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The World is Watching

Solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza begins in Lebanon’s Camps

by FRANKLIN LAMB

UN ESCWA HQ, Beirut

As the latest Zionist aggression continues to slaughter the civilian population of Gaza, for the fourth time in ten years, hopefully the global community will act to end it. But this is as unlikely as were the last forty years of the “peace process” to bring justice to Palestine. Only persistent Resistance in its countless forms will achieve dignity and Full Return for nearly nine million Palestinians by ending the criminal occupation.

The Zionist colonial enterprise still occupying Palestine has had its apologists in Lebanon well before 1948 and there are still plenty today. But the latest ‘lawn mowing’ in Gaza has generated an unusual amount of verbal support for Palestine across the political spectrum here.

A couple of examples.

On 7/21/14 all of Lebanon’s main television channels broadcast simultaneously a bulletin titled “Palestine… You are not alone” in support of Palestinians facing the Zionist aggression that to date has killed to date nearly 900 and maimed or wounded more than 4500 using approximately 2000 explosive strikes, more than half with American supplied or financed weapons. The Lebanese TV initiative for the first time brought together networks with radically different views, including the official TeleLiban, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar, LBC, MTV and NBN and others. Lara Zaaloum, executive director of LBC’s news show, said 30-minute program was “the fruit of a shared effort” that aims to “aid Palestinians and their children.”

Even Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, son-in-law of Michel Aoun of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) both politicians known for his anti-Palestinian and anti-Syrian refugee rants, claims he wants “to make a series of contacts with Lebanon’s ambassadors to the United Nations, Switzerland, and Belgium in order to condemn the Israeli aggression.” As reported by Beirut’s As Safir newspaper “he is seeking the preparation of a legal study that will be sent to the concerned international bodies to condemn Israel for its crimes in Gaza.” A bit weak, but welcomed gesture by the ambitious politician.

On 7/23/14 the March 14 Al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement) parliamentary bloc organized a well-attended solidarity press conference of MPs in the garden outside of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)’s in Downtown Beirut. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora declared, “We are here to tell the world that we are standing by Gaza, by every Palestinian, and by occupied Palestine whose land has been ravished. Your wounds are ours and you are fighting on the behalf of all of us. We do not forget the Palestinian people’s right for freedom, dignity and peaceful living,” he said.

Others have joined in. Hassah Nasrallah, vowed on 7/19/14 that “Hezbollah will stand with the Palestinian people’s uprising and whose resistance in our heart, willpower, hope and destiny.” On Al Quds day, 7/25/14 Hezbollah will hold a rally and SG Nasrallah will speak again for the need for solidarity for Palestinian refugees and many from Lebanon’s camps with attend because Hezbollah’s words are listened to in Lebanon’s camps as they have been for the last quarter century since the party announced its existence in an “Open Letter” and pledged to seek dignity for all Palestinians everywhere and to improve their daily lives.

Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani vowed that the Islamic Republic will do all in its power to help the Palestinians. “Iran strongly supports the Palestinian refugees as well as unity among Muslims” Larijani told a meeting with ambassadors of Islamic countries, adding: “We take it upon ourselves to stand by and help the oppressed Palestinian people wherever they are wholeheartedly one way or another” he said. The Iranian Foreign Minister and Iran’s embassy in Beirut have been advised, not for the first time, that the most direct, realistic and significant way to help the Palestinian people is to allow those in Lebanon the same elementary civil right to work as they have in Gaza and in every other country. If Iran and its allies are willing to honor their frequently quoted expressions of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei regarding “the sacred cause of Palestine” granting the right to work to Lebanon’s Palestinians would be an historic reaching out to Palestinians who are 90% Sunni, and help heal the tragic deepening Shia-Sunni divide. The help Palestinians most need in Lebanon, where Larijani and his political allies have major political clout is with being allowed to seek employment the same as any other refugee or foreign visitor who arrives.

Many Palestinian students in Lebanon are acting in solidarity with their countrymen in Gaza. Among them are 404 who this week, in a noble humanitarian act, donated this semesters tuition grants awarded by Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-leb.com). They made the personal sacrifice by pairing with 404 of their named countrymen killed in Gaza. More than a few have expressed the hope that those offering verbal support to Palestine will use their political power and 90 minutes of Parliaments time to grant Palestinians the means of survival here in Lebanon until they can return to their homes in Palestine by granting them the elementary civil right to work. Gaza is an open-air prison with 1.8 million incarcerated. Lebanon’s camps are also open air prisons whose hapless residents are not allowed to leave the camps to work in dozens of job categories. Charity, it is often said, begins at home. So does Solidarity. So does Resistance.

To give meaning and credibility to their encouraging words, the Lebanese and regional politicians through their newspapers and TV channels should pledge today, to end their targeting of Palestinian refugees and target the Zionist occupation of their country by making it legal for camp residents to work. They would thereby also help Palestinian family members in Gaza while helping to build Lebanon’s weak economy. Many, but not all Lebanese politicians play the Palestinian card for personal gain, financial and political, with human rights slogans selectively spewed according to narrow political interests. And then selectively disregard them when their personal interests might benefit.

As one student from Ein el Helwe camp, who donated her SSSP scholarship to her Gaza countrymen this week noted, “These words politicians offer us are nice and we thank them. But we have heard them for so many years while the speakers have keep us without dignity and by denying us the right to work. Even the Zionist occupiers let us work. What kind of Resistance are the Lebanese politicians talking about? Does it mean Resistance to our most basic civil right to work and to care for our families? All we ask of Lebanon is to let us work just like every other country allows refugees to work and try to feed their families.

The unpleasant fact of the matter is that hollow supportive words from Lebanese and regional politicians do little for Gaza and nothing for their families and countrymen stuck in Lebanon’s refugee camps without the basic human right to work. The Palestinian community in Lebanon among the 4.8 million descendants of the 750,000 ethnically cleansed by Zionist colonials during the 1948 Nakba and more than 300,000 forced from their homes during the 1967 Naksa need help in Lebanon.

In Lebanon’s 12 fetid, squalid, scorched, suffocating, diseased festering, malnourished, sardine canned populations, added to by thousands of refugees from Syria, camps easy words are being heard yet again. By politicians whose tropes and platitudes trumpet “the sacred cause of Palestine” and “our bloodstream cause of Palestine” and “our religious, moral, political, historic, God ordered duty to stand in solidarity and to help the Palestinian refugees.” Such shallow political posturing is increasingly scoffed at and even derided in the camps and among supporters of Palestine. Some of these very same politicians still pat themselves on the back for the fake August 2010 Parliamentary initiative that eliminated a work permit application fee for Palestinians which was never the problem, and kept all the Kafkaesque barriers in place. As a result not ten Palestinian seeking the right to work has benefited during four years since its passive and the Ministry of Labor has not even tried to implement the phone labor law amendment.

Lebanon has an opportunity to shed much of its self-imposed disgrace, international opprobrium, help heal the Shia-Sunni wound, improve its economy, lessen the likelihood of an intifada building today in the desperate camps, avoid the increasingly likely international BDS and sanctions campaign to be applied to Lebanon as a consequence of its massive violations of human rights laws.

Ninety minutes of Parliaments time to grant the right to work will do more for Gazans and their relatives in Lebanon in terms of Resistance to the occupation of their country than all the well-meaning but hollow words that fade without trace with the wind.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (sssp-lb.com).