Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lebanon and the Palestinian Refugees: Ill treatment Creates a Time Bomb?

The scandalously ill treatment of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continues unchecked. Despite all the emotional support for Gaza, the Palestinian situation in Lebanon continues to be miserable. The excuses given by the Lebanese political figures are the national consensus on rejection of naturalization of these refugees and protecting the right of return. Only politicians that are raised on pure sectarianism would accept these excuses as justification for violating human rights and norms of decency in dealing with the refugees.

The Syrian’s Brother is the Lebanese’s Threat
The late President of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat was asked about the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and he responded that there are Palestinian refugees in the whole world, not only in Lebanon, and that when a solution is found to the refugee issue, those of Lebanon are first in line. Despite this assurance, the Lebanese sectarian regime continues in its criminal policy that continues to violate international norms and human decency in its treatment of the refugees. Only in Lebanon are the refugees so mistreated. Compare the ill treatment in Lebanon to the Syrian treatment. Syria, which the superficially Westernized/sectarian to the core Lebanese call all the names in the book, extends all rights to its refugees- except voting and citizenship. This is true to Syria’s longstanding commitment to Arab unity and solidarity. The Palestinian is treated as a brother and a cause and not as a burden and a threat. Incidentally the sectarian regime of Lebanon perceives the refugees the same way that Israel thinks of the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship- a burden and a threat.

Shooting Lebanon in the Foot
But this ill treatment in Lebanon is a misguided policy. It is a policy that is a threat to the stability of Lebanon. In a report issued on February 19 entitled “Nurturing Instability: Lebanon's Palestinian Refugee Camps,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a warning to Lebanon about this ill treatment and provided recommendations to the government of Lebanon.

Deprivation Creates a Time Bomb
The ICG aptly describes the Palestinian refugees as a time bomb. “Marginalised, deprived of basic political and economic rights, trapped in the camps, bereft of realistic prospects, heavily armed and standing atop multiple fault lines – inter-Lebanese, inter-Palestinian and inter-Arab – the refugee population constitutes a time bomb. Until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved, a comprehensive approach is required that clarifies the Palestinians’ status, formally excludes their permanent settlement in Lebanon, significantly improves their living conditions and, through better Lebanese-Palestinian and inter-Palestinian coordination, enhances camp management.”

The Lebanese State’s Shameful Distinction
The ICG report spared no punches. “The Lebanese state distinguished itself by shameful treatment of its refugee population. Today, the refugee question is intricately related to Lebanon’s sectarian divisions. Palestinians are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims and, as the prospect of any significant return of refugees – most of whom have never set foot in their former homeland – to Israel diminishes, fear has revived of their permanent settlement or naturalisation (tawtin) in Lebanon, which would affect the confessional balance. The Christian leadership in particular has played on such apprehension, deploying it as a tool to mobilise its base. In turn, successive governments have enacted measures to foreclose any such possibility, notably by ensuring that refugees live in extremely precarious conditions. Refugee camps are denied basic public services; Palestinians face severe employment restrictions; and, more recently, have been denied property rights.”

Denial of Property Rights
Recently the Al- Akhbar Lebanese newspaper, the only Lebanese paper that pays attention to Palestinian grievances and has been exposing the vile duplicity of love of Palestine and ill treatment of its refugees, had an article on the crisis of refugees unable to inherit the property left to them by their family members. The Palestinian refugees are not allowed to own real property. Even those refugees who hold the citizenship of a third country are not allowed to own real property in Lebanon. The descendants of a deceased Palestinian cannot inherit the real property of their deceased family members.

ICG Recommendations or International Complaints
The ICG issued a number of recommendations to the government of Lebanon. It urged it to:
“1. Adopt a law clearly defining and delimiting the notion of settlement/naturalisation (tawtin) that will
a) restrict tawtin to the acquisition of Lebanese citizenship and/or the right to vote; and
b) provide Palestinian refugees with all fundamental rights short of tawtin, including the right to work and to own property.”
It is doubtful that the confessional elite would heed the call of the ICG. Only action at international tribunals raising the issue of violations of international laws and norms has a hope of making any change to these policies.

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