[News] Fight in Lebanon for elementary civil rights for Palestinians refugees

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 18 11:52:39 EDT 2010


http://www.counterpunch.org/lamb08182010.html

August 18, 2010


A 15-Minute Sop for Refugees


Chickenfeed for the Soul

By FRANKLIN LAMB

Beirut.

At 3:02 p.m. on August 17 Lebanon’s Parliament 
began its deliberation on granting basic civil 
rights to its Palestinian refugees and within 
four minutes agreed to alter article 50 of 
Lebanon’s 1964 labor law to theoretically make it 
easier for Palestinian refugees to obtain a work 
permit and a job. There was no discussion of 
other draft bills to grant Palestinian refugees 
elementary civil rights, and fifteen minutes 
later, by 3:17 p.m. Parliament had agreed on the 
next bill involving excavating for oil, which may 
bring millions to some well placed members. Many 
MP’s hadn’t studied either bill.

Thus did the bell ring on Round One of the fight 
in Lebanon for elementary civil rights for Palestinians refugees.

The members of Parliament decided to do 
essentially nothing to meet Lebanon’s legal, 
moral, religious, social and political 
obligations to her unwanted refugees. Parliaments 
gesture will likely not improve the lives of 
many, if even a handful, of the hundreds of 
thousands of refugees, 62 years after their 
expulsion from their homes and lands in Palestine.

The morning after Parliament amended the Labor 
law and cancelled the work permit fee for 
Palestinian refugees, the mainstream media 
including CNN, AP, Reuters, AFP among others 
appeared to misunderstand what had occurred. CNN: 
“In Lebanon, new legislation will give 
Palestinians full employment rights. By the CNN 
Wire Staff.” CNN broadcast: “The body OK'd 
legislation giving the refugees full employment 
rights and social security and will allow them to work in any job.”

Hardly.

The NYT is reported that “Lebanon passed a law on 
Tuesday granting Palestinian refugees here the 
same rights to work as other foreigners.”

Not accurate.

Some leading politicians also got it wrong. Fares 
Soueid, the General Coordinator for the March 14 
coalition declared at his news conference:

“We gave to Palestinians the right to work in 
Lebanon, like all Arabic workers have the right to work in Lebanon.”

A huge overstatement.

Unfortunately, Lebanon did not grant its 
Palestinian refugees meaningful civil rights on 
August 17 or even significantly improve their 
work prospects. What it did do was cancel the 
work permit fee ( which was never a big problem) 
and allow for the setting up of a private Social 
Security Fund (not the Lebanese National Security 
Fund as misreported in much of the media.) The 
Palestinian Private Fund was a compromise. 
Hezbollah switched its support from using the 
State Fund which it had earlier proposed , to the 
Private Fund idea, under pressure from Christian 
ally Michel Aoun. If the Private Fund is set up 
it will be paid for by Palestinian workers 
themselves and hoped-for private donations. 
Insisting on a shadowy, opaque “consensus vote” 
rather than a more democratic, simple majority 
roll call, Parliament decided on the lowest 
common denominator by which all the MP’s were 
essentially given a veto. What it produced was a 
weak, emasculated bill unworthily of the label: Civil rights law.

MP Walid Jumblatt, author of his Druze 
Progressive Socialist Party June 15, 2010 draft 
bill, which would have actually granted some 
substantive civil rights, appeared to throw in 
the towel without even stepping into the ring. 
However to his credit, Jumblatt confessed this 
morning that he will do better next Round and 
told Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper: "The second, 
more serious battle is ahead: And it is home 
ownership rights. I won't give up, and what has 
been accomplished today is only the outcome of 
consensus among everyone but home ownership 
rights remains pending, and it is very important."

The excellent Syrian Socialist National Party 
bill, which meets international legal standards 
for treatment of refugees, supported by many 
human rights organizations including most NGOs as 
well as the Palestine Civil Rights 
Campaign-Lebanon and the Sabra Shatila Foundation was not even considered.

Within the Palestinian and NGO community there is 
widespread disappointment and frustration. Ziad 
Sayegh, an expert on Palestinian refugee rights 
in Lebanon said that the new legislation would 
have little effect in changing the overall social 
and economic situation on the refugees.

According to scholar Suheil al- Natour, Director 
of a Palestinian Human Rights Center based in Mar 
Elias Camp, "They spent a long time on 
discussions which emptied the law of any real 
meaning, and I wish they had put it off so we 
could push for a better version
Those who voted 
yesterday are suggesting that what they did will 
alleviate the burdens on the Palestinian 
community. This is not true. We will not have the 
full right to work, they law will not apply to 
the more than 30 syndicated professions, we do 
not have any rights for property. We do not have 
free movement. Our camps are surrounded by the 
army. We will not reduce this catastrophic 
situation by just some changes to Article 50 of 
the 1964 Labor law which may not even help many Palestinians get jobs.”

Among the jobs still prohibited to Palestinians 
are more than 30 professions including medicine, 
law, dentistry, engineering, nursing, and all 
technical professions in the construction sector 
and its derivatives such as tiling, coating, 
plastering, installation of aluminum, iron, wood 
or decoration works and the like; teaching at the 
elementary, intermediate and secondary levels 
with the exception of foreign language teaching 
when necessary; hairdressing, ironing and 
dry-cleaning upholstery; publishing, printing, 
engineering work in all specialties, smithery and 
upholstery work; all kinds of work in pharmacies, 
drug warehouses and medical laboratories. In 
general all occupations and professions which can 
be filled by Lebanese nationals and have guild or 
syndicate memberships, money changer, real estate 
agent, taxi driver or driver training instructor, 
registered nurse or assistant nurse, or other 
jobs in the medical field, that have 
syndicates;licensed health controller, medical 
laboratory worker, clinical health industry jobs, 
prosthetic devices fitter, certified accountants, 
dental laboratory, science technician, jobs 
relating to nutrition and meals, topography, 
physiotherapy, veterinary medicine.

Also, a key factor will be if and how the new law 
is actually implemented. Changes made in 2005 to 
the labor law were never implemented and Lebanon 
has a long history of passing laws and not ever 
implementing them. The role of the international 
human rights community is now to monitor and 
assure that laws regarding refugees in Lebanon 
are fully implemented without interminable delays.

The winners and the losers

The big winners today are: Israel and the US, the 
Christian right-wing Kateib (Phalange) party, the 
Lebanese Forces, the National Party, Maronite 
Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, and Hezbollah ally and 
head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Michel Aoun, 
all of whom opposed meaningful civil rights for 
Palestinians. Also, the politically fractured 
pro-Saudi March 14th coalition and even Syria. 
The latter will be the likely beneficiary from 
any explosions inside the camps as the refugees 
exist in the pressure cooker camps and denied the 
safety value of basic civil rights.

The big losers today are: Palestinian refugees in 
Lebanon, those under occupation in Palestine and 
those in the Diaspora. A meaningful victory would 
have given them some hope as their struggles for Justice continue.

Also Lebanon, who will now face mounting 
international pressure to comply with her 
international legal obligations plus efforts to 
cut off US aid based on the requirements of the 
1961 US Foreign Assistance Act regarding 
deprivation of civil rights, and for which 
purpose a lawsuit in being prepared in Washington 
DC. In addition, he UN Human Rights Council may 
sanction Lebanon if its long overdue Universal 
Periodic Review (UPR) of treatment of Palestinian 
refugee scheduled to be discussed in Geneva in 
December is found wanting. Lebanon plans to tell 
the UN Human Rights Council that its record is ok 
now since it amended its exclusionary labor law 
which should now help Palestinians get jobs. One 
Lebanese official stated off the record that this 
was one of the main reasons Parliament did 
anything for the Palestinians on August 17.

It remains to be seen how the Council views 
Lebanon’s meager accomplishment. Lebanon will 
also face an internal civil rights movement and 
calls for BDS as international activists become 
more aware of the degradation in Lebanon’s camps 
and Lebanon refusing its international 
obligations. Plans to picket the Lebanese Embassy 
in Washington DC until civil rights are granted 
to Palestinians refugees are underway. Did 
Hezbollah doze? Apart from its other current 
problems, Hezbollah, normally receiving 
widespread Palestinian support, is being asked by 
some in the camps what became of the role of the 
Islamic Resistance to the Zionist occupation of 
Palestine. One angry resident of Shatila camp 
criticized the Resistance this morning and explained:

“In 1982 I saw the Israelis watching us from on 
top on their military administrative building 
west of the camp and 200 meters away from Rue 
Sabra, as the slaughter was happening. In 2010 I 
can see the Resistance in their administrative 
building 200 meters to the East of the center of 
the camp and they can see us. When the wind 
shifts from the sea they can smell the sewage in 
the camps alleys. Neither in 1982 or 2010 can it 
be claimed that observers looking down into the 
camps did not know about conditions inside 
Shatila. What kind of resistance is Hezbollah 
leading? Resistance to we Palestinians being allowed some basic civil rights?”

It was probably appropriate that Lebanese Forces 
leader MP Samir Geagea was the first to the 
microphones to claim victory after Parliament 
deliberated for a few minutes to deny Palestinian 
refugees any meaningful civil rights. Geagea 
welcomed the parliament’s approval of his 
proposed amendment to Article 50 of the 1964 
Labor Code to “ grant work permits to Palestinian 
refugees.” The amendment to the 1964 labor law 
was the least Parliament could have done and 
still be able to say it did anything at all. It 
will not, as Geagea assured his followers, 
“resolve the Palestinian humanitarian issues in 
Lebanon....” Geagea explained that there is no 
possibility of granting Palestinian refugees the 
right to own property. “Lebanon cannot solve the 
Palestinian issue on its own” the Palestinians 
nemesis for the past four decades declared.

In fact, Geagea spoke the truth without realizing 
it. Civil rights for refugees everywhere, 
including Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, is the 
responsibility of the international community 
which has adopted relevant international 
conventions which have been implemented virtually 
everywhere but in Lebanon and Israel. The 
international community, and the NGOs and 
activists in the West and elsewhere who claim to 
support justice for Palestine must now act to 
encourage Lebanon to meet its international 
obligations by granting meaningful civil rights 
including the unfettered right to work and to own a home.

The mild gesture Lebanon made on August 17 will 
not grant Palestinian refugees here their 
internationally mandated civil rights. Not by a 
long shot. Perhaps the most that can be said in 
Lebanon’s favor is that it took a first tentative 
step. Hopefully, symbolically it will break the 
stereotype against Palestinians a bit and show 
the public that the sky did not fall in by 
yesterday’s gesture and will ease the stress 
concerning granting some meaningful civil rights.

As the Lebanese like to say, “step by step.” For 
the quarter million Palestinian refugees stuck in 
squalor in Lebanon’s 12 camps and the 75,000 in 
the 42 ‘gatherings’, the cause of civil rights in 
Lebanon endures and the dream of returning to Palestine is alive.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and 
can be reached <mailto:atfplamb at gmail.com>atfplamb at gmail.com




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