FRESH AIR

Apartheid-like situation of Palestinians in Lebanon reasserted – no-one notices

Feb 18, 2022 | Judy Maynard

Palestinians walking under the poster of Yasser Arafat in Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon (Credit: Shutterstock)
Palestinians walking under the poster of Yasser Arafat in Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon (Credit: Shutterstock)

When Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh visited Australia in 2010 and was asked about accusations that Israel is guilty of apartheid, not only did he deny this, he told the following story:

I passed by some Lebanese girls who were organising Israel Apartheid Week in Canada. I stopped at their information table and I asked them, ‘Excuse me, which apartheid are you talking about?’  They said, ‘Of course the Jewish State, and apartheid against the Palestinians.’ And I asked them if they were from Lebanon. ‘What about the apartheid in Lebanon against the Palestinians, where in Lebanon there is a law that prevents Palestinians from working in more than 60 professions? By law, it’s written in the law.’

Can you imagine if the Knesset met tonight and passed a law banning Arabs from working in one… profession?

They said, ‘You know, you are right, but don’t tell these folks over here. Don’t bring the dirty laundry out, please.’”

The apartheid-like reality which exists for the approximately 180,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon and their descendants was highlighted yet again earlier this month when a decision from last year that would have significantly improved their professional employment opportunities was suddenly reversed by Lebanon’s State Shura Council.

This reversal restored a long-standing situation described by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) as follows:

“[Palestine refugees in Lebanon] are socially marginalized, have very limited civil, social, political and economic rights, including restricted access to the Government of Lebanon’s public health, educational and social services and face significant restrictions on their right to work and right to own property… [Palestinian refugees are] prevented from employment in 39 professions such as medicine, law and engineering.”

Transportation and tourism jobs are also largely barred to Palestinian residents of Lebanon, due to the near impossibility of getting the required work permits.

The International Labour Organization has blamed “the vicious cycle of impoverishment and precarious conditions” endured by Palestinians in Lebanon on their employment status, adding that their employment conditions “reflect the discrimination and abuse they are subject to at the workplace. Most are unprotected, with limited labour rights due to legal restrictions, malpractice or bias.”

The consequences are dire for these refugees and their descendants, who are denied citizenship  – despite most having been born in Lebanon and lived all their lives there  – and are mostly stateless. And an estimated 65% of them were living under the modest Lebanese poverty line, as of 2016 – a number that is almost certainly worse today given the meltdown of the Lebanese economy of the past couple of years.

Without citizenship, Palestinians cannot obtain an identity card, and so in addition to the restrictions on employment, they do not have access to education, health and other government services to which cardholders are entitled.

The now-cancelled announcement in November by Mostafa Bayram, Lebanon’s Minister of Labour, while ostensibly an improvement, was still restricted to “Palestinians born in Lebanese territories and officially registered with the Ministry of Interior.” In theory, it would have allowed some of the refugees to work in trade-union regulated professions, albeit without ensuring they would receive the work permits necessary to do so.

The reversal of the order by the State Shura Council, Lebanon’s administrative jurisdiction, followed complaints that it would impinge on the rights of Lebanese professionals, and that it might have led to providing the refugees with a pathway towards naturalisation.

 

Ignored by the international community

As Abu Toameh noted in a recent article,  “the international community has long been ignoring” what he terms“Lebanon’s long-standing apartheid policies and laws against Palestinians.”

This State Shura Council’s sudden reversal of a measure to provide modest improvements for a lot of this oppressed and marginalised population certainly received no significant international media coverage.

This long-standing state of affairs for Palestinians residing in Lebanon is, of course, well known to NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, both of which recently issued reports that disingenuously accused Israel of “apartheid”. Neither organisation has ever applied a similar label to the clear cut, legally-mandated discrimination against Palestinians in an Arab country like Lebanon, and neither has devoted any major effort to calling attention to this situation.

Amnesty’s 400-page report on world human rights from 2020-2021, devoted four pages to Israel, almost all of which concerned the Palestinians. Lebanon, teetering on the brink of collapse and facing myriad human rights and economic disasters, scored a total of three pages, only the penultimate paragraph of which referred to the Palestinians:

“Over 470,000 Palestinian refugees were registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, including 29,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria. The 180,000 of them estimated to be still living in the country remained subject to discriminatory laws, excluding them from owning or inheriting property, accessing public education and health services and from working in at least 36 professions.”

In other words, Amnesty gives short shrift to outlining the plight of the Palestinians in Lebanon, allotting them a single sentence, in stark contrast to its extensive focus on Israel, both in its global reports, and its numerous Israel-specific reports like the most recent one.

Unlike Israel, which confers citizenship on the Arabs living within its borders and accords equal rights to all Israelis regardless of ethnicity, Lebanon has for seven decades imposed on the Palestinians residing in its country a framework of unjust laws that have resulted in great hardship.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch practise their own form of discrimination when they publish reports that slander Israel as an apartheid state, yet fail to offer anything more than the most tokenistic focus on the entrenched discriminatory and exclusionary treatment of Palestinians in Lebanon, much less attach any “apartheid” label to it.

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