Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 16:20 UK

Shatila stories: Muhammad Diab

Muhammad Diab (Photo by Phil Coomes)

Muhammad Diab left his home in Birwah, Palestine, at the age of 17, when Israeli troops depopulated the area in 1948. He has spent most of his life in Shatila refugee camp in southern Beirut, Lebanon.

I have had to rebuild my world over and and over again. I was born to a simple peasant's life. I didn't go to school because it was my job to work hard in the fields, but it was a good life in natural surroundings.

In Lebanon, in Shatila camp, I had a textile shop, but my goods were stolen during the 1982 Israeli invasion, and in 1985 my whole shop was destroyed. We rebuilt the business, but it was destroyed again in 1986 and we had to flee to become squatters in west Beirut.

But we will keep rebuilding our lives - here in Shatila, until we know where we are going and then, God willing, we will return to Palestine and rebuild our homes there.

Muhammad, Marwan and Ahmed in Shatila (Photo by Phil Coomes)

I went to see Birwah in 1994 - but there was nothing left. It was totally destroyed, including the mosque and cemetery. I am still in touch with some of my relatives from the town who live in other parts of Israel now. Every year or so we exchange phone calls, but it is difficult to get lines.

How did I feel seeing Birwah? I experienced the feelings of someone who goes to their home and sees nothing - I felt depression and sadness. Less than a kilometre away there was a Jewish settlement - I don't know what its name was.

I remember when Birwah was attacked by Jewish forces in 1948. I joined the resistance and we chased the Jews from our village on the day they came. But when the Arab Salvation Army came, they said they would protect our village, and we could shelter in neighbouring villages.

When we returned to the village, we found that the Arab troops had handed the Jews possession of our village. It was a conspiracy between them. We left in our clothes - I have nothing from my home in Palestine.

In Shatila, we lived in army tents until 1958 or 1959. I was married in a tent and my first children were born in the tent. When there were storms we had to hold on to the canvas opening to keep the wind out.

Then they were given some metal sheets and four wooden posts. We made walls from oil drums. When the Palestinian fighters came from Jordan in the late 1960s we had more say here, and they encouraged us to get out of the wind and rain and we made houses out of concrete blocks for the first time.

In 1982 we fled from the camp, when we heard the Phalange forces were coming, so I didn't personally witness the Sabra and Shatila massacre. We came back after three days and heard about the massacre but we didn't see anything.

Muhammad Diab (Photo by Phil Coomes)
We blame the British for all our problems, they ruled Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and everywhere they were treacherous and destructive. Now Britain has handed everything over to America. It is a tap which America turns on and turns off.

My family is a special hardship case with the United Nations so we get rations of food and some money, but it is not enough to survive. Every three months I get $100, two bags of rice, two bags of sugar, three litres of oil, 2 bags of lentils and beans, but the lentils and beans are of such bad quality that they are not useable.

People are living on a pittance. Rations are meant to come at the beginning of the month, but they come at the end because the UN says it does not have enough aid donations. We go to the UN office and complain but we never get any answers.

They call it special hardship aid - but really it is a slow destruction. They give us rations, but for the money which they spend to get us these poor rations we could get 10 times more if they just gave us the money.

I have very little income and no capital or savings. We get $300 for rent from the two shops downstairs - a shoe shop and clothes shop. When my wife needed heart surgery a few years ago, the bill was $11,000. We had to beg for the money from the aid agencies - a thousand from here, three thousand there, but I didn't pay for all of it for a long time. Now she has to have another operation, and we don't know how to pay.

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