If the authenticity of a Palestinian is judged by the suffering he endured for the last 51 years of displacement ï as some have suggested ï the nearly 500,000 Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon must be viewed as the most authentic Palestinians of all.
The conditions of Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are the worst manifestation of the hardship experienced by dispossessed Palestinians everywhere. Denied access to 74 types of jobs, they are also not permitted to construct new buildings in their crowded camps. Even the inadequate food and clothing supplied by the United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is getting scarce. Moreover, it is possible that there will be a complete cut of these funds due to international apathy toward the welfare of Palestinians.
Yet the plight of refugees in Lebanon has largely been ignored by all of those involved in the so-called peace process. In fact the 12 ruined Palestinian refugee camps have been viewed as an obstacle in the way of peace. The Lebanese government and the country’s various other political parties have never agreed on anything as completely as they agree upon denying Palestinians civil and political rights in Lebanon.
Most Lebanese officials claim that their refusal to incorporate Palestinians to the Lebanese life stems from their deep belief that Palestine is the homeland of Palestinians, and that their settling elsewhere would be to acknowledge the loss of that homeland. But the true motive behind the policy has always been clear; the unfortunately truth is that Palestinian refugees have been unwelcome guests in most of the places to which they were driven. However, resentment toward Palestinian refugees has mainly been practised by governments rather than the local populations of these countries.
Perhaps the visible tragedy of the refugees is a daily reminder that holds local leaders of the region responsible before their own populations. Even though every Arab leader throughout the second half of the 20th century has presented himself as the unbeatable champion and only defender of Palestine and Jerusalem, these self-proclaimed heroes have done precious little to improve the humiliating conditions that Palestinians refugees are exposed to. So the camps hav become the unavoidable lot of millions of Palestinians.
Palestinians have lived the inhumane life in the camp for generations. Years passed, and the refugee camp became the icon of these waiting souls, a reminder of why they must go back to Palestine. In a place where sewers, electricity and running water are denied, Palestinians learned to dream of a lost Paradise. And while they had very little to keep them going until the moment of return, they have never run out of patience, courage and adoration for their Palestinian utopia.
After the signing of the Oslo Accord, however, the plight of these patiently waiting refugees became a minor issue on the negotiators’ agenda. Recently, some reports revealed information regarding settling the refugees in the host countries, while others have even hinted at a deal to move two million of them to Iraq. Ehud Barak, the newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister, has repeatedly assured his people that the Palestinian refugees will never return to reclaim their stolen lands.
Washington’s worth as a ‘honest broker’ and mediator, meanwhile is plain to see. Al Gore, the US vice- president, said in one of his recent speeches before the American-Jewish lobby AIPAC, that UN Resolution 181 (which grants Palestinians the right of return to their homeland) is no longer a valid document. Gore, trying to maximize Jewish financial support for his presidential election campaign, has no trouble trading the rights of millions of victims to return to their stolen homeland in return for a few dollars and votes.
Once more, a new Palestinian catastrophe is advancing. Yet unlike past catastrophes, the advent of this crisis may even deny refugees the privilege of dreaming. If the ‘compromise for peace’ is instituted at the expense of millions of displaced Palestinians, the whole meaning of a ‘peaceful settlement’ in the Middle East, if any exists, will topple.
Nothing could be more inhumane than to tell these people, after their 51-year wait to return home, that their patience and fortitude have got them nothing and nowhere. Neither peace nor justice will be implemented for millions of Palestinians who saved their old deeds and memories of the homeland, if they continue to be viewed as a minor issue that one way or another will be eliminated. This issue is indeed vital, perhaps the most vital of them all.
While Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, represents the larger segment of Israeli society, many segments of Palestinian society are overlooked. In order for a meaningful peace to ever take place, those who paid the price of war must be considered, and their rights and demands must be respected. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere are the real victims of the Israeli aggression. Therefore, their return is the most basic and rational starting point if a genuine peace to truly to be made manifest.
Those who think that they can force Palestinians into a permanent unjust fate, to clear the path for ‘peace’, are perhaps living the illusion of the moment. But the Palestinian plight shall always haunt the Muslim conscience until justice is restored. Perhaps hardship and pain will drag much longer for these devastated souls, but the struggle is not over yet. Palestinians can be denied the right to work, to move freely and even to speak, but no one can deny the Faithful the right to believe.
Muslimedia: September 16-30, 1999