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Jul-19-2013 11:07printcomments

Are Palestinian Students in Lebanon Being Pressured to Choose Kalashnikovs Over College?

Outrageously, and in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and fundamental fairness, one of the very few “legal” jobs being allowed for Palestinians today in Lebanon, are as hired gunmen.

Outside Ein el Helwe Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon, July 2013.
Outside Ein el Helwe Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon, July 2013.

(BEIRUT) - Ein el Helwe Palestinian camp -- The choice for many Palestinian young men in Lebanon has come down to guns or education. By force of Lebanese law and under threat of prison for violators, Palestinians are denied the elementary civil rights to work in more than 50 professions and are barred by a 2001 racist law from them or their families, more than six decades living as refugees in Lebanon, from even owning a home.

Among Palestinian youth, unemployment rates hover around 70%, while refugee students are also discriminated against in admission to Lebanese state institutions of higher education, including the relatively low-tuition fees at Lebanese University. This makes it difficult for young Palestinians in Lebanon to pursue higher education after graduating from UNWRA schools and passing the Baccalaureate II exam. Being barred from most jobs, it is very difficult to come up with even modest sums for tuition payments.

Against this backdrop of flagrant state sponsored discrimination, if one were to offer un-employed young camp resident, say $200 per month, an AK-47 with plenty of ammo, and free cigarettes, the odds are good that you just might have yourself a militiaman. Those journalists and observers who spent much of the summer of 2011 in Libya saw a similar phenomenon and now it’s also the case in Syria. In Lebanon, it is resurgent from the 1975-90 civil war days. The gun for hire resource is being exploited across the political spectrum here among many of the same confessions and political parties that ignited this country’s massively destructive civil war more than three decades ago.


Hiring young men as gunmen in Lebanon is also impliedly condoned by silence on this problem from various polarized and politicized religious leaders. Too often, hile standing in Janus-faced opposition to the elementary internationally mandated right to work for Palestinians in Lebanon, some of Lebanon’s religious personalities, wearing pious faces and donning prelatical Pope-wannabe, if sometimes comical, outfits and often sporting fingers ringed with gold and precious jewels, intone their gospels according to St. Mark or his equivalents about human dignity and being our brother’s keeper, and often referencing “our blood-veins support for Palestine and the Right of Return.”.

When a Palestinian is arrested for carrying a weapon, it’s often front-page news but also usually exaggerated or later shown to be inaccurate. What is more surprising is that more Palestinians are not in the streets, motivated by the Arab Spring and Islamic Awakening, demanding the civil right to work. Yet signs are starting to appear of a pending and overdue intifada in Lebanon demanding this universally recognized right of every refugee to be able to seek work to sustain oneself and family.

Rumors abound these tense days in many part of Lebanon as if to say, “I told you, it's the Palestinians who are the source of most of Lebanon’s problems!” (or the Zionists, Saudis, EU, Iranians, Syrians, other Lebanese sects, the Americans, or just about anyone except this nearly failed state's deeply destructive confessional system and the Lebanese who profit from it. Too many Lebanese politicians reject granting rights to Palestinian refugees while they seek to gain personal, regional and international benefits from playing the “Palestinian card”. Meanwhile, dangerous temperature and pressure levels are building in the huge Presto cookers that are Lebanon’s camps.

Outrageously, and in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and fundamental fairness, one of the very few “legal” jobs being allowed for Palestinians today in Lebanon, are as hired gunmen.


On a brighter note are the just released results of the General Science (SG) and Life Science (SV) secondary school official exam results known as the Baccalaureate II exam results. Preliminary analysis suggests that despite all their hardships, Palestinian and Syrian refugees have done well on the required exams.

One Palestinian mother from Yarmouk camp in Damascus, among the 700 Palestinian refugee families temporarily here from Syria and squeezed into the already overflowing Shatila camp, proudly displayed this week’s announcement of her children’s academic success. Despite little electricity in her family hovel, polluted drinking water, no fresh air and not much food this past year, her daughter’s and son’s success in passing the BACC II made her forget her family’s misery.

The good news is that there will be places in Lebanon’s institutions of higher education this fall semester, assuming that these youngsters, desperate to be allowed to work at the same jobs that every other foreigner in granted on arriving in Lebanon, do not heed the sirens calls of various sects here, singing seductive songs of quick cash in exchange for carrying a Kalishnikov.

On April 19, 2013 there was a scholarship award ceremony at the Shatila Camp Youth Center. It was exactly 30 years to the week after the death here in Beirut of American journalist, Janet Lee Stevens, who told the young Palestinian defenders during the 75-day Zionist siege, “Once the fighting ends you must, every one of you, return to school, whether to study quantum physics or literature or whatever interests you. Higher education is what will hasten your return to Palestine. Education is your greatest resource and your most potent weapon.”

Shatila Camp Scholarship award event, April 2013

Speaking at the Shatila Scholarship Award event, this American, paying tribute to Janet as an advocate for Palestine, told the tuition grant recipients:

    “An education is forever and its purpose is to enjoy a more productive lifetime while seeking to fulfill all of what each of us is capable as we give back to our respective communities. Staying in school here in Lebanon where we are all guests, just for the time being, and pursuing knowledge and practical skills is a quintessential and noble act and commitment of Resistance against oppression and occupation - anywhere.

    Education cannot be ethnically cleansed, stolen, tortured, jailed, uprooted, bulldozed, massacred, murdered, bombed or burned down. Rather, staying in school and pursuing ones dream is what your cherished for-bearers, who were forced from their homes and lands into Lebanon and trekked from Palestine -- approximately 130,000 -- in the summer and fall of 1948, would want for you, and expect of you.

    Education is a Saladinian Resistance toward liberating, six decades after the Nakba, those still under occupation in Palestine. And to help achieve for refugees in the diaspora, their inalienable full Right of Return.”


The question is, when do we put an end to this outrage preventing these young people from seeking to better their chances to succeed in life, an urgent humanitarian imperative shared by every one of us?

We end it immediately. Lebanon’s parliament, by taking 90 minutes of its time, which is all that would be required, can grant these youngsters the most elementary civil right to work which will also enable them to pursue their dreams of higher education.

And by international support.

This can be facilitated by international pressure. One telephone call from Washington, Riyadh, or Tehran, to local political allies, can get the job done in just over an hour without further procrastination. If this is not done, to add to its other problems, Lebanon may face a civil right intifada -- ignited by continued repression.

In the defiant declaration in 2010 of the angelic Miss Hiba of Ein El Helwe camp, now 19 years old: “There is no other choice than success with the civil rights goal of every Palestinian in Lebanon to seek a job and to pursue education as we peacefully intensify our struggle to Return to our stolen and still occupied country, Palestine. “

Today, Hiba continues the good fight as she completes this next year her degree in engineering, which she insists she will need when she returns to her family’s occupied home in Safed, Palestine.

Franklin LambFranklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com

He is the author of The Price We Pay: A Quarter-Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons Against Civilians in Lebanon.
He contribute to Uprooted Palestinians Blog

Please Sign
http://www.petitiononline.com/ssfpcrc/petition.html
Beirut Mobile: +961-70-497-804

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Dr. Franklin Lamb is Director of the Sabra Shatila Foundation. Contact him at: fplamb@sabrashatila.org. He is working with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign in Lebanon on drafting legislation which, after 62 years, would, if adopted by Lebanon’s Cabinet and Parliament grant the right to work and to own a home to Lebanon’s Palestinian Refugees. One part of the PCRC legislative project is its online Petition which can be viewed and signed at: petitiononline.com/ssfpcrc/petition.html. Lamb is reachable at fplamb@palestinecivilrightscampaign.org. Franklin Lamb’s book on the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, International Legal Responsibility for the Sabra-Shatila Massacre, now out of print, was published in 1983, following Janet’s death and was dedicated to Janet Lee Stevens. He was a witness before the Israeli Kahan Commission Inquiry, held at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in January 1983.

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Dexter July 19, 2013 1:03 pm (Pacific time)

I'm pretty shocked to hear about this, considering the Hezbollah were doing all the dirty work in protecting their country , when t Lebanon were at war with Israel . But then again, things have changed for the worst since Israel invaded Lebanon. Before then Lebanon was once again becoming a very stable , nice country to be in ... After all those years of repairing itself on previous clashes in the past. So much for " Paris of the Middle East"

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