January 18, 2020

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The truth about Palestinians in Lebanon


A long essay at Synaps Network describes the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon in more detail than anything else I’ve read.


Despite their degree of assimilation, Palestinian youth suffer from discriminatory measures imposed by the Lebanese government precisely to prevent their gradual—and, it is feared, permanent—integration. They are formally forbidden from work in at least 39 different professions. They are locked out of such essential fields as healthcare, transport, fishing, accounting, engineering and the judiciary. A 2001 law even barred Palestinians from acquiring property on Lebanese soil. These restrictions have knock-on effects for the ability of Palestinian youth to reach a normal form of adulthood, since securing a job and buying real estate are the traditional gateways to marriage.

Perhaps the most oppressive aspect of the environment in which Palestinians live is of a more psychological nature. Lebanon’s various religious sects tend to view their assimilation as a threat. Maronites often seem to nurture the trauma of the civil war, during which Palestinian militias turned Lebanon into a staging ground for their fight against Israel—committing ugly crimes in the process. Shia, for their part, fought bitterly against Palestinian militias, and also worry that integrating a predominantly Sunni Palestinian community would disrupt the country’s delicate sectarian equilibrium. Lebanese Sunnis, for their part, resent increased competition in what is often an intensely sectarian job market, where Sunnis vie against one another more often than they contend with, say, Maronites.

All in all, Lebanese regard Palestinians with overwhelming negativity. This bias is mostly latent but occasionally explosive…

There is no better illustration of the growing apathy among younger Palestinians than their reaction to the American decision, in late 2017, to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel—a symbolic move widely condemned internationally, given the city’s contested status. Youth groups briefly took to the streets in front of the US embassy, and the Lebanese faction Hezbollah organized a mass protest on its turf in the southern suburbs of Beirut, but Palestinian camps themselves remained eerily quiet.

This doesn’t mean that refugees are willing to surrender the sacrosanct “right of return,” nor the dream of establishing, someday, a sovereign Palestinian state. Young Palestinians, rather, are forced to reconcile their sense of patriotism with current realities, which in turn pushes them toward a more pragmatic rapport with their national identity. Cut off from Palestine and squeezed in Lebanon, many look at emigration as the sole remaining option. “You will hear the same words in every family in the camp,” said a housewife in Beddawi. “All the young people want to leave.”

In December 2017, the results of the LPDC census addressed Palestinian demographics, long perceived as a time bomb. Notwithstanding some disagreements regarding methodology, the figures mostly dispel perceptions of a large, growing Palestinian population that Lebanon cannot possibly assimilate. The census found that Palestinian refugees and their descendants officially represent something like 175,000 individuals, not the half-million previously thought to live in a country with around four million Lebanese.

Despite significant humanitarian involvement, everyday living conditions in refugee camps have deteriorated noticeably in recent years, putting growing pressure on today’s youth compared to earlier generations. Palestinians rely primarily on a dedicated international entity, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, for certain basic services, notably education, healthcare and sanitation. This enormous organization also provides steady employment to large numbers of refugees, who in turn support their extended families.

These functions, however, are increasingly under strain. Donors have grown fatigued with the organization’s archaic structures, and indeed with the very premise of a UN agency dedicated solely to Palestinian refugee affairs. …In 2016, funding shortfalls led UNRWA’s offices in Lebanon to abruptly decrease reimbursements of health expenses from 100 percent down to 90 or 85 percent, depending on the nature of the care or medicine provided. This move sent shockwaves through a community that is excluded from Lebanon’s National Social Security Fund—a form of discrimination made all the more galling by the fact that employers are required, legally, to pay almost 15 percent of Palestinians’ salaries to an NSSF scheme from which Palestinian employees themselves cannot benefit.

(h/t Reuven)

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