[News] Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Righting a Perpetual Wrong

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 28 11:25:41 EDT 2010

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Righting a Perpetual Wrong

By <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/ramzybaroud>Ramzy Baroud

Monday, June 28, 2010

Finally, a parliamentary debate in Lebanon over 
the human rights of Palestinian refugees. What is 
unfortunate though, is that granting basic civil 
rights to over 400,000 Palestinians - 62 years 
after their expulsion from their historic 
homeland and the issuing of the Universal 
Declaration of Human Rights – has been a topic of 
‘debate’ in the first place. Equally regrettable 
is the fact that various ‘Christian’ Lebanese 
political forces are fiercely opposing granting Palestinians their rights.

Most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are second 
and third generation refugees. Impoverished camps 
are the only homes they have ever known. In 
Palestine, their real home, their villages were 
destroyed, their fields were burnt down and their 
culture was eradicated. An ongoing attempt at 
erasing every aspect of the Palestinian Arab 
identity in today’s Israel continues unabated, 
strengthened by the rightwing government of Prime 
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Foreign 
Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is recognized in 
many political circles as ‘fascist’.

But what 62 years of dispossession, massacres and 
untold hardship failed to destroy - the memory 
and the belonging - will certainly not be 
eliminated now by some rightwing politicians and 
few parliamentary bills at the Israeli Knesset, 
including one that forbids Palestinians from 
commemorating their Nakba (Catastrophe of 1947-48).

The ongoing debate in the Lebanese parliament, 
however, is of a different nature. Lebanon is 
striving to settle many hanging political 
questions. Despite Israel’s devastating wars, a 
more confident Lebanese populace is emerging. 
This was largely empowered by the success of the 
Lebanese military resistance to Israel. A country 
of law and order is replacing that of chaos and 
turmoil, and a level of political independence is 
making some promising appearances after decades 
of total political dependency and proxy civil wars.

However, there are those who want Lebanon to 
remain a country divided on sectarian lines, a 
characteristic that defined Lebanese society for 
generations. Only such a division could guarantee 
their survival at the helm of dismal clan-based, 
sectarian hierarchy that has long degraded the 
image of the country, and allowed outsiders, 
notwithstanding Israel, to manipulate the fragile 
structure for their own benefit.

The denial of rights for Palestinian refugees in 
Lebanon is an old subject that often resurfaces 
as a political ploy to serve immediate interests. 
This time, however, things seem to be different. 
Lebanon needs to move forward. Denying 400,000 
people living a most wretched existence in 
scattered refugee camps, surrounding by mass 
graves, military checkpoints and no political 
horizon whatsoever is not conducive to the 
process of political and social progress.

Of course, those who dread the possibility of a 
modern Lebanon unified by one common identity – 
one that is not held hostage to sectarian 
allegiances or tribal affiliations – want 
Palestinian refugees to remain perpetual victims. 
The good news is that the bill is supported by 
who are otherwise political rivals in Lebanese 
politics - Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime 
minister of the Future Movement, and Hezbollah and Amal, among others.

The bill, introduced by the Progressive Socialist 
Party (PSP) on June 15 “would cancel prohibitions 
on property ownership and social security 
benefits for Palestinians, and ease restrictions 
on their right to work,” according to Human 
Rights Watch. Nadim Houry, HRW director in 
Beirut, said, “Lebanon has marginalized 
Palestinian refugees for too long (and the) 
parliament should seize this opportunity to turn 
the page and end discrimination against Palestinians.”

Indeed, it is an opportunity. But MPs from the 
Free Patriotic Movement, Phalange and Lebanese 
Forces are strongly opposing the measure. 
Phalange official Sami Gemayel, for example, has 
tried to delay the measure, hoping perhaps to 
deflate the strong movement that no longer 
tolerates denying Palestinian refugees their 
basic rights. “A matter that has created a number 
of crises for more than 60 years could not be 
tackled within three days,” the Lebanese Daily 
Star quoted him as saying. Of course he could not 
help but infuse the same old tired mantra, 
stressing that “integrating the Palestinians in 
the Lebanese society would undermine their right 
of return and fulfill an Israeli demand.”

Not one Lebanese could possibly believe that a 
Phalange official - whose party worked with 
Israeli forces in the summer of 1982 to 
orchestrate and carry out the killing of 
thousands of defenseless Palestinian refugees in 
the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps - could 
truly be concerned about the Palestinian sense of 
belonging, identity and right of return. It is 
obvious that the measure could embolden refugees 
into demanding full integration into Lebanese 
society, which would completely undermine the 
foundation of the sectarian society that the 
Phalange official stalwartly champions.

But why should Palestinian refugees be humiliated 
for no fault of their own? Why should they live 
under the choice that they either suffer under 
draconian measures or risk losing their right of 
return? It’s like repeatedly punishing the victim 
for ‘allowing’ his victimhood. The fact is, 
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, like Palestinian 
refugees elsewhere are utterly clear regarding 
their right of return and their adherence to that 
right. They need not to be fined or jailed for 
adding a bedroom to their ramshackle homes in the 
refugee camps. They need not be treated like 
tenth class citizens to be reminded of their love 
for Palestine, the names of their destroyed 
villages, and the memories of their ancestors.

It is ironic how Mr. Gemayel found it implausible 
to reach a solution regarding the acknowledgement 
of Palestinian refugees basic rights in three 
days, while it was astoundingly achievable to 
butcher thousands of innocent civilians by 
Phalange forces in 36-48 hours in Sabra and Shatilla on September 16, 1982.

The survivors of those camps, and the rest don’t 
wish to impede the ‘Christian’ parties’ bid for 
demographic and sectarian ‘balance’ in Lebanon. 
Their home is Palestine and they cannot wait to 
return. But, until that day arrives, there is no 
need to deny them the most basic of rights and 
infringe upon their very dignity. One can only 
hope that Lebanon’s new political development 
overpowers those who wish to keep the country 
fragmented, sectarian and forever hostage to the ghosts of its colonial past.

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