Habitat for Insanity

One of my favorite things to do is read the weekend section of the Financial Times. Their two feature sections, House & Home and Life & Arts, printed on their signature pink pages, usually provide a week’s worth of reading pleasure.

As Christmas and the New Year approach, the Financial Times makes its annual appeal for a select charity. This year it is Habitat for Humanity, a worthy charity if there ever was one. Humanity needs decent, safe, and clean shelter. Livable housing is the very foundation for a life of dignity. I was familiar with Habitat for Humanity before, but it was helpful to read about the global scope of the need (they operate in 70 countries) and the number of people they help (almost 9 million in 2018). It’s very impressive.

However, and this is a big “however,” one of the appeal’s promotional articles leads with the need for Habitat for Humanity in Lebanon’s Shatila “refugee” camp. We learn that Shatila is “acutely overcrowded” and that “[a]t least 14,000 people live there, nearly nine times the 1992 population.” Photos accompanying the article show a girl reading while sitting on a carpet in a dilapidated room with a bag of what looks like refuse nearby. Other photos show shadowy alleyways with electric wires dangling dangerously overhead.

Then comes the tricky part of the text. The camp’s inhabitants are “refugees” from “the creation of Israel” in 1948. There are also Syrians “fleeing a civil war that is entering its eighth year.” Those that are interested in the Middle East and its cruelties know that Shatila was the site of the wanton killing of over one thousand civilians in 1982 by rival Lebanese factions that took advantage of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to seek revenge.

As the article goes on to say, “Although initially intended as temporary shelters, camps such as Shatila have become permanent slums.” Almost in passing, readers are informed that “Palestinians in Lebanon are barred from at least 39 professions including law and medicine, and even from buying property.”

The truth is that the Lebanese have used these humans as pawns in their war against the state of Israel. Long after any rational mind realized they were not going home under the “right of return,” these Palestinians have been forced to suffer. No Arab state has come to their rescue. While the Saudis, their Sunni brothers, have built a city like Dubai – unrivaled in its opulence – not a Saudi riyal has been sent Shatila’s way.

Lebanon is now basically controlled by Shia Hezbollah. This is an armed faction financed by Iran, which has sworn to wipe Israel off the map. Hezbollah spends serious sums of money on social welfare programs like schools and food security to bolster their governmental credentials with the poorer Lebanese Shia. But have they lifted a finger to help their Palestinian Islamic brothers and sisters rotting away in Shatila? Not at all, because they want to keep Shatila at the boiling point. Do they care that in Shatila violence and drug use is endemic and that children are suffering in the extreme? There is no evidence that they do.

Yet the picture gets worse, if that is possible. Last week it was revealed that Hezbollah has been building a massive tunnel infrastructure to be used for an invasion of Israel. That’s right, millions of hours of labor, hundreds of tons of cement, earth-moving machines, and much more have been fully funded. Are these Lebanese priorities?

What would have been the outcome if they had succeeded in sending fighters to kidnap and kill Israelis? Evidently, they planned to hold some positions and send reinforcements through the tunnels. Can you imagine the Israeli response?  The devastation to the country’s infrastructure and economy would be overwhelming, probably more so than in 2006 (the year of the last Hezbollah-Israel war).

Clearly, Hezbollah and many Lebanese don’t care if another round of war destroys even more of their country.

But this goes beyond that. The Hezbollah mindset is locked into martyrdom. They do not want to focus on building schools, factories, or hospitals with the cement that went into the invasion tunnels. They are not interested in alleviating the suffering of the Shatila refugees.

So, sadly I ask myself, “Why should I?” Why should anyone in the world give a dime to Habitat for Humanity to build housing in Shatila? Why is it our responsibility to help the people of Shatila when their very misery is part of a political calculation by their Lebanese hosts?

In my mind’s eye I see cement truck after cement truck heading right past the camp on their way to build the invasion tunnels. Did it ever occur to anyone in Hezbollah that the materials would be put to better use by building a house or school in Shatila? I don’t think so.

I do not want anyone to suffer. I would like everyone on the earth to be well-fed, nicely housed, and to receive good medical care. But until the Lebanese and the Iranian masters of Hezbollah think they should take care of their own I will not be sending Habitat for Humanity money for Shatila. There are 69 other countries that are more deserving.

About the Author
Jonathan Russo has been observing Israel and its policies since he first visited in 1966. He is a businessman in New York City.