Lebanon scatters a little
chicken feed and labels it
‘manna from heaven’
Part XI of a Series on
Securing Palestinian Civil Rights
Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp
“Palestinian guests in Lebanon are working with total freedom.
First of all we do not refer to them as “refugees”. They are our brothers
who are suffering and in a very difficult situation that they did not
cause and they have lost their country. They sought our help in Lebanon
as brothers. You Americans really need to understand that in our
Arab, Muslim, and Christian culture, you help your brother. You share
with him your loaf of bread. You split it in half and give half to your
brother. So out of this sacred tradition, out of the long history that binds
us with our Palestinian brothers we host them in Lebanon temporarily
until they can go back to their country. But while they are here,
of course Lebanon is living through a difficult situation ourselves but
our Palestinian brothers are enjoying everything.”
Lebanese Member of Parliament on August 4th explaining why Parliament
must not “precipitously rush into the unchartered waters of civil rights for
At 3:02 p.m. on 8/17/10 Lebanon’s Parliament began to deliberate on
granting basic civil rights to its Palestinian refugees and within four
minutes agreed to alter article 50 Lebanon’s 1964 labor law to theoretically
make it easier for Palestinian refugees to obtain a work permit and a job.
There was no discussion of other draft bills to grant Palestinian refugees
elementary civil rights, and fifteen minutes later, by 3:17 p.m. Parliament
had agreed on the next bill involving excavating for oil, which may bring
millions to some well placed members. Many MP’s hadn’t studied either bill.
Thus did the bell ring on Round One of the fight in Lebanon for elementary
civil rights for Palestinians refugees.
The members of Parliament decided to do essentially nothing to meet
Lebanon’s legal, moral, religious, social and political obligations to her
unwanted refugees. Parliaments gesture will likely not improve the lives of
many, if even a handful, of the hundreds of thousands of refugees, 62 years
after their expulsion from their homes and lands in Palestine.
Round Two begins today.
The morning after Parliament amended the Labor law and cancelled the
work permit fee for Palestinian refugees, the main stream media including
CNN, AP, Reuters, AFP among others appeared to misunderstand what had
occurred. CNN: “In Lebanon, new legislation will give Palestinians full
employment rights. By the CNN Wire Staff.” CNN broadcast: “The body
OK’d legislation giving the refugees full employment rights and social
security and will allow them to work in any job.”
The NYT reported that “Lebanon passed a law on Tuesday granting
Palestinian refugees here the same rights to work as other foreigners.”
Some leading politicians also got it wrong. Fares Soueid, the General
Coordinator for the March 14 coalition declared at his news conference:
“We gave to Palestinians the right to work in Lebanon, like all Arabic
workers have the right to work in Lebanon.”
A huge overstatement.
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.)
The Palestinian Private Fund was a compromise. Hezbollah switched its
support from using the State Fund which it had earlier proposed, to the
Private Fund idea under pressure from Christian ally Michel Aoun. If the
Private Fund is set up it will be paid for by Palestinian workers themselves
and hoped for private donations.
Insisting on a shadowy, opaque “consensus vote” rather than a more
democratic, simple majority roll call, Parliament decided on the lowest
common denominator by which all the MP’s were essentially given a veto.
What it produced was a weak, emasculated bill unworthily of the label: Civil
MP Walid Jumblatt, author of his Druze Progressive Socialist Party June 15,
2010 draft bill, which would have actually granted some substantive civil
rights, appeared to throw in the towel without even stepping into the ring.
However to his credit, Jumblatt confessed this morning that he will do
better next Round and told Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper: “The second more
serious battle is ahead: And it is home ownership rights. I won’t give up, and
what has been accomplished today is only the outcome of consensus among
everyone (ed: led by Samir Geagea) but home ownership rights remains
pending, and it is very important.”
The excellent Syrian Socialist National Party bill, which meets International
legal standards for treatment of refugees, supported by many human rights
organizations including most NGO’s as well as the Palestine Civil Rights
Campaign-Lebanon and the Sabra Shatila Foundation was not even
Within the Palestinian and NGO community there is widespread
disappointment and frustration. Ziad Sayegh, an expert on Palestinian
refugee rights in Lebanon said that the new legislation would have little effect
in changing the overall social and economic situation on the refugees.
According to scholar Suheil al- Natour, Director of a Palestinian Human
Rights Center based in Mar Elias Camp,
“They spent a long time on discussions which emptied the law of any
real meaning, and I wish they had put it off so we could push for a
better version…” Those who voted yesterday are suggesting that what
they did will alleviate the burdens on the Palestinian community.
This is not true. We will not have the full right to work, they law will not
apply to the more than 30 syndicated professions, we do not have any
rights for property. We do not have free movement. Our camps are
surrounded by the army. We will not reduce this catastrophic situation
by just some changes small changes to Article 50 of the 1964 Labor law
which may not even help many Palestinians get jobs.”
Among the jobs still prohibited to Palestinians are more than 30 syndicated
professions including Medicine, Law, Dentistry, Engineering, nursing, and
all technical professions in the construction sector and its derivatives
such as tiling, coating, plastering, installation of aluminum, iron, wood or
decoration works and the like-Teaching at the elementary, intermediate and
secondary levels with the exception of foreign language teacher when
necessary, hairdressing, Ironing and dry-cleaning upholstery, publishing,
printing, Engineering work in all specialties, Smithery and upholstery work.
All kinds of work in pharmacies, drug warehouses and medical laboratories.
In general all occupations and professions which can be filled by Lebanese
nationals and have Guild or Syndicate Memberships, money changer, real
estate agent, taxi driver or driver training instructor, registered nurse or
assistant nurse, or other jobs in the Medical field, that have Syndicates a
health controller, any job in the engineering field, licensed health controller,
medical laboratory worker, clinical health industry jobs, prosthetic devices
fitter, certified accountants, dental laboratory science technician, jobs relating
to nutrition and meals, topography, physiotherapy, veterinary medicine.”
Also, a key factor will be if and how the new law is actually implemented.
Changes made in 2005 to the labor law were never implemented and Lebanon
has a long history of passing laws and not ever implementing them. The role
of the international human rights community is now to monitor and assure
that laws regarding refugees in Lebanon are fully implemented without
The winners and the losers
The big winners today are: Israel and the US, the Christian right-wing
Kateib (Phalange) party, the Lebanese Forces, the National Party, Maronite
Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, and Hezbollah ally and head of the Free Patriotic
Movement, Michel Aoun, all of whom opposed meaningful civil rights for
Palestinians. Also, the politically fractured pro-Saudi March 14th coalition
and even Syria. The latter will be the likely beneficiary from any explosions
inside the camps as the refugees exist in the pressure cooker camps and
denied the safety value of basic civil rights.
The big losers today are: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, those under
occupation in Palestine and those in the Diaspora. A meaningful victory
would have given them some hope as their struggles for Justice continue.
Also Lebanon, who will now face mounting international pressure to comply
with her international legal obligations plus efforts to cut off US aid
based on the requirements of the 1961 US Foreign Assistance Act regarding
deprivation of civil rights, and for which purpose a lawsuit in being
prepared in Washington DC. In addition, he UN Human Rights Council may
sanction Lebanon if it’s long overdue Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of
treatment of Palestinian refugee scheduled to be discussed in Geneva in
December is found wanting. Lebanon plans to tell the UN Human Rights
Council that its record is ok now since it amended its exclusionary labor law
which should now help Palestinians get jobs. One Lebanese official stated
off the record that this was one of the main reasons Parliament did anything
for the Palestinians on 8/17/10. It remains to be seen how the Council views
Lebanon’s meager accomplishment. Lebanon will also experience a
mounting and intensifying internal civil rights movement and calls for BDS
as international activists become more aware of the degradation in
Lebanon’s camps and Lebanon refusing its international obligations and
who will hopefully join the Palestinian civil rights movement. Plans to
picket the Lebanese Embassy in Washington DC until civil rights are granted
to Palestinians refugees are underway.
Did Hezbollah doze?
Apart from its other current problems, Hezbollah, normally receiving
widespread Palestinian support, is being asked by some in the camps what
became of the role of the Islamic Resistance to the Zionist occupation of
Palestine. One angry resident of Shatila camp criticized the Resistance this
morning and explained:
“In 1982 I saw the Israelis watching us from on top on their military
administrative building west of the camp and 200 meters away from
Rue Sabra, as the slaughter was happening. In 2010 I can see the
Resistance in their administrative building 200 meters to the East of the
center of the camp and they can see us. When the wind shifts from
the sea they can smell the sewage in the camps alleys. Neither in 1982
or 2010 can it be claimed that observers looking down into the camps
did not know about conditions inside Shatila. What kind of resistance
is Hezbollah leading? Resistance to we Palestinians being allowed
some basic civil rights?”
It was probably appropriate that Lebanese Forces leader MP Samir Geagea
was the first to the microphones to claim victory after Parliament deliberated
for a few minutes to deny Palestinian refugees any meaningful civil rights.
Geagea welcomed the parliament’s approval of his proposed amendment to
Article 50 of the 1964 Labor Code to “ grant work permits to Palestinian
The amendment to the 1964 labor law was the least Parliament could have
done and still be able to say it did anything at all. It will not, as Geagea
assured his followers, “resolve the Palestinian humanitarian issues in
Lebanon….” Geagea explained that there is no possibility of granting
Palestinian refugees the right to own property. “Lebanon cannot solve the
Palestinian issue on its own” the Palestinians nemesis for the past four
In fact, Geagea spoke the truth without realizing it. Civil rights for refugees
everywhere, including Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, is the responsibility
of the international community which has adopted relevant international
conventions which have been implemented virtually everywhere but in
Lebanon and Israel. The international community, and the NGO’s and
activists in the West and elsewhere who claim to support justice for Palestine
must now act to encourage Lebanon to meet its international obligations
by granting meaningful civil rights including the unfettered right to work
and to own a home.
The mild gesture Lebanon made on 8/17/10 will not grant Palestinian
refugees here their internationally mandated civil rights. Not by a long shot.
Perhaps the most that can be said in Lebanon’s favor is that it took a first
tentative step. Hopefully, symbolically it will break the stereotype against
Palestinians a bit and show the public that the sky did not fall in by
yesterday’s gesture and will ease the stress concerning granting some
meaningful civil rights.
As the Lebanese like to say, “step by step.”
For the quarter million Palestinian refugees stuck in squalor in Lebanon’s
12 camps and the 75,000 in the 42 ‘gatherings’, the cause of civil rights in
Lebanon endures and the dream of returning to Palestine is alive.
Franklin Lamb is Director, Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace,
Beirut-Washington DC, Board Member of The Sabra Shatila Foundation, and
a volunteer with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, Lebanon. He is the
author of The Price We Pay: A Quarter-Century of Israel’s Use of American
Weapons Against Civilians in Lebanon and is doing research in Lebanon for
his next book. He can be reached at [email protected]
For information and updates on the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign in
Lebanon, and to sign the petition, go to: