Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The Predicament of Palestinian Refugees in
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 28, 2012
When Lebanese security reportedly killed 18-year-old Ahmad al-Qasim
over a documentation dispute in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, the camp’s
Palestinian refugee population erupted in anger and dismay.
a few days of the June 15 incident, the outrage had spread and more refugees
were killed. Fouad Muhi’edeen Lubany was killed on June 18, as a crowd of
mourning refugees attempted to bury the first victim of Nahr al-Bared, near
Tripoli in the north. Another victim of the violence was Khaled al-Youssef,
who was shot in Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp, near Saida, about 30 miles south
of Beirut. More Palestinians were reportedly injured, along with three
Lebanese security officers.
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon exist
on the margins of a larger political question concerning the country’s
irreconcilable sectarian, factional and familial divides. This makes it
somewhat difficult to place the tragedy of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon
within a single political context. Lebanon’s enduring conflicts and
political alliances are in a constant state of flux. So when such events
concerning Palestinian refugees in Lebanon take place, the issue becomes
almost entirely hostage to political considerations and hyped factional
sensitivities. Instead of attempting to uncover the best way to tackle the
underpinnings of such dramas, or examining the relationship between
economic, social and other forms of alienations and political violence, the
priority repeatedly revolves around trying to cover the festering problem.
The problem, however, will not disappear on its own. 450,000 United
Nations-registered refugees live in Lebanon. They subsist in poverty, living
in 12 concentration camp-like physical entities. They are denied basic
rights and lack even nominal political horizons. Most of the refugees were
forced out of Palestine between 1947-48 by Zionists militias, who later
became the Israeli army. It was no accident that Nahr al-Bared was
established in 1949. Since then, few if any substantial efforts have been
made to remedy the numerous problems created by the violent dispossession.
Years later, Palestinian refugees have become embroiled in
Lebanon’s existing conflicts - first by accident (since it happened that
majority of the refugees are Sunni Muslims), and later by design (following
the PLO’s departure from Jordan in the early 1970s). After the Israeli war
on Lebanon in 1982 – accompanied by such infamous massacres as Sabra and
Shatila, among others - the fate of the refugees worsened, reaching points
of near complete neglect.
In the summer of 2007, the Lebanese army
clashed with Fatah al-Islam, an extremist group which had earlier moved to
Nahr al-Bared. According to Amnesty International, “the violence caused
considerable destruction to the camp, forcibly displaced the camp’s 30,000
residents and led to at least 400 deaths, including 42 civilians and 166
‘Considerable destruction’ is a mild way of
putting it. The camp was literally “reduced to rubble,” as described in a
report in the Lebanese Daily Star on June 22. Many media outlets reported
the story as if it simply concerned another fight between an army and an
al-Qaeda inspired group. The stories barely acknowledged the fact that
within the confines of the lethal fight there were hundreds of impoverished
families, now mostly unemployed and homeless.
Five years have
passed since Nahr al-Bared was destroyed. Yet many of its residents remain
stranded between an old refugee status – as Palestinians who were forced out
of or fled Zionist violence in Palestine in 1948 – and a new refugee status,
fleeing from one refugee camp to another. This condition of old-new
destitution is highlighted by, but not unique to Nahr al-Bared. It is a
reality shared by many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
tragedies that struck the dwellers of Lebanon’s refugee camps throughout the
years provide much needed insight into the nature of the Palestinian refugee
problem in the country. They also offer obvious clues to its remedy. However
much of the political discussion today is still devoid of any substance.
Lebanon-based US writer Franklin Lamb quoted a pledge on behalf of Army
Commander General Jean Qahwaji, stating that a “through (and) a swift
investigation will determine the perpetrators and prevent a similar incident
from occurring in the future.” Lamb rightly comments: “Given past
experience, few believe the investigation will be serious or even
completed.” The country’s Interior Minister conveniently discounted the
obvious link between the clashes in Nahr al-Bared and Ein al-Hilweh,
branding it a mere ‘coincidence’ (Akhbar al-Youm, June 20 as referenced by
Lamb). Palestinian PLO and Fatah official, Azzam al-Ahmad told the Daily
Star during a recent visit to Lebanon that “regional powers are exploiting
the hardship of Palestinian refugees…to push their own agendas in Lebanon.”
He insisted that these powers don't include Syria.
Palestinian refugees continue to be victimized by a bewildering political
landscape and unmistakable discrimination by the state. Their treatment is
often justified by the pretense that Palestinian refugees are temporary
‘guests’ in Lebanon. Now even third generation ‘guests’ of a UN-registered
population of nearly 450,000 refugees are denied home ownership, inheritance
of land or real estate. They are also barred from many professions. The
state of near complete economic stagnation has resulted in socioeconomic
regression, placing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon at a very low standing
with little hope for the future.
In a report released on June 20 to
coincide with World Refugee Day, American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA)
resolved that “Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are considered the worst
of the region’s refugee camps in terms of poverty, health, education and
living conditions.” ANERA reported that two out of three refugees subsist on
less than $6 a day, and that discrimination against them is expressed in
multiple areas ranging from health care to housing.
It is important
to note Israel’s role in the perpetual suffering of Palestinian refugees in
Lebanon – as everywhere else. But extending this awareness to include the
inhumane treatment of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon no longer suffices. As
in the case of refugees the world over, Palestinians must be repatriated to
their homes and compensated for their pain, suffering and multiple losses.
Until that goal is achieved, refugees must be treated with dignity and
respect - regardless of the political calculation of their host countries.
The predicament of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon must be handled
with decidedness and urgency. It is a responsibility that ought to be shared
between the Lebanese government, the Palestinian leadership, the Arab League
and the United Nations. Any more neglect and the potential crisis could
morph into a full-fledged conflict.
- RamzyBaroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London.)