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Monday, January 31, 2011

UNRWA report on Pal. poverty in Lebanon flies under the radar

On December 31, UNRWA released a major report that goes into detail of the poverty and unemployment for Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon.

Here are some important parts:


  • 6.6% are extremely poor i.e they cannot meet their essential daily food needs (compared to 1.7% amongst Lebanese).
  • 66.4% of Palestine refugees in Lebanon are poor i.e cannot meet their basic food and nonfood needs (compared to 35% amongst Lebanese).
  • 56% of Palestinians are jobless
  • 38% of the working age population are employed
  • 2/3 of Palestinians employed in elementary occupations (like street vendors, work in construction, agriculture) are poor
  • Of the 425,000 Lebanese "refugees" registered with UNRWA since 1948, only 260,000-280,000 currently reside in Lebanon. The difference is apparently from some 200,000 who have fled Lebanon, mostly for Europe. 

Lebanese vehemently oppose the naturalization of Palestinians into Lebanese. Such Tawteen (naturalization) is also strongly rejected by the Palestinians, who insist on their right to return to Palestine. The Lebanese position on return to Palestine is sometimes used to justify discriminatory policies against the Palestinian refugees, and their legal status even after 60 years remains that of foreigners. This has resulted in restrictive policies with regard to the social, economic, and civil rights of the Palestinians (Hanafi & Tiltnes 2008)

Tawteen is the scarecrow that has been used within sections of Lebanese society to generate public phobia against according civil rights to Palestinians. Indeed through editorials in key Lebanese newspapers (alNahar, al-Akhbar, al-Safīr, and L’Orient-Le Jour), Lebanese political groups accuse each other of promoting Tawteen, an act tantamount to treason. For instance, the front-page headline of the Lebanese daily al-Akhbār, read on 2 July 2007 “The program of al-Barid Camp reconstruction is the beginning of Tawteen”. Others (including religious authorities) consider the mere talk of the Palestinians’ right to work as being the first step towards Tawteen. Any debate about civil and economic rights starts by affirming that the objective should not be Tawteen, to the point that initiatives on according long-term rights to Palestinians come to be substituted with short-term interventions on humanitarian or security grounds.

We discuss below that the recent changes in labor regulations are no exception to this pattern. The only common ground between the various Lebanese political parties is the use of Tawteen as taboo. Throughout this debate the individual Palestinian is invisible. The deployment of bio-politics by humanitarian organizations (regarding Palestinians as bodies to be fed and sheltered without political existence) is one end of the spectrum and the Tawteen discourse is the other end. For those participating in such a discourse, the Palestinians are mere figures, demographic artifacts and a transient political mass waiting for return. Between humanitarian discourse in the zones of emergency on the one hand, and the Tawteen discourse on the other, the rights-based and entitlement approach for the Palestinians as individuals and collectives, as refugees but also as citizen-refugees with civil and economic rights, as well as the right to the city, is lost.

Accounts from Palestinian camp dwellers in Lebanon show that they refer to themselves as the “forgotten people”, feeling that they live in a hostile environment where basic human rights, including the right to work, have no effective means of representation or protection.
The part about how naturalization is strongly rejected by Lebanese Palestinians is a lie, as I have documented that every time a loophole opened up in Lebanese naturalization laws to allow Palestinian Arabs to become citizens, tens of thousands of them rushed to do so. Not only that, but the authors know it to be a lie because they mention one of those circumstances in footnote 18, saying "There were supposedly at least 25,000 Palestinians, the majority Christian, among those who received Lebanese citizenship in 1994. S. Haddad, “Sectarian Attitudes as a Function of the Palestinian Presence in Lebanon,” Arab Studies Quarterly 22 (2000), pp.81-100)"

Even with its flaws, this document is important in that it details exactly how there is endemic discrimination against Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon and the horrid results.

Yet I cannot find any UNRWA press release that summarizes the findings or any public calls to action.

It is almost like UNRWA wants to bury this report for fear of making waves. They only mentioned it peripherally as part of a list of January accomplishments but it never received its own press release, very strange for a report of over 100 pages.

(The paper indirectly damns the Palestinian Authority for not doing something about Palestinian Arabs in camps in the West Bank. It points out that only in the West Bank and Lebanon is there a significant difference in poverty rates between PalArabs living in the camps and living outside, and it attributes this to the fact that only in Lebanon and under the PA are the camps "closed" and not integrated with surrounding towns. This is not the case in Syria and Jordan, where the camps are more like suburbs. In Lebanon, of course, there is also societal discrimination against Palestinian Arabs which partially account for their unemployment and therefore poverty, but the idea that the PA is keeping the Palestinian Arabs who are in camps on a lower social status is something that requires further study - and UNRWA sure won't do it.)