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Since
gaining its independence from the French Mandate in 1943, Lebanon has been a
nation that has experienced great prosperity through its financial power while
at the same time; it has generated much instability through its confessional
system of government. Once thought to be an up and coming nation, with its
capital even called, “Paris of the Middle East,” Lebanon throughout its history
has experienced major domestic issues that have remained unsolved. One of the
main issues in Lebanese society is what to do with the Palestinian refugees,
which has been a central theme in the nation since the Arab-Israeli conflict in
1948. According to the UNRWA, there are currently 504,000 registered
Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.1
Of all the nations hosting Palestinian refugees, Lebanon presents the most
delicate and serious of problems due to its confessional system.2
The system itself was established early in Lebanon to secure a peaceful and
diplomatic balance between the diverse religious and ethnic communities within
the nation. However, the system also has its drawbacks as it allows for certain
groups to use their political weight at the expense of other groups. In this
case, the political leveraging from certain groups such as the Maronite
Christians have directly led to the mistreatment of the refugees. Through
extensive research and first hand accounts from Malak Abdul Ghafour this paper
will take a brief look into the history and politics of Lebanon while offering
a conclusion as to why Palestinian refugees are not afforded citizenship within
the nation. In this paper, I argue that the Lebanese government will not grant
Palestinian refugees citizenship because of fear of disrupting the delicate
balance in the countries political structure. Instead of integrating the
Palestinian refugees into society the Lebanese government neglects and
constricts them, casting blame onto them for the countries misfortunes.

 

Origin of
Palestinian Refugees:

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The beginning of the
Palestinian refugee crisis can be directly linked to events surrounding the
Arab-Israeli War in 1948. “No event has marked Arab politics in the second half
of the twentieth century more profoundly. The Arab-Israeli wars, the Cold War
in the Middle East, the rise of the Palestinian armed struggle and the politics
of peace making in all of their complexity are a direct consequence of the
Palestine War.”3
Within hours of the establishment of the State of Israel, an Arab coalition,
which consisted of five Arab nations, invaded the state creating an all out
war. Due to this conflict as many as 750,000 Palestinians fled their homes as a
result of the fighting and fear of the Israel state. “The exodus was the result of many diverse
elements psychological, military and political, which combined together to
produce this phenomenon. It was a result of the contradictory actions and
reactions, which destroyed all hopes in the hearts of the Arab population and
urged them to flee aimlessly hither and thither.”4
This single event sparked or ignited the Palestinian refugee problem we now see
today by displacing hundreds of thousands of individuals. These individuals now
had no home or no land of their own and given the instability of the Middle
East in the previous decades prior to this event and in the forthcoming decades
of the latter half of the 20th century, these people will find it
extremely difficult to immerse themselves in a new Arab nation.

This
event indirectly affected my research partner Malak Abdul Ghafour as well.

Malak is a twenty-two year old female who was born and raised in Beirut,
Lebanon. Her family fled their homeland of Acre, Israel in the years following
the third Arab-Israeli War in 1967. “They could not stay… their land was no
longer their own.”5
Her family eventually settled in Syria and later moved their immediate family
to Beirut. While Malak, through our discussions, did not mention how
significant the Arab-Israeli conflict was to her directly one cannot help but
show how important of an event it was not just for Malak’s family but also for
the Palestinian people within the region all together.  The 1948 conflict certainly served as a
catalyst for the additional Arab-Israeli conflicts that ensued in the following
decades.

 

Origin of Lebanon’s
Confessional System:

The fall of the Ottoman Empire, at
the conclusion of World War I, brought with it immense instability to the Arab
world. Middle Eastern nations were now turned over to European nations, as was
the case for Lebanon. Lebanon was established as new French mandate in 1923 and
eventually gained its independence twenty years later. The French mandate
system was different from imperialism in the sense that France, in this case,
served more as a partner to Lebanon rather than an authoritarian ruler.6

            Instability
within Lebanon was commonplace from the inception of the newly established
mandate. Division between Maronite Christians and Muslims was at the center of
the instability. In an effort to control the various Muslim groups located in
Lebanon, the French empowered the Maronite population in the region in order to
secure a stable presence in the region.7
Obviously, this angered a number of Muslims as they struggled with a Maronite
dominated state. This mandate system was not good for Lebanon because Lebanon
is very diverse and regionally split dependent on religion.

An additional factor, which
contributes to Lebanon’s instability, is the role of the 1932 national census.

This census in 1932 was the last conducted census by the nation. Despite the
obvious time lapse of when the first census was completed until now, Rania
Maktabi also has her concerns about the census. “The way the figures were
obtained, presented and analyzed indicates that the census findings were
heavily politicized, and embodied contested issues regarding the identity of
the Lebanese state with which the country is still grappling.”8
This census is very important because it played a fundamental role in the
state-building process of Lebanon. This census became the framework for future
legislation pertaining to citizenship and it also was the basis for personal
registration for the general population in Lebanon.9
Maktabi’s report highlights some telling yet ironic numbers from the Lebanese
state. Nearly one-fourth of the Lebanese citizenry in the 1932 census were
emigrants. However, according to the census, Christian immigrants made up
approximately 20% of the total Lebanese citizenry, while non-Christian
immigrants accounted for 4% of the total Lebanese citizenry.10
This means that the majority of Christians who were in Lebanon at this juncture
where in fact transplants. The census, it can be argued, was altered in a way
to make it look as if Christians were the majority religion. “The identity of
the state was to be resolved by projecting a demographic reality indicating
that the identity of the population was predominantly Christian, thereby
securing and legitimizing Christian political dominance.”11

Lebanon’s political system features
eighteen recognized religious groups. The number of parliamentary seats held by
each group is dependent upon the results of the 1932 national census. Because
of the results of the 1932 Census, the Maronites are the dominant group in the
country, thus they control the presidency. Second in command, if you will, are
the Sunni Muslims and they have control of the prime minister seat.

Interestingly enough, majority of the Palestinian refugees are Sunni Muslim.

This is where the distrust lies in Lebanon. The Lebanese authorities, or more so the Christians, consider
Palestinians a threat to the sensitive balance of religious and ethnic
communities in their country.12
By giving citizenship to upwards of 500,000 refugees, the Maronites would no
longer be the dominant party. So, in their case, suppressing the Palestinians
allows them to retain their political power.

 

Experience of
Refugees:

Palestinian refugees have
historically been marginalized and rejected from the main aspects of social,
political and economic life in Lebanon. This remains true today as the standing
of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is in a dismal state. They continue to face
acute socioeconomic deprivation and legal barriers to their full enjoyment of a
broad range of human rights.13
They have no right to own property and are restricted to basic public services
such as health care and education. “Large
institutions are essentially closed to Palestinians because these are governed
by rules that make allocations in accordance with sectarian affiliation.”14
Refugees are also restricted on the professions that they are allowed to
enter. Malak, herself, has no health care coverage and is limited to only
thirty-six career fields that she may enter. Essentially for Palestinians in
Lebanon, despite being in a modern nation, they remain stateless and are still
treated as foreigners.15

Palestine refugees are dependent on
UNRWA services and relief due to the restricted access to public education,
public health care and social services, as well as employment.16
Malak, with her choice of career field and with the help of UNRWA, was able to
attend Lebanese American University in Beirut. Following her graduation, she
went on to intern for UNRWA, which led her to her current job at Sharq.

However, not every Palestinian is as fortunate or, frankly, lucky as Malak was.

The overwhelming majority of Palestinians in Lebanon, “must obtain work permits for all regular jobs:
construction, sanitation, and agriculture.” This puts an enormous burden on
refugees in their ability to make a good living within Lebanon. Many cannot
obtain these work permits and are forced into taking low wage work, which offer
no additional benefits. These low wage jobs, jobs such as a street vendor or
cab driver, further exacerbate the Palestinian refugees standing within the
nation. In other words, these jobs are no respected within the nation, which
makes the refugees partaking in them susceptible to additional discriminating
behavior. 

Roughly
half of Palestinian refugees live in one of the twelve refugee camps located
within Lebanon. The camps, which resemble more as the famous Warsaw Ghettos,
are poorly constructed, overcrowded and have poor sanitary conditions
unsuitable for any human being to live in. 
Malak was raised in these camps and she still lives in them today. She
currently lives in one of the four Refugee camps located in Beirut, though she
did not mention which particular one. “The camps are in the worst conditions.

We are like prisoned in the camps because we cannot buy houses outside the
camps.”17

Adding to the Palestinians problems
within the camp has been the arrival of additional peoples from nations like
Syria due to the Syrian Civil war and ISIS. These “displaced” people, as Malak
refers to them, are packed alongside into these camps if they cannot receive
shelter from organizations like the UNRWA. “The area of land allocated to the
refugee camps has reportedly remained largely unchanged since 1948, despite
significant population growth and the arrival of thousands of refugees from
Syria.”18
No new camps were set-aside for the Syrian people because they are not treated
as refugees in Lebanon. According to Malak, “Syrians are treated as displaced
peoples and live in Lebanon off of a permit.”19
This is an interesting point that Malak brought up to me. Essentially, as she
explained, is that the Syrian peoples experience differs from the Palestinian
peoples experience in the sense that the Syrians face less marginalization in
Lebanon. That is an interesting observation especially given the fact that
Palestinians, like Malak, have spent their entire lives in Lebanon and are for
the most part Lebanese; despite not being a documented citizen of the nation.

 

Major Historical
Developments:

The
Lebanese Civil War took place between 1975 and 1990 and continues to this day
to shape daily life within the country. The war itself contained a throng of
factions each of which with their supporters jostling with one another to gain
position of political power. However, there is no consensus of the history of
the war, but one thing does remain evident in Lebanon; Palestinian Refugees are
to blame. When looking at the major historical developments, which contributed
to the status of Palestinian refugees; this single event, along with early
Arab-Israeli conflicts, is certainly at the top. Malak agrees that the Lebanese
civil war is the most important even in Lebanon’s history. “My life today is
shaped on what happened during this time.”20
Largely, much of the mistreatment of Palestinian refugees from the Lebanese
government came about following this war. The disgraceful living conditions,
the marginalization and discrimination all arose and certainly became more
public in the years directly following the war. It can be taken a step further
by arguing that the Lebanese government purposefully targeted the Palestinian
refugees due to their potential threat to Lebanon’s sectarian government.

Feeding off public opinion and shifting blame to the Palestinians, the Lebanese
government was able to vindicate the unjust laws, housing and regulations made
for the refugees. 

The
2006 Lebanon War in many ways reinforced the status quo of Palestinian refugees
in Lebanon. This was a very trying time for all groups in Lebanon as the war,
even though brief, caused great devastation displaced an estimated 800,000
people.21
Malak, during this time, was sent to Syria to flee the fighting. The reason she
was sent away was due to the fact that the Lebanese government would not take
care of her if something bad had occurred. Essentially, as Malak explained to
me, the Lebanese government abandoned the Palestinians further restricting
refugees to essential needs such as food and water. The conditions became even
more unbearable and soon the refugees were further on their own.

 

How Malak Shapes
the World:

            Malak, a social worker in Beirut,
displays her agency by attempting to change the unstable world she has known
since her existence. Throughout her youth she has been labeled, discriminated
against, looked down upon and restricted on what she can and cannot do.

However, she wants to make a difference in Lebanon. She wants to make a
difference by helping people who have been through the same situations as her.

Sharq, the non-profit organization she works for, is enabling her make a
difference by giving her the opportunity in Lebanon. That feat alone is
impressive given that many young women like Malak are not afforded that
opportunity. Malak makes a difference in her community by being an activist of
pluralism, social work and humanitarianism. She wants to further her academic
career, as she will soon be applying to a Masters program. Yet, her goals have
not changed, she wants to help Lebanon for the better. “I love my country, even
though I am not Lebanese I feel like I belong here.”22

 

Conclusion:

After researching this topic and
discussing the relevant issues of Lebanon with Malak, I can certainly see how
Lebanon is true a house of many mansions. The political leveraging from groups
such as the Maronites, Druze and Muslim factions within the nation is quite
remarkable, as it leaves no place for ‘outsiders’ in the nation. Palestinian
refugees fled to Lebanon after losing their homeland following the various
Arab-Israeli conflicts of twentieth century. It can be stated that initially,
upon arriving in Lebanon, the Palestinians were not seeking long-lasting asylum
within the nation as they hoped that their native land would eventually be
turned back to them. However, that day never came and perhaps will never come.

Unfortunately for the refugees, they entered a nation of great instability,
fractured due to its sectarian confessional system, which has pitted various
religious groups against each other. Citizenship for Palestinian refugees in
Lebanon will never come to fruition because their very presence is seen a
threat to political balance of the nation. Sadly for individuals such as Malak,
who was born in Lebanon and wants to partake in all aspects of Lebanese
society, will never be granted that opportunity. Instead if she elects to stay
in Lebanon she will be continuously faced with daily discrimination,
confinement and possible abuse that has followed the majority of Palestinian
refugees in Lebanon’s complex history.

 

 

1UNHCR: The situation of Palestinian
refugees in Lebanon, 2016. http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/56cc95484.pdf
accessed November 17, 2017.

2 Simon Haddad. Middle East Quarterly, (Vol. 7, No. 3 2000), 29-40.

3 Eugene Rogan, Avi Shlaim. The War for Palestine Rewriting the History
of 1948 (Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 2001), 11.

4 Philip Mendes. A historical
controversy: the causes of the Palestinian refugee problem. (Acaemia 2000)

5 Malak Abdul Ghafour. Facebook.com,
accessed October 7, 2017.

6 Fawwaz Traboulsi, A
History of Modern Lebanon (Ann Arbor: Pluto, 2007), 70

7 Fawwaz Traboulsi, A
History of Modern Lebanon, 75

8 Rania Maktabi. The Lebanese Census of 1932 Revisited. British Journal of Middle
Eastern Studies, (Vol. 26, No. 2. Nov., 1999), 220.

9  Maktabi, 220.

10 Maktabi, 233.

11 Maktabi, 240.

12 Simon Haddad. The Palestinian impasse in
Lebanon: the politics of refugee integration. (Brighton:
Sussex Acad. Press, 2003), 2.

13 UNHCR http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/56cc95484.pdf
accessed November 17, 2017.

14 
Simon Haddad. Middle East
Quarterly, 2000.

15  Simon Haddad. Middle East Quarterly, 2000.

16 UNHCR: The situation of Palestinian
refugees in Lebanon, 2016. http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/56cc95484.pdf
accessed November 17, 2017.

17 Malak Abdul Ghafour. Facebook.com.

Accessed on October 7, 2017.

18 UNHCR http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/56cc95484.pdf
accessed November 17, 2017.

19 Malak Abdul Ghafour. Facebook.com.

Accessed on October 7, 2017.

20 Malak Abdul Ghafour, Facebook.com.

Accessed October 7, 2017.

21 Lebanon
Under Siege. Lebanon Higher Relief Council. 2007. Accessed on November 27,
2017.

 

22 Malak Abdul Ghafour, Facebook.com.

Accessed October 7, 2017.

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