By Mahmoud El-Yousseph
February 23, 2010
Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon face a very uncertain future. They deserve better. When Palestinians were kicked out of their homeland at gun point in 1948, some found a safe haven in Lebanon, where they were received with an open arms. Lebanese provided them shelters, food and other life essentials years before the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) took over. For that I am grateful, because I was born in one those 12 refugee camps 59 years ago.
Over six decades later, these refugees who constitute 17% of the total Palestinian population, continue to live in camps awaiting the right of return to their original homeland in Palestine. Until then, they have nowhere to go. Since most of the 450,000 refugees currently living in Lebanon (ten percent of Lebanon’s population) were born and raised there, why not grant them the basic civil rights enjoyed by their Lebanese counterparts and the rest of the world? With that I mean give them the right to work, own property and the right to medical benefits and social services.
Nawal Assadi is a young Palestinian writer who lives in Lebanon and writes extensively about the suffering of the refugees. In one of her articles she mentioned the story of Salah, who is a father of six children and unable to work for a medical reason. He relies on fishing to provide for his family, but that only nets him enough income for one meal per day to feed eight people. And if he is caught fishing, he has to pay a $1000 dollars fine.
Miss Assadi also met a family who lives only on deep fried potatoes [French Fries], never tasted fruits, and fresh vegetables are not part of their diet. Another heartwrenching story is about an elderly Palestinian living in a camp near Beirut who has to rely on the good will of others to survive and has no clue where her next meal is coming from.
Another heartbreaking story of mistreatment happened several years ago when a Lebanese-born Palestinian refugee was refused entry at Beirut airport because of some trumped-up problem with his documents by Lebanese authorities; he could see his mother through the glass partition but had to turn back to Bahrain without being able to visit.
Late last year, my niece Nadia’s husband Mohammad, who works at a dairy processing factory, was picked up at a checkpoint as a result of mistaken identity. His family was forced to pay 2000 dollars in legal fees to prove his innocence. He was kept in jail for nearly 5 months. He is a father of five and the only bread winner. Mohammad told his wife who visited him weekly not to bring his children along, as he did not want them to see him behind bars. As a condition of his release, his wife has to come up with $1000 bond, which she had to borrow. Talk about coercion and embezzlement!
Generally speaking, Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon are not much better off than their counterparts living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank or under siege in Gaza. Their life is a sad chapter full of sorrow. They are denied basic civil and human rights and their movement is restricted. In fact, they are caged inside the twelve camps like animals with armed guards at the gate.
American researcher Franklin Lamb, along with several non-governmental organizations are trying to generate awareness and pressure Lebanon to grant Palestinian refugees their basic civil rights. Mr. Lamb, a leading expert on the Palestinian issue, recently published a letter arguing for the need such rights. After all, the U.S. government has given the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) a written guarantee in 1982 that Palestinian civilian refugees in Lebanon would be protected if they withdrew their fighters from Beirut following the Israeli siege of the Lebanese capital.
No one puts more smiles on the faces of Palestinian children in Lebanon and in other refugee camps throughout the Middle East than Susan Abulhawa. Abulhawa, who is a resident of Philadelphia, is the founder of Playground for Palestine. For the last several years, she has been busy building playgrounds in every Palestinian refugee camp. Abulhawa is the author of the book, The Scar of David.
As of late January, a three-member team of volunteers sent from the USA by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (www.pcrf.net<http://www.pcrf. net/>) visited Lebanon to provide hundreds of Palestinian refugees highly specialized wheelchairs at no cost that were otherwise not available to them locally. The chairs were shipped by the PCRF in cooperation with ANERA and Hope Haven International Ministries, both of which the PCRF has partnered with in the past to help handicapped children in the Middle East. The team included Greg Skolaski, Tom Glumac and his son Michael, all three of whom have worked with the PCRF in the past in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Syria. Throughout the country the PCRF cooperated with several Palestinian and international NGOs to ensure that each person got the proper chair to fit their needs.
Finally, the aforementioned stories of abuse and mistreatment of Palestinians are used by Zionists to counter critics of Israeli policies. For instance, how can the government of Lebanon or Egypt demand Israel comply with U.N. Resolution 194 granting the right of return, but at the same time deny Palestinian refugees living in their countries very basic human and civil rights. Case in point is the traitorous regime in Egypt who is currently aiding Israel in starving Palestinians to death in Gaza. These governments serve one master, and we know who that is.
That said, it would be unfair not to recognize and honor the Lebanese family who employs my niece Nadia’s husband. As of this writing, I have learned from my older brother, Nimer, that the “Koju family” has rehired Mohammad upon his release. Not only that, they provided his wife and children all of his lost income during his wrongful imprisonment. That act of compassion and generosity is what gives me hope that one day, the Palestinians I left behind in Lebanon in 1971 will soon have the same rights and freedom that my family and I enjoy in the USA.
Retired USAF Veteran