By Anthony Shadid
"Here is Rashidiya, where Madani's family and more than 1,000 other Lebanese have fled their homes to seek shelter in a Palestinian refugee camp, its 18,000 inhabitants themselves exiles for nearly six decades. They began arriving a week ago by foot, minibus and car, from villages like Marwaheen, Qlaile and Mansuri. They trudged through streets shaded by bird's nests of electricity wires and sought shelter in homes and U.N.-run schools. Now they wait, abandoned, in a camp whose residents already feel forgotten.
"It's kind of an irony really. It's almost a joke what's going on," said Ibrahim al-Ali, a 26-year-old Palestinian social worker in the camp. "The irony is that refugees are accepting citizens from their own country."
By the standards of Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps, some of the world's most forsaken locales, Rashidiya is better than most. Compared with the rest of southern Lebanon these days, it is a veritable haven, located on the sea just south of Tyre. In a region where authority has largely collapsed, its own administration remains intact. Electricity is still on, and virtually every shop is open, selling items that are scarce in Tyre: powdered milk, chicken and medicine. Gasoline is less than one-third the price of that in Tyre. With six of Tyre's seven bakeries closed, the one here has doubled its capacity, providing 3,000 free loaves to families in nearby villages.
More important, though, the camp remains safe, as safety goes these days in southern Lebanon.
Loss, fear and frustration echo through conversations among the mainly Shiite Muslim Lebanese in the south, the community from which Hezbollah draws its support. There is anger at Israel and the United States, too. But a sense of abandonment, already manifest in Rashidiya, is perhaps the most powerful. The sentiments of the Shiites intersect with the faded, generation-old Palestinian slogans that adorn the camp's concrete walls and cinder-block homes. "Today Gaza, tomorrow all of Palestine," one poster reads. "Revolution continues, until victory," another declares.
The Palestinian residents have brought food -- figs, olives, tomatoes, eggplant, okra and bananas -- much of it cultivated in the small gardens that dot the seaside camp, guarded by Palestinian militiamen. But Rashidiya is an exception. There is hardly anything organized to assist the displaced in the rest of southern Lebanon, rekindling old but enduring resentments among Shiites of the south over traditional neglect by a government that once treated them as second-class citizens.
"For us in the south, for a long time, there's never been a state," said Banjak, sitting on a yellow cushion adorned with a floral pattern. "There's no state to protect the people. There's no state to care for them." His friend, Mislamani, nodded his head. Billions were spent rebuilding Beirut, he said, "and there's not one bomb shelter, not one, in the entire south.""