Palestinian Refugees Moving into Lebanon since 1948 yet no rights!

Dr Franklin Lamb

Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, Beirut

“Some members of Parliament prefer that the camps explode and then they will insist that “Palestinian security problems must be resolved before Parliament can consider giving them civils rights”—meaning several more years of delay.That would be a disaster for all concerned.”
‘Ahmad’, Resident of Al-Buss refugee camp, Tyre, Lebanon

Following some initiial optimism after MP Walid Jumblatt’s June 15 introduction of draft legislation that would exempt Palestinians from the Kafkaesque work permit process, grant them the right to own a home outside their oxygen scarce ‘sardine can’ camps, and allow them to receive some worker paid earned social security benefits, progress has dramatically slowed .

During last week’s Parliamentary session Head of the Administration and Justice parliamentary committee, MP Robert Ghanem, reiterated his request to Berri and Parliament for a two-month “rest period”. Premier Saad Hariri called for postponing the voting for “two months or two months and a half.” Several other members asked the same. Parliament Speaker Berri quickly agreed and postponed voting on the subject until August 17, adding that “…the law will not pass unless it enjoys consensus among Lebanese parties.”

Some supporters of Palestinian civil rights see problems with more delays and with Berri’s “no passage of civil rights without consensus”. What is meant by consensus? A simple majority plus one, two-thirds or..? “ Does it mean taking no legislative action on Palrestinains civil rights unless and until MP Jumblatt can agree with MP Sami Gemayel-normally polar opposites on important issues? Others argue that Berri has no authority to require ‘consensus’ as it would likely mean any proposal will deteriorate into the lowest common denominator with virtually no rights being granted. Under the Lebanese Constitution, a law passes when it receives one more vote in favor than against and what is needed for passage is not determined by the Speaker. Some in Parliament are insisting on a straight up or down vote on bills presented on the subject of Palestinian civil rights. If Jumblatts or any other draft law garners 65 votes out of 128 it passes.
A review of Lebanon’s Parliamentary history shows that virtually all of Parliament’s important decisions have been made by a a straight up or down vote, not ’consensus’. Surely one very important vote was the one that took place on August 17, 1970. The Parliamentary vote margin that elected ‘consensus’ candidate Suleiman Frangieh President of Lebanon over Elias Sarkis was one vote, a result of last minute vote switches engineered by Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt. Forty years later to the day, August 17, 2010, the ‘consensus’ vote” on Kamel’s son Walid’s historic Palestinian Civil Rights bill is scheduled for a vote.

A propitious sign? Enshallah!

Ambivalence has spread around Parliament despite two additional measures being offered. One was introduced in Parliament in early July by the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP). This draft law most closely reflects internationally mandated civil rights for refugees and of all the proposals to date the NSSP draft is what Parliament should enact to finally remedy six decades of civil wrongs. If enacted it would remedy the serial discriminations by successive Lebanese governments since the 1969-1982, “Ayyam al-Thawra” (“the Days of the Revolution”) , when Palestinian refugees had many more employment prospects and benefited from improved camp living conditions. The SSNP proposal is a preferred “one package” solution that will avoid a protracted piece by piece process and would largely finish this urgent problem.

Faced with two substantive draft bills, the right wing Christian parties, often at odds, have joined ranks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s (“If it were up to me I would grant Palestinians their rights tomorrow”-April, 2010) Future Movement (“Muqtaqbal) to slam on the Parliamentary brakes. All the March 14th coalition except the Phalange Party have accepted this draft bill which currently has the most support in Parliament probably because it offers the refugees the least civil rights. According to its sponsors, the draft must be studied more before formally considered. A draft being circulated reveals that those refugees with a Palestinian ID Card approved by the Lebanese General Security can receive a temporary residency permit including a 5 year ‘laissez passer’ travel document but not the approximately 5000 non-ID’s who came in the 1970’s following Black September. Regrettably, this draft bill keeps the work permit and only amends Article 59 of the labor law in order to waive work permit fees for Palestinians. Nor does it allow participation in the 25 Syndicated Professions because it retains the impossible to meet Reciprocity requirements.
Some MPs are dexterous in their efforts to limit civil rights granted to Palestinians. MP Robert Ghanem, argued on 7/19/10 that work permits are good for Palestinians “because they will preserve the refugee status of Palestinians in Lebanon. We fear that if we exempted the Palestinians from a work permit, we will drop their refugee status and this does not come in line with their interests.” MP Ghanem surely is aware that being allowed to work is very much in line with the refugees interests and has nothing at all to do with “dropping their refugee status.” In fact they do not have refugee status as provided by international law. That is one of the main problems. Lebanon considers Palestinians variously as “foreigners”, “special category of foreigners” and other times a “Palestinian refugees” without allowing them the legal rights that their refugee status warrant.

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With respect to Social Security benefits, the March 14 proposal requires that refugees pay into the Lebanese Social Security Fund but allows only for end of service and a family allowance payment. Its specifically forbids sickness, accident or maternity benefits to Palestinian refugees. Without health and accident coverage the incentive to even seek a work permit wanes. This ‘consensus’ proposal is more of a gesture than a solution and unless redrafted remains a bare bones proposal that will do little to provide internationally mandated civil rights. Nor will it satisfy the pursuit of genuine rights among Lebanon’s Palestinians, increasingly insisted on by the international community. Many Palestinians and their supporters are critical of this latest proposal and see it as offering ‘a little something’ that will allow its supporters to say, as one MP boasted last week: , “we will finally have achieved something for the refugees and anyhow, how much more can we be expected to squeeze from our flesh for these Palestinians?”

No Enshallah please! Just tell us Yes or No ok?

Meanwhile scores of Palestinians protested outside Parliament last week as Palestinian frustration continues to mount in the camps over delays in granting civil rights. Parliamentary Speaker Nabeh Berri’s office when pressed for a statement whether Parliament would take action this summer on the various bills would only offer a one word response:
“Enshallah”
As a foreigner in Lebanon this observor has come to really despise the Arabic word ‘Enshallah’. True, it sounds nice enough and more likely than not it comes from lips with a smile, and the literal tranlation is good also: “God willing”.
However in reality, it’s a deadly and vicious expression that every guide book publisher on Lebanon has a moral duty to warn their readers about. For the real meanings of “Enshallah” are: , “probably not”, “almost certainly not going to happen”, “forget about it fool”, or simply, “no way and go away!” So if one is presented with the response, ‘Enshallah’, whether by the office of the Speaker of Lebanon’s Parliament , or from someone you might be asking out on a date or trying to get something done in Lebnaon, or tying to get civil rights legislation enacted into law, one has a big chance of being disappointed.

In Lebanon’s Parliament, about the worst thing that can happen to a members pet legislative initiative is to have it placed in “the Enshallah drawer”, meaning it is set aside for ‘Enshalleh’ considertion sometime in the ‘Enshallah’ future. Often never to be heard from. Some fear this is what may happen to proposals to grant Palestinian refugees their internatioally mandadated right to work and to own a home.

Other reasons for Parliamentary delay?

Some Parliament watchers speculate that certain members seek to delay granting Palestinians civil rights until the Special Tribunal for Lebanon hands down expected indictments, concerning the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. They calculate the STL announcements will dramatically increase Lebanese-Palestinian tensions. Change and Reform parliamentary bloc MP Michel Aoun (Free Patriotic Movement leader), no advocate of any meaningful civil rights for Palestinians, is warning of a US ‘green lighted’ Israeli invasion of Lebanon if the STL indicts “uncontrolled” Hezbollah members. Others claim the main problem is that Lebanon cannot move beyond the 1975-1990 Civil War and raising in Parliament the subject of Palestinians brings up also many painful memories that most of the confessions wish to forget.

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While some political analysts in Lebanon think there is a chance that Parliament may well ease the restrictions on the right to work, there is still strong opposition to granting Palestinian refugees the internationally recognized right to own real property or even a single home–an international right allowed in all other countries. As a scare tactic on this issue the specter of ‘Naturalization’ is again raised even though it has nothing to do with home ownership.

If Israelis can buy homes in Lebanon why not Palestinian refugees?

There is no shortage of Lebanese politicians who will explain why Palestinian home ownership is out of the question including the claim that there is simply not enough land in crowded Lebnaon for foreigingers to be allowed to purchase any. Kataeb-Phalance bloc MP Elie Marouni told his followers on Bastille Day last week “that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will never be naturalized as long as there are Christian believers who will sacrifice themselves for the sake of Lebanon. We don’t have the space.” His colleague and Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel warned the day before that “granting Palestinians the right to own property would lead to their naturalization”.

Neither of these leaders, has explained why during the half century (1948-2001) when Palestinian refugees were allowed to own property the question of “naturalization” was never an issue. There was no problem. The fact is that the assertion that ‘naturalization’ would be the result of a refugee family owning a home is false and it is was invented solely for the reason that it provides ‘raw meat’ for detractors who basically don’t want any rights for any Palestinians no matter what the facts are.

According to Lebanese Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil: “Fanning the coals of ‘naturalization’ is a recent bogeyman meant to scare Christians who already are nervous because their numbers continue to shrink. Generally more affluent than other sects, they are able to leave Lebanon for better prospects. If Palestinians were able to work and became a bit more affluent many of them would leave also but that fact appears lost on those who prefer to keep them in squalid camps in Lebanon rather than allowing them to work and perhaps move out of Lebanon.”

The ‘not enough land for foreigners’ claim is faulty on two grounds. Regarding population density, in Saida’s Ein el Helwe Camp, the largest of the 12 in Lebanon, approximately 90,000 refugees are tightly packed into less than 1 km sq. area whereas the average Lebanese population density is close to 350 persons per sq, km.

Foreigners buy as much land in Lebanon as they wish and can afford despite the ‘legal’ limitations for foreigners of 3,000 sq. meters in Beirut and 5000 sq. meters outside Beirut. Foreigners regularly ignore the “law” and sometimes pay bribes to purchase whatever land they want and sometmes even citizenship.

Free Patriotic Movement leader and Hezbollah ally MP Michel Aoun is calling for a new law to reclaim property from foreign owners in response to complaints about his voicing strong objection to granting Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the right to own property.

“We can’t issue a law that gives the Palestinians the right to own property, but we can issue a law to reclaim properties owned by foreigners,” Aoun said with a straight face, adding that “Christian parties didn’t act with prejudice when the issue of civil rights for Palestinian refugees was raised. “Our stance is similar to that of the Phalange Party and the draft law would only be put to the vote of the parliament after being studied,” Aoun added. Some in Lebanon are waiting to see if General Aoun’s “No buying a little bit of Lebanon” law gets introduced in Parliament and what the US Congress and Arab league reaction will be if it does.

BayIt BeyLebnan? ( Hebrew for ‘your home in Lebanon?’)

The Israeli-American Likud banker and warmonger Irving I. Moscowitz, financial backer of the archeological tunnel in east Jerusalem and supporter, financially or otherwise, of virtually all Zionist groups developing stolen Palestinian land including his own properties in Maale Adumim, Har Homa in Palestinian east Jerusalem and Beitar Illit is claimed to have moved into the real estate market in Lebanon.

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Regarding occupied Palestine, Moscowitz has for years advised would be investors, (ignoring the Geneva Conventions and settled International law) at Jewish only “real estate fairs” in American and European Synagogues : “Your investment is insured, protected and 100% legal. You should consider strengthening your portfolio and Israel’s future!”
Moscowitz is said to expect competition for Lebanese land from Lev Leviev, who the NYT refers to as ‘the missionary mogul”. Leviev, now the world’s largest cutter and polisher of diamonds, also specializes in illegal real estate developments on stolen Palestinian land. Leviev’s , Leader Management and Development, is currently building the settlement of Zufim on Palestinian land in the illegally occupied West Bank. When asked recently by Ha’aretz Daily if he has a problem building on expropriated Arab land he replied, “For me, Israel, Jerusalem, Lebanon are all the same.”So are the Golan Heights. As far as I’m concerned, all of Eretz Israel is holy. To decide the future of Jerusalem? It belongs to the Jewish people. What is there to decide? Jerusalem is not a topic for discussion.”

Both tell associates that with their American partners, they are moving into the Lebanese real estate market which they find attractive. If true, Lebanon’s Parliament might want to consider using some of the extra time they have extended themselves this summer, currently being devoted to sounding the ‘chicken little sky is falling’ alarm about Palestinians wanting to exercise their internationally mandated civil right to own a home pending their return to Palestine. Parliament should investigate claims that “American” companies”, some with 100% Israeli stockholders are buying up Lebanese land and using bribes to avoid Lebanese law.

‘Darwish’, a school teacher in South Lebanon explained this week what many Palestinains feel:
“My family home and property were stolen by Zionist thugs in Akka in 1948 and also our cousins home outside Jerusalem. If you look at the current advertisement in Israeli newspapers, (‘Darwish shows a copy of an ad he printed off the internet from Haaretz.com that reads, “Own a little piece of Switzerland” which describes a quaint Swiss like scene, and it shows a bucollic vista that Darwish claims was his family’s village, now a Zionist colony.) so you see this is my problem. In Palestine our home was stolen and in Lebanon I cannot own one. Worse than this, it bothers me and my family that Zionists can now sell my land in Palestine to foreigners while as a Palestinian in Lebanon I cannot buy a temporary home. Israelies can invest their profits from our stolen Palestinian land and they can build homes in Lebanon and sell to other foreigners, but Palestinians can’t buy a home here. We have heard that some of the same “American and European” companines that sell our Palesitnian land to foreigners in Palestinian now operate in Lebanon. One ‘Ameican’ company is reported to have 11 stockholders. All of them Israelis”.

Parliament appears to be ‘playing’ the Palestinians this summer, as well as ‘playing’ the international community that expects more courage, compassion and respect for international human rights from a gifted people. Parliament risks degrading Lebanon in the process and its leaders should schedule a straight up vote without further dilatory tactics such a ‘more study’ and ‘building near unanimous consensus’ that appears designed to produce the lowest common denominator which means that without political will and courage it will likely produce not much at all. Regarding six decades of annual calls for ‘more study of this sensitive problem’ there are already more than 30 studies completed just since 2000. They unanimously conclude what nearly every ten years old in Lebanon understands needs to be done and that is to grant the internationally mandated right to work, to own, inherit and bequeath a home, and access to some social security protection without further dilatory tactics.

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign as mission of his life. He blogs at Palestinian CivilRights Campaign.

Dr Lamb is a frequent contributor to www.oly.com.pk

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