Saturday, July 4, 2009

Fate of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Revisited

Whenever parties that represent opposing points of view , concerning practically all matters, agree on an issue by taking even a united stand then it should be obvious that something is amiss. The Lebanese political scene is represented by all sorts of ideologies, homegrown, imported, extreme right and extreme left but yet time and again all of these discordant voices sing in harmony the tune that the over 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon should not be given the chance to become Lebanese citizens but must be kept as aliens that eek an existence in camps that lack access to modern school, job opportunities, social safety network, decent infrastructure or even recourse to law enforcement. The residents of these camps are discriminated against in practically every single sphere only because they are Palestinians.
So why do the Lebanese politicians of all stripes insist on the continued dehumanization of these unlucky Palestinian refugees? It cannot be the fear of a cultural clash since the Palestinians and the Lebanese are practically indistinguishable and it cannot be the concern of the fiscal burden associated with assimilation since most studies conducted in various countries all over the world have demonstrated that new immigrants usually more than pay for their share of the fiscal cost because of the additional jobs and economic growth that they create. So if there is no basis for an economic argument neither is there a rationale for a cultural argument why do the Lebanese parties act united in their opposition to absorbing the Palestinian refugees? The common response by all sides is that these bigoted policies are adopted because they are good for the Palestinians. Yes you heard it right. Depriving people of their rights and forcing them to live in sub human conditions is good for them, it builds character and keeps them yearning for their fatherland. This is as good as arguing that slavery was good for the slaves since they did not have to worry about their next meal. What a crock.
How come no one used this argument when the Armenians came to Lebanon and why is it that most of the Christian Palestinians have been absorbed into the Lebanese society not only without creating a meaningful fiscal burden but by playing an essential role in the economic growth and prosperity of Lebanon in all fields? The answer is clear. The only reason for insisting on the continuation of policies that deprive the Palestinians of their inherent rights is political. The real reason that the Phalange in addition to the Lebanese Forces and the Aounists oppose the integration of the Palestinian refugees is sectarian. They are very concerned that the demographic position of the Lebanese Christian who barley account for 40% of the population but are granted 50% of the parliamentary seats would become untenable. As soon as the youthful Palestinian refugees are given Lebanese citizenship then the Christians would become 35% of the population which will then highlight the absurdity of their insisting on 50% of the parliamentary seats. This absurdity should remind us of the Orwellian dictum that “we are all equal but some are more equal than others”. The Lebanese progressive parties on the other hand, led by Hezbollah, cannot bear to loose the only cause that justifies their presence. Take away from these parties the need to “resist” on behalf of the disinherited and you would have taken away their whole reason to exist. The progressives would not look favourably on any attempt to take away their power to use the Palestinian refugees as pawns in justifying their “resistance”.
What makes both of these selfish positions powerful is that each of them is based on half truths. A sectarian society would not welcome policies that will throw its sectarian balance out of whack and the “Pan Arab resistance” parties cannot surrender an issue that is essential for their existence.
Fortunately there is a solution that will benefit all sides. (1)The adoption of a secular electoral system will dispense of this divisive sectarian tribal system once and for all. This can actually be a boon to all by enabling true citizenship to emerge. (2) The act of transforming the deplorable conditions in the camps will rob the “resistance” parties of their military option which has been ineffective anyway but should help them move into the potentially more productive realm of promoting civil disobedience policies. And obviously every single Palestinian will gain more self respect and a greater opportunity to fulfill their human potential.


Paul said...

Great post. I totally agree with you on the Palestinian issue, and on the secularism solution.
But describing March 8 parties and Hezbollah as "progressive" seems pretty far fetched to me .

Ghassan Karam said...

In all candor, I was not very comfortable with the term myself. Thanks for pointing that out, there is no need for short cuts :-)


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