Palestinians: Victims of apartheid in Lebanon

Palestinians: Victims of apartheid in Lebanon

An aerial view of northern Beirut, 2005. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

By Bassam Tawil

The recent arrest of a 64-year-old Palestinian woman by the Lebanese authorities has again highlighted Lebanon’s policy of systematic discrimination against the Palestinians living there.

The arrest is yet another example of the hypocrisy of those Arabs who continue to pay lip service to the Palestinians while depriving them of basic rights.

Lebanon deserves an award for excellence in hypocrisy and double standards. The Lebanese government hardly misses an opportunity to condemn Israel for defending itself against Palestinian terrorism. Yet, this is the same Lebanon that has for decades practiced systematic discrimination against Palestinians and keeps them in squalid, ghetto-like camps surrounded by barbed wire and walls.

This is also the same Lebanon that has thrown a Palestinian woman into jail for the crime of lacking a building permit.

Nasra Musa Mubarakeh, also known as Um Wissam, a resident of Rashidieh Refugee Camp, the second-most populous Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, was arrested by security forces on July 3 on charges of building a house without a permit.

In 1997, the Lebanese authorities issued a decree that banned Palestinian refugees from transporting building materials into refugee camps in the southern part of the country.

The Lebanese authorities claimed that the purpose of the ban was to prevent Palestinians from establishing permanent residence in Lebanon. The banned materials included cement, iron rebar, gravel, sand, tiles, aluminum, paint, water tanks and electricity generators. The ban specified that such materials could be confiscated and that Palestinians who violated the ban could be detained, questioned and fined.

The arrest of Um Wissam has triggered a wave of protests by Palestinians living in Lebanon.

Palestinian activists, noting that Um Wissam suffers from chronic diseases and takes medication, called for her immediate release.

Her family urged Palestinian factions to “take immediate action to release her, after the Lebanese authorities refused to do so until after they had demolished her house inside the camp.”

In an audio recording, Um Wissam’s grandson appealed to all concerned Palestinians to work for the release of his grandmother, held by the Lebanese authorities in Alma Prison in northern Lebanon.

“Any person has the right to live in a house worthy of him; it is one of the necessities of human life,” said Hassan al-Sayyida, a researcher and human rights activist at the Palestinian Association for Human Rights.

Um Wassam’s family urged Palestinian factions to “take immediate action to release her after the Lebanese authorities refused to do so until after they had demolished her house inside the camp.”

Israel, too, has demolished illegal homes—but for Arabs and Jews. Additionally, in Israel, there is no decree or law that bans construction material from entering Arab towns. Israel is not even doing much about the massive illegal building by Arabs, who have reportedly seized 30% of the land unpoetically called “Area C“: land that by mutual agreement in the Oslo Accords belongs wholly to Israel. One can go to the edge of Jerusalem and see literally countless illegal apartment towers built by Arabs, as well as smaller illegal buildings that extend south for miles.

“At present [2022] … there are 81,317 illegal Arab-built structures in this area,” according to the research group Regavim. Moreover, Israel never arrests or imprisons anyone because of a construction violation.

Al-Sayyida stressed the need for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) “to move quickly to address the issue, and to assume its legal responsibilities towards the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon.”

In a statement to Quds Press, al-Sayyida also called on the Palestinian forces and factions to “carry out their duty towards our Palestinian people in Lebanon, and to work by all means for the urgent release of the Palestinian woman who is being held by the Lebanese authorities to this day.”

“The procedures and restrictions imposed on the entry of building materials into the Palestinian camps in Lebanon are in contradiction with the principles of human rights,” Al-Sayyida said.

This is the second case within a year in which a Palestinian has been arrested in Lebanon on charges of a “construction violation.” On July 28, 2022, Lebanese authorities arrested another Palestinian woman, Amal Mousa, also on the pretext of building a house without a permit. Mousa was released only after she was forced to demolish the foundations of her house.

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights called on the Lebanese authorities to adopt a humane approach that takes into account the rights of Palestinian refugees with regard to construction.

The group pointed out that there is an urgent need to build new houses for Palestinians in Lebanon, “especially since the existing houses are not sufficient and do not meet the demographic increase in the population,” and noted that many Palestinians, as in the case of Um Wissam, are forced to build homes on top of the roofs of existing structures.

According to UNRWA:

“Palestine refugees in Lebanon face substantial challenges to the full enjoyment of their human rights. They are socially marginalized, have very limited civil, social, political, and economic rights, including restricted access to the Government of Lebanon’s public health, educational and social services and face significant restrictions on their right to work and right to own property.”

UNRWA also reported that the Palestinians are still prevented from employment in 39 professions such as medicine, law and engineering:

“Palestine refugees consistently report experiencing discrimination in hiring practices and opportunities for employment. They are faced with informal restrictions on the types of jobs and industries they can be hired for due to additional bureaucracy around contracts and work permits, and discrimination … .”

In 2001, the Lebanese government passed Law 296, adjusting the rules on foreign ownership of property. The law does not specifically mention Palestinians, but it prohibits “any person who is not a national of a recognized state … acquiring real estate property of any kind”—and therefore nicely serves to ban Palestinians living in Lebanon from buying or selling homes.

As Lebanese journalist Sawssan Abou-Zahr wrote:

“Palestinians are legally prohibited from possessing or inheriting property even if they have Lebanese mothers and/or wives! They literally have nothing in Lebanon.”

The Palestinian camps in Lebanon, she noted, are ghetto-like settlements, sometimes surrounded by segregation walls, barbed wire and military surveillance: “The camps are overcrowded and unorganized concrete blocks with decaying infrastructure.”

“[I]t is difficult to deny that the Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon have been subjected to systematic discrimination and to the violation of their basic human rights,” the “Palestine-Israel Journal” noted back in 2008.

“The Palestinian refugees have been forced into abject poverty by the Lebanese government’s denial of their rights to remunerated employment, social security, public health care, public education and property ownership. The argument that Palestinian integration into Lebanese society would either cause them to lose their right of return or would upset Lebanon’s sectarian balance is just a pretext the Lebanese government uses to discriminate against the Palestinians, whom many Lebanese blame for causing the Lebanese civil war. The Palestinian refugees are not asking for citizenship; they are simply asking to be afforded the rights given to other refugees around the world.”

The case of Um Wissam not only exposes the mistreatment of Palestinians at the hands of an Arab country but also the double standards of the international community and all the so-called pro-Palestinian individuals and groups.

Had Um Wissam been arrested by the Israeli authorities, her story would have made headlines on the front page of every major media outlet in the West. Her plight would have been highlighted by the United Nations, by every so-called human rights organization, and by every anti-Israel group on university campuses across the United States and the West. Foreign journalists would have been standing in line outside her family’s home while hoping to further trash Israel by using the details of her case. But as Um Wissam had the misfortune of being imprisoned by Lebanese authorities, her case holds no interest for the West.

Credit: JNS - Written by Bassam Tawil, originally published by the Gatestone Institute