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Taking a Stand in No Man's Land

From inside their makeshift camp, many Palestinians deny being Hamas leaders, but say their sacrifice will deter further expulsions. PALESTINIAN POTICAL STRUGGLE

By Jim MuirSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 4, 1993


IT could hardly be a more desolate scene: an anonymous stretch of barren hillside in the remotest corner of southeastern Lebanon. It is the middle of nowhere. But not, it seems, a Godforsaken spot.

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There, on the twisting mountain road, more than 400 men are lined up in ranks, a block of humanity kneeling, prostrating themselves and rising in unison, sending the cry of "Allahu Akbar!" - "God is greatest" - echoing through the hills.

It is Friday, and the expelled Palestinian Muslims are going through their weekly prayer ceremonies for the third time since they were driven out of the nearby Israeli-controlled south Lebanon "security zone" during a freezing rain in open trucks on the night of Dec. 17-18.

After prayers are finished, angry communiques are read to worshipers over a bullhorn. One such, signed by two exiled preachers from the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, calls on the world's Muslims to meet the threat they say the Israelis are mounting against Islam. Another denounces the fact that many of those expelled are university professors, teachers, or students.

Later, on this day of rest, the Palestinians disperse through their improvised encampment on the bleak hillside and relax in the winter sunshine. With a drummer beating out an Arabic rhythm on an empty water container, one large group sings satirical songs mocking the Israeli leadership.

But as soon as the sun goes down, the temperature falls well below freezing. The Palestinians shiver the night away under blankets in their unheated tents. They have already had a taste of the snow and torrential rain that are normal for a Lebanese winter, and know there is worse to come.

With both Israel and Lebanon blocking food and medical supplies to the no man's land camp, their diet is mainly potatoes and pasta. Some extra food is smuggled in at night on donkeys by local sympathizers, but the Lebanese Army is mounting patrols to try to stop even that.

[On Saturday night, an Israeli Army unit fired shells that landed only 500 to 1,000 yards from the camp, causing many to flee. An Army spokesman said the unit was firing at "suspicious" persons moving about in the security zone, not at the encampment.]

"Of course I feel sad to be cut off from my family," says Ali Dado, a storekeeper from Tulkarem in the West Bank who is married with four children. "But I always have high spirits, even when I was in jail, because I have faith in Allah. What has happened is the will of Allah."

Unlike many of the others, Dado - who has an electrical engineering degree from Swansea University in Wales - was actually charged and sentenced by an Israeli court in 1990 to 10 months' imprisonment for belonging to the banned Islamic Hamas movement.

Most of the expelled have spent months in "administrative detention" without charge or trial. But 49 of the exiles say they never had any trouble with Israeli authorities until they were picked up and expelled last month. Sympathizers, not activists