Once, this was a different place. It went from the orange groves on the hill to the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean. It had small white cement homes with courtyards and grape arbors, and it was to this refugee camp that the PLO brought me two years ago for a visit. This time I was not permitted to stay.

This time the place was burned and gutted and the women of the camp were on the march.

The night before the Israelis had seized two men for questioning. So the women took a stick, put a black flag on it, and marched toward the soldiers. They yelled and screamed at the Israelis and, although this was a new place, it was a familiar scene--just another place where Arab civilians were confronting Israeli soldiers. Some of the soldiers answered back in Arabic. Some merely cocked their weapons.

There were no men in the crowd. Some small boys hung back toward the rear. No men could be seen in the camp.

All around was devastation. Roofs of buildings sagged to the floor. Houses had been demolished. A car lay overturned and burned out. From near the entrance, not much could be seen, but it was clear that the Israelis had hit this place hard. They had their reasons.

Rashidieh is located in the only state the PLO ever had.

Until the Israelis came, the PLO ruled this part of southern Lebanon near the city of Tyre. The law was its law. It brushed aside the Lebanese authorities--sometimes brutally, sometimes merely contemptuously--and made the place its own. It planted antiaircraft guns in backyards, stored weapons in municipal buildings and ran the area like conquerors--not the visitors they turned out to be. The behavior of the PLO goes a long way toward explaining why many Lebanese greeted the invading Israelis with joy.

Two years ago, I ate lunch here with a kid I nicknamed Porky. He called himself a freedom fighter, although the Israelis would call him a terrorist. He was fat and he was cute and he was only 16 years old. He carried a Kalashnikov, the standard PLO weapon. The people at lunch that day talked of returning to Palestine. Of course, Porky had never lived there and now it looks like he never will.

The camps were the heart of the PLO nation. If you went to northern Galilee you could understand the yearning there for security. If you came here, you could understand the enmity toward Israel. From time to time this place was shelled from the sea by the Israelis and from the land by their surrogates in southern Lebanon, the forces of Major Saad Haddad. People died here as they died in Galilee and very often in the name of the same piece of land.

On this day, though, the Israelis ran the place and the women had come down the road to confront them. From behind me, an armored personnel carrier cranks up. Additional soldiers come out of the barracks. A woman in a long, red dress grabs one of the soldiers, a short young man with long, unruly black hair, and pummels him by the shoulders. He shakes her loose, steps back and fires into the air.

The women jump back a step. More soldiers fire into the air. The sound of the volley is strangely unimpressive. The women pause, the soldiers stop firing and the crowd comes at them once again. The shrieking is loud. The faces of the women are contorted with anger. They are all dressed poorly. Their clothes are shapeless and dirty. They wear sandals on their feet and they all seem to be the one indiscernible age of the poor--neither young nor old. Just poor.

The mob moves forward again, and again the soldiers fire into the air. The soldiers do not seem tense. They do not seem scared. And neither, for that matter, do the women. There is ritual to this. They have lived through war, and firing into the air does not scare them. It seems to accomplish nothing, but neither does their shrieking. It is the Middle East in a nutshell: rage wrapped around futility.

Suddenly we are told to leave. FUTILITY By Richard Cohen Washington Post Staff Writer

RASHIDIEH, Lebanon--Once, this was a different place. It went from the orange groves on the hill to the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean. It had small white cement homes with courtyards and grape arbors, and it was to this refugee camp that the PLO brought me two years ago for a visit. This time I was not permitted to stay.

This time the place was burned and gutted and the women of the camp were on the march.

The night before the Israelis had seized two men for questioning. So the women took a stick, put a black flag on it, and marched toward the soldiers. They yelled and screamed at the Israelis and, although this was a new place, it was a familiar scene--just another place where Arab civilians were confronting Israeli soldiers. Some of the soldiers answered back in Arabic. Some merely cocked their weapons.

There were no men in the crowd. Some small boys hung back toward the rear. No men could be seen in the camp.

All around was devastation. Roofs of buildings sagged to the floor. Houses had been demolished. A car lay overturned and burned out. From near the entrance, not much could be seen, but it was clear that the Israelis had hit this place hard. They had their reasons.

Rashidieh is located in the only state the PLO ever had.

Until the Israelis came, the PLO ruled this part of southern Lebanon near the city of Tyre. The law was its law. It brushed aside the Lebanese authorities--sometimes brutally, sometimes merely contemptuously--and made the place its own. It planted antiaircraft guns in backyards, stored weapons in municipal buildings and ran the area like conquerors--not the visitors they turned out to be. The behavior of the PLO goes a long way toward explaining why many Lebanese greeted the invading Israelis with joy.

Two years ago, I ate lunch here with a kid I nicknamed Porky. He called himself a freedom fighter, although the Israelis would call him a terrorist. He was fat and he was cute and he was only 16 years old. He carried a Kalashnikov, the standard PLO weapon. The people at lunch that day talked of returning to Palestine. Of course, Porky had never lived there and now it looks like he never will.

The camps were the heart of the PLO nation. If you went to northern Galilee you could understand the yearning there for security. If you came here, you could understand the enmity toward Israel. From time to time this place was shelled from the sea by the Israelis and from the land by their surrogates in southern Lebanon, the forces of Major Saad Haddad. People died here as they died in Galilee and very often in the name of the same piece of land.

On this day, though, the Israelis ran the place and the women had come down the road to confront them. From behind me, an armored personnel carrier cranks up. Additional soldiers come out of the barracks. A woman in a long, red dress grabs one of the soldiers, a short young man with long, unruly black hair, and pummels him by the shoulders. He shakes her loose, steps back and fires into the air.

The women jump back a step. More soldiers fire into the air. The sound of the volley is strangely unimpressive. The women pause, the soldiers stop firing and the crowd comes at them once again. The shrieking is loud. The faces of the women are contorted with anger. They are all dressed poorly. Their clothes are shapeless and dirty. They wear sandals on their feet and they all seem to be the one indiscernible age of the poor--neither young nor old. Just poor.

The mob moves forward again, and again the soldiers fire into the air. The soldiers do not seem tense. They do not seem scared. And neither, for that matter, do the women. There is ritual to this. They have lived through war, and firing into the air does not scare them. It seems to accomplish nothing, but neither does their shrieking. It is the Middle East in a nutshell: rage wrapped around futility.

Suddenly we are told to leave. The APC roars its engine. More soldiers are moved up. We are hustled into a car and driven away.

Once, this was a different place. Now it is just another place where Israel in its search for security has to deal with demonstrating Arabs. It could have been Gaza or the West Bank, only it wasn't. It was Lebanon--a different place, but the same problem. The APC roars its engine. More soldiers are moved up. We are hustled into a car and driven away.

Once, this was a different place. Now it is just another place where Israel in its search for security has to deal with demonstrating Arabs. It could have been Gaza or the West Bank, only it wasn't. It was Lebanon--a different place, but the same problem.