Lebanon roiled over Palestinians

by Steve Kramer

Druze Lebanese leader, Walid Jumblatt, recently created an uproar over the 400,00 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Jumblatt’s father, who once led the Druze, was assassinated in 1977. The Druze are a group of non-Arab Muslims, whose sect is considered heretical by many other Muslims. Their origins date back to the 10th century and they comprise about 10% of the Lebanese population. The remainder of the Lebanese population is mostly Arab Muslim or Arab Christian. (Lebanon was once predominantly Christian. Many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab, but prefer to be known as descendants of the ancient Canaanites and call themselves “Phoenicians”.)

Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, recently questioned why Palestinian refugees are forbidden to own property in Lebanon. Jumblatt spoke to a group of Palestinian refugees from across Lebanon, who visited him in his residence in the village of Mukhtara. He said, “We allow other Arabs to own properties, arguing that this would encourage foreign investments, but we deprive poor Palestinians from [this right].” The MP said he insisted on granting Palestinian refugees labor rights, social security and property rights. This rhetoric is diametrically opposed to the constant strategy of the Palestinians: keeping their millions of so-called refugees in a wretched state to gain the world’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause, while delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist.

Significantly, Jumblatt added that Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri were exerting efforts in the same direction. In June, Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc submitted a draft law to grant Palestinian refugees their rights, sparking a huge debate in the Parliament. The proposal is currently being examined by parliamentary committees. (reported on July 4 in the “Daily Star” newspaper, Beirut)

Omar al-Issawi, a Lebanese journalist, director, producer, and television personality, wrote extensively on the refugees on the (English) Al Jazeera website in 2009: “There are thousands of Palestinian refugees across the globe, many of whom settled in neighboring Arab countries including Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. However, of all the Palestinian refugees in the Arab world, it is those who have taken shelter in Lebanon who have suffered the most.

“According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the international body set up to ensure the welfare of Palestinian refugees, the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees who are living in abject poverty reside in Lebanon. There are about 400,000 officially registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, or approximately 10 per cent of the population. Just under half of the refugees continue to live in camps. While those Palestinians resident in Syria and Jordan, for example, do not enjoy the benefits of full citizenship, they do have access to education, healthcare and employment.

[Jordan has lately de-naturalized thousands of its Palestinian citizens, who are the majority of Jordan’s population. They live under a regime most accurately described as “apartheid”, according to Mudar Zahran in the “Jerusalem Post”, July 24.]

“Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Palestinian refugee camps were under stringent Lebanese security control. For instance, travel from one camp to another was restricted and even reading newspapers in public was banned. Today, Palestinians in Lebanon continue to suffer from draconian measures which the Lebanese state claims are there to prevent them from becoming permanent guests.

“As recently as 2005, Palestinian refugees were banned from taking up employment in 70 professions. Today, the number of restricted professions stands at 20 and includes senior medical, legal and engineering careers. While these restrictions were recently eased, applicants must have a valid work permit and membership in the appropriate professional representative body. Both are beyond the financial means of most Palestinian refugees.

“A major bone of contention for Lebanese nationals has been the fact that armed Palestinian groups continue to thrive in the refugee camps. When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was based in Lebanon between 1972 and 1982, it threw its lot behind the Muslim-dominated leftist forces that were engaged in civil war against the Christian-led right. [There were up to a quarter of a million fatalities during this period and one-fourth of the population were wounded.]

“In 1976, Lebanese Christian militiamen overran the Tal al-Zaatar refugee camp in East Beirut and massacred or expelled all of its residents. In 1982, Israeli forces facilitated the entry of Lebanese Christian militiamen into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut. That massacre claimed the lives of about 800 residents of the camps.

“Between 1985 and 1989, Lebanon was the scene of what became known as the Camps War, when Pro-Syrian militiamen from Amal, a Lebanese Shia movement, and anti-Arafat factions laid siege to Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and the South. Palestinian refugees suffered grim atrocities, and according to journalist Robert Fisk, the Camps War was worse than the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

“Many Lebanese believe the presence of armed Palestinians on Lebanese soil is a potential flashpoint and point to the clashes at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Northern Lebanon as a case in point. Between May and September of 2007, Nahr al-Bared was the scene of a brutal conflict between the radical Fatah al-Islam group and the Lebanese army. [At least 446 people, including 168 soldiers and 226 militants, were killed.]”

As Walid Jumblatt’s remarks indicate, the future of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will be among the first items on the agenda of Lebanon’s new parliament. In my opinion, this is revolutionary! Only one Arab country, Jordan, has allowed Palestinian refugees to become citizens and their rights there are circumscribed. Lebanon may open the door to begin integrating its refugees, after 60-plus years of segregation. This flies in the face of the usual Arab insistence that the Palestinians must be returned to their “homeland” in Israel. If this is a serious initiative, the “uprooted Palestinians” movement may be challenged by a parallel movement to assimilate the millions of Palestinian “refugees” scattered throughout the Arab world.

Stephen Kramer, Author
“Encountering Israel – Geography, History, Culture”
order in Israel from mskramer@jhu.edu
order worldwide at: www.comteqpublishing.com

July 30, 2010 | Comments »

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