Palestinians appear finally fed up with the apartheid and discriminatory laws they have been subjected to in Lebanon. Al-Jazeera recently reported that 1,500 Palestinians left Lebanon in less than three months. Pictured: The Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)
Palestinians appear finally fed up with the apartheid and discriminatory laws they have been subjected to in Lebanon in the past few decades. They appear fed up with the ongoing apathy towards their plight in the international community and media. They also appear fed up with the international media's obsession with Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The only Palestinians the international media reports about are those whose "problems" are directly linked to Israel.
For the past year, dozens of international journalists based in the Middle East have been covering the weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border. These journalists, however, seem to care precious little about the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon, who, for several decades now, have been protesting the apartheid and discrimination practiced by an Arab country.
In an attempt to draw the international community to their grievances, the Palestinians of Lebanon have launched a campaign called "Hakki" ("My Right") to demand equality and an end to discrimination. The campaign was launched on the 18th anniversary of a law prohibiting non-Lebanese nationals, including Palestinians, from owning property in Lebanon.
Palestinians say that this law and similar ones passed by the Lebanese parliament in the past few decades deny them basic rights and the ability to live in dignity. As a result of these laws, they say, the conditions of Palestinians in Lebanon have worsened to a point where 65% of them live below the poverty line.
"The social and humanitarian crises facing the Palestinians in Lebanon because of these laws have directly impacted other aspects of their lives, including education and health," the Palestinians argue. "In addition, the laws have caused psychological tensions that are reflected in various aspects of their lives. This requires immediate action."
The "Hakki" campaign is aimed at "affirming that the demands of the Palestinian refugees [in Lebanon] are a humanitarian right in accordance with humanitarian conventions that the Lebanese government has signed on to," the organizers of the campaign explained.
The campaign coincides with reports that a growing number of Palestinians have begun leaving Lebanon. In February 2019, the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera network reported that 1,500 Palestinians have left Lebanon in less than three months. Titled "The Silent Asylum," the report quoted Palestinian sources as saying that the exodus of the Palestinians was in the context of a US scheme to "liquidate the right of return" for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel.
The report revealed that a travel agency in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, has secured entry visas for the Palestinians to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ethiopia and Bolivia. On their way back from these countries, the Palestinians stop in European countries where they file requests for asylum. The report also revealed that the Lebanese authorities were not blocking the Palestinians from leaving their country.
"A Palestinian refugee in Lebanon who is registered with UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) and holds a Lebanese travel document has the right to leave the country any time he or she wishes," said newspaper editor Munir Al-Akiki. The Lebanese authorities, he added, cannot prevent any Palestinian living in Lebanon from leaving the country as long as they leave in accordance with the law.
The man behind the "Hakki" campaign, journalist Ahmed Al-Haj, said that Palestinians in Lebanon are "deprived of almost everything, and that's why we have many demands, including the right to work and own property." The campaign that his friends and he launched also calls for easing security restrictions imposed on Palestinian refugee camps, Al-Haj said.
"The campaign is aimed at drawing the attention of the Lebanese authorities to the need to amend the unfair laws against Palestinians," he explained. "Hakki is designed to highlight the suffering of the Palestinians in Lebanon and explaining the dangerous repercussions of these laws."
The organizers of the "Hakki" campaign say that their goal is also to win the support of the Lebanese people and international human rights organizations for the plight of Palestinians in Lebanon. As part of their efforts, the organizers are also planning to hold meetings with Lebanese politicians and media personalities to gain their support for changing the laws that discriminate against Palestinians.
According to a report published by the US Department of State:
"Palestinian refugees [in Lebanon] were prohibited from accessing public health and education services or owning land and were barred from employment in many fields... A 2010 labor law revision expanded employment rights and removed some restrictions on Palestinian refugees; however, this law was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions... The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners, and in several instances they experienced worse treatment than other foreign nationals."
According to an Associated Press report:
"... Palestinians in Lebanon suffer discrimination in nearly every aspect of daily life, feeding a desperation that is tearing their community apart.
"Many live in settlements officially recognized as refugee camps, but better described as concrete ghettos ringed by checkpoints and, in some cases, blast walls and barbed wire...
"Palestinians are prohibited from working in most professions, from medicine to transportation. Because of restrictions on ownership, what little property they have is bought under Lebanese names, leaving them vulnerable to embezzlement and expropriation."
The organizers of the "Hakki" campaign are naïve if they believe that after more than 70 years of discrimination, Lebanon will suddenly change its policies and laws against the Palestinians. They are naïve if they assume that the Arab leaders, who held another summit in Tunisia this week, would pay attention to the plight of Palestinians in Lebanon or any other Arab country. They are also naïve if they believe that the international media and human rights organizations would endorse noticing what the Palestinians are experiencing in Lebanon.
The Lebanese are happy to see the Palestinians leave Lebanon, and most of Arab countries do not give a damn if the Palestinians move away -- to Europe or Brazil or Argentina, it makes no difference to them.
Addressing the Arab League summit in Tunisia on March 31, Lebanese President Michel Aoun had nothing to say about the discrimination and apartheid Palestinians face in his country. Instead, he chose to express concern over the recent US decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Aoun also suggested that Syria, where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed since the beginning of the civil war there in 2011, be allowed back into the Arab League. Syria's membership was suspended in 2011 over its brutal crackdown on Syrians protesting the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
The Arab and Western silence towards the plight of the Palestinians in Lebanon achieves one thing alone: aggravating Palestinian agony. Yet the only evil the Arab leaders and the international community see is the supposed evil that they link to Israel. Thus, the Hamas-sponsored violence on the border with Israel is trumpeted in the media and human rights organizations as "peaceful protests" while Palestinians in Lebanon suffer in media silence, awaiting permission to live in dignity in an Arab country.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.