Sincegaining its independence from the French Mandate in 1943, Lebanon has been anation that has experienced great prosperity through its financial power whileat the same time; it has generated much instability through its confessionalsystem of government. Once thought to be an up and coming nation, with itscapital even called, “Paris of the Middle East,” Lebanon throughout its historyhas experienced major domestic issues that have remained unsolved. One of themain issues in Lebanese society is what to do with the Palestinian refugees,which has been a central theme in the nation since the Arab-Israeli conflict in1948. According to the UNRWA, there are currently 504,000 registeredPalestinian refugees living in Lebanon.1Of all the nations hosting Palestinian refugees, Lebanon presents the mostdelicate and serious of problems due to its confessional system.2The system itself was established early in Lebanon to secure a peaceful anddiplomatic balance between the diverse religious and ethnic communities withinthe nation.
However, the system also has its drawbacks as it allows for certaingroups to use their political weight at the expense of other groups. In thiscase, the political leveraging from certain groups such as the MaroniteChristians have directly led to the mistreatment of the refugees. Throughextensive research and first hand accounts from Malak Abdul Ghafour this paperwill take a brief look into the history and politics of Lebanon while offeringa conclusion as to why Palestinian refugees are not afforded citizenship withinthe nation. In this paper, I argue that the Lebanese government will not grantPalestinian refugees citizenship because of fear of disrupting the delicatebalance in the countries political structure. Instead of integrating thePalestinian refugees into society the Lebanese government neglects andconstricts them, casting blame onto them for the countries misfortunes. Origin ofPalestinian Refugees:The beginning of thePalestinian refugee crisis can be directly linked to events surrounding theArab-Israeli War in 1948. “No event has marked Arab politics in the second halfof the twentieth century more profoundly. The Arab-Israeli wars, the Cold Warin the Middle East, the rise of the Palestinian armed struggle and the politicsof peace making in all of their complexity are a direct consequence of thePalestine War.
“3Within hours of the establishment of the State of Israel, an Arab coalition,which consisted of five Arab nations, invaded the state creating an all outwar. Due to this conflict as many as 750,000 Palestinians fled their homes as aresult of the fighting and fear of the Israel state. “The exodus was the result of many diverseelements psychological, military and political, which combined together toproduce this phenomenon. It was a result of the contradictory actions andreactions, which destroyed all hopes in the hearts of the Arab population andurged them to flee aimlessly hither and thither.”4This single event sparked or ignited the Palestinian refugee problem we now seetoday by displacing hundreds of thousands of individuals.
These individuals nowhad no home or no land of their own and given the instability of the MiddleEast in the previous decades prior to this event and in the forthcoming decadesof the latter half of the 20th century, these people will find itextremely difficult to immerse themselves in a new Arab nation.Thisevent indirectly affected my research partner Malak Abdul Ghafour as well.Malak is a twenty-two year old female who was born and raised in Beirut,Lebanon. Her family fled their homeland of Acre, Israel in the years followingthe third Arab-Israeli War in 1967. “They could not stay… their land was nolonger their own.
“5Her family eventually settled in Syria and later moved their immediate familyto Beirut. While Malak, through our discussions, did not mention howsignificant the Arab-Israeli conflict was to her directly one cannot help butshow how important of an event it was not just for Malak’s family but also forthe Palestinian people within the region all together. The 1948 conflict certainly served as acatalyst for the additional Arab-Israeli conflicts that ensued in the followingdecades.
Origin of Lebanon’sConfessional System:The fall of the Ottoman Empire, atthe conclusion of World War I, brought with it immense instability to the Arabworld. Middle Eastern nations were now turned over to European nations, as wasthe case for Lebanon. Lebanon was established as new French mandate in 1923 andeventually gained its independence twenty years later. The French mandatesystem was different from imperialism in the sense that France, in this case,served more as a partner to Lebanon rather than an authoritarian ruler.6 Instabilitywithin Lebanon was commonplace from the inception of the newly establishedmandate. Division between Maronite Christians and Muslims was at the center ofthe instability. In an effort to control the various Muslim groups located inLebanon, the French empowered the Maronite population in the region in order tosecure a stable presence in the region.7Obviously, this angered a number of Muslims as they struggled with a Maronitedominated state.
This mandate system was not good for Lebanon because Lebanonis very diverse and regionally split dependent on religion. An additional factor, whichcontributes to Lebanon’s instability, is the role of the 1932 national census.This census in 1932 was the last conducted census by the nation. Despite theobvious time lapse of when the first census was completed until now, RaniaMaktabi also has her concerns about the census.
“The way the figures wereobtained, presented and analyzed indicates that the census findings wereheavily politicized, and embodied contested issues regarding the identity ofthe Lebanese state with which the country is still grappling.”8This census is very important because it played a fundamental role in thestate-building process of Lebanon. This census became the framework for futurelegislation pertaining to citizenship and it also was the basis for personalregistration for the general population in Lebanon.9Maktabi’s report highlights some telling yet ironic numbers from the Lebanesestate.
Nearly one-fourth of the Lebanese citizenry in the 1932 census wereemigrants. However, according to the census, Christian immigrants made upapproximately 20% of the total Lebanese citizenry, while non-Christianimmigrants accounted for 4% of the total Lebanese citizenry.10This means that the majority of Christians who were in Lebanon at this juncturewhere in fact transplants. The census, it can be argued, was altered in a wayto make it look as if Christians were the majority religion. “The identity ofthe state was to be resolved by projecting a demographic reality indicatingthat the identity of the population was predominantly Christian, therebysecuring and legitimizing Christian political dominance.”11Lebanon’s political system featureseighteen recognized religious groups. The number of parliamentary seats held byeach group is dependent upon the results of the 1932 national census.
Becauseof the results of the 1932 Census, the Maronites are the dominant group in thecountry, thus they control the presidency. Second in command, if you will, arethe Sunni Muslims and they have control of the prime minister seat.Interestingly enough, majority of the Palestinian refugees are Sunni Muslim.This is where the distrust lies in Lebanon. The Lebanese authorities, or more so the Christians, considerPalestinians a threat to the sensitive balance of religious and ethniccommunities in their country.12By giving citizenship to upwards of 500,000 refugees, the Maronites would nolonger be the dominant party. So, in their case, suppressing the Palestiniansallows them to retain their political power.
Experience ofRefugees:Palestinian refugees havehistorically been marginalized and rejected from the main aspects of social,political and economic life in Lebanon. This remains true today as the standingof Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is in a dismal state. They continue to faceacute socioeconomic deprivation and legal barriers to their full enjoyment of abroad range of human rights.13They have no right to own property and are restricted to basic public servicessuch as health care and education. “Largeinstitutions are essentially closed to Palestinians because these are governedby rules that make allocations in accordance with sectarian affiliation.”14Refugees are also restricted on the professions that they are allowed toenter.
Malak, herself, has no health care coverage and is limited to onlythirty-six career fields that she may enter. Essentially for Palestinians inLebanon, despite being in a modern nation, they remain stateless and are stilltreated as foreigners.15Palestine refugees are dependent onUNRWA services and relief due to the restricted access to public education,public health care and social services, as well as employment.16Malak, with her choice of career field and with the help of UNRWA, was able toattend Lebanese American University in Beirut. Following her graduation, shewent on to intern for UNRWA, which led her to her current job at Sharq.However, not every Palestinian is as fortunate or, frankly, lucky as Malak was.The overwhelming majority of Palestinians in Lebanon, “must obtain work permits for all regular jobs:construction, sanitation, and agriculture.” This puts an enormous burden onrefugees in their ability to make a good living within Lebanon.
Many cannotobtain these work permits and are forced into taking low wage work, which offerno additional benefits. These low wage jobs, jobs such as a street vendor orcab driver, further exacerbate the Palestinian refugees standing within thenation. In other words, these jobs are no respected within the nation, whichmakes the refugees partaking in them susceptible to additional discriminatingbehavior.
Roughlyhalf of Palestinian refugees live in one of the twelve refugee camps locatedwithin Lebanon. The camps, which resemble more as the famous Warsaw Ghettos,are poorly constructed, overcrowded and have poor sanitary conditionsunsuitable for any human being to live in. Malak was raised in these camps and she still lives in them today. Shecurrently lives in one of the four Refugee camps located in Beirut, though shedid not mention which particular one. “The camps are in the worst conditions.We are like prisoned in the camps because we cannot buy houses outside thecamps.
“17Adding to the Palestinians problemswithin the camp has been the arrival of additional peoples from nations likeSyria due to the Syrian Civil war and ISIS. These “displaced” people, as Malakrefers to them, are packed alongside into these camps if they cannot receiveshelter from organizations like the UNRWA. “The area of land allocated to therefugee camps has reportedly remained largely unchanged since 1948, despitesignificant population growth and the arrival of thousands of refugees fromSyria.”18No new camps were set-aside for the Syrian people because they are not treatedas refugees in Lebanon. According to Malak, “Syrians are treated as displacedpeoples and live in Lebanon off of a permit.”19This is an interesting point that Malak brought up to me. Essentially, as sheexplained, is that the Syrian peoples experience differs from the Palestinianpeoples experience in the sense that the Syrians face less marginalization inLebanon. That is an interesting observation especially given the fact thatPalestinians, like Malak, have spent their entire lives in Lebanon and are forthe most part Lebanese; despite not being a documented citizen of the nation.
Major HistoricalDevelopments:TheLebanese Civil War took place between 1975 and 1990 and continues to this dayto shape daily life within the country. The war itself contained a throng offactions each of which with their supporters jostling with one another to gainposition of political power. However, there is no consensus of the history ofthe war, but one thing does remain evident in Lebanon; Palestinian Refugees areto blame. When looking at the major historical developments, which contributedto the status of Palestinian refugees; this single event, along with earlyArab-Israeli conflicts, is certainly at the top. Malak agrees that the Lebanesecivil war is the most important even in Lebanon’s history. “My life today isshaped on what happened during this time.
“20Largely, much of the mistreatment of Palestinian refugees from the Lebanesegovernment came about following this war. The disgraceful living conditions,the marginalization and discrimination all arose and certainly became morepublic in the years directly following the war. It can be taken a step furtherby arguing that the Lebanese government purposefully targeted the Palestinianrefugees due to their potential threat to Lebanon’s sectarian government.Feeding off public opinion and shifting blame to the Palestinians, the Lebanesegovernment was able to vindicate the unjust laws, housing and regulations madefor the refugees. The2006 Lebanon War in many ways reinforced the status quo of Palestinian refugeesin Lebanon. This was a very trying time for all groups in Lebanon as the war,even though brief, caused great devastation displaced an estimated 800,000people.
21Malak, during this time, was sent to Syria to flee the fighting. The reason shewas sent away was due to the fact that the Lebanese government would not takecare of her if something bad had occurred. Essentially, as Malak explained tome, the Lebanese government abandoned the Palestinians further restrictingrefugees to essential needs such as food and water. The conditions became evenmore unbearable and soon the refugees were further on their own. How Malak Shapesthe World: Malak, a social worker in Beirut,displays her agency by attempting to change the unstable world she has knownsince her existence. Throughout her youth she has been labeled, discriminatedagainst, looked down upon and restricted on what she can and cannot do.However, she wants to make a difference in Lebanon. She wants to make adifference by helping people who have been through the same situations as her.
Sharq, the non-profit organization she works for, is enabling her make adifference by giving her the opportunity in Lebanon. That feat alone isimpressive given that many young women like Malak are not afforded thatopportunity. Malak makes a difference in her community by being an activist ofpluralism, social work and humanitarianism. She wants to further her academiccareer, as she will soon be applying to a Masters program.
Yet, her goals havenot changed, she wants to help Lebanon for the better. “I love my country, eventhough I am not Lebanese I feel like I belong here.”22 Conclusion:After researching this topic anddiscussing the relevant issues of Lebanon with Malak, I can certainly see howLebanon is true a house of many mansions. The political leveraging from groupssuch as the Maronites, Druze and Muslim factions within the nation is quiteremarkable, as it leaves no place for ‘outsiders’ in the nation. Palestinianrefugees fled to Lebanon after losing their homeland following the variousArab-Israeli conflicts of twentieth century. It can be stated that initially,upon arriving in Lebanon, the Palestinians were not seeking long-lasting asylumwithin the nation as they hoped that their native land would eventually beturned back to them. However, that day never came and perhaps will never come.
Unfortunately for the refugees, they entered a nation of great instability,fractured due to its sectarian confessional system, which has pitted variousreligious groups against each other. Citizenship for Palestinian refugees inLebanon will never come to fruition because their very presence is seen athreat to political balance of the nation. Sadly for individuals such as Malak,who was born in Lebanon and wants to partake in all aspects of Lebanesesociety, will never be granted that opportunity. Instead if she elects to stayin Lebanon she will be continuously faced with daily discrimination,confinement and possible abuse that has followed the majority of Palestinianrefugees in Lebanon’s complex history. 1UNHCR: The situation of Palestinianrefugees in Lebanon, 2016. http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/56cc95484.
pdfaccessed November 17, 2017.2 Simon Haddad. Middle East Quarterly, (Vol. 7, No.
3 2000), 29-40.3 Eugene Rogan, Avi Shlaim. The War for Palestine Rewriting the Historyof 1948 (Cambridge,Cambridge University Press, 2001), 11.4 Philip Mendes. A historicalcontroversy: the causes of the Palestinian refugee problem. (Acaemia 2000)5 Malak Abdul Ghafour. Facebook.
com,accessed October 7, 2017.6 Fawwaz Traboulsi, AHistory of Modern Lebanon (Ann Arbor: Pluto, 2007), 707 Fawwaz Traboulsi, AHistory of Modern Lebanon, 758 Rania Maktabi. The Lebanese Census of 1932 Revisited. British Journal of MiddleEastern Studies, (Vol. 26, No. 2. Nov.
, 1999), 220.9 Maktabi, 220.10 Maktabi, 233.
11 Maktabi, 240.12 Simon Haddad. The Palestinian impasse inLebanon: the politics of refugee integration. (Brighton:Sussex Acad. Press, 2003), 2.13 UNHCR http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/56cc95484.
pdfaccessed November 17, 2017.14 Simon Haddad. Middle EastQuarterly, 2000.15 Simon Haddad.
Middle East Quarterly, 2000.16 UNHCR: The situation of Palestinianrefugees in Lebanon, 2016. http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/56cc95484.pdfaccessed November 17, 2017.17 Malak Abdul Ghafour. Facebook.
com.Accessed on October 7, 2017. 18 UNHCR http://www.
refworld.org/pdfid/56cc95484.pdfaccessed November 17, 2017.19 Malak Abdul Ghafour. Facebook.com.Accessed on October 7, 2017.
20 Malak Abdul Ghafour, Facebook.com.Accessed October 7, 2017.21 LebanonUnder Siege. Lebanon Higher Relief Council.
2007. Accessed on November 27,2017. 22 Malak Abdul Ghafour, Facebook.com.Accessed October 7, 2017.