“There shall be ... no settlement of non-Lebanese in Lebanon” was the amended Lebanese constitution of 21 September 1990 which provoked no opposition from any faction (Republic of Lebanon 1995: 12). This was mainly in reference to the second, third and fourth generation Palestinians in Lebanon, and however much this originates in the stand against the occupation of Palestine and for the Right to Return, in reality, this is depriving Palestinians their basic human rights!
While Lebanese activists are preparing their Freedom Boats to break the sanctions on Gaza, there are protests being called mainly by NGOs and the Left, against the brutal oppression of Palestinians in the refugee camps in Lebanon.
Palestinians in Lebanon have for decades been facing mass poverty, unemployment, segregation, state repression, racism, and sectarian conflict and an increase in divisions in Lebanese society. Since 1948, the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples have had to deal with a national conflict driven by political and economic interests of the big powers, with their big businesses and private companies being still today behind the misery of millions of workers and the poor on Lebanon, Palestine and the region.
The latest example of a war affecting Palestinians in Lebanon was the mass bombardment by the Lebanese army of Nahr El Bared refugee camp, in 2007. This was even backed with US Military aid following an "appeal" from the Lebanese government. Fatah al-Islam, the terrorist group which launched attacks on the Lebanese army from inside the camp, was using Palestinian residents as ‘human shields’. The Lebanese army left most of the camp in rubble, with 40,000 Palestinians displaced, and has since reinforced its positions around the camp. Checkpoints at times do not even allow humanitarian organizations to enter the camp, which has still not been rebuilt, and which is still seeing thousands living in overcrowded pre-fabricated homes.
Exploitation of Palestinians
It is not a coincidence that Fath El Islam or any other Islamist group find refuge in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, as most Palestinians face the worst economic and social conditions despite being second, third and fourth generation Palestinians. They still have no basic social and economic rights, like the right to work or to hold property ownership, or the right to be organized in a trade union along with their Lebanese work colleagues. This is done in the interest of the Lebanese capitalists who zigzag between using the issue of the “right to return” on the national question on one hand, and whipping up racism towards the Palestinians on the economic front, on the other hand. As a result, Palestinians are forced to live in segregated and overcrowded camps, and are harassed by the Lebanese state forces who restrict their movement.
Build the Movement
Protesters demanding civil and economic rights for Palestinians need to call for the building of mass movement. This is the only force able to unite Lebanese and Palestinians workers against the exploitation of the profit driven companies in Lebanon, represented by the Lebanese and Palestinian mainstream parties. Racism and divisions make it easier to divide and rule in the drive to exploit Palestinian cheap labour in a time where unemployment among Lebanese workers is on the increase.
What is clear is that the workers, the poor and the oppressed in Lebanon (Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, Sudanese, etc.) need a new party of the masses which is willing to fight for civil and economic rights for all, which include standing up to capital and demanding huge investments into the public sector. This can be funded from the billions of US dollars of profits made by the banks and the big businesses if they are nationalised under workers democratic control and management. Committees would be formed representing all workers and new fighting inclusive trade unions would take the struggle to the next level. The so-called national unity governments in Lebanon and the one being called for in Palestine would only represent unity of the rich elite against the poor. Workers and the poor across the region have paid the highest price for the conflicts and economic crises. We need a united workers’ movement to to pull together working people of all nationalities, ethnicities and confessional backgrounds, under a banner calling for an end to capitalism, wars and poverty.
As socialists, we fight to overthrow the brutal racist Israeli capitalist regime, and demand an end to imperialist meddling in the region. We oppose the repression and oppression of Palestinians by the Lebanese regime, while struggling for unity and socialism.