The real apartheid in the Middle East – Analysis

When Palestinians in Lebanon cannot feed their children this winter, chalk it up to the world’s unjust lethal obsession with Israel.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute

Five thousand homes belonging to Palestinians in Lebanon are at risk of collapsing and are in dire need of renovation, according to a report in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.

These are the kind of reports that Amnesty International and many human rights organizations around the world apparently choose to ignore because Israel is not involved.

The report was published on the 25th anniversary of the Lebanese authorities’ decision prohibiting the entry of construction and repair materials into Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon without a permit.

The decision was issued by the Lebanese government in 1997, and the order for its implementation was referred to the Ministry of Defense because the army is responsible for granting construction permits to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

Seventeen years later, the Lebanese government allowed the entry of construction and restoration materials into the refugee camps, but reversed its decision after six months, without giving any reason.

The ban includes water pipes, electrical cables, wooden and iron doors, windows, cement, gravel, sand, tiles, water tanks, aluminum, glass and paint materials. A Palestinian who violates the ban and is caught trying to bring in any of the building or renovation materials without permission is arrested and transferred to an army barracks, where he is subject to an investigation and a fine.

Where is Amnesty International?

Where is the outcry from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations? When an Arab country subjects Palestinians to actual apartheid measures, the international community is too busy lying about Israel’s alleged abuses to take notice.

According to the report, 20,000 Palestinian homes in Lebanon urgently require repairs and renovation due to natural factors, and any natural disaster may endanger the lives of those living in the camps.

The report quoted an official with the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) as saying that it was “only a matter of time before we witness a humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the poor conditions of the buildings.”

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In 2001, the Lebanese parliament approved law number 296, regarding the acquisition of real estate rights by “foreigners” in Lebanon.

Various Lebanese governments have classified the Palestinians as “foreigners, refugees or stateless people,” even though they were born in Lebanon. Palestinians, in addition, are generally not granted Lebanese citizenship. According to a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council:

“In 2001 the Lebanese Parliament amended the Right to Real Estate Acquisition for Foreigners… to prohibit non- Lebanese from acquiring real rights in Lebanon without a permit. The amendment was interpreted to specifically prohibit Palestinian refugees in Lebanon from acquiring real estate property rights… including through inheritance.”

According to UNRWA, 63% of Palestinians in Lebanon reside in 12 refugee camps that are overcrowded and affected by sub-standard infrastructure, sanitation and housing. In addition, camp inhabitants have extremely limited abilities to improve their housing conditions, partly for economic reasons but also due to the Lebanese authorities’ restrictions on the transfer of building materials into the camps. UNRWA notes:

“In the absence of Lebanese government presence in most of the camps, Palestinian political factions and armed groups exert some form of control. As a result, no single recognized authority exercises responsibility, including with respect to law enforcement. It is estimated that 65% of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon live under the poverty line.”

Prohibition of work

The issue of the entry of construction and repair materials into refugee camps is far from the only problem Palestinians have been facing in Lebanon.

Palestinians in Lebanon have long been prevented from practicing such professions as medicine and law, given that only the Lebanese could join professional syndicates.

In 1982, the Lebanese authorities further restricted the list of professions open to Palestinians, depriving them of working in more than 70 commercial and administrative professions.

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In 1995, the restrictions were slightly lifted with the introduction of a new clause that exempted foreigners who were born in Lebanon, born to Lebanese mothers or married to Lebanese women from these restrictions.

UNRWA, however, has pointed out that Palestinians are still prohibited from practicing many professions, mainly due to the precondition of holding the Lebanese nationality.

Thirty-nine professions remain prohibited to Palestinians in the following fields: healthcare (general medicine, dentistry, nursing, midwifery, pharmacy) transport and fishing, services and daycare, engineering, law, tourism, and accounting.

‘I fear I may freeze to death in the winter’

Another report published by UNRWA last month found that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are at risk of food insecurity, electricity blackouts, increased health problems and complications amid the shortages of medicine and healthcare interventions.

Rihab Maajel, a 50-year-old Palestinian from Shabriha in southern Lebanon, was quoted as saying:

“Today, we had potatoes for lunch. My husband works as a driver and earns less than two dollars a day. We mainly eat vegetables and beans because that’s all we can afford. Meat and chicken have become a dream; we can’t buy them because prices have increased so sharply. We no longer eat three meals a day, and sometimes I send my kids to bed without dinner.”

Another Palestinian, Nawal Kayed, 66, said:

“I fear that I may freeze to death this winter. I cannot afford to buy gas for heating. The cash assistance I receive from UNRWA is barely enough to buy food and cover very basic needs.”

Absence of UNRWA assistance

Palestinians who fled from Syria to Lebanon over the past few years are also facing harsh and discriminatory measures.

A report published by the Beirut-based Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) on January 20, 2022, revealed that Palestinian refugees from Syria to Lebanon suffer from the absence of legal protection, as the Lebanese authorities treat them as foreigners or tourists who must obtain a residence permit, which is renewed every six months.

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“Palestinian refugees from Syria to Lebanon complain about the absence of UNRWA assistance,” the group said. “This problem is considered one of the most difficult challenges, as refugees live in a state of anxiety and fear of arrest at any moment.”

The group accused UNRWA of reducing the services it provides to the refugees, and noted that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who want to receive medical treatment in a Lebanese hospital have to wait for weeks to obtain a permit. The group warned:

“The humanitarian situation of Palestinian refugees from Syria to Lebanon is extremely difficult… They do not enjoy legal protection in the full sense of the word. Because of the difficult conditions, their numbers have declined since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, from 100,000 to 27,000, with the majority believed to have emigrated from Lebanon. UNRWA bears full responsibility for their legal and humanitarian situation and is obligated to fulfill its moral and legal obligations towards them.”

The director of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Abdel Nasser Al-Ayee, told the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that many Palestinians have been fleeing Lebanon, especially over the past few years.

“The wave of Palestinian immigration from Lebanon has been on the rise since 2005, but the numbers doubled in the last two years… In 2020, between 6,000 and 8,000 Palestinians left Lebanon without returning, while in the next year 12,000 Palestinians left the country and did not return.”

Palestinians in Lebanon will continue to suffer because of the discriminatory practices and policies of the Lebanese government — but also because of the indifference of the international community.

Amnesty International and other human rights organizations are too busy bashing and delegitimizing Israel to pay attention to the real apartheid the Palestinians are experiencing in an Arab country. When Palestinians in Lebanon cannot feed their children this winter, chalk it up to the world’s unjust lethal obsession with Israel.