Many Lebanese have expressed concern over the growing Palestinian protests in their country – particularly that the demonstrations are now taking place outside Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Pictured: The Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli, Lebanon. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)
The Lebanese are angry. Why? Because Palestinians are protesting a crackdown on illegal foreign workers in Lebanon, thereby exposing Lebanese racism and a hatred of their Palestinian brothers.
For the past three weeks, thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon have been demonstrating against the Lebanese authorities’ crackdown on illegal workers, which is directed mainly against Palestinians and Syrians living there.
“The Palestinians are not foreigners in Lebanon,” said the Palestinian academic and political analyst, Abdel Sattar Qassem.
“Palestinians in Lebanon are refugees and, as such, they should be treated in accordance with international regulations concerning refugees. The Palestinians have been a strong economic pillar of Lebanon. They initially contributed to the advancement of the primitive Lebanese economy; they plowed the land, planted and harvested, and set up projects that supported Palestinians and Lebanese. The Palestinians have also contributed to Lebanon’s security and they are still prepared to fight to protect Lebanon and maintain its security. It is true that some Palestinian factions have made mistakes related to the civil war in Lebanon, but later they realized this mistake and fixed it.”
This week, Palestinian activists in Lebanon vowed to continue their protests against the crackdown after the Lebanese government rejected demands to rescind its measures against illegal workers. The activists said that despite promises from senior Lebanese officials to stop targeting Palestinian workers and businesses, the crackdown was continuing. They also pointed out that the Lebanese government has thus far failed to issue an official statement to resolve the crisis.
As part of their campaign against the Lebanese measures, representatives of several Palestinian factions in Lebanon met with Hassan Huballah, an official with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group in Beirut, and urged him to help in halting the crackdown on Palestinian workers and businesses. Hezbollah, according to reports in the Lebanese media, is opposed to the Lebanese government’s measures against illegal workers.
The Palestinian factions in Lebanon consider Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, important allies in the fight against Israel and the US. During the meeting with Huballah, the Palestinian faction representatives reportedly praised Hezbollah’s “role in confronting the American-Zionist project in the region.”
The alliance between the Palestinians and Hezbollah, as well as the continued demonstrations against the crackdown on illegal workers, has angered some Lebanese, who have begun inciting against the Palestinians in recent weeks, and increasing tensions between the Palestinians and Lebanese.
Lebanon’s Christian foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, was the first to spark angry reactions from Palestinians (and some Lebanese) after he defended his country’s measures against foreign workers. On Twitter, Bassil wrote last June: “It is normal to defend the Lebanese labor force against any other foreign labor, whether it be Syrian, Palestinians, French, Saudi, Iranian or American, the Lebanese come first!”
Many Palestinians and Lebanese took to social media to condemn the foreign minister for his “racist” remark. “Bassil only wants Christians around him, that doesn’t build a good Lebanon. He is like a Palestinian Hitler,” commented one social media user.
Many Lebanese have expressed concern over the growing Palestinian protests in their country – particularly that the demonstrations are now taking place outside Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. For these Lebanese, as long as the Palestinians are protesting inside the refugee camps, there is no problem. Once the Palestinians take their protests outside the camps, however, then there is reason for the Lebanese to be concerned about scenes of anarchy and lawlessness.
Echoing the widespread concern, a prominent Lebanese actress, Soha Kikano, called for burning Palestinians in Nazi ovens. Her comment on Twitter came in response to a Palestinian demonstration in the city of Sidon in southern Lebanon to protest the crackdown on illegal workers. Kikano also described the Palestinians as “monsters” who want to stay in Lebanon and work without proper permits from the authorities.
The actress’s unprecedented attack on the Palestinians drew sharp condemnations from many Palestinians, who complained that hatred for Palestinians was growing in Lebanon. Some Lebanese citizens, on the other hand, have defended the actress by arguing that she was only seeking to defend Lebanese workers.
The controversy surrounding the crackdown on illegal workers and businesses, and the increased fear in Lebanon that the Palestinian protests could plunge the country into violence and anarchy, are likely to escalate in the coming days: the Lebanese authorities appear determined to continue enforcing workforce regulations in their country.
The Palestinians of Lebanon were likely hoping that their protests would rally many Lebanese behind them. Instead, the Palestinians seem to have alienated many Lebanese, who consider the Palestinians second-class citizens and are eager to see them leave Lebanon.
Lebanon’s discriminatory and apartheid laws and measures against Palestinians are not new. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Palestinians in Lebanon are excluded from key facets of social, political and economic life. Palestinian refugees face legal restrictions that limit their rights, including the prohibition to work in 39 professions and to own property. Moreover, they have limited access to state-provided services such as health and education.
Professions that remain prohibited for Palestinians include healthcare, engineering, transport, fishing, and the public sector and law.
It takes little imagination to predict the global uproar were, say, Israel to ban Arabs from working as engineers, can drivers, nurses or physicians. The international community and pro-Palestinian groups, however, seem distinctly indifferent about the plight of Palestinians in an Arab country.
What would be the international outcry if a prominent Israeli figure or official were to call for “burning Palestinians in ovens.” Yet, when a well-known Arab does just that, self-described pro-Palestinian activists suddenly go deaf.
While the Lebanese people’s fear of Palestinian violence in their country is warranted, there is no reason why any Arab country should be subjecting Palestinians to discriminatory and apartheid regulations. The story of the mistreatment of Palestinians in Lebanon is a microcosm of a bigger problem: the Arab “betrayal” and “abandonment” of Palestinians.
Many Arab countries perceive the Palestinians as a burden, an ungrateful people who have long been milking their Arab brothers of money. The turning point was in 1990, when the Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait – a country that used to provide them with millions of dollars in aid. The Palestinians ran to the streets to celebrate the occupation of Kuwait. When Kuwait was liberated a year later by the US-led coalition forces, the tiny emirate and other Gulf Countries deported hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and cut off financial aid to the PLO and many Palestinian institutions.
For now, all signs point to the Palestinians in Lebanon facing the same fate as their brothers did in Kuwait and the Gulf states back in the early 1990s. That is, of course, unless the international community intervenes to pressure Lebanon and other Arab countries to stop using the Palestinians as pawns in their campaigns of incitement against Israel. It is time for the Arab countries to replace lip service to the Palestinians with deeds. It is also time for the international community and so-called pro-Palestinian groups to start reckoning with the real suffering of Palestinians, particularly in Lebanon.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.