The power of citizenship is probably best known by those who are denied it. Examine this statement with respect to the experience of Palestinians in Lebanon.
by minijacques (student)
‘The power of citizenship is probably best known by those who are denied it.’ Examine this statement with respect to the experience of Palestinians in Lebanon.
In 1948 over 100,000 Palestinians fled from Israel to Lebanon following Nakba. In the present day this number has swelled to over 450,000, even more if those undocumented are included (UNWRA, 2015). They occupy over a dozen camps and are make up the biggest user of UNWRA resources. Their swelling numbers has put strain on aid resources whilst also souring their initial warm welcome with locals. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live in poverty, in a society that discriminates and oppresses them. Citizenship is political tool that could have the power to change their abject position.
Citizenship can be defined as “an institution mediating rights between the subjects of politics and the polity to which these subjects belong” (Isin & Nyers, 2014, p. 1). This is a definition of great breadth. The relevant concept within this definition is the rights afforded by citizenship. It is these civil, political and social rights that are denied to many Palestinians in Lebanon (and its resulting ‘power’ for them). For Isin & Nyers the power of citizenship is similar to Arendt’s “right to have rights”.
How powerful would citizenship be for Palestinians though? Since 1948 Lebanon has firmly supported the Palestinian ‘right to return’. This support has come as double edged sword. The Arab League asserts that for Palestinians to retain their ‘separate and special status’ they cannot be allowed to assimilate into local populations, isolating them. (Takkenberg, 1998, p. 62) Associated with this is the delicate sectarian balance of Lebanon; the president must be Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim and speaker of parliament Shia Muslim. The Lebanese political class has been virtually unanimous in agreeing that the largely Sunni Muslim Palestinian population can never be allowed civil rights because of the feared impact on the consociation balance. (Shafie, 2007, p. 14) In addition to this is the perceived security threat of Palestinians. The PLOs involvement in the Lebanese civil war is still firm in their conscience. (Haddad, 2006, p. 472) This is demonstrated most overtly in the 1989 Taif Agreement, whereby refugees’ were excluded them from the national reconciliation process and the General Amnesty Law. (Yassine, 2010) Observing these factors it could be argued that the powers afforded to citizenship would have no positive bearing on the Palestinians fortunes. So cemented is the political climate against the Palestinians that they would never be treated as equals. However this is a short sighted, reductionist argument. Looking to the surrounding nation of Jordan the lot of the refugee is much improved. The right of return can be maintained by the strengthening of a Palestinians identity. Political and public sectarian fears can be combated by the de-politicisation of the Palestinians and their integration in society.
Palestinians in Lebanon are not clearly legally defined. They are excluded from the UNHCR (Takkenberg, 1998, p. 68) denying them rights under international law. In 1987, the Lebanon abrogated the 1969 Cairo Agreement and with it the rights granted to Palestinians. (Shafie, 2007, p. 8) Lebanon considers “the Palestinians in its territory to be refugees under the care of UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations” (Yassine, 2010) denying them rights at a national level. Their care is entirely left to UNWRA. However UNWRA has no legal power to ensure rights. In fact (Knudsen, 2009, p. 54) asserts “no international body secures legal protection for Palestinian refugees”. This has led scholars to coin the ‘protection gap’ whereby the ambiguous legal status of the refugees has led to abuse and discrimination. (Akram, 2002).
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UNWRA is the biggest advocate for Palestinian rights; however it could also be one of the biggest hindrances in the way of these rights. Whilst the Lebanese government, Palestinians and international community can rely on UNWRA to provide and care for the Palestinians they do not have to address any issues. However UNWRA has little power to improve the lot of the Palestinians. (Gottheil, 2006, p. 418) states that UNWRA “forced to abandon the pursuit of assisting refugees to get on with their lives - repatriation or resettlement - it became strictly a caretaker agency”. The problem lies here in that UNWRA is not an alternative to legal protection for the Palestinians, it cannot guarantee their rights.
In Lebanese law, rights are afforded to non-citizens on the basis that these rights are afforded to Lebanese citizens in the recipient’s country (Ministerial Decree No. 17561 of 10 July 1962). This concept of reciprocity has aggravated the protection gap. The Palestinians are a stateless people, this means they cannot claim reciprocity and this means they are denied many rights.
Problems that arise from this can be demonstrated by Palestinian employment in Lebanon. Recent surveys show only 37% of those of working age are employed. (Hanafi, Chaaban, & Seyfert, 2012). This is because only recently has Lebanese law been changed that prevented them from access to around 70 jobs (20 are still outlawed along with ‘liberal’ professions) (Universal Periodic Review, 2015, p. 102). Most Palestinians have found themselves working day to day in menial labour with no job security and no benefits. (Al Jazeera, 2016) This is because work permits are normally outside the means of Palestinians, require them to pay taxes from which they receive no benefits and cost employers more than if they offer an illegal non-permit job to them. The recent law change has marginally improved Palestinian prospects however it still leaves them at the mercy of ministerial decrees. There are no legal guarantees for the rights of their employment.
Worsening employment opportunities is the fact that all students in Lebanese schools must be Lebanese. Consequently Palestinians are almost entirely reliant on, basic, overcrowded, UNWRA schools for their education. These schools have the highest dropout rates in all of UNRWA’s areas of operations. Higher education is encumbered by the aforementioned labour laws and its cost for those who are already economically deprived. (UNWRA, 2011) UNWRA is also the main provider of care as all Palestinians are denied access to Lebanese public health care as well as any forms of social security. (Shafie, 2007, pp. 12-13)
In addition to this are property rights. Presidential Decree 11614 of January 1969, modified in April 2001 by Law No. 296, prohibits persons ‘who not carry a citizenship issued by a recognised state’ from owning property in Lebanon. This has severely limited any chance of social mobility for Palestinians and has essentially left them confined to crowded camps whose limits have not been expanded since 1948 but with at least 300,000 more inhabitants. Worsening this issue is de facto outlawing of construction materials in the camps which has left them in a state of severe disrepair. (Shafie, 2007, p. 13). This confinement is exacerbated by the limits on movement. Movement to and between refugee camps, are subject to strict security measures. The Lebanese army maintains checkpoints at the entrances to many of the camps. To top this off international travel documents and visas are difficult to procure. (Universal Periodic Review, 2015, p. 100) If Palestinians were afforded the rights of citizenship or that of a permanent resident they could enjoy the right of private ownership, free movement and avoid their increasing ghettoization.
The freedom of association is also constrained to reciprocity. As a result organisations such as Palestinian Human Rights Organization, created in 1997 are still not legally recognised, greatly hindering their work. (International Federation for Human Rights, 2003, p. 14). This is complimented by a ban on public demonstration by Ministerial Decree 352 of 2006 stating “the organizers of the demonstration have to be Lebanese".
Perhaps the most glaring example of oppression by reciprocity is the Palestinians who have been detained without a trial. For example in 2007 Lebanese authorities detained some Nahr Al-Bared residents without fair trial, they are still detained to this present day. (Universal Periodic Review, 2015, p. 104) Palestinians are dealt with under intelligence security laws denying them the right to a fair trial afforded to citizens of all other nations.
Beyond the base legal implications of reciprocity have been the social effects on Lebanon. Palestinians are often subject to discrimination, no doubt partially due to their legal under status. (Haddad, 2006, p. 479) UNWRA notes Palestinians “refer to themselves as the ‘forgotten people’” (UNWRA, 2011, p. 22). A quote from an (Amnesty International, 2007, p. 20) source exemplifies this “Even if you do get a job, Palestinians are paid less. While a Lebanese person would be paid US$500-600 as a starting salary, a Palestinian would get US$300-400 for the same job.” The legal recognition of Palestinian rights would no doubt be a step in the direction of combating these intolerant views.
This section has quite clear demonstrated the mal effects of reciprocity on the Palestinians. Under its auspices they have been deprived of their basic human rights, including their right to work, education, healthcare, property, movement, association and a fair trial. In addition to this they face daily discrimination from a bigoted society. Any citizen of any other country would not face these difficulties. It is clear that the infirmities caused by reciprocity are a symptom of lack of citizenship making clear is power to the Palestinians in Lebanon.
The right of return is an issue intrinsically linked to the problem of reciprocity. Lebanon is of the position that any move towards normalising Palestinian settlement in the country weakens the Palestinian claim for a right to return. This is reinforced by Palestinian sentiment; In a 2005 opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Association for Human Rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon 96% would never give up their right of return. (Saida News, 2005). Given that a resolution to the right of return is certainly not in the near future provisions must be made for the status quo. As aforementioned it is clear that the Palestinians find themselves in abject conditions with little chance of betterment. The problem that Palestinians believe is that if they advocate for individual rights they will lose their identity and hope of return. However if they focus on the abstractness of Palestine their different status excludes them locally. This is a misnomer however (Elsayed-Ali, 2006, p. 2) articulates a “link is being made between non-competing rights: the right to adequate housing or to own property, and the right to return. In reality, neither right negates the other.” The first step to improving Palestinian life is the guaranteeing of their basic human rights (health, education, work, marriage etc.). This is a guarantee that can be given without conflicting with the right of return.
The darker side to the ‘right of return’ issue is that of ‘tawteen’ or the naturalisation of Palestinians. As previously mentioned the addition of Palestinians to the demographic of Lebanese politics would unbalance the current confessional system. Their resulting oppression is, as one commentator puts it, a sign “they want Palestinians to give up, despair and emigrate.” (Al Jazeera, 2016). The fear of the political class is shared with the people; a survey taken showed that 40% of Lebanese people believe that the resettlement of Palestinians would lead to another civil war. (Khashan, 1994, p. 10) This fear of tawteen has been damaging for the Palestinians. For example legally Lebanese mothers cannot pass their citizenship to their children if the father is Palestinian. (Universal Periodic Review, 2015, p. 96) A way to combat this prejudice would be the integration of Palestinians without granting them political participation. If the Lebanese people realise that the people who have lived with them for the past 60 years share parallels, whilst removing their threat of political dissent then they could be more open to the improvement of their position.
The status quo is a grim one. Recommendations, already touched upon, for the improvement of the Palestinians position would be as follows. First is the enshrinement of basic civil and social rights for Palestinians in Lebanon; based on an internationally recognised citizenship granted and under the responsibility of the PNA to a greater Palestinian identity. This would remove them from the damaging legal ambiguity, alleviate Lebanese fears of tawteen and allow Palestinians the opportunity as UNWRA coined it to ‘get on with their lives’. Secondly there should be the fostering of Palestinian civil society and identity this would not only focus Palestinian political efforts but also ensure the enduring of the right of return. These recommendations would serve to ease pressure on both sides of the dilemma, with the power of the aforesaid citizenship serving to improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon.
In conclusion it has been shown that the legal ambiguity of the Palestinians has led to a clear protection gap. This gap led to difficulties for the Palestinians due to the concept of reciprocity in Lebanese law, the enshrinement of the right of return in Arab consciousness and the fear of tawteen among the Lebanese political class and public. Some could argue that these problems are intransigent. The Palestinians are stuck in the impossible position of a hostile host nation with the aid of a powerless ‘caretaker’. What could be the salve to these difficulties? It has been clearly demonstrated that the guarantor of rights in Lebanon is citizenship; Palestinians are feeling the power of its absence. Therefore the granting of citizenship in accordance with the recommendations above would have the power to lift the Palestinians to a level playing field as their rights are guaranteed by law.
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