6 May 2012
Thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian children throughout Lebanon today jointly braved a marathon in support of human dignity.
Some 2000 children in Saida and 800 in Ba’albeck took part in the Vivicitta (Revive the City) marathon, running side-by-side in a spirit of sportsmanship.
The event, organised by UNRWA with the Italian organisation Sport Per Tutti (Sport for All), or UISP, marked the culmination of a series of sporting events that have given hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese children the chance to play together and build bridges between their communities.
Dignity through sports
Entitled Palestiniadi, the games have brought together Palestinian and Lebanese students from throughout the country to test their sporting skills in joint activities ranging from track racing and football to table tennis and chess.
The events form part of UNRWA’s EU-funded “Dignity For All” campaign, which aims to promote dialogue and solidarity between the divided Lebanese and Palestinian communities in Lebanon.
“The Palestiniadi gives Palestinian and Lebanese children a chance to interact in a constructive way”, said Salvatore Lombardo, UNRWA’s director of affairs in Lebanon at the opening of the games earlier this week.
“If they can compete and have fun together in dignity, they should be able to live together in dignity until a just solution is found to the plight of Palestine refugees.”
Lombardo also thanked the Italian government for its consistent support of the Palestine refugees.
“Now my best friend is Palestinian”
In general, the young Lebanese and Palestinian participants in the sporting fun are neighbours who interact rarely at a community level.
Many say they have inherited negative preconceptions about the other “side”, and that they normally do not interact with them. This week’s games have gone some small way to changing that.
Mohammed, a 15-year-old from the north of Lebanon, found his Palestinian counterparts very different from what he had expected. “The Palestinians turned out to be the nicest participants”, he said, at the end of three days of joint sports at UNRWA’s vocational training centre in Siblin, south of Beirut.
“I used to think of Palestinians as the embodiment of aggression and hostility”, he added. “But I got on with them very quickly. I don’t at all feel there are any barriers between us.”
The experience of Karim and Nader was no different. Karim, a Lebanese citizen from Saida who had also taken part in the games, said that he had always considered Palestinians to be “troublemakers”.
But today, grinning with new friend, Karim says he doesn’t care about Nader’s nationality. "Now my best friend is a Palestinian!”
UNRWA in Lebanon
Around 455,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with many living in the country’s 12 refugee camps. Palestine refugees make up an estimated ten per cent of Lebanon, a small country which is now densely populated.
Palestine refugees in Lebanon do not enjoy several basic human rights. As they are not formally citizens of another state, they are not able to claim the same rights as other foreigners living and working in Lebanon, including the right to work in as many as 20 professions.
UNRWA’s “Dignity for All” project, funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection office (ECHO), aims to change mutual perceptions between the Lebanese and Palestine refugee communities in Lebanon.
The project has one key message: Palestinians are refugees in Lebanon, but they deserve to live in dignity until a just solution to their plight is found.
For more information about UNRWA’s work in Lebanon, click here.
The Italian government and UNRWA
This year, the Italian government has made possible a number of UNRWA’s projects in Lebanon, including the rehabilition of playgrounds in the Dbayeh and Shatila camps in Beirut and the construction of a gym in Rashidieh (Tyre).
In addition, the Italian Region of Puglia rehabilitated the sports area in El Buss camp (Tyre), the Municipality of Rome funded the rehabilitation of the playground in Ein El Hillweh camp (Saida), and the Italian Association UISP Sport Per Tutti rehabilitated the playground of Beddawi camp (Tripoli).
For further information, please contact Hoda Samra, UNRWA Public information officer in Lebanon:
+961-70-010129 fax: +961-1-840468 or by e-mail: [email protected].