The Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are considered the worst in the region in terms of poverty, health, education and living conditions, according to a report published this week by the American Near East Refugee Aid [ANERA], one of the largest American not-for-profit organizations working in the Middle East.
This does not mean, of course, that Palestinians living in refugee camps in Jordan and Syria or other Arab countries are happy. But when it comes to Lebanon, the living conditions of the Palestinians are appalling.
The ANERA report coincided with news about mounting tensions between Palestinian residents of refugee camps in Lebanon and the Lebanese army.
The tensions reached their peak last week when Lebanese soldiers shot and killed a young Palestinian man in Nahr El Bared refugee camp. Later Lebanese soldiers prevented residents from going to the cemetery to attend the funeral.
In 2007, the Lebanese army destroyed most of the camp's houses during fighting with militiamen belonging to Palestinian armed groups and radical Islamic groups.
Two-thirds of the camp's 36,000 residents fled the fighting and found shelter in surrounding fields and valleys. Many set up new homes in the nearby Baddawi refugee camp.
Since 2007, the Lebanese army has imposed a strict siege on the camp: residents are allowed to enter and leave only after obtaining permission from Lebanese security authorities. According to the Palestinian residents, they have since been living in a ghetto.
The Lebanese authorities have also banned the residents from rebuilding the houses that were destroyed or damaged in 2007.
Palestinians are convinced that Lebanon has been trying to get rid of them for many years. Lebanon's apartheid laws deny Palestinians access to the majority of white collar positions in areas such as banking, medicine, management, law and education.
Like many Arab countries, Lebanon has always been treating Palestinians as third-class citizens. Nearly half a million Palestinians live in Lebanon's 12 camps. Though born and raised in the country, they are denied political, economic and social rights.
Palestinians cannot attend Lebanese public schools or own property. They do not have access to national health services or the social security system. Checkpoints restricting access to most of the camps, according to the ANERA report, thwart trade and commerce with neighboring counties.
"The refugees live in overcrowded camps and have to deal with discrimination, isolation and social exclusion," the report states. "The refugees often refer to themselves as 'forgotten people' and feel they are living in a hostile environment where their basic human rights are not represented or protected."
The plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and other Arab countries has received little attention in the mainstream media in the West. Although many international aid organizations have been working to assist the Palestinians in the Arab world, Western journalists often turn a blind eye to the misery of these refugees.
The unconscionable condition of the Palestinians in the Arab world will end the day the Arab governments and Palestinian leaders stop lying to them and confront them with reality, namely that they need to get along with their lives and secure a better future for their children. Arab and Palestinian leaders, meanwhile, continue to deceive these people by promising them that if they wait a little longer they will one day "return to the homeland."