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  • I crossed the Mount Lebanon range alone without a map or a compass in a pair of flip-flops of such poor quality that the backs quickly crumbled away and I had to wear socks to stop my heels from scraping against the ground.

    Two men stopped to try and persuade me to sell their latest batch of Lebanese hash in England, I enjoyed a lunch of raw goat liver, milk and cigarettes in the tent of nomadic goat herders and slept a night on a rocky outcrop jutting from the mountainside as the sunset clouds boiled up the valley towards me like blood billowing through water.

    The next day I saw what remains of the famous cedars of Lebanon and trekked down the Qadisha valley, a deep, jagged ravine with houses and monasteries jutting from the cliffs. At one point I lost the path and found myself clambering down an increasingly steep hillside. I accidentally dropped my backpack and it rolled down the hill, off the top of a cliff and landed with a distant splash in the river many hundreds of metres below.

    A couple of days later, after locating the backpack and drying out all of the important stuff, I arrived at Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in the north of the country. A friend of mine was teaching English to the Palestinian refugees there and had invited me to stay over for the night until my flight left Beirut. He was pleased to see me but warned that there were parts of the camp that were no-go areas for Westerners.

    There are around 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and they have been there since they, their parents or grandparents left behind their homes during the birth of the state of Israel in 1948. They can’t go back and they aren’t allowed to buy homes in Lebanon or, indeed, have any kind of decent job. They live in these refugee camps that are becoming increasingly overcrowded as the population grows. You will probably not be surprised to hear that most of them feel totally abandoned by the international community and nurse a fierce, irrational hatred for Zionists and their supporters.

    My friend took me to the house of a couple of friends of his, young Palestinian men. We drank mint tea, smoked and after the usual polite introductions started to discuss Middle Eastern politics.

    Many Palestinians trace the cause of their displacement back to a letter written by the Conservative MP Arthur Balfour back in 1917, supporting the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. As an Englishman I was regularly asked to explain or account for Balfour’s actions.

    Then the talk turned to Hitler.

    “Hitler was a great man, no? He killed a lot of Jews.”
    “Hitler was not a great man, he was a fucking lunatic monster. He slaughtered millions of innocent people because of some insane view of racial science. And he was an anti-Semite, remember. That includes Arabs.” I said.
    “No, you are wrong about this. Hitler had a great admiration for Islam. He saw that the Jews wanted to take his people’s land and money, just as they have taken mine.”
    “I’m sorry, Hamed, there is no way for you to persuade me that Hitler was in any sense a good man. You are confusing your hatred of Israel with a hatred for Jews.”

    Hamed was quiet for a moment, then got up and left the room. When he came back in he was wearing a black and white Palestinian Kiffeyeh wrapped around his face so only his eyes were showing. And he was holding an AK47, jabbing the barrel towards my face.

    “What do you think about Hitler now, my friend? You like Hitler?”
    “Say it please”
    “I like Hitler”
    He started to laugh and unwound the scarf.
    “Just a joke, my friend. We are just laughing with you”

    I smiled and drank my tea and two days later I was back in London, looking for a job.
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