Why We Petition For Palestinian Civil Rights in Lebanon

By Franklin lamb – Beirut

"We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change or resistance. Small acts, when multiplied by many people, can transform the world."

"If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory." —  Professor Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

Hundreds of people from around the World have signed an Online Petition in the opening days of an international effort to achieve basic Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon.

We Petition because we believe that alongside Statehood, and the exigency of lifting the criminal siege of Gaza, immediately granting the right to work and the right to purchase a home to Palestinians in Lebanon, after 62 years of indignity and degradation, is a fundamental imperative of basic morality and justice.

We Petition because as British journalist Robert Fisk wrote in the UK Independent on January 16, 2010 after a camp visit: “ The Sabra and Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camps are repulsive, obscene, outrageous, filthy, stinking slums and a place of such squalor that the gorge rises that human beings even live there.” The reason why Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian Refugee camps are the worst of the 58 camps in the Middle East is due primarily to the fact that unlike occupied Palestine, Jordan, and Syria, Palestinians in Lebanon do not possess the most basic civil rights

We Petition because many of us are from countries that continue to aid and abet this degradation, for which like each of our fellow citizens we bare personal responsibility and feel shame, as we contemplate the founding principles of our nations that we cherish being sullied by silence and inaction.

We Petition because Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees are today, as has been the case for 62 years, systematically deprived of basic rights guaranteed by the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and because the Palestinian refugees are the only refugee population in the world excluded from the international protection accorded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Statute and the Refugee Convention. At the end of 2008, at least 7.1 million Palestinians, representing 67 percent of the entire Palestinian population (10.6 million) worldwide were displaced persons. Among them are 6.6 million refugees and 427,000 IDPs. This makes Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) the largest and longest-standing case of displaced persons in the world today.

We Petition because the Lebanese government, in particular, as well as the broader international community, have the obligation to respect and ensure the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinians living in Lebanon, without discrimination. These rights include the rights to work, to education, to the highest attainable standard of health, to adequate housing and an adequate standard of living.

We Petition because we want to twin with every Palestinian Refugee in Lebanon and to pay heartfelt condolences to the families of every Lebanese who died during the several aggressions launched against them. Each Petition signature links with our cherished friend, Badriah Haij of Shatila Refugee Camp, now ill and preparing for death and to meet the Prophets. Sixty two years ago she walked for two days into Lebanon at Maron al Ras from her village of Al Amoka near Safad, Palestine. Badriah’s fervent death wish, and that of her daughter Zeinab and her siblings, is to have someone bring a handful of dirt from her family homestead for her children to sprinkle into her casket in Lebanon until, as Badriah believes, her remains will be returned to Palestine and she can rest in peace. Each signature links with Master Ali Hamise a young man of 11 years old who happened upon a delegation of visiting Europeans and Americans recently and they engaged the ill glad youngster near the garbage pile on Rue Sabra. Ali stunned the visitors with his knowledge of Palestine as he recited much history and the names of nearly 150 destroyed villages in occupied Palestine that he insisted must be rebuilt “so people can go home.” “How could da kinder know all that?” a crusty German gentleman asked.

And each signature links in solidarity with more than 7 million Palestinians in the Diaspora, many forced to disperse to survive and whose Right of Return is inerasably engraved in international law.

We Petition because International law requires that civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights must be accorded the Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon without discrimination. Lebanon, like all Countries, must ensure that any discrimination against her hosted Palestinian Refugees is eliminated. The discretion given to countries in the extent to which they must ensure economic rights for Refugees does not justify restricting access to the right to work on the basis of preserving the right to return, as some in Lebanon have argued. Lebanon is obliged not to interpret the distinction between nationals and non-nationals to undermine their obligations under international human rights law.

For example, Lebanese Presidential Decree 11614 of 1969, as modified by Decree 296 of 2001, prohibits people who do "not carry a citizenship issued by a recognized state" from securing legal title to housing and land in Lebanon. This draconian legislation specifically targets Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugees although they are not specified in the Decree. It means that Palestinian refugees, because virtually all stateless people in Lebanon are Palestinian refugees, and most Palestinian refugees are stateless: “No real right to housing, land or property of any kind may be acquired by any person that does not carry a citizenship issued by a recognized state, or by any person if such acquisition contradicts with the provisions of the constitution relating to the prohibition of Settlement (tawteen)." Article 1 of the amended Decree 296.

This law is in direct violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) ratified by Lebanon on November 24, 2008, as well as other treaty obligation and numerous provisions of customary international law.

We Petition because the legal prohibition on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon registering legal title to housing and land greatly diminishes their chance of enjoying security of tenure outside the camps, leaving most of them with little choice but to remain in the camps and gatherings. Lebanese law also prevents Palestinian refugees from inheriting housing or land, and from registering real estate, even if they have been paying for it in installments for years.

We Petition because we believe Lebanon’s Parliament will heed a sincere broadly based international urgent appeal to fulfill the unique Lebanese role in the region and exhibit its gifted people’s deeply ingrained humanitarianism. And because courageous Lebanese officials working for the enactment of legislation granting civil rights to Palestinian Refugees urge us to do so, that they may demonstrate international support for and expectation of, correcting this grave injustice that has also diminished Lebanon’s standing among the community of Nations. To its great credit Lebanon’s new Parliament appears ready to seriously consider the enactment of basic civil rights for its Palestinian Refugees including the right to work and the right to own a home, have a recognized ID document and to move freely inside Lebanon and outside the camps without fear of harassment or arbitrary arrest.

We Petition to give Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees a feeling of hope and power that many are in danger of losing and to convince them that ultimately power rests with the people themselves and, as has often happened in history they can use it as blacks, women and the anti-war movement have done in American history and that the anti-war movement must reconstitute and do again.

To paraphrase one of my Professors at Boston University, the late Howard Zinn, who later was also the inaugural speaker at the Boston University School of Law Seminar-Forum, which he helped me establish during the Vietnam war, (in order to bring guest speakers on social issues and enliven our law school curriculum, top heavy as it was, by way too much Corporate Taxation, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Estate planning etc) however dire the conditions, however many will advise in all sincerity that those in power will not allow even the most basic civil rights for Palestinians in Lebanon we cannot give up the game before all the cards, including those from a multitude of supporters around the world, have been played.

The obstacles may seem invincible and also our opponents in their determination to hold onto the status quo. But that apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable in history to human qualities less measurable than entrenched political power such as moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, and persistence. No rational analysis and calculation of the imbalance of power need deter people who are persuaded that the cause for civil rights for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is just.

Please support the enactment of basic civil rights for our Palestinian sisters and brothers in Lebanon in the sure knowledge that when we succeed, and succeed we shall, you will personally have improved the World.

Please click here to sign.

– Franklin P. Lamb, LLM,PhD  is the director of Americans Concerned for Middle East Peace, Wash.DC-Beirut. He is a board member of The Sabra Shatila Foundation and the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, Beirut-Washington DC. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: fplamb@gmail.com.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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