Looking for Apartheid? Skip Israel, look up north in Lebanon

Over the last few years, the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) has developed its sphere of influence increasingly, denouncing the supposedly apartheid regime of Israel, alleging it discriminates the Palestinian population. This movement gained strength and counts more and more supporters among academics and artists all over Europe and the United states.  Even though a bunch of legal analysts constantly shows how and why Israel policy does not amount to apartheid state, the BDS movement pursues its campaign with a growing energy, focusing solely on Israel, for the sake of the Palestinian cause.  When thinking about it, it is curious to see this movement battling so heavily against Israel, when it shuts down its eyes on countries, not so far in the region, that implemented, undoubtedly, several discriminatory measures against their own Palestinian population, equating to what should be, certainly, defined as Apartheid cases.

Indeed, there is no need to search for long. Right up north Israel’s borders, a country, namely, Lebanon falls into this category.

Lebanon, a country supposedly favoring the Palestinian struggle, enacted a series of law discriminating its own Palestinian population, a kind of policy that should raise alarmed voices and condemnations through out the world.

This situation is not undisclosed by or to anyone and a quick glance on several Lebanese laws addressing foreigners status would corroborate this assessment. All facts and information can be gathered after a simple research conducted on the internet. It is then startling to notice how the whole world and especially the BDS movement remains silent upon this catastrophic situation.

Before listing the series of discriminatory measures enacted against the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, it is essential to emphasize that despite its political rough instability, Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy, and as such, is expected to treat its inhabitants with fairness, justice and care, whether they are citizens or not. Furthermore, Lebanon signed several International treaties enforcing those obligations upon it.

Palestinian refugees arrived in Lebanon in 1948, after they fled or were expelled from the newly established State, Israel.

About 100.000 Palestinian refugees settled in Lebanon, waiting for the Arab states to resolve the “Israeli problem”. Instead, the Palestinian Refugees problem took roots; a problem remaining a major encroachment and a crucial issue for the success of any conciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Since the Palestinian refugees status is transmissible, a real peculiarity in so far as none of the other refugees in the world, relevant to the UNHCR (United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees) pass on its status to its descendants, this population enlarged and nowadays, we count around 455 000 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon (5millions in the world).

It is necessary to precise that granting them full Lebanese citizenship was and will probably always be out of the question for the Lebanese public opinion. “Tawteen” (permanent settlement of Palestinians) has been raised by several politicians in Lebanon to defend the idea that no civil rights should ever be guaranteed to the Palestinians. This refusal is justified by a trifling argument, stating that had the Palestinian refugees obtained citizenship or at least a decent way of life, they would forsake their aspiration to return to their homeland. Needless to respond that Lebanon has the obligation to offer decent life conditions to any person settling on its soil, refugees included. More astonishing is to discover the real, deeper motive behind this refusal. When digging a bit, it appears that the real justification is in fact the fear to completely shattered the fragile confessional balance that holds Lebanon together. Indeed, Palestinian refugees are mostly Sunnis and if integrated, they would be added up to the existing Sunni population in Lebanon, creating deep concerns for Shia’s and Christians.

One of the direct consequence of Tawteen is that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are blatantly discriminated, being denied most of basic rights, living in condition of extreme poverty, with hopeless future ahead on the road.

Most of the Palestinian refugees are spread between 12 refugees camp, which were, for most of them, established when they settled in Lebanon in 1948.  UNRWA, The United Nation Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees, was founded a year later in order to alleviate the Palestinian Refugees situation.

Until today, Palestinian refugees are entirely dependent on UNRWA welfare in any way whatsoever. UNRWA provides health care, education, and social services, since Arab countries, among them Lebanon, constantly refuse to fully integrate and enhance life conditions of the Palestinians refugees living on their soil.

In Lebanon, Labor law is one of the most astounding element of the discrimination system against Palestinian. Palestinian refugees are purely excluded from the labor market, entailing a tremendous unemployment rate among this population.

Up to a recent time, Palestinian refugees were banned from more than 70 professions, all listed in a government decree enacted in December 1962 and amended in 1995. In 2005, the ban was lifted on 50 professions. Nowadays, around 30 professions are still prohibited to Palestinian, including practice of law, medicine, engineering, where membership of Lebanese syndicates is compulsory and to which Palestinian are not allowed to adhere.

In the same vein, Palestinian refugees are denied access to Lebanese state medical facilities by the authorities, being left in the sole hands of UNRWA. This exclusion puts Lebanon in breach of several international treaties signed and providing a “right to health care” that Lebanon ought to uphold (among all, article 12 of the ICESCR, the International covenant on Economic, social and cultural rights).

Another astonishing legal discrimination toward Palestinian refugees in Lebanon concerns real estate ownership.

Until 2001, Palestinians were allowed to own real estate up to a certain level. In 2001, the parliament amended the Presidential decree 11614 in a way that ownership was denied to any foreigner, not carrying “citizenship issued by a recognized state”. While not being stated literally, Palestinian refugees are the clear target of this amendment. Likewise, Palestinians are denied the possibility of bequeathing real estate. They are therefore condemned to be confined in refugees camps, camps the Lebanese government has always refused to extent despite the rise of its population since 1948.  This catastrophic situation is aggravated by the difficulty of entering construction materials within camps, especially for the one located in the south of the country. Some camps were even considered military zones and subject to checkpoints that greatly hindered the mobility of thousands of Palestinians. These measures put Lebanon in total breach of the “right to adequate housing” stated in several treaties and to which it is a party (for instance, article 14 of the CERD, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination).

This discriminatory set of law entails, as a direct consequence, impoverishment of the Palestinian refugees of Lebanon, a total lack of future perspective and an abyssal feeling of despair.

Indeed, what shall be the hope of a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon? Why study conscientiously if laws exclude him from the labor market? How to feel secure and serene when denied the right to own a home?

This situation has lasted for more than 50 years and the world remains silent. Chances are that it will worsen, considering the horrendous financial situation of UNRWA, dreadfully lacking funds to pursue its mission.  BDS activists especially, so focused and vigorous when it comes to Israel, have been utterly mute on this serious matter. They grab every opportunity to demonstrate against Israel, on campus, on the artistic scene, calling for its boycott. They pretend to advocate for the Palestinian cause, calling for the end of the Palestinians’ adversity and suffering.  Where are their complaints and actions against Lebanon, a state undoubtedly applying an apartheid policy against Palestinians?  Is the unfathomable cause of BDS actually vicious? Do they only care about Palestinians when the accused body is Israel?  Those questions will remain opened, even though the answer seems clear as water roc.

About the Author
Sonia Boukobza is from Paris, France. After becoming a lawyer in Paris, she went to study at New York University and was admitted to the New York State bar as well. She is currently focusing on security and diplomacy at Tel Aviv University.