Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Progress toward Statehood Tightens Noose around Palestinians in Lebanon

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Progress toward Statehood Tightens Noose around Palestinians in Lebanon

Article excerpt

Progress Toward Statehood Tightens Noose Around Palestinians in Lebanon

By Stephen J. Sosebee

Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were met with deep anger among the nearly half-million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Popular committees in the refugee camps organized strikes on election day in protest of what most feel is a "sell-out" by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat of their fundamental right to return to their homes and villages in pre-1948 Israel/Palestine. Though there were no large-scale demonstrations or tire burnings as in the past, shops and schools closed in most of Lebanon's 12 squalid refugee camps on election day. Palestinians here feel that the movement for peace in the Middle East is passing them by.

"The Palestinians in Lebanon carried the revolution while our brothers in the occupied territories slept. We sacrificed everything and now Abu Ammar uses our blood to make himself an autonomous kingdom," says Hajj Aladeen of Shatila camp in Beirut. "We did not know that when the PLO was evacuated from Lebanon in 1982, it meant that they were also abandoning us here as well."

The frustration that most Palestinians in Lebanon now express is no longer directed just at Israel, which forced them off their land in 1948, or at other foreign powers like Syria or the United States, which have also played a role in their oppression. Palestinians increasingly voice their anger at their own traditional leaders who have returned to Palestine without them.

"I am not alone to say that I no longer trust the PLO to address our basic needs as a people without a state," says Akram Muhamed, an UNRWA employee in Tyre. "Our own leaders have sacrificed our right of return for autonomy. We feel forgotten and abandoned."

Palestinians in Lebanon may feel as though the elections in the West Bank and Gaza indicate that they are the excluded party in the "peace process." But the Lebanese government is not so quick to forget that there still is a large stateless population on its land. "As the Palestinians themselves have their own authority on their own land, we cannot accept the permanent settlement of a half million refugees on our land," stated Lebanese President Elias Hrawi recently. Palestinian refugee camps stand in the way of Lebanon's impressive economic and political reconstruction. Beirut's new sports city, for example, is being constructed nearly on top of Shatila Refugee Camp.

President Hrawi's statement underlines a growing tension between the government of Beirut and Palestinian refugees. In addition to increasing statements by Lebanese officials about unilaterally moving the refugees out of Beirut, or, better yet, sending them back to Palestine, a military stand-off has evolved on the ground.

Palestinian refugee camps stand in the way of Lebanon's reconstruction.

On election day in Palestine, the army already had surrounded and sealed the Ein el-Hilwa refugee camp in Sidon. The objective was the arrest of a renegade known as Abu Meh'jil. While not affiliated with any Palestinian faction, this Islamic fighter is being sought by a Lebanese court for the recent ambush killing of Sheikh Nizar El-Halabi, a Lebanese religious leader. Though the motive for the killing, and whether Abu Meh'jil is the actual perpetrator, are still unclear, the Lebanese authorities seem determined to catch the Palestinian and his followers. …

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