The Dynamics of Palestinian Political Endurance in Lebanon

Article excerpt

This article addresses the issue of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, examining the position of the Palestinians before, during, and after the last Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), and assessing their future prospects in the country. The lessons and the aspects from this period are assessed with the goal of analyzing what is happening today. The wider significance of the Palestinian refugee situation within Lebanon is also given consideration.

The Palestinian presence in Lebanon has been a contentious issue since the end of the 1948 war. The developments that surrounded the Palestinian issue led to the emergence of significant Palestinian power in Lebanon, associated with the rise of the Palestinian militancy in the late 1960s. This article addresses the issue of the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, examining the position of the Palestinians before, during and after the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), and assessing their future prospects in the country. Among the issues raised are the extent to which the Palestinians carry some responsibility for the causes and the consequences of the Civil War; whether Lebanese government policies fuel an atmosphere of confrontation between the Lebanese and the Palestinians; and whether there remains a need for the Palestinians to remain armed. The wider significance of the Palestinian refugee situation within Lebanon is also given consideration.

The Palestinians and Lebanon

The Palestinian exodus caused by the formation of Israel in 1948 displaced around three-quarters of a million Palestinians and forced them to leave their towns and villages in Palestine for neighboring countries.1 Shiblak notes that the "Palestinians form the largest and one of the oldest refugee and stateless communities in the world. They currently constitute around 20 per cent of the world's entire refugee population."2 "Approximately 100,000 of them were driven northwards across the Lebanese border. These people and their descendants now constitute the population of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon."3 The Palestinians who fled to Lebanon in 1948 "originate mainly from the Galilee region and northern Palestine: the districts of Acre, Beisan, Nazareth, Safad, Tiberias, and the vicinity of Haifa. Their exodus was a result of ethnic cleansing by the Israeli army and its precursors."4 It is important to note that in 1948, "the people of South Lebanon felt keenly the Palestinian tragedy. When the Palestinians arrived as refugees, many were aided and sheltered by the local population."5 Professor Ahmad Beydoun told the author that:

At the beginning of the Palestinian exodus in 1948, there was a flow of the Palestinian refugees who found their way to Southern Lebanon. Most of those refugees remained in Southern Lebanon for a period of time, but after 1953 they were pushed back inside Lebanon for various reasons. There was a profound sympathy for what had happened to the Palestinians. The Palestinian refugees were received with sympathy from this poor community (the Shi'a in the South) and the Palestinians settled in the villages [of Jabal Amil] and received all help. After that they [the Palestinians] joined the agricultural sector and became cheap labor and remained like that for years.6

Mahmoud Dakwar presents his personal experience and his account of that event. He explains how his family fled from their village in northern Palestine towards Lebanon in 1948.

I witnessed more than one exodus during the 1948 war, when my family escaped from Palestine. We arrived to Southern Lebanon, to the town of Bint Jbeil. The town is just four kilometres from the Lebanese-Palestinian borders and was our first station in Lebanon. Bint Jbeil was one of the first towns that welcomed the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in 1948. We spent two days in Bint Jbeil in the bushes with nothing; we had no food, no clothes. The capacity of Bint Jbeil was not enough for the influx of the Palestinian refugees, and the number of the refugees was tens of thousands. …