A Palestinian who tries to bring a bag of cement or other construction materials into a refugee camp is subjected to arrest, interrogation, trial by military court and a fine. This inhumane and unjust practice is taking place in Lebanon. (Source of construction image: iStock)
A Palestinian who tries to bring a bag of cement or other construction materials into a refugee camp to build a house is subjected to arrest, interrogation, trial by military court and a fine.
Is this happening in the Gaza Strip? No. Is it happening in the West Bank? No. This inhumane and unjust practice is taking place in an Arab country where more than 500,00 Palestinians live: Lebanon.
Moreover, this ban on the entry of construction material is punishing not only the living, but also the dead. Palestinians say that because of the prohibition, they cannot even find enough stones and cement to build graves.
The wretched condition of the Palestinians living in Lebanon is often ignored by both the international community and the Western main stream media. The only Palestinians the international community seems to care about are those residing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- those whose grievances can be blamed on Israel.
Most of the Palestinians in Lebanon live in 12 refugee camps, where they suffer from poverty, overcrowding and violence, as well as Lebanon's discriminatory and apartheid laws and measures that deny them basic rights.
The Lebanese authorities claim that the ban on the entry of building materials into the camps is designed to guarantee the Palestinians' "right of return" to their former villages and towns inside Israel. The Lebanese authorities tell the Palestinians, "We do not want you to build new homes in our country: that would compromise your [purported] right of return!"
The Lebanese authorities know full well that Israel will never allow hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to move to Israel as part of a "right of return." For Israel, that would mean that Jews would become a minority in their own country, and that there would then be three Palestinian states: Gaza, Israel and the West Bank.
This minor detail, however, has not stopped Lebanon and other Arab countries that play host to Palestinian refugees and their descendants from continuing to lie to them and feeding them false hopes that one day they will go back to the homes of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers in Israel.
The prohibition of construction material for Palestinians in Lebanon is only one example of the discrimination they have been facing in this Arab country for the past few decades.
Palestinians in Lebanon are also banned by law from working in selected professions, including medicine, engineering, nursing, accounting, pharmaceuticals and teaching. In Lebanon, Palestinians are considered foreigners and are consequently barred from owning, selling or bequeathing property.
Housing renovations inside Palestinian camps require prior permission from the Lebanese security authorities due to concerns that the material may be used for military purposes. If the permit is granted, the army usually imposes tight measures, such as counting the number of cement bags or checking the quantity of stones that the Palestinian wishes to bring into the camp.
A Palestinian who is caught smuggling construction material into a camp is arrested, interrogated and faces a fine of 100,000 Lebanese pounds ($66).
According to a recent report in the Palestinian Information Center, the ban on the entry of construction material has been in effect for the past 22 years. "This is an inhumane measure," the report said. In 2004, according to the report, the ban was temporarily lifted for a few months before it was reinstated and expanded to additional Palestinian communities in Lebanon.
In addition to cement, the Palestinians are also banned from bringing into their camps water pipes, electrical wires, aluminum, doors, tiles, windows and glass slabs and paint.
In the past two years, the Lebanese authorities began building a concrete wall with watch towers around two Palestinian camps: Ain al-Hilweh and Rashidiyeh. The Lebanese authorities have justified building the wall for security reasons and presumably to prevent the expansion of the Palestinian camps. Palestinians refer to these walls, which have turned their compass into closed ghettos, as the "walls of shame."
Jamal Khatib, secretary-general of the Islamic Factions in Ain al-Hilweh, called on the Lebanese authorities to lift the ban. "Some of the houses have collapsed, and injured women and children," he said.
Mohammed al-Shuli, a Palestinian human rights activist, said that the ban on the entry of construction material has become a "nightmare" for all refugees.
Recently, Palestinians in Ain al-Hilweh were forced to remove stones from their houses to build a grave for a deceased resident, Khaled Zaiter. The man's body was held in a morgue for several days before the camp residents managed to take enough stones from their own homes to build a grave for him.
"Burying a dead Palestinian in Ain al-Hilweh camp has become a painful and traumatic experience," said Abdel Raheem Maqdah, a Palestinian community leader in Lebanon.
Protests by the Palestinians in Lebanon are unlikely to draw any attention from the international community, including so-called pro-Palestinian groups that are active especially on university campuses in the US and Canada, among other places.
The real "pro-Palestinian" groups are those who are willing to raise their voices against the mistreatment of Palestinians at the hands of their Arab brothers. The real "pro-Palestinian" groups are those who are prepared to defend the rights of women and gays living under Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The real "pro-Palestinian" groups are those that are prepared to advocate for democracy and free speech for Palestinians living under the repressive regimes of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The real "pro-Palestinian" groups are those who are prepared to condemn Lebanon for its racist and discriminatory measures against Palestinians, living and dead.
Hiding at a university campus and spewing hatred against Israel does not make one "pro-Palestinian." Rather, it makes one an Israel-hater. Will the "pro-Palestinian" groups listen to the SOS messages coming from the people they claim to represent in Lebanon? Probably not. In all probability, they will just continue pushing their anti-Israel agenda as Palestinians in Lebanon continue to cut stones from their own homes to build graves for their dear ones.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.