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Lebanon: Giving Palestinian Refugees the Right to Work

Nahr el Bared camp, Lebanon (by Flickr user nimzilvio)

Lebanon is home to over 400,000 Palestinian refugees, some of whom were expelled or fled in 1948 at the time of the creation of the state of Israel, and others who fled during and after the 1967 war. These refugees are not allowed to own property, cannot access the health care system, and need a special permit to leave their refugee camps, restrictions which have been criticized by groups such as Amnesty International.

Until recently, they were also barred from working in a number of professions, however, new legislation passed by parliament on August 17 grants Palestinian refugees the same employment rights as other foreigners (they will still be barred from ‘self-employed’ professions, including law and medicine).

The legislation, which will take effect once President Michel Suleiman endorses it, has been met with both applause and dissent. While some, such as the UN, see it as a step toward bettering the lives of a long-term refugee population, others see it as normalization of the refugee population into Lebanon, and thus a step away toward securing the Right of Return.

Roqayah Chamseddine, writing for Mondoweiss, explains why, for her, the decision is a welcome move, but not nearly enough:

I cringe at the thought of calling the refugee camps “slums” but I must use candid rhetoric; The Palestinians are being subjugated – by the Israeli’s, the Americans and the Arabs.

Now, in respect to the recent provision by the Lebanese parliament , it has taken 60 years for the Lebanese to allow the Palestinians the sparse right to work; I don’t know whether to be ashamed or slightly optimistic. It is a move in the right direction but surely we can all contend that it is a fairly apathetic crawl – in the right direction. No one should be bragging, especially not the Lebanese Government.

Blogger Oussama Hayek says that there is “no reason to celebrate Palestinian rights” because:

There is something fundamentally flawed with the law that Parliament passed today, granting Palestinians the right to work in Lebanon.  It stinks of continuing discrimination against one particular nationality. It is also absolutely the wrong move for two reasons:

  • It continues to bar Palestinians from jobs that require membership in a syndicate, a medieval guild-like system that should be abolished for everyone.
  • It continues to bar Palestinians from owning property.
  • The blogger concludes:

    It is true that Palestinian groups routinely violate Lebanese laws, and have yet to accept to disarm. But holding an entire population of 400,000 hostage for the actions of a few thousand thugs is the sort of collective punishment one would expect from Saddam or Stalin. This is not acceptable behaviour by the sort of democracy Lebanon aspires to be.

    On the other side of the coin, Marillionlb of For a better Lebanon thinks that the refugees are not Lebanon's responsibility:

    Yes every single human being has the right to a decent life, to have his basic rights protected, access to basic medical care, schooling, a roof over his head, to live with dignity, to be able to work and be a “constructive” part of society..etc.
    BUT:
    In order to enjoy and be given such rights a person should abide by certain rules, especially when he is a host in a foreign land (to say the least and not use the term “refugee”).
    The Palestinian problem was not caused by Lebanon, and it was not the Lebanese who deprived the Palestinians from their homeland; on the contrary, Lebanon (albeit forcibly) not only accepted a big influx of refugees, but (wrongly) signed the Cairo treaty giving Yasser Arafat and his group of thugs a free hand not only to cause mayhem, but also (at a certain point in time) try to establish the state of Palestine within the Lebanese borders.

    A commenter on the blog expresses agreement:

    thank you for this post. You are 100% correct.
    If they want rights, maybe they should respect their host country first and hand over their weapons.
    Lebanon has suffered alot more than any country should have to because of the palestinians.

    From the Palestinian perspective, as expressed on Palestine Free Voice, the changes are hardly changes at all:

    Unfortunately Lebanon did not grant its Palestinian refugees meaningful civil rights on 8/17/10 or  even significantly improve their work prospects.  What it did do was cancel  the work permit fee ( which was never a big problem)  and allow for the setting up of a private Social Security Fund (not the Lebanese National Security Fund as misreported in much of the media.)

    Lastly,  Twitter user iRevolt sums up one popular Palestinian perspective by explaining why equal rights–without citizenship–are important to so many people:

    If the Palestinians are mandated civil, social and economic rights without being given Lebanese citizenship then it will work towards safeguarding the necessity of returning home, refuting US-Israeli wishes for the Palestinians to integrate into other parts of the Arab world – thus leaving behind their identities in some for or fashion – and allowing Palestinians to improve their status while living outside of their homeland.

    Photo by Flickr user nimzilvio made available by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

    2 comments

    • Mike 71

      “Both Palestinian and Jewish refugees must be treated symmetrically. One can’t give a ‘right of return’ to one set and not the other, or impose such a ‘right’ against their will. The logical alternative is no ‘right of return’ for either. Compensation, not return, has to be the answer.

      Humanitarianism and common sense dictate that both sets of refugees should pursue the path of integration. Last week’s Lebanese decision to give Palestinians the right to work, except in the professions, was a baby step towards the resolution of the refugee problem through integration.

      So if the next round of talks is not to be scuppered – let the parties get down to the nitty-gritty: let them discuss refugees, both Arab and Jewish.”

      More at: http://jewishrefugees.blogspot.com/2010/08/refugees-are-the-heart-of-middle-east.html

    • Robby

      The words “apartheid” and “collective punishment” come to mind, but the press seems to reserve those names for Israel.

      I also wonder – why don’t we see rockets fired from the refugee camps into Lebanon by the Palestinians as we see fired from Gaza? The living conditions are very similar. Maybe because they know the Lebanese military will respond with full force, as they did a couple of years ago?

      Lebanon should be ashamed of the way they treat the Palestinians.

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