say like, okay, this person needs operation so why I should spend gauze and things... I will be like, enough! I will work with someone who I can save. That was terrible. So after this war, I quit nursing, in spite I loved it but its like, that was too much for me. And because I did this course in Australia and in the community I like to work within community so I started to work as a health educator thing. But then I went back to university and did sociology, psychology, and philosophy. It was compulsory to do three of them. I enjoyed it, and I started to work with the community, I felt there was a need for a woman center, because if you are a general NGO, you tend to think of general things and unfortunately, we look at women always as caregivers, but not as a person who herself needs support also. So this is why we established this organization. Women humanitarian organization, just because we felt there was a need for woman organization and your focus will be on woman not because we are against men. No, we work with both actually, but for the sake of women. So… you can ask me questions because I can go on.

NP: Sure. I will. Please have a sip of your tea… can you tell me more about how you became involved in Palestinian student union?


OM: Yeah, it was war. And I felt like I have to do something. I can’t just sit at home and watch. So, I saw the student Palestinian union, they do lots of activities like they have center where it opens everyday and they do lots of activities inside the center to take away children from the street because of the fighting and first aid course to do, they have library, they have… so I felt like I should join this union. So this is why I joined it. And I said, from there I can help my people, I can be active. So the first thing I did was the first aid course, to be able, and then I remember, we had duties, like for example, my duty was on Friday because I have school. My duty was on Friday from this time to that time I have to be like… we were very well organized. You have t be at that corner, so if something happened, you have your bag and you have to do something, so, this is how it started, so I saw from this point of view I can help my people. And then of course it developed. I finished my high school and I went and did nursing because of that. And I felt through nursing I can help my people. Also, I felt its my duty, of course I don’t want to be involved in political parties, but I want to understand politics, and I want to do something on the political level also, like raising awareness about my people. And until now, I have been ding it for many years, from 1984 until now I do lots of speaking I travel a lot I raise awareness about my people I sometimes write papers or something in conferences, to tell people we are not… we want justice, that’s all what we want. And this is one of our rights, Palestinians image for a period of time was terrorists of course, so I wanted to change also, to contribute in changing this image. And I want to talk on behalf of ordinary people, not politicians and I felt this is my duty and I am happy to do it. Because when I go and meet with people and talk with people there are lots of misunderstanding I feel. So I am happy with what I am doing.

NP: What are the greatest challenges that you faced?

OM: Yeah. Actually, people show you full understanding but at the same time they are like… I hear it everywhere… everywhere, they say “what is the solution you think?” as Palestinian I want to return back. Yeah! But this is impossible. Or this is not going to happen. Or this is unrealistic, I hear these three a lot. I say okay, fine. What is realistic solution in your opinion? No, they don’t give me any solution. So what do you want? Do you want us to… 65 years now and we still suffer. So what do you want? You want us to keep suffering? This is what makes me really sometimes, it’s a challenge, its like… you know. Once I was in Sweden and someone was talking and I said this, and he said, but this is not realistic. I said okay, give me a realistic solution. I said, so what? Throw us in the ocean for example! He said, maybe this is the solution. I was like you are joking I am sure, but its like people always say its not, but why is it not realistic, I want to understand. Why its not realistic? Why? It’s like every year we hear Israel brought ten thousand people from this country and that to come and join, why? Those people live in their country where they are, they have their nationality, they have their culture, they have their language, so why you want to bring them. There are may Palestinians are waiting to return. Also, we believe like Jewish, they have to be everywhere, not only in one piece of land. This is very dangerous. And we can’t… okay then. Jesus was born in Nazareth, so all Christians should say, okay, Jesus was born there, so we all should go there. This is profit Mohammed in Saudi Arabia.. so, this is not logic really. They always say its unrealistic. No, actually, what is Israeli present is not realistic. They can’t bring all Jewish people form all over the world, to have them in one piece of land. They should be everywhere. This is normal. Like Muslim should also be everywhere, Christians should be everywhere. Hindu should be everywhere, like you know… This is freedom of religion. Sometimes I don’t understand the international community position. We are all like… Yeah. Human rights. Democracy.

TAPE 2

OM: Democracy, all these fancy nice words. Why when it comes to Palestinians, this appears. This is what always makes me angry. It’s always when it comes to the Palestinians; those words loose their meaning. This is one of the challenges also. So… I don’t know, these are the most terrible things. Also, when I am, like… this is the first challenge, like always we are out of those fancy words. The second thing is as Palestinian people have lots of misses and misunderstandings, very strange. I feel very strange. We all live now very proud, we live in a small village, like internet and… you know. But sometimes makes me, when I meet people and they don’t understand anything, they don’t understand anything about the situation but they made statements, like, even politicians. One politician came to visit us and he said, “oh, I felt like I am coming to a real camp”, and I said “what do you mean by a real camp?” tents and… sorry, you don’t know that we have been refugees , this was five years ago, for 60 years. Do you expect us to still live in tents and… you know.

Like, he is a politician, and he could make effect like… you know. And he doesn’t know how the Palestinians live. Also, the thing is like, our problem was created by human beings, it’s not a natural catastrophe, not a flood or earthquake or… it was created by the international community, both Arabs and… in 1947, when they divided Palestine into two states, and I think… if you take, now we teach children, if you make any decision, its your decision, and you have to be responsible for that decision. So when they did this division, when they all agreed and voted and they create a problem to both, us and also the Jewish community, they didn’t take responsibility of their decision, and now as Palestinian, working activist and working in an NGO, we suffer, we suffer to find support to our projects, why? Because we have so long been refugees, it’s the opposite, instead of ignoring our needs and get fed up from us, and you are really bored from the situation, I think the international community should be ashamed. They haven’t solved the problem for 65 years. There is like my other challenge, is when I don’t see support, real support. Talks yes, but no real support. This makes me as Palestinian, makes me angry. But thank god, I learned how to manage my anger, because sometimes you feel, really you want to explode, like, but I learned how to manage my anger and be diplomatic, but it is annoying, really, it’s annoying. And we are always nowadays, we are not the fashion, Palestinians are not the fashion. We are not bleeding especially refugees outside the territories. So, all our needs are really ignored. Most of our needs. People are very tired. Very sick. Everyday in the office, I receive at least 5, 6 requests from the community asking for help because they are sick, they have a child wants to go to university, they have like… but unfortunately, even the United Nations agency, UNRWA, I am not talking about them because they are bad, No, but they have lack of fund, and they don’t meet the needs of the people. So, what do they expect? You expect people to wait patiently while they suffer, I believe suffering is more important than bleeding, and I think the international community should keep their support to the Palestinians regardless whats happening in the world. Like now, the fashion are the Syrian. For a period of time, the fashion was Iraqis. Now for example, we lost many of our projects. Because the donors… oh, Syria. If we put Syria in our proposal, we will get fund. And this, you really feel disgusting. You feel like this is… you know. Until now, you have not solved our problem, the problem you created in 1947, and you ignore our needs. This is a big challenge.

NP: When you began the women’s health… Humanitarian, sorry, women’s humanitarian organization… did you begin with help from Europe or…

OM: Yes, Australia, and Australian NGO.

NP: Australia.

OM: We had a lovely lady Helen MacCue from Australia who worked for us for many years from 1982, she helped us a lot even in the setting up and everything. And we started, from where otherwise? You know the other challenge that I face as an activist in the Arab community and in the Middle East and within… its being a woman. Being a woman is another challenge also, because, they look at you you cant do anything, you are a woman, you have to be backed by a political party, we faced a huge problem when we established this organization, because we refused to take any political cover, until now, from 1993 until now we still suffering, just because we refuse to take any political cover. How women can do it without us? Nearly paid our lives for that. Like, every now and then we have a big clash. It smooth down, not soft, just smooth down a bit, then it comes back again. It’s like that. Just because we are woman. And that means we are like running the organization without political support, that means you are strong, how can you be strong without us?

And recently, the last ten years, we have the extremists, this is another… First, we had problem with the political parties and challenge from that. Now, we have the extremists. We are, even they look at… I am a very bad Muslim, I am not covered, Im outspoken, I do lots of activities which they see against Islam, which is not actually, so all of this again is another challenge.

NP: Do you have extremist groups in Burj Al Barajneh?

OM: We have them everywhere? Everywhere, we have them. Yes, of course. But maybe in some areas they are stronger than other areas, but they are here. And they are active. They have money. So they can do lots of activities to attract people attention.

NP: And you said these groups have been here… they started coming about ten years ago?

OM: Yeah. There are ten years, yeah. Do you know…

NP: Do you…

OM: The group that are involved in Nahr El Barid Camp, which are called Fateh el Islam its called. They first came to this camp. Then they moved to other camps. So, they have their own agenda, and they work you know towards implementing their agenda. Also, you feel like you are competing with them. Because they also run social programs, as I said to attract more people to them, and because they have lots of money, and you know, as NGOs, we focus on development. These groups focus on relief, and people are in need. This is again one of the challenge we face with the international donors and development is important, I believe in it. But can you educate someone if they have empty stomach? So we should as an NGO, because we still work with people who have no structure, they are deprived from most of their rights, we have to make a balance between development and relief. But unfortunately, no one is. So we focus on development, when these people always provide help to the people, so now what we do if I have a workshop, I have to fit my workshop, I have to schedule it, in a way when the others are not doing anything. Because if it is two together, even if women say we prefer to come to you, they will go to them because at least they will get something out of them. And this is other challenge we face. As activist also, you remember challenges, first we talked. They have the power, they have, like, as an activist within social work, I write projects, so they have their own agenda and I have to work my agenda according to their agenda. Like all those fund opportunities, it will come with, what we will fund? What we prefer. We always talk about peoples needs. Yeah, peoples needs, but the agenda first comes from the donor. It’s not about the immediate needs here. Yes, we do need analysis, but we also need to have projects, I know we should, I myself I try, I try my best not to direct my project towards the agenda of the donor, because in 2007, after Nahr el Barid camp, if you put Narh el Barid in your proposal you will get money, if you have a project in Nahr el Barid, well.. rain of money. I refuse to do this. I said, I… before, as an NGO, we did not work in Nahr el Barid, why I should work now?

When they come to Burj al Barajneh, we have lots of projects with them. But now, they have enough NGOs there, why I should go and be there? But many NGOs I know, they did. Because they want funds. We should not actually donors driven. But sometimes if you are in need, and this is the only way, they force you to do it. Which I don’t like, but sometimes you have to do it. But first, I look at the ethical value, for Nahr el Barid I will never do it, because we did not have office there or project, so why now? But now for example, we have Syrians all around, Palestinian Syrians so, ethically its accepted. They are here, I can work with them, and I can make a project between Syrian displaced and Palestinians from this camp, but this is another challenge. Like, always you have to be… its not you decided what’s your need. It’s what is the need they… like sometimes they need for a period of time additional training and income generating projects. We have no right to work in Lebanon, what are you telling me vocational training, why? To train people and then leave them without work and when you come to evaluate the project, people are not working so that means I failed. What is this? So, this is another challenge.

NP: Do you find.. so… how do you manage to keep the core projects going?

OM: We do our best, we write proposals, we search and we are dependent on friends also to introduce us to other donors. So, this is like, you know, and now you don’t try proposal for three years, the common now, its by the year. It’s for one year and this is killing because by the time you fund them, you start to look for the next cycle. Very dependent on searching on the Internet for possible donors friends from all over the places also, to introduce us to some NGOs, this is what we do.

NP: Can you tell me a little more about the, you know, the events leading up to you creating woman’s humanitarian organization?

OM: Yeah. I told you it was observing, I was involved, so I noticed that there is nothing really designed for woman. We have health education programs but not for woman. Woman will be invited, but it is to talk about her children, babies, elderly, always looked at caregiver, okay. What about her own needs? Her own health? And woman also, the community, they brought up, you are a woman you have to sacrifice, and you know, sacrifice in all religions, it’s a good word. People feel good about it. So, the woman are very happy to be the sacrificer. To be the one who always… since we were little, they tell us, you are a candle, to light for others to burn for others, you know, all these things made women feel happy, to sacrifice, to be the person who only care about others. We notice this of course, we notice this because we are part of the community and we noticed it, nothing in the community designed for a woman as a woman. It’s a time for woman, Really, I think I get a good opportunity when I was little to watch many events to empower me, now Palestinians, we wee looking at ourselves as survivors if you like. Now, people look at themselves as victims. And there is a huge difference in the way you react. You are a survivor, so you want to overcome all the problems, you want to be strong. You are a victim, you are poor, so you want to change this. So, we felt like we should really work with women. Because woman, she is important part of the house, like you know, if she is strong, then she will have strong children, the third thing we felt, we don’t want... we want an NGO, without any political support, religious background, anything like that. Any woman can come, because if I am supported by a political party, all my support will be to the woman who are in that political party, so what to do with other woman. The other thing is, it is still a conservative community, more actually… Unfortunately, earlier we were more open, so, if it’s woman oriented, or a woman center, parents, husbands, they will be more at ease, for their wives to join. So, all these events, made us feel like we should be stronger, we should really prove that we can do it. So a group of women from this camp who were active. Like, one was a nurse, PRCS UNRWA, teachers, woman union, we all came together and sat and decided to establish an organization. So we started the organization, but let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy experience at all. We were threatened, we were… like, many… try to put obstacles in our ways so we can’t continue. I nearly lost my life once, just because of the organization. First of all, the first accident they steal my car. The second accident, I was going… someone invited me and my husband, and we went to them, we parked the car outside their house, they played with the…

NP: The engine?

OM: The tire… they…

NP: the tire!

OM: and it was highway, going back home..

NP: Unscrewed the…

OM: Unscrewed the whole…

NP: The things on the wheels.

OM: Yeah. And we were driving back home, the person who invited us did it. Yes. We knew that later. Coming back home, I was with my husband and with my little son, a year and a half was. 1993. When my son wanted to drink, he said. So we stopped the car. And we saw, you know these small shops in the streets, so, we stopped the car, bought water, and gave him, and my husband just started to drive, when we did not know what happened. The car was… So, we were lucky, but if we were really driving fast, we would have been killed the three of us. So, we were lucky, that we stopped and that we just starting when the wheel… people who witnessed, who were there when the police came, we were coming to Beirut, like, that direction, and the direction coming from Beirut and the sea. We did not find the wheel even, the tire. The people who witnessed they said, it’s like into the sea, yeah. And lots of you know… annoying, and lots of troubles. It was really not easy. Not easy. Just because you are a woman and you don’t want any political or religious cover. So that was a big accident, and no one invited us… like, we have an umbrella, like a forum, they did not invite us to join the forum, like, you know, all of this is because of that. So, until 2006. In 2006, we had another big huge problem. One, we were threatened. And there was news letters distributed in the camp about us like, you know, we are ruining women’s minds, we are converting the children to Christianity, all this thing, it was on news letter distributed in the camp. They wanted to close the organization. It was a battle for five months, at the end they… we continued. We did not like, respond to them, we were more active, we were… and instead of spending this energy on our project we spend the energy raising awareness in the community, and to talk to the community, all of these things. At the end, when they saw like we had a good beings and the community still respect us, they sent us threaten letter, that was a horrible one, to say like, I am not a good Muslim, by name also, the coordinators, they tried to make a division in the organization. Like you the employees we can forgive you, but the people on the first, like the coordinators, they are not good, and I am not a good Muslim and my husband studied in Ukraine, he is not a believer, you know, all of these things in the letter and then they say, don’t worry, we will not kill you. But we will make you cry all your life, what do you expect? Like, they will kill someone, who I will regret, or I will blame my self, this is the only… I was, that was a horrible letter. I couldn’t… like, five months I was very strong and then, I could imagine, oh my god, if they kill my children. If they kill one of the staff, Oh my god, I don’t know what the reaction. So, that letter made me stay at home for a month. For a month, I was so depressed not knowing what to do. I brought up my children to be free and they lost their freedom. Like, they couldn’t go to school by themselves, they couldn’t leave the house, it was. .. it was horrible.

Once, what they did here in the camp. They called in the mosque that my son, that my son died. And thank god I was not in the camp, I was at home when I had the first call from staff here. “Olfat, what happened? What happened to your son?”. I said “come on, what’s happened to my son?”, I came home, I didn’t see my son, but when I came home I asked my other son, “Where is Shakir?”, he was asleep. I said “I think he is asleep in his room, I just arrived, whats…”, she said, “here, in the mosque, they are calling that he died and the funeral is…”, what? I dash to the room, before I was saying what, my son came out of the room screaming, he was at that time, he was about 15 years old. He came screaming and he said “Mum, I am dead, I am dead”. And then later he told me, one of his friends called his mobile, and they though, because it was announced in the mosque here, like, he is dead. So they thought the person who picked up the phone is his brother. So they are saying “tell me how Shakir died, tell me how your brother…”. And Shakir said “I’m dead, I’m dead” he was vast asleep you know. So he came from the room screaming, “Mum, I am dead, I am dead”. “You are not dead, you are alive”. I gave him water and I think it was horrible minutes you know. Then I started having phone calls on my phone call… Oh my god, what is this, my brother, my sister in law, called and she said “Olfat, whats happened?” and I said nothing, my son is alive and he is next to me its like, my brother went mad, the one who lives… he said, “I’m going to burn the mosque”, then I said, oh my god, now they will be inside the camp, so, I was.. I want to stay with my son because he has this cries, and I want to come to the camp because I don’t want more troubles. So, I was oh my god, what to do? I called my friend next door and said “stay with my son and I will go to the camp”. I came to the camp and the camp was boiling. Like, you know. People were around the mosque, and my brother took gasoline and he wants to burn the mosque, its really, and I asked them, the Sheikh, “who tell you that my son died and you announced it in the mosque?”, because people announce this in the mosque. He said “I don’t know, a young guy came, with the Kufyah” you know the Kufyah, around his neck, you know, people when they see the Kufyah, they respect and they don’t question or ask. He said “he told me and he gave me this piece of paper, to announce it in the mosque”. “do you know this person?”, “No”. Then another child, he said, “I know, I know, he came from outside the camp, because when they were in the mosque to announce and talked to the Skeikh, Shakir is my friend, I was unhappy to hear that, so when he left the mosque I went behind him, hoping that I will join him, but he went outside the camp”.

I felt this is also a sign, like, you know, this is what we will do, it was a horrible period of time. And then, I thought, “What I’m ding here also? Sitting at home? Doing nothing!”. The organization was still working with the staff but on you know, a very low scale. I felt I was talking to myself and I said “Why? Why I’m sitting at home?” so I went and started to speak with them, and then the Israeli war came, and faded everything. Just a minute.

NP: Sure. All these threats that you faced, was there no was to get accountability to get justice, a way to stop these people?

OM: I tell you, when we talked about this, that was in 2006. In February 2006. After Hamas won the election in Palestine, and I think they wanted to show their strength, so they decided to start with us because we are a woman organization, we don’t have any political party, so they want actually… if it was an organization that has a political party, then there will be support… so they felt we are an easy target, if you like. And they said it clearly that they will… I asked them. “Why? All NGOs do the same work?” he said “No, you are different, but will follow”. And I think everyone was afraid and waiting what will happen. I don’t want any support from political party because they will make me pay back, and they did not offer even. Maybe they wanted me to go to them, so then they can say “you came to us so you belong to us” or something like that. The Sheikh of this camp was with them, because again, they told him I was converting the children to Christianity. We don’t involve in any you know, political crisis or anything like that, other NGOs, they were waiting to see what is happening. And you know sometimes there is competition, you know, if someone got rid of one NGO, its not a bad Idea. I felt this, really, we did not get any… people will, some people will talk to you, but no action. They will talk to you and say, sorry to hear that. Ok, I don’t need your sorry, I need your back. So, I think the strategy we decided to do since like, no one involved, no one asked if they can interfere or help. So we thought we should enlarge this problem, and not hide it, because if we hide it, they will maybe get what they want. So, let us do it publically, everyone would know, so they can’t really… and we started to write abroad to all our donors, supporters, etc. these newsletters, they distributed, we also talked about it, so we felt like ok. They have to think till one hundred before they do anything because, they were stupid, they were signing the news letter, so they are known. The Lebanese security, they called me. And I went to see them. They were not interested to help me or protect the organization or to protect us, they were just interested to gain information and they wanted me and this is of course, again won’t because I know some people were involved stupidly, like the Sheikh, because he was told, and this is something he want to prove. And the people who are behind it are hidden. So they are not really like, the people who are… if I give any information, these people will be hurt, not the people who are behind it. So, when I realized they are not interested in protection, and interested in just getting information. I don’t want to be spy and give information. So, that’s the only thing happened. After the problem was nearly at the end, PLO members came, and I told them “Sorry, too late”, yeah.

We get great support from our participants and the projects from the elderly, we had an elderly project, wow, I get great support from them, actually also, what we did, I said okay, because we were insulted inside the camp, after midday Friday praying, I should contact the Mufti, the highest commission, the Muslim Sunni Commission. I rang him, but he was on leave the next day. So, he told me you can come and meet this Sheikh and that Sheikh, and tell them the whole story and I will call them now and ask them to help you, so I went to them and I told them, okay, do you accept.. because even the mosque belongs to the Muslim Sunni Commission here in Lebanon. Do you accept, that the Sheikh insult woman without any evidence, I know in the Quran it says you have to have evidence, and the evidence is impossible even to find. So he said “No, Of course not, we will call the Sheikh and we will really…” I said I wanted proof. I want one proof like, whom I converted to Christianity and how. Give me proof, then we can talk. So, they helped actually, yeah. Yes, they called the Sheikh and… so, and I started to speak with the Sheikh, I said I want evidence, he said “Okay, I get you evidence”

TAPE 3

OM: Two weeks and no evidence. I said “Sheikh, Really?” I have now to say sorry, because they told me they have evidence, when I ask for evidence, there is no evidence, so they were from group to group to group, but, the real group were behind this are those not even Hamas. The extremists like Fateh el Islam, because they were everywhere in Lebanon, everywhere in Burj Al Barajneh at that time. Even Hamas, when I asked for a proof, they couldn’t. So it seems that the Fateh el Islam, the new group who came to the camp in 2006, which they are a part of Al Qaeda, it seemed that they studied the camp and information so you know, they wanted to start with woman, to destroy all woman structure and things, and they believed that we are the easy target, but we were not. We were able to stand against them. Yeah, I remember we only asked they… to help. Yeah.

NP: Just something I wanted to clarify, earlier you said that.. from 1993 until 2006, also, there was a forum that you…

OM: NGO Forum.

NP: what for is this?

OM: the Palestinians created, because we have many NGOs, created a forum, so they can you know, become together, and do activities and… we were not invited to this forum. When I asked why we were not invited, there was no answer. So, also there will be some like, you know… lots of rumors, bad reputation spreading about us, and if there will be like joint activities, we will be also excluded, yeah. Even for example, I remember one of the accidents, they distributed to all the KG’s kindergarten toothbrush and toothpaste and toys, but they did not give our kindergarten. When I went and checked, I said, you know, I think the kids who come to our kindergarten are Palestinian refugees also, they are not from another world. So, why all kindergartens… they said “Ah, we thought you only have babies”. Only babies, like they don’t need the… but what about the toys if you… but then, how do you think, you should ask me to fill… like you should ask us. You don’t sit behind your desk and think we have babies or children. You should contact us and say you have a pre school center, what ages you have? And who told you babies can’t brush their teeth. They can keep it, even if we have two months, three months, parents would love to keep this tooth brush for them one day when they have teeth. So, things like that also.

NP: So are you unusual, in that you are independent of political parties?

OM: Unusual, yes. It is unusual. Because most NGOs now are part of political party or religious group. Yeah. Very rare to find an NGO without political cover.

NP: When you first started this organization, were there any other associations working in Burj al…

OM: Yes, yes. Of course, we have NGOs since 70s, they were part of PLO. But when PLO left, they stayed.

NP: Okay. Can you… before we were recording, you talked abit about war of camps, would like to say more about this period and your work?

OM: Yeah. Now I teach positive psychology at the university, and I always tell them, we have to look at positive things, even in very dark issues. So, one thing I like, during the war, it really empowered woman, really. This is the only positive. During the camps war, women were very active, like, PLO left Lebanon in 82, so we did not have real fighters. We have boys who are trained some training, but they are unarmed and… so I remember, we have no weapons in the camp because the Lebanese army took all the weapon. And all of a sudden, we are faced by fighting. So woman were collecting Pepsi cans Humus and Beans and all these cans, and make it… what we call this kind of bomb.

NP: like a Molotov?

OM: Yeah. Yeah. Something like that. Woman were taking from their homes, blankets and sheets and make them beds and fill them with sand so they can use them as a protection, something like that, woman used to cook, like in this area, all women will come to place were it is safer and cook and give young people who are fighting and… to give them food. They were also coming to the hospital donating blood. They were organizing things in the camp. Like visiting shelters, we had some shelters, looking if people need anything, I only saw few woman with guns, only few not many. Young women were involved in military action but not many, like you can count them on hand. But one really involved in social activities which help the camp to resist. Because otherwise, how can people resist, when they have no resources. During the camps war… now we have many shops in the camp, before we didn’t have many shops in the camp. It was the first siege for about one month, but people didn’t have enough to eat even. It was one meal a day, people would share what they have. Then we had a six months siege. From a health point of view, it was better, because we build a hospital inside the camp. The first siege was in 1985, in May, June. They were only 10 days, but we had horrible days in September in 85 also.

In 1986, we had again war in June. And then we had another war in 1986 in October, which last for 6 months. Seige around the camp and people were not able to leave the camp, after the war… so, during the war, woman had really good role. After the war, woman could leave the camp, but men couldn’t, because there were many… like, each… we have different entrances to the camp, they all locked, except one entrance to the airport road and one entrance here, down here where we bus today. These are only two entrances to the camp, with many check points, so men couldn’t leave, because if they leave the camp, they will be arrested. Only woman would be able to leave the camp. Even that was not easy, like woman suffered a lot, by searching her, sometimes arresting her, sometimes… you know. The situation kept like that from 1987 to 1994, so that period of time also, woman were also running their business their houses, men couldn’t leave. Women were doing everything, and woman started to prove that they can do lots of things, they are strong enough, they were also able to face the army outside, Amal movement soldiers… men started to change their view to woman. They felt, like without woman, they couldn’t really survive, that was for that period of time, which really woman proved lots of things. Then when the camp siege was over in 1994, still it was not was for… imagine from 1987 to 1994. So, that was also on the psychological level affected men more than … they lost the opportunity to work, and the boys lost their opportunity to continue their education as the schools were outside. It seems, I don’t know… Many things happened after that, like we had the 11th of September, when people felt, like those are not Muslims like, Qaeda and so, Muslims are looked at badly, and we think west are intelligent, and they can differentiate why they attack on Islam now. People started, they wanted to prove, they wanted to defend and protect their identity, so they became more religious, that was their reaction, and we wanted to prove that Islam is not Al Qaeda. We are Muslims, we are good, So started people to become more conservative. And again, Palestinians, the Oslo Accord happened, like many, many things happened to effect Palestinians in Lebanon. And people started to say, ok, looks like we did something to god, we should improve this relation, people became more religious. Palestinians were more open, they became more religious. I think this period of time, nine months for men to be in small camps, prisoned in small camps, it affected also their mentality; in spite of they looked at woman, during that period with respect and it seems when they became more closed they became more conservative. I never, hardly to see a woman without a scarf in the camp, it was not… I was brought up in this camp and my mother is a Muslim and my grandmother is a Muslim, My grandmother died in 2004, I remember she was still wearing like half sleeves, not covered completely, even her hair, the scarf was the Italian style, you could see her braided hair, we were not really conservative, but now unfortunately, we are conservative, for many reasons, as I said, all these wars, people thought like, God is angry from us, we should improve our relation. Some women told me this. Also 11th of September, they want to protect the Islam identity, because west started to talk about Islam as something bad. And Qaeda, as Muslims, we don’t see them as Islam, the Oslo Accord, the international community, after the Oslo Accord pay attention to the territories and ignored the Palestinians here, so people lost their jobs even PRCS, the Palestinian Red Cross Society, they lost most of their structure, they don’t have enough fund, nobody have enough fund. So people became really furious, and frustrated, so all of this, unfortunately, made our community more conservative. Of course, all of this will affect woman badly. Despite now you see woman covered and active, but still not free.

NP: Would you say then, its now harder or its easier for Palestinians in Lebanon?

OM: No, its harder. Its harder. It is harder in all aspect. Like in 2001, we have new regulation imposed in Lebanon, Palestinians, if they own any property, like they are not allowed to. So now, if I own my own house even, if I die I can’t inherit it to my children. It will go to the government, its like we feel unsafe because you never know what new regulation, its not a set of regulation, that’s it. Any new prime minister can add any regulation. We have no right to work. There are not enough work opportunities within the camp. Before, we had PLO. We had all their factories holding were destroyed, so people lost their job also, lack of fund everywhere, with NGOs, UNRWA, PCRS, so how people can survive, also, people were very dependent on relatives abroad. After the Gulf war in 1990, Palestinians were kicked out of Kuwait. So, many people lost this support they used to have. Also, the others who were not in Kuwait, even in Dubai in Abu Dhabi, now they are there, but they work on a minimum level, like, salaries, and if they open their mouths, they fire them. Because now their own people are educated, they have from other countries, so they feel they are threatened, and they don’t earn much money. Despite Dubai is very expensive for example, and Abu Dhabi, so they can’t support their families like before. We all know about three years, like you know, the financial crisis in Europe. So also the Palestinians who migrated to Europe and used to support their families many of them now they can’t. So, all of this made the situation harder, and more difficult.

NP: Does that have an impact on women’s health?

OM: Of course.

NP: Do you see…

OM: of course, because, like as I said, woman puts her needs at the end, so if she has any health problems, she won’t even go to doctor. Because at the end when she is really dying. She will go. We have noticed that we have many… like, we don’t have research, I don’t have study, I will one day, but from observation, increase in cancers, breast cancer, uterus cancer within women. Even in other people, but this is a noticeable thing with women, people you look at them, they feel tired, exhausted, diabetes… myself, I have better life I think than many in the camp, and I am already diabetic and hypertensive patient, I am already. It’s like yesterday, and the day before
My brother in law, my sister husband. He is 49 years old, he was at home, fell down, he is now unconscious in the hospital, and we have lots of heart attack and you know brain damage, all this because people really can’t cope with what is happening, we hear, many people die early here now, like early fifties, heart attack, brain… like, you know. Many illness, like, you know, very old people get it, but now very young people get this.

NP: do you coordinate at all with Lebanese organizations? Is there any coordination?

OM: yes, but not on a high level, not on a high level. On events, but you know, I feel in spite of everything like I know many people are very depressed now, but there are also many woman are stronger, they wanted to do something, and when you experience more injustice, you become stronger, because you want to… like, why? Why I live in injustice situation? No, I should ask for my rights, I am very… when I travel and give speeches, at the end I tell people, look I’m not [inaudible: 18:37]. We were not as Palestinians, it was the opposite, during the WWI and WWII, Palestine was the place where many Lebanese went to, because it was rich. So people… Palestinians were rich, well off. But this crisis created as I said by human beings made them… we are not begging, this is our right when we ask for help for support for fund, this is our right. Because the international community create this problem, and they should help us in this problem. So don’t look at us as “oh, poor people”, No, No, No, we are a very good survivor, and we are able to improve our life but if we get supported. Unfortunately, in the 1980, when we had great support from everywhere, people build lots of things, but nowadays, they have no means like, within where they live, they are not allowed to work, how can you support your needs if you are not allowed to work. We are very dependent on money comes from abroad, from international NGO’s and from family members, now this is affected also. In the gulf in Europe and everywhere, How do you expect those people to survive? I think, like, I always say, someone asked me once, you regret being Palestinian? You wish to be another, you know? I said it’s the opposite, I am very happy to be Palestinian, because I have a cause to live for, and my life is not empty, I feel now, when you ask me when I look back on what I have done, I feel I am one hundred years old, So my life was full, It’s not easy, but it feels it gives me really, strength. And I want my children to be also strong. My eldest son who is in Canada, he is very active, an activist, he wrote a book in Canada, which is very famous now, you can get it from Amazon, its “The child of convention” something like that, I forget, Imagine! I became…

NP: whats his name?

OM: Shakir Khazaal. If you Google, you will find, he is very activist, he gets lots of prizes for his social and political activism. He got last month a prize from Florida. So, my other children are also strong and active, I know its not easy life, my other son graduated three years ago, as an accountant, it wasn’t easy, he couldn’t find work, its like, oh my god, then he found work that did not pay him much, but still I tell him, like, look always at the positive, I always support him, my other son is studying media, he is in his last year. Also he is very active and he is proud to be Palestinian, my other son is also at school. He feels like, yes, I am Palestinian…

I wish I had a baby again, but never mind, its like, my boys are very active, and they like to do something and help. Yes, we have two kinds of people, people who really are tired and we have some people who are strong, always feeling proud, and want to do something.

NP: have you found it difficult to balance your work and activism with being a mother?

OM: actually, I am lucky I have a good husband, and you know, and always in our culture its not easy, but I have very supportive husband and children, so I travel alone, and I do all my work, I work at university, I work here, I am an activist, I am doing my Phd in psychology now, its like, you know, so no, it is not difficult, so I had my family to support me, so, no, I survived and not.. of course, not easy, but it was possible. Yeah.

NP: Can I ask you, what’s your best memory from your life until now?

OM: my best memory, you mean in general or in…

NP: Perhaps you can say about… if you want, your personal life, but also your public life.

OM: Okay. My personal life is having my children. Also in my personal life, its two things having my children and I am really getting what I want. It’s like, I couldn’t study when I was, when I should have studied, I couldn’t go to university... but then I went to university, and I studied and now I am doing my Phd, so I am getting there. What I wanted from before. From my work experience, my nice memory in spite of when we started the organization lots of pressure and nearly lost my life, but I feel like, this is my baby. You see, it’s my work, so a nice memory is when we established the organization, and all the… all these projects, when we started these projects which are unique in the camp. And really, met lots of people, like, for example we have a woman center, there is no woman center in the camp, they invite woman to activities but not woman centers, so we have woman center, where woman come and do lots of activities. Elderly projects also, old people. Looking after old people, because they are the most forgotten, there is no, except on organization, they started after us, an elderly project but mostly like, food and things, we are more social and health, so these projects, very happy to start them. These are nice memory, yeah.

I have nice memory from war. It’s a joke but a reality, I remember in 1985, during the month siege, we had not hospital but we call it a hospital, it’s a poli-clinic, like clinics and emergency room, so I joined it to be able to work, before I used to work at Gaza hospital, but when the siege hospital I couldn’t go to Gaza hospital so I joined that hospital. And I used to always work in emergency room, when there were heavy bombing, and the hospital was exposed to heavy bombing also, I used to go to one corner, and feel this is the safest place, because behind this corner there is many houses, I used to go there when… and all nurses will join me, and like this is the best place. When the war was over, the Norwegian Organization came to help, they wanted to make this Poli-clinic into a hospital, so you know, they were doing maintenance and then I saw these workers knocking the wall and making a hole and I said, “but there are peoples house here”, what are you doing, and he said “we will put air conditioner”. On the peoples home! He said “No, there is nothing here”, it was just a field, like, so all the war for one month, I used to feel this is the safest… maybe its my… I made it up to feel okay, like made up this view behind this wall there are houses, so this is the best place, to protect us and at the end there was nothing behind it. It was empty. Easily any rocket could hit there, but maybe this is to survive, you made up your own, you know, your own picture, your own space where you feel its safer, so we laughed and laughed and laughed. Ok, for one month, we thought it is the safer place, but it was the most dangerous place. This is something I remember and I always laugh.

NP: What’s your worst memory?

OM: The triage, this one, I couldn’t. like, Oh my god, this is horrible thing, its like, who am I to decide who will die and not.

NP: I want to go back and ask for clarification, earlier you said that, now people see them selves, or Palestinians see themselves, as victims, whereas they used to see themselves as survivors. Is this a result of the war or…

OM: it is a result of the war and the life style, before we had a big window, hope, so this is; they want to survive, to be able because they had hope. Now, unfortunately, once on journalist asked me about like, “do you still have hope?”, I said its not easy for me to give up hope, because then this is the end. My hopes are frozen now, so I use this term frozen hopes because if I loose them, I think my life will end. But if I say yes, I still have hope and… you know, look whats happening, I don’t know, with the Arab… whats called spring, which I see it dark winter, its like, how can I have the hope now? But I don’t want to loose it. So, its frozen. This is what term I use. And I think people unfortunately, they look at themselves as victims because they started to loose the hope, and not all people think positively, unfortunately. We here encourage people to think positively, because then this will help them to become survivors, not victims, but due to the war, due to the lack of all services, due to life style, people started to loose their hope and look at themselves as victims, and they don’t see any solution, they don’t see any justice, so this causes the people to be victims.

NP: can I just ask you to clarify… when you want to university, and why you decided to study psychology?

OM: yeah, because I want to similar work, I tell you, after the war, because I felt like, horrible things happened during my nursing period, so I want to quit in spite I enjoyed it a lot. So I did this course in Australia for community, I like to work with community, I like the idea. So I said ok, psychology, sociology, this will lead me to… when I went to university, it was compulsory to do the three of them, sociology, psychology and philosophy. When I did it we had no credit system, so I had to do the whole year, the whole thing, its like, and I felt its okay even if I take five subjects, you know, and leave four for the next year. When I asked the university, they said no, you have to take the nine subjects, if you don’t want to do the four, you will be failed in them, what an image to give to my children? Failed! No, I cant do this, because on the certificate, they don’t say I didn’t do them, it will say failed. So, I struggled, really for four years, to take all the topics and to get good marks and otherwise, I will not be good image to my children. So I did it four years in raw and I did not miss any topic. And I get very good grade.

NP: and which year did you graduate?

OM: My Masters? Psychology, sociology, We have the three of them, then I did masters in psychology, before, with children learning difficulty, because I noticed it’s a big problem, and I looked at some personality traits and social skills for these kids. And now I am doing my Phd on women’s health, psychology of women’s health.

NP: so what year did you graduate from your first degree?

OM: Sorry, what?

NP: Which year?

OM: which year? 1997

NP: 1997, and then your masters?

OM: 2006 I started it then I stopped it for a period and then… 2006 finished…. There was the war and Naher el Barid, so I stopped, so I finished it in 2010, and I get a distinguish, so they offer me to work in the university, teach, and assist, you know, teaching so I am doing it from 2010 til now, I teach psychology, I teach positive psychology, clinical psychology, industrial psychology, health psychology, and mental health.

NP: Wow, its a lot.

OM: It’s a lot, yeah. In two semesters, someone them first, some of them second.

NP: how do you… do you like teaching?

OM: I like teaching.

NP: and when did you start your Phd?

OM: Recently. So, now I am in process, we have here abit funny one, you do entrance exams in spite I graduated from that university….

TAPE 4

OM: …then you do first semester, second semester, four topics, then you do comprehensive test, which is any question from psychology, and we do small researches, small studies, like the first semester I did two, one on autism and one on… gosh, styles of treatment, like you know, different styles and I wrote a paper about that and now I am doing one on… we are doing case study, I have to choose any case study and one I need to do on special needs. You know, special needs again. These are small papers, then I do the comprehensive test the end of this year and start writing my thesis next year.

NP: and that’s which university?

OM: Beirut Arab University. It’s near my home, so it’s handy.

NP: Yeah.

OM: as I did in 2010, I did one year women’s diploma, women studies diploma, Which we do everything about women, law and women, trafficking, literature on women, psychology of women, sociology of women, gender, I mean half… history… I enjoyed it a lot. It was a one years diploma.

NP: so lots of topics in one year.

OM: yeah.

NP: in your work, did you ever refer to or use any of the UN instruments or…

OM: Yes, yes, we do. Yeah we do. Like [inaudible: 02:00], and we work on that and we write each other reports also. We have also the 1,2,3,5 like all this… tomorrow there is a training also here, on working with men. Like we have here someone coming to train the staff. How to approach men and how to work with men.

NP: do you find the UN instruments used well?

OM: Some of them, yes. But I told you, always we have to prepared, like, most of them are not applicable to the Palestinian, still we have to…

NP: is it something that you use when maybe you are talking to the donors? Or do you use it with…

OM: also with the community, yeah, its their right to know, when you know this is my right, I can speak strongly, I am not begging please, like when we look at children’s rights, and I look at human rights, like everyone has the right to be born with a nationality blah blah blah…. So when I talk I say that is one of the rights that are guaranteed by the international community, why its not applicable to me? So you will be in a strong… you will make your own, like your argument on a strong base, if you are right, its not something people will feel they are giving it to you, its your right. Yeah.

NP: I have a particular interest in 1325,

OM: yeah, 1325, unfortunately, it’s a good tool but its not really can be used well, but now there are lots of training on that.

NP: when you say its not being used well…

OM: like I know it’s a tool but, its not really implemented, that’s what I wanted to say, its not implemented, at least here in the… not like human rights, like women’s rights, like people talk more about it than this tool.

NP: is there anything I haven’t asked you about you think is important that you want to tell me? Anything about you or what you do now?

OM: No, only, only, like, people should investigate more, they should not take what is said in the media as guaranteed. People, god give us brain to use it, and give us many resources to help us, so the justice will come, when everyone start to really investigate and ask why and what’s happening, I believe in peace but not peace alone, but I believe in peace with justice, when it gives everyone their rights, and I want the world to know that we as Palestinians, we are not really terrible people, we are… we want our basic rights, at least, until the problem is solved, I know the problem is as everyone say its not complicated but we made it complicated, but you can’t expect from people to suffer until the international community solve the problem. They should support people until the problem is solved. So, don’t accuse people being always questioned why they become. I am not giving them justification for terrorist work for example, action, but always, if people basic needs are met, at least they will, they will be patient and wait the biggest solution, until it takes place. So, Palestinian should not suffer, because they were exiled from their country and they live as refugees for 65 years, its not fair. So, this is my massage to the world.

NP: Thank you

OM: Thank you. I hope I answered all your questions.

NP: You did.



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