Josh Wood

A journalist's observations on Lebanon and elsewhere

…and the Palestinians

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Fatah fighters play a variation of chess at the organization's base in Beddawi refugee camp, north of Tripoli. I'm taking notes in the back, opposite the barely visible lad with the stockless AK. March 2010. Photo by Sam Tarling.

Today, there’s no shortage of news in Lebanon.  King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Assad of Syria are in town today in an attempt to contain the potential “explosion” of tensions.  As words heat up between Hezbollah and the March 14 alliance over the coming results of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, there promises to be no shortage of activity in Beirut in the coming days, weeks and months.

While these might certainly be things to get excited about, it’s not all that’s going on in country.

A little while back, infamous Lebanese politician and Druze leader Walid Junblatt introduced legislation to parliament that would increase the civil rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.  As it stands today, Palestinians are barred from a number of professions in the country, not allowed to own land, lack most basic services and suffer from many other forms of de facto discrimination in Lebanon.  While there is a dearth of studies on the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon, many say that it is worse than in other countries that host a large number of refugees such as Syria and Jordan.

The greatest fear among both Lebanese and Palestinians is tawtin – the naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon.  Giving rights, it is feared by some, will serve as a stepping stone to citizenship.  With 400,000 or so Palestinian refugees in country (a number that is still growing) citizenship would disrupt Lebanon’s fragile sectarian and political balances.

The issue gets more complex.  More fears surround the armed nature of many of the groups operating in the camps.  Some would prefer the Palestinians not to get too comfortable in Lebanon.

The discussion and voting has been pushed back to August 17th.  If passed, this should mark a new era for Palestinians in Lebanon who have, since their arrival in country over 60 years ago, not been taken care of by the Lebanese state at all and suffered immens.

During my time in Lebanon, I’ve spent a lot of time inside of the Palestinian camps.  When I arrived, I made it a priority to get down to them as soon as possible.  The camps – even in the outskirts of Beirut – are a stark contrast to the country that a lot of people see.  Living conditions are horrible.  The kids don’t go to school.  Militias of every stripe and color operate openly.  While I now get 24 hours of electricity in east Beirut flat, the Palestinians residing in some camps are lucky to get a couple of hours in the early evening .

While Lebanon has been much calmer in the last year than in many others, the Palestinian camps still see quite a bit of violence, often unreported unless bullets skipping out of Saida’s Ain el-Helweh camp force the closure of the coastal highway to Beirut or somebody gets assassinated.

As I’ve been told in multiple variations several times during my sojourns to Lebanon’s refugee camps, “the Palestinian dies slowly in Lebanon.”

In April, I had the opportunity to publish a long article on Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon for Esquire Middle East out of Dubai.  While I initially thought that the camps would be excellent material for writing, it quickly became apparent that many have become sick and tired of the topic – so it more refreshing than I can describe that Esquire gave me so much room in copy.  Photos, as usual, are by the talented Sam Tarling, who traveled with me long and far across the country for the article.

Anyways, check out the PDF here.

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Written by woodenbeirut

July 30, 2010 at 11:33 am

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