The establishment of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon following Israel’s War of Independence (what the Palestinians refer to as the “Nabka,” or “catastrophe”) fundamentally altered the political and military situation in southern Lebanon for many years. These refugee camps, some of which continue to exist, became operating bases for the Palestine Liberation Organization and its offshoots, including the Abu Nidal Organization, which was a bitter enemy of the P.L.O. and whose leader, Sabri al-Banna, would die violently under mysterious circumstances in Iraq in 2002 while living under the protection of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Initially, the P.L.O. had been based in Jordan, from which it conducted terrorist attacks against Israel and against Jewish targets in Europe. Following Jordanian King Hussein’s expulsion of the P.L.O. and its militants from that country in September 1970 – an event subsequently referred to by the Palestinians as “Black September,” and which spawned the Palestinian terrorist movement Black September, which carried out the seizure and murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany – the P.L.O. relocated to the refugee camps in Lebanon. From those camps, the P.L.O. continued to conduct terrorist attacks against Israel, while establishing a veritable “state-within-a-state” inside southern Lebanon. Palestinian rule over southern Lebanon, however, was heavy-handed (and occasionally murderous), which created a great deal of anger towards the Palestinians on the part of the Lebanese, Christians and Muslims. On top of their unwelcome and repressive control over Lebanese civilians, the P.L.O. also represented an unwelcome Sunni Muslim domination over southern Lebanon’s predominately Shi’a Muslim population.
In 1982, in response to continued terrorist attack by the P.L.O., Israel invaded southern Lebanon with the stated objective of expelling the P.L.O., especially its leader, Yasir Arafat. Before the Israeli Army’s questionable decision to advance all the way to Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, for the purpose of helping Lebanon’s Christian political and military movements take power, the citizens of southern Lebanon actually welcomed the Israeli incursion. The Lebanese thought the Israelis would limit their objectives to expelling the hated P.L.O. and responded enthusiastically to the Israeli Army’s presence. That enthusiasm, however, would turn into violent hatred when the Israelis advanced on Beirut and then established a buffer zone across southern Lebanon controlled by an Israeli-armed Christian militia called the South Lebanon Army.
A particularly tragic event during the 1982 war was the massacre of many (numbers of dead range from several hundred to several thousand) Palestinian refugees by a Lebanese Christian militia. While Israel was not proved to be directly responsible for the massacre, it was widely believed that the Israelis knew of the massacre and ignored it. That massacre at the Palestinian Sabra and Shatila refugee camps remains a bitter psychological wound for the Palestinian community in Lebanon – something witnessed first-hand by this “educator” while touring the area in 2002.
To make a long story short, then, the influx of Palestinian refugees into Lebanon fundamentally altered the political dynamics of the country while inviting Israeli military retaliations for P.L.O.-sponsored terrorist attacks. Israel’s attempts at influencing Lebanese politics following its 1982 invasion proved a disaster, and the rise of the Hezbollah terrorist movement was one of the results. Hezbollah has since emerged as one of the most formidable terrorist organizations in the world. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are resented for the continued dilapidated condition of their camps – a deliberate ploy intended by the Palestinian leadership and Arab governments throughout the region to ensure the Palestinians are not assimilated into any non-Palestinian society and remain a visible symbol of the Palestinian’s plight – and for the years during which they brutally dominated South Lebanese society. Today, those refugees are often a forgotten element in the political intrigues that are constantly present in that region.