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Fri

06

Aug

2010

What’s going on in Lebanon’s Parliament this Summer? Anyone really serious about allowing Palestinians their civil rights?
Friday, 06 August 2010 03:27
by Franklin Lamb Ph.D., in Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, Beirut
“Some members of Parliament  prefer that the camps explode and then they will insist that “Palestinian  security problems must be resolved before Parliament can consider giving them civils rights”—meaning several more years of delay.That would be a disaster for all concerned.”
- ‘Ahmad’, Resident of Al-Buss  refugee camp, Tyre, Lebanon
Following some initiial optimism after MP Walid Jumblatt’s June 15  introduction of draft legislation that would exempt Palestinians  from the Kafkaesque work permit process,  grant them the right to own a home outside their oxygen scarce  ‘sardine can’ camps, and  allow them to  receive some  worker paid earned social security benefits,  progress has dramatically slowed .
 
During  last week’s Parliamentary  session Head of the Administration and Justice parliamentary committee, MP Robert Ghanem,  reiterated his request to Berri and Parliament for a two-month “rest period”.  Premier Saad Hariri called for postponing the voting  for “two months or two months and a half.” Several other members asked the same. Parliament Speaker Berri  quickly agreed and postponed voting on the subject until August 17, adding that  “…the law will not pass unless  it enjoys consensus among Lebanese parties.”

Some supporters of Palestinian civil rights see problems  with more delays and with Berri’s  “no passage of civil rights without consensus”.  What is meant by consensus?  A simple majority plus one, two-thirds or..?  
 
“ Does it mean  taking no legislative action on Palrestinains civil rights unless and until  MP Jumblatt  can agree with MP Sami Gemayel-normally polar opposites  on important issues?  Others argue that Berri has no authority to require ‘consensus’ as it would likely mean any proposal will deteriorate  into the lowest common denominator with virtually no rights being granted.  Under the Lebanese Constitution, a law passes when it receives one more vote in favor than against and what is needed for passage is not determined  by the Speaker.  Some in Parliament are insisting on  a straight up or down vote on bills presented on the subject of Palestinian civil rights.  If Jumblatts  or any other draft law  garners 65 votes out of 128 it passes.

A review of Lebanon’s Parliamentary history shows that virtually all  of Parliament’s important decisions have been made by a a straight up or down vote, not  ’consensus’.  Surely one  very important vote was the one that took place  on  August 17, 1970.  The  Parliamentary vote  margin that elected ‘consensus’ candidate Suleiman Frangieh  President of Lebanon  over Elias Sarkis was one vote, a result of  last minute vote  switches  engineered by Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt.   Forty years later to the day, August 17, 2010,  the  ‘consensus’  vote” on Kamel’s son Walid’s historic Palestinian Civil Rights  bill is scheduled for a vote.   A propitious  sign?  Enshallah!

Ambivalence has spread around Parliament despite two additional  measures  being  offered.  One was introduced in Parliament in early July by the  Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP). This draft law most closely reflects internationally mandated civil rights for refugees  and of all the proposals to date  the NSSP draft is what Parliament should enact  to finally remedy  six decades of  civil wrongs. If enacted it would remedy the serial discriminations by successive Lebanese governments  since the 1969-1982, “Ayyam al-Thawra” (“the Days of the Revolution”) , when Palestinian refugees  had many more  employment prospects and benefited from  improved camp living conditions.  The SSNP  proposal is a preferred “one package” solution that will avoid a protracted  piece by piece  process and would largely finish this urgent problem.
 
Faced with two substantive draft bills, the  right wing Christian  parties,  often at odds, have joined ranks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s (“If it were up to me I would grant Palestinians their rights tomorrow”-April, 2010) Future Movement (“Muqtaqbal) to slam on the Parliamentary  brakes.  All  the March 14th coalition  except  the Phalange Party have accepted this draft bill which currently  has the most support in Parliament  probably because it offers the refugees the least civil rights.  According to its sponsors, the draft must  be studied more before formally  considered.  A draft  being circulated  reveals that those refugees with a  Palestinian ID Card approved by the  Lebanese General Security can receive a temporary residency permit including a 5 year ‘laissez passer’ travel document but not the approximately 5000  non-ID’s who came in the 1970’s following Black September. Regrettably, this draft bill keeps the work permit  and only amends  Article 59 of the labor law  in order to  waive work permit fees for Palestinians.  Nor does it allow participation in the 25 Syndicated Professions because it retains the impossible to meet  Reciprocity requirements.

Some MPs are dexterous in their efforts to limit civil rights granted to Palestinians.  MP Robert Ghanem, argued on 7/19/10 that work permits are good for Palestinians “because they  will preserve the refugee status of Palestinians in Lebanon. We fear that if we exempted the Palestinians from a work permit, we will drop their refugee status and this does not come in line with their interests.”  MP Ghanem surely is aware that being allowed to work is very much in line with the refugees interests and has nothing at all to do with “dropping their refugee status.” In fact they do not have refugee status as provided by international law.  That is one of the main problems. 
 
Lebanon considers Palestinians  variously as “foreigners”, “special category of foreigners” and other times a “Palestinian refugees” without allowing them the legal rights that their refugee status warrant.

With respect to Social Security benefits, the March 14 proposal  requires that refugees pay into the Lebanese  Social Security Fund but allows only for end of service and a family allowance payment. Its specifically forbids sickness, accident or maternity benefits to Palestinian refugees. Without  health and accident  coverage the incentive to even seek a work permit wanes.  This ‘consensus’ proposal is more of a gesture than a solution and unless redrafted  remains  a bare bones proposal that will do little to  provide internationally mandated civil rights. Nor will it satisfy the  pursuit of genuine  rights among Lebanon’s Palestinians,  increasingly insisted on by the international community. Many Palestinians and their supporters are critical of this latest proposal and see it as offering  ‘a little something’ that  will allow its supporters to say, as one MP boasted last week: , “we will finally have achieved something for the refugees and anyhow,  how much more can we be expected to  squeeze from our flesh for  these Palestinians?”
 
No Enshallah please!   Just tell us Yes or No ok?
 
Meanwhile scores of Palestinians  protested outside Parliament last week as Palestinian frustration continues to mount in the camps over delays in granting civil rights. Parliamentary Speaker Nabeh Berri’s office when pressed for a statement  whether Parliament would take action this summer on the various bills would only offer a one word response:

 “Enshallah”
 
As a foreigner  in Lebanon this observor has come to really despise the  Arabic word ‘Enshallah’.  True, it sounds nice enough  and  more likely than not it comes from lips with a smile, and the literal tranlation is good also: “God willing”.

 However in reality, it’s a deadly and vicious expression that every guide book publisher on Lebanon has a moral duty to warn their readers about.  For the real meanings of “Enshallah” are:  , “probably not”, “almost certainly not going  to happen”, “forget about it fool”, or simply, “no way and go away!”  So if one is presented with the response, ‘Enshallah’, whether by the office of  the Speaker of Lebanon’s  Parliament ,  or  from someone you might be asking out on a date or trying to get something done in Lebnaon,  or tying to get civil rights legislation enacted into law, one has a big chance of being disappointed.

 In Lebanon’s Parliament,  about the worst thing that can happen to a members pet legislative initiative is to have it placed in “the Enshallah drawer”, meaning it is set aside for ‘Enshalleh’ considertion sometime in the  ‘Enshallah’ future.  Often never to be heard from.  Some fear  this is what may happen to proposals to grant Palestinian refugees  their internatioally mandadated right to work and to own a home.
 
Other reasons for Parliamentary delay?
 
Some Parliament watchers speculate that certain members  seek  to delay granting Palestinians  civil rights until the Special Tribunal for Lebanon hands down  expected indictments, concerning the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.  They calculate the STL announcements will dramatically increase Lebanese-Palestinian tensions.  Change and Reform parliamentary bloc MP Michel Aoun (Free Patriotic Movement leader), no advocate of any meaningful civil rights for Palestinians, is warning of a US ‘green lighted’  Israeli invasion of Lebanon if the STL indicts “uncontrolled” Hezbollah members. Others claim the main problem is that Lebanon cannot move beyond the 1975-1990 Civil War and raising in Parliament the subject of Palestinians brings up also many painful memories that most  of the confessions wish to forget.
 
While some political analysts in Lebanon think there is a chance that  Parliament may well ease the restrictions on the right to work, there is still strong opposition to granting Palestinian refugees the internationally recognized right to own real property or even a single home--an international right allowed in all other countries.  As a scare tactic on this issue the specter of ‘Naturalization’ is again raised even though it has nothing to do with home ownership.
 
If Israelis can buy homes in Lebanon why not Palestinian refugees?

There is no shortage of Lebanese politicians  who will explain why Palestinian home ownership is out of the question including the claim that  there is simply not enough land in crowded Lebnaon for foreigingers to be allowed to purchase any. Kataeb-Phalance bloc MP Elie Marouni  told his followers on Bastille Day  last week  “that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will never be naturalized  as long as there are Christian believers who  will sacrifice themselves for the sake of Lebanon. We don’t have the space.” His colleague and Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel warned the day before  that “granting Palestinians the right to own property would lead to their naturalization”.

 Neither of these leaders, has  explained  why during  the half century (1948-2001) when Palestinian refugees were allowed to own property the question of “naturalization” was never an issue.  There was no problem. The fact is that the assertion that  ‘naturalization’  would be the result of a refugee family owning a home is  false and it is was invented  solely  for the reason that it provides ‘raw meat’  for detractors who  basically  don’t want any rights for any Palestinians no matter what the facts are.

According to Lebanese Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil: “Fanning the coals of ‘naturalization’ is a recent bogeyman meant to scare Christians who already are nervous because their numbers continue to shrink.  Generally  more affluent than other sects, they are able to leave Lebanon for better prospects.  If Palestinians were able to work and became a bit more affluent many of them would leave also but that fact appears lost on those who prefer to keep them in squalid camps in Lebanon rather than  allowing them  to work and perhaps move out of Lebanon.”

 The ‘not enough land for foreigners’ claim is faulty on two grounds.  Regarding population density, in  Saida’s Ein el Helwe Camp, the largest of the 12 in Lebanon, approximately 90,000 refugees are tightly packed into less than 1 km sq. area whereas the average Lebanese population density is close to 350 persons per sq, km.

Foreigners buy as much land in Lebanon as they wish and can afford despite the ‘legal’ limitations for  foreigners of 3,000 sq. meters in Beirut and 5000 sq. meters outside Beirut. Foreigners regularly  ignore the “law”  and sometimes pay bribes to purchase whatever land they want and sometmes even citizenship.

Free Patriotic Movement leader and Hezbollah ally MP Michel Aoun is  calling for a new law to reclaim property from foreign owners in response to complaints about his voicing  strong objection to granting Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the right to own property.

"We can't issue a law that gives the Palestinians the right to own property, but we can issue a law to reclaim properties owned by foreigners," Aoun  said with a straight face,  adding that  "Christian parties didn't act with prejudice when the issue of civil rights for  Palestinian refugees was raised. “Our stance is similar to that of the Phalange Party and the draft law would only be put to the vote of the parliament after being studied," Aoun added. Some in Lebanon are waiting to see if  General Aoun’s  “No buying a little bit of Lebanon” law gets introduced in Parliament and what the US Congress and Arab league reaction will be if it does.
BayIt BeyLebnan?  ( Hebrew for ‘your home in Lebanon?’)

The Israeli-American  Likud banker and warmonger Irving I. Moscowitz, financial backer of the archeological tunnel in east Jerusalem and supporter, financially or otherwise,  of virtually all Zionist groups developing stolen Palestinian land including his  own  properties in Maale Adumim, Har Homa in Palestinian east Jerusalem and Beitar Illit is claimed to have moved  into the real estate market in  Lebanon.

 Regarding occupied Palestine, Moscowitz has for years advised would be investors, (ignoring the Geneva Conventions and settled International law)  at Jewish only “real estate fairs” in American and European Synagogues :  “Your investment is insured, protected and 100% legal. You should consider strengthening your portfolio and Israel's future!" 

Moscowitz   is said to  expect competition  for Lebanese land from Lev Leviev, who the NYT refers to as ‘the missionary mogul”.  Leviev,  now the world’s largest cutter and polisher of diamonds,  also specializes in illegal real estate developments on stolen Palestinian land.  Leviev’s , Leader Management and Development, is currently building the settlement of Zufim on Palestinian land in the illegally occupied West Bank. When asked recently by Ha’aretz Daily if  he has a problem building on expropriated Arab  land he replied,  “For me, Israel, Jerusalem, Lebanon are all the same.”So are the Golan Heights. As far as I’m concerned, all of Eretz Israel is holy. To decide the future of Jerusalem? It belongs to the Jewish people. What is there to decide? Jerusalem is not a topic for discussion.”

Both tell associates that with their American partners, they are moving into the Lebanese real estate market which they find attractive. If true, Lebanon’s  Parliament might  want to consider using some of the extra time  they have extended themselves this summer, currently being  devoted to sounding the ‘chicken little sky is falling’ alarm about Palestinians wanting to exercise their internationally mandated civil right to own a home pending their return to Palestine.   Parliament should investigate  claims that  “American” companies”, some with 100%  Israeli stockholders are buying up Lebanese land and using bribes to avoid Lebanese law.
‘Darwish’, a school teacher in South Lebanon explained this week what many Palestinains feel:
 “My family home and property were stolen by Zionist thugs  in Akka  in 1948 and also our cousins home  outside Jerusalem. If you look at the current advertisement in Israeli newspapers,  (‘Darwish shows a copy of an ad he printed off the internet from Haaretz.com  that reads, “Own a little piece of Switzerland” which describes a quaint Swiss like scene, and it shows a bucollic vista that Darwish claims was his family’s village, now a Zionist colony.)  so you see this is my problem. 
 
In Palestine our  home was stolen and in Lebanon I cannot own one.  Worse than this, it bothers me and my family that Zionists can now sell my land in Palestine to foreigners while as a Palestinian in Lebanon I cannot buy a temporary  home.  Israelies can invest their profits from our stolen Palestinian land  and they can build homes in Lebanon  and sell to other foreigners, but Palestinians can’t buy a home here.  We have heard that some of the same “American and European” companines that sell  our Palesitnian land to foreigners in Palestinian  now operate in Lebanon. One ‘Ameican’ company is reported to have 11 stockholders.  All of them Israelis”.

Parliament appears to be  ‘playing’ the Palestinians this summer,  as well as ‘playing’  the international community that expects more courage,  compassion  and respect for international human rights  from a gifted people.  Parliament   risks  degrading Lebanon in the process and its  leaders  should schedule a straight up vote  without further dilatory tactics such a ‘more study’ and ‘building   near unanimous consensus’ that appears designed to produce the lowest common denominator which means that without  political will and courage  it will likely produce not much at all. 
 
Regarding six decades of  annual calls for ‘more study of this sensitive problem’ there are already more than 30 studies completed just since 2000.  They unanimously conclude  what  nearly  every ten years old in Lebanon understands  needs to be done and  that is to grant  the internationally mandated right to work, to  own, inherit and bequeath  a home, and access to  some social security protection without further dilatory tactics.
Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign and can be reached at fplamb@palestinecivilrightscampaign.org.
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