Solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza begins in Lebanon’s Camps
by FRANKLIN LAMB
UN ESCWA HQ, Beirut
As the latest Zionist aggression continues unabated in its slaughter of the defenseless population of Gaza (for the fourth time in ten years, no less!) one of course might simply sit back and hope for the improbable—that the global community will act to end it. But this is no more likely, and maybe even less so, than have been the prospects for bringing justice to Palestine through the never-ending “peace process” of the past 40 years. Persistent Resistance, in its countless forms, is the only thing that will achieve dignity, an end to the occupation, and the right of Full Return for nearly nine million Palestinians.
As history instructs, the Zionist colonial enterprise had its apologists in Lebanon well before 1948. In fact, there are still plenty around today, yet at the same time, it must be said that the latest ‘lawn mowing’ in Gaza has generated an unusual amount of verbal support for Palestine across the political spectrum here.
A couple of examples. On 7/21/14 the program “Palestine…You Are Not Alone” was broadcast simultaneously on all of Lebanon’s main television channels in an expression of support for Palestinians facing the Zionist aggression that to date has killed nearly 900 and maimed or wounded more than 4500. The Lebanon TV initiative brought together for the first time networks with radically different views, including the official TeleLiban, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar, LBC, MTV, NBN and others. Lara Zaaloum, executive director of LBC’s news show, said the 30-minute report was « the fruit of a shared effort » that aims to « salute the Palestinians and their children.”
Even Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, son-in-law of Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement (both men are known for their anti-Palestinian and anti-Syrian-refugee rants) claimed a desire to have Lebanese diplomats work for a formal condemnation of the Israeli aggression. According to Beirut’s As Safir newspaper, Bassil is preparing a “legal study” that will be sent to the concerned international bodies documenting Israeli crimes in Gaza.
Then on 7/23/14, the March 14 Al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement) parliamentary bloc organized a well-attended solidarity press conference of MPs in the garden outside the office of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Downtown Beirut.
“We are here to tell the world that we are standing by Gaza, by every Palestinian, and by occupied Palestine whose land has been ravished,” said former Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. “Your wounds are ours, and you are fighting on the behalf of all of us. We do not forget the Palestinian people’s right for freedom, dignity and peaceful living.”
Others have also spoken up, including Hezbollah Secretary General Hassah Nasrallah.
“Hezbollah will stand with the Palestinian people’s uprising and whose resistance is in our heart, willpower, hope and destiny,” said Nasrallah on 7/19/14—and on Al Quds day, 7/25/14, Hezbollah was to hold a rally at which Nasrallah is scheduled speak yet again on the need for solidarity with Palestinian refugees. Many from Lebanon’s camps will be attending that event because in the camps Hezbollah’s words are listened to—they have been for the last quarter century, ever since the party announced its existence, pledging in an “Open Letter” to seek dignity for all Palestinians everywhere and to improve their daily lives.
Not to be outdone, Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani vowed that the Islamic Republic will also do all in its power to help the Palestinians.
“Iran strongly supports the Palestinian refugees as well as unity among Muslims” Larijani announced at a meeting with ambassadors of Islamic countries. “We take it upon ourselves to stand by and help the oppressed Palestinian people wherever they are, wholeheartedly, one way or another.”
The Iranian Foreign Minister and Iran’s embassy in Beirut have been advised that the most direct, realistic and significant way to help the Palestinian people is to voice support for Palestinians in Lebanon being allowed the elementary civil right to work—a right they enjoy in Gaza and virtually every other country but are denied here. Support for “the sacred cause of Palestine” was often expressed by the late Ayatollah Khomeini and continues to be voiced today by Supreme Leader Ali Khameini, and were Iran and its allies to negotiate something on behalf of the Palestinians, who are 90% Sunni, it would go a long way toward healing the tragic and deepening Shia-Sunni divide. And the help Palestinians most need in Lebanon, where Larijani and his political allies have major clout, is with being allowed to seek employment—same as any other refugee or foreign visitor who arrives.
Solidarity with their countrymen in Gaza is being shown by many Palestinian students in Lebanon as well, and this week 404 such students took the noble, humanitarian step of donating tuition grants that had been awarded to them by the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program for the present semester. Each of the students paired off individually with a countrymen of theirs, one identified as a fatality in Gaza, donating their tuition money in that person’s name to Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, in care of Dr. Mads Gilbert. And more than a few of these students have expressed the hope that those offering mere verbal support to the Palestinian cause might use their political power, and perhaps 90 minutes of their Parliament’s time, to grant Palestinians in Lebanon the means of survival until they can return to their homes in Palestine.
As for Lebanese politicians, a pledge to end the discrimination against Palestinian refugees would give meaning and credibility to their encouraging words. Allowing camp residents the chance to work would additionally help Palestinian family members back in Gaza, and would also serve to build Lebanon’s weak economy. But the fact is that many, though not all, Lebanese politicians deal the Palestinian card for personal gain; financial and political human rights slogans are selectively regurgitated according to narrow political interests, and then just as selectively disregarded when their other interests might benefit. A student from Ain al-Hilweh camp, one of those who donated her scholarship to her Gaza countrymen this week, put it this way:
“These words politicians offer us are nice and we thank them. But we have heard them for so many years while the speakers have kept us without dignity and by denying us the right to work. Even the Zionist occupiers let us work. What kind of Resistance are the Lebanese politicians talking about? Does it mean Resistance to our most basic civil right to work and to care for our families? All we ask of Lebanon is to let us work just like every other country allows refugees to work and try to feed their families.
The fact of the matter is that hollow words from Lebanese and regional politicians may sound nice coming across on TV or in the newspapers, but they do little for Gaza and nothing for the families stuck in Lebanon’s 12 refugee camps without the basic human right to work. The malnourished, sardine-canned populations have been added to by thousands of refugees from Syria, and the camps in the process have become squalid and festering with disease, and amongst the people there the political posturing of leaders is increasingly being scoffed at. Some of these very same politicians still pat themselves on the back for the fake August 2010 Parliamentary initiative that eliminated a work permit application fee for Palestinians. But the application fee was never the problem to begin with, and the initiative left all the other Kafkaesque barriers to employment in place. As a result, not ten Palestinians have benefited in the four years since its passage, and the Ministry of Labor has not even tried to implement the phone labor law amendment.
The Palestinian community in Lebanon consists of descendants of the 750,000 people ethnically cleansed by Zionist colonials during the 1948 Nakba as well as the more than 300,000 forced from their homes in the 1967 Naksa. And they are in need of help. By simply doing the right thing, Lebanon has an opportunity to shed much of its self-garnered disgrace and international opprobrium over this issue; it has the opportunity to help heal the Shia-Sunni wound, improve the national economy, diminish the prospects of an intifada building in the desperate camps, and avoid the increasing likelihood of an international BDS movement against it as a consequence of its violations of human rights laws. Ninety minutes of Parliament’s time is all it would take. And it would do more for the people of Gaza and their families in Lebanon than all the tropes, platitudes, and hollow words that invariably fade without the faintest trace of a wind.
Gaza isn’t the only open air prison; Lebanon has 12 of its own. And the people there are denied the most elementary right to apply for a job in more than 50 professions. Worth noting also is that the US Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 could mandate a cut-off of all American aid to Lebanon due to ongoing violations of their human rights. Solidarity—credible, genuine solidarity—is within our grasp; let us reach for it.
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