Tawtin or Return: Divergent views from Lebanon, but one common goal
Shatila Camp, Beirut
Lebanese opponents of civil rights for Palestinian Refugees often use
less objective and more crude wording to define "tawtin"
("settlement") than is normally employed in civil society discussions.
During last summer's debate in parliament, which failed to enact laws
that would allow the world's oldest and largest refugee community the
basic civil right to work and to own a home, the "tawtin or return"
discussion took on strident and dark meanings, which were largely
effective in frightening much of the Lebanese public from supporting
even these modest humanitarian measures. Right-wing opponents of
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon often define tawtin during public
discussions as "implantation" (as in inserting a foreign malignant
object or virus into Lebanon's body politic), or "grafting,"
"insertion," "impalement," "forced integration," "embedding"
"impregnation", or "patriation".
The concept's varied meanings among a largely uninformed Lebanese
public have by and large prevented a balanced consideration of the
provision in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that includes "a just
solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in
accordance with UNGAR 194."
The discussion in Lebanon has centered on presumed Palestinian desires
to stay in Lebanon at all costs, as opposed to returning to their
country Palestine. The large anti-Palestinian political community has
kept the discussion focused on the API's language: "the rejection of
all forms of Palestinian patriation [tawtin] which conflict with the
special circumstances of the Arab host countries."
The concept, indeed the very word " tawtin" , was used in the summer of 2010 as
an emotional bludgeon or cudgel embodying all manner of dire social predictions
from the political parties representing the Phalange, Liberal Party,
Lebanese Forces, and Free Patriotic Movement's leader General Michel
Virtually all opponents of Palestinian civil rights
claimed that tawtin would ruin Lebanon. This was arguably the main
reason that there was a broad-based consensus in support of the
parliamentary decision of August 17, 2011 to do essentially nothing to
enact relief for Lebanon's quarter million Palestinian refugees.
It was a spurious argument because very few in Lebanon, and even fewer
in the Palestinian community, have any desire to see tawtin actually
implemented. One remarkable aspect of last year's tawtin "debate" was
that, in private discussions, few politicians publicly decrying its
dangers really thought tawtin was a realistic threat to Lebanon.
Nonetheless, the chimera was used to maintain a power base in their
own sect or community. These political leaders assumed that their
supporters wanted no rights for Palestinians in Lebanon; tawtin was a
useful political boogie man. This view was not only common in various
Christian sects but also among many Druze and Muslims. Numerous
politicians have explained in private that their supporters by and
large still believed that the Palestinian refugees were the cause of
Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war and many of Lebanon's current woes and
wanted them out of Lebanon as soon as possible.
Another political factor contributing to the false depiction of tawtin
were widely-rumored American and Israeli plans to use tawtin to
permanently settle thousands of Lebanon's Palestinian refugees in
Lebanon and thus take pressure off of Israel to implement United
Nations Security Council Resolution 194's right of return mandate.
These suggestions by visiting US officials during last summer's parliamentary
examination of tawtin and return riled segments of the Lebanese public
and provided grist for right-wing elements to politically, socially
and economically squeeze Palestinian refugees yet again.
Palestinian refugees' views regarding tawtin were unfortunately rather
muted or not credited during 2010 discussions in Lebanon and
parliament. Occasional statements by Palestine Liberation Organization
leaders that Palestinian refugees were grateful for Lebanon's
hospitality and realized that they had overstayed their welcome, but
that they had every desire and determination to return to Palestine,
were largely ignored.
The fears of certain elements of Lebanese society about tawtin are
unwarranted. The oft-expressed view that Palestinians secretly want to
stay in Lebanon and abandon their right to return has been
consistently refuted by Palestinian public opinion surveys, academic
studies, and most compellingly by the statements of Lebanon's camp
According to a recent survey, fully 96 percent of Lebanon's
Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps and more than 24 communities,
insist on their full right of return to Palestine, eschew tawtin, and
agree with the language of the API regarding 194.
Over the past few years, and one imagines even more since the events
in Tunisia and Egypt, the demand for the full right of return has
increased. The events at Tahrir Square raise hopes among Palestinians
in Lebanon that return to Palestine may come sooner rather than later.
Tahrir Square reinforces the view that Palestine's occupation could
crumble faster than many have believed possible given the military and
political power granted by the American and European governments.
Meanwhile, there exists in Lebanon near unanimity among the 18 sects
and various Palestinian factions. Tawtin is not a desirable option.
Only justice for Palestine, including the right of return as restated
in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative will resolve the dilemma of tawtin
or return for Lebanon and her Palestinian refugees.