What are the Odds?
The Case for Palestinian Rights in Lebanon
By FRANKLIN LAMB
Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp,
As of mid-April 2010 there are no fewer than six draft laws, half of them "embargoed for now' being circulated and debated in Lebanon, any one of which if adopted by Parliament, would grant Lebanon's Palestinians, for the first time since their 1948 expulsion from Palestine, some elementary civil rights including the right to work, to have an ID, and to own a home.
In a future report I will reveal publicly for the first time, with the permission of the various drafting committees, the changes in Lebanon's laws each one advocates. Despite the fact that bookies and odd makers at Lebanon's main Casino in Jounieh decline to give odds on any of the drafts actually being enacted by Parliament, Lebanon's political leaders are talking sweet. "If it were up to me, I would give the Palestinians the right to work tomorrow!" Prime Minister Saad Hariri exclaimed during a Future TV channel interview recently and to various visiting delegations who are increasingly inquiring about the subject of basic civil rights for Palestine refugees as awareness spreads in Lebanon and internationally about camp conditions in Lebanon. The PM's polite interviewer demurred from asking him why the Prime Minister thought it was not up to him and indeed not up to all members of Parliament to correct this shameful and dangerous injustice.
Hezbollah's leadership, including Sayeed Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy, former chemistry professor, Naim Qasim, and Hezbollah's Parliamentary delegation, among other party leaders, have repeatedly endorsed civil rights for Palestinians in Lebanon as obligatory given the Resistance movement's "religious, moral, national and humanitarian duty".
No Lebanese political leader has been more consistently out front in support of Palestinian civil rights than Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. He advocates "civil rights now' and organized and funded a Progressive Socialist Party conference last January which brought together scores of leaders to push for Parliamentary passage of the right to work, to own a home and social security entitlements.
Other leaders have also expressed their views that granting Palestinians civil rights is needed for many reasons including lifting Lebanon's shame.
So why are the odd makers at Casino in Beirut so skittish about giving some friendly odds on passage of civil rights for Palestinian refugees? " You foreigners are so naïve with short memories also!" Saddam (not his real name), an "entrepreneur" and bon vivant explained from the Casino parking lot last week, as he surveyed his domain which includes "comfort vans' in dark corners of the adjacent parking structure.
"Nobody should bet one Lira on the word of a Lebanese politician!", he explains. "Consider just the past year. Remember all those young people who worked so hard during the last election for candidates all over Lebanon who swore on the heads of their children that the youth would get to vote next time and the voting age would absolutely be lowered from 21 years to 18? And then refused to change the law and betrayed the youth and now ask why the young are so cynical about politics? And women. Don't get me started on the subject of women's rights! Women in Lebanon were promised all during the 2009 election that they would finally be granted civil rights so at least they could bestow Lebanese nationality on their children. They were also 'guaranteed' a fair share of slots on the municipal elections ballots. They were betrayed and got no civil rights and were limited to a mere 20 per cent of the municipal election slots although they number more than 50 per cent of the voters. Four women out of 128 members in Parliament? What kind of a democracy is this? Politicians have promised Lebanese women civil rights for more than 100 years and they got nothing.
"I am from Saida and every election the local politicians say the Saida Trash Mountain, which pollutes the sea and everything else around Saida and up the coast of Lebanon, will be removed and cleaned up. Last election my MP Fuad Sinioria, a guy I like, promised it 'for sure' this time. As usual, nothing was done. Then just last week, with an eye on the coming municipal election my MP Sinioria again announced--here look at this. Do you read Arabic?" Saddam shows me a newspaper with Sinioria's photo on the front page next to a photo of Saida's huge Trash Mountain, which has been growing higher and wider for 37 years--since the start of the Lebanese civil war. "Here's what it says: 'Local political leaders announce that solutions to Sidon's collapsing waste dump are on the horizon' What does this mean, "on the horizon'? Well, so is judgment day!'' Saddam fumes, as he continues, "In short, that is why no one should hold his breath waiting for Parliament to do what should have been done as soon as the refugees came from Palestine." "Excuse me, I have to look after business."
Saddam mumbles as he approaches one of his vans, looking at his watch and shaking his head while muttering, "Time's up! Ya Allah! (Let's go!) She rents by the hour, not the week!" In addition to general skepticism about Lebanese politicians "sweet words" there are plenty of doubts being expressed about granting civil rights to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Among them is the following sampling with rebuttals from the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon: "If we grant civil rights to Palestinian Refugees it would interfere with their Right of Return!" The spurious "would interfere with the Right of Return" argument has been used by some in Lebanon to justify all manner of discriminations against Palestine refugees. For example, in relation to the prohibitions against improving or renovation of existing refugee camps, some politicians have claimed that the renovation ban is to prevent the consolidation of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon and prevent the US-Israel backed resettlement hence destroying the principle behind the right of return.
In point of fact, the granting of civil rights to Lebanon's Palestinian refugees, including the economic, social, and cultural rights in no way prejudices their Right of Return. The right to return to one's own country is based in international law and is the most obvious way to redress the situation of those who were forced to live in exile. The internationally mandated Right to Return applies not just to those who were directly expelled and their immediate families, but also to those of their descendants who have maintained what the United Nations has declared are "close and enduring connections" with the area.
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