Shatila Palestinian camp, Beirut
As cases of Palestinian camp children being targeted by drug dealers are further revealed, proposals are being put forward by the Palestinian Community, Local, Regional and International NGOs, and Civil Society organizations on how to end this scourge. Taking into account the still prevailing Lebanese stigmas toward Palestinians and the outlawing of their elementary civil rights including the right to work and home ownership, this observer offers some proposals for consideration. Continuing to block Palestinian civil rights here in Lebanon is a fundamental cause of the Palestinian camps’ fraying security that exposes camp children to many dangers including drug dealers.
As is widely known among students of the Question of Palestine, serious threats peculiar to the lives of the youth in the camps and of the entire Palestinian community in Lebanon affect their physical and psychological health. These are caused by the many particularly difficult local economic, social and educational circumstances placed on them for political reasons. Acting as incubators for numerous social ills, including children’s vulnerability to drug dealers, these threats will not diminish unless strong remedial measures are taken by those of us committed to the cause of Palestine.
As Miaari, a volunteer who works with camp children and offers short-term vocational training, recently advised visitors: “Getting children out of the streets and away from drug dealers will only happen when we all defy the Lebanese legal system that systematically undermines the Palestinian community’s ability to improve its condition.”
It is difficult to overstate how central and fundamental are the idea, cause, urge, and need for returning to Palestine in the lives of young Palestinians in Lebanon’s camps. Because Palestinians face a grim future in Lebanon, the youth believe that the core reason for their existence is not to build a life here, but to return to a free Palestine and build a life there.
Within Lebanon much that can be done to confront drugs in Palestinian camps in addition to granting the right to work which, in this observer’s opinion, is absolutely essential for success with the anti-drug struggle. The proposed initiatives noted below, if implemented without further delay, could achieve much toward eradicating the massive influx of more than a dozen types of drugs targeting children in Palestinian camps today.
Inside the Camps: Pushing Drugs and Child Drug Addiction
Some of the causes of Palestinian community problems and children being targeted for drug addiction in the camps are related to camp infrastructure. In the past few years UNRWA and some of the international aid agencies have taken several decisions for budgetary and austerity reasons, to diminish health, education, reconstruction and social services. One example is Nahr al Bared camp near Tripoli, which was destroyed by the Lebanese army in 2007 fighting Islamists, but which has still not been rebuilt because previously pledged international contributions have not yet been honored.
These conditions have led to an unstable political climate inside the camps and the feeling by many Palestinians that they are left to their own destiny. Many Palestinians say they have had enough and may revolt to demand the right to work and home ownership. Commonly expressed also is growing hostility toward the camp Political and Social Committees, as well as the political factions and camps militias for failing to confront drug dealers, achieve camp security, and improve camp infrastructure. Fighting among camp residents caused by various domestic disputes and myriad social problems, is also on the increase.
Lebanon’s largest Palestinian camp, Ain al-Hilweh, with more than 70,000 usual residents but with now another approximately 30,000 ethnic Palestinians from Syria, packed into 1.5 square kilometers, is also witnessing many children being targeted by drug dealers. Lifelong resident, 17-year old Mohannad reports that “The camp is enclosed around us and we have very little options. As Palestinians we feel marginalized and as youth we are hugely demotivated”. According to another precocious, very articulate, young camp resident: “ Being forbidden by law to work and economic hardships lead to more anger and violence in the camp households, which increases children’s anxiety, accentuates their depression and pushes them out of their homes and into the streets’’. He continued: “We have a lot of problems at home. My father is unemployed and angry. I felt forgotten and neglected. I decided to quit school and try the street life. Drug dealers target young, unemployed, poor men who spend their days and nights on the streets and in cafes looking for solace.” Lebanon’s laws and ministerial decrees have established a series of restrictions that deny Palestinian refugees internationally-mandated elementary civil rights. They are deprived from the right to work in most professions, attend public schools, own property, pass on inheritances and move freely in the country, leaving them little option apart from ‘‘hanging out”, jobless and open to escapism in the form of drugs, as the Return to Palestine increasingly appears to be unattainable.
Promoting an anti-drug Intifada
Drug dealing in the 12 Palestinian camps and 46 Gatherings targeting children could be largely removed as part of focusing on the whole of the camp problems, economic, social, educational, relating to healthcare, infrastructure and political. For this, a Palestinian camps Anti-Drug “Intifada” is needed – as invoked by an increasing number of camp leaders.
To encourage pride in the camps and improve the quality of camp life, both of which fortify resistance by children to drug dealers, much overdue infrastructure work needs to be done by camp residents and their supporters. UN agencies, NGOs, Lebanese Ministries, and foreign donors need to achieve without further procrastination the following life-improving projects, all of which are urgently needed by children and their families in all Palestinian camps and gatherings in Lebanon. Proposed remedies include:
· The urgent rehabilitation of hundreds of houses that are in very poor condition,
· Major revamping and improvement of camp infrastructures such as electricity, portable water supply facilities, sewage networks, provisions of closed garbage containers and the establishment of garbage disposal systems,
· The cooperation of the Lebanese authorities to stop blocking building materials into the camps so that repairs may be made without paying exorbitant bribes,
· The launching of camp-wide initiatives designed for improving health, education, social services and recreational opportunities for children and youth. In the case of Burj el- Barajneh Palestinian camp in South Beirut, a research study conducted by Jihad Makhoul, and Yara Jarallah concluded: “If the quality of education offered to Palestinian refugees, and employment and ownership restrictions remain as they are, adolescents between the ages of 13 and 19 will increasing resort to the coping mechanism of drug abuse that many young men in the camp already suffer from today.”
· The establishment of a large scale camp Movement, fuelled by global friends of Palestine and manned locally by international supporters, many no doubt seasoned, tempered from their previous human rights work and much valued by the expanding cause of Justice for Palestine. The proposal is that they will come to Beirut and lead a focused hygiene campaign in every camp, which will include setting up health clinics.
· It would be a great asset if Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders, which currently operate and fund 13 medical facilities in Lebanon, much of their work being with Palestinian refugees, expand its Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian participation. MSF should consider adding child drug addiction to its work, coordinating with Palestinian Camp Political and Social Committees as well as Palestinian women’s organization who urgently want to eradicate child drug addiction in the camps and gatherings.
· Lebanese supporters of human rights and friends of Palestine, camp NGOs and camp families must work genuinely with camp Political and Social Committees to block outsiders setting up drug networks. The Palestinian camp communities are tightly knit and they are able to easily identify outsider who set up drug businesses. The Camp leaders need to effectively beef up their policing and be willing to confront the dealers. This includes encouraging Lebanese police agencies to cooperate with processing arrested suspects through the legal system, without political interference from politicians or militias.
· It is urgent for the Lebanon office of The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to convene an Emergency Conference on the basis of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for emergency consultations and coordinated efforts with relevant actors, including government, international organizations, and civil society. Participants should include Lebanese government Ministries, all Palestinian NGOs and children-focused NGOs working in the camps or in support of Palestinian and other children. Among the participants would br Save the Children, Anera, Al Najdeh, Nabaa , the Chatila Children’s Center (CYC) AFEL , Ahlouna , Ajialouna , Arc En Ciel ,Association pour la protection de l’enfant de la guerre, Bassma, Braveheart ,CCCL , Chance , Fondation Philippe Hatem pour une enfance heureuse,Fondation René Moawad , Heartbeat- La chaine de l’espoir, Himaya , Home of Hope Lebanon, Ibtissama , IRAP , Kids First Association, Lebanus, My school Pulse , S.O.S Children’s Villages , Sesobel and BICE (The international Catholic Child Bureau). No doubt there are others, who could also help the children of the camps.
· Given that interventions are urgently required in Lebanon’s Palestinians camps and gatherings, without further delay UNRWA, the Lebanese Ministry of Education and foreign donors should begin immediately, with required permits from the Lebanese government, to improve the quality of education offered by UNRWA schools.
· Moreover, Lebanese public schools and universities should accommodate more Palestinian refugees and end the discriminatory quota practices, which currently are in place in most academic disciplines. As a direct consequence of these arbitrary restrictions, Palestinian children in Lebanon are not encouraged to complete their schooling or to seek higher education because of restricted work opportunities. Consequently, children and adolescents are increasingly discontinuing their education and are being exposed to drug dealers in the camps.
· The Camps Community and their NGO supporters, public health professionals and policy-makers, local educational institutions and Lebanese authorities must discourage adolescents from aborting their education to start work at a young age, while working with them individually and offering alternatives.
· With respect to combatting drug dealers targeting camp children, it is not enough to glibly condemn them. Both the Palestinian and Lebanese communities must combat and eradicate them. Camp police forces must be cleansed of corrupt elements and a hotline established for anonymously reporting drug transactions. Camp police and the Lebanese Internal Security Force (ISF) need to cooperate much more effectively and work together daily to remove drug dealers, who currently feel they can operate with total freedom because the camps are without serious enforcement of anti-Drug laws.
· It is imperative that the 12 Palestinian camps’ Political and Social Committees seriously monitor drug dispensing Pharmacies. In Palestinian refugee camps virtually anyone can open a pharmacy, providing easy access for drug abusers. Altayeb, a former drug dealer and abuser, reported that he spent many nights alone in his bathroom getting high on medical narcotics from the pharmacy near his home. “I usually bought my supply to sell and use from that pharmacy. They have pills that make me and my friends feel like Superman!” Camp pharmacies must be closely regulated and monitored for their ethics by camp authorities and residents. Pharmacies that are fronts for selling drugs must be closed down. Pharmacies, however, should not be banned outright because they are essential for stressed and frequently ill residents.
Beyond the Camps: who is responsible for protecting from drug dealers Palestinian camp children plagued by unemployment and ripe for abuse?
A fundamental cause of the frayed Palestinian sociality in the camps is the continuing Lebanese ‘‘cold war’’ targeting Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, dating back to the 1982 departure of the PLO during the Israeli invasion of that year. The ‘‘cold war’’ has now assumed many forms. Palestinians in Lebanon’s camps cannot rely on the Lebanese government or any local or regional political party, despite a penchant by some for donning the checkered kafiyyeh as a genuflection to “Arab Nationalism.” Neither, sad to say, can Palestinians reply on the international community. They need to rely solely on themselves, as Khalil al Wazir (Abu Jihad) once told me and a gathering of Palestinian women activists, across from this home in Fakhani Beirut next to Lebanese Arab University (LAU). Abu Jihad’s gloomy speech was shortly before the PLO leadership left Beirut in August 20, 1982, against his objection. This was a fateful decision to depart Beirut against the vociferous objections of many, including American journalist Janet Lee Stevens, who eight months later died with her unborn baby, Clyde Chester Lamb III, in her womb during the April 17, 1983 bombing of the American Embassy. Abu Jihad urged those who were apprehensive at being left behind in the now vulnerable camps, as the PLO leadership moved by boat to Tunis, to rely only on themselves and their traditionally strong family structures to continue their struggle to achieve Full Return to Palestine.
Since the 1982 departure of the PLO, local Palestinian institutions in Lebanon have been discouraged, marginalized, misled, deceived and emasculated amidst claims that the remaining Palestinian refugees are not up to the task of running the camps, thus providing successive governments in Lebanon with the excuse to deny Palestinians fundamental rights.
International Responsibility towards the Palestinians in Lebanon
The United Nations through a General Assembly or the Security Council must enforce the provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which under international customary rules binds Lebanon to grant Palestinians in Lebanon the same rights as all refugees enjoy. Given the massive UN support for Palestinian rights, the resolution will pass. The UN must strictly enforce the General Assembly or Security Council Resolutions on Refugee rights and impose UN Sanctions on Lebanon as long as it fails to comply. An estimated 187 of the 193 UN Member States support universal refugee rights for Palestinian forced by the Nakba (the 1948 Catastrophe) into Lebanon. Elementary civil rights have been illegally denied by Lebanon for nearly seven decades.
Similar encouragement for Lebanon to meet its international obligations to grant Palestinian refugees these elementary civil rights should be applied immediately by every government that supports the Palestinian cause. The Lebanese government denying the right of Palestinian refugees to work has resulted in camp unemployment rates nearing 70%, while causing below poverty line status for 75% of camp residents. This status is one direct and predictable cause of today’s camp children being targeted for drug addiction. Acting without further delay and with the participation of many people of good will here in Lebanon and globally, by the veterans of countless campaigns related to Justice for Palestine, the camp children’s drug addiction problems and a number of others can be solved.
The Avoided Responsibility of the Lebanese State
For political and sectarian reasons the Lebanese government is unlikely to get much involved, just as for 68 years it has balked at taking any substantive steps to grant Palestinian refugees elementary civil rights or protect camp children from the festering decay that surrounds them. On the other hand, it is very possible that officials here may be convinced to fulfill their international legal obligations toward the refugee camps, when faced with a broad-based, local, regional, and international Palestinian child-rescuing movement.
The most critical step to saving Palestinian children from drug dealers, this observer has become convinced of while volunteering with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign (PCRC) in the past few years, must be to allow the children’s parents the universal elementary civil right to work, so that they can support their children and offer them opportunities, activities and alternatives to idleness and boredom in the camps, where a virulent drug culture threatens to destroy them.
As is widely known, the elementary civil right of Palestinians refugees to work is enshrined in international law and is granted to every refugee by every country including in occupied Palestine. The sole exception is Lebanon’s refusal to meet its legal obligation by excluding by law Palestinians from working in dozens of professions, leaving them with only a few menial job opportunities to try to feed their families. It is for this reason according to UNWRA, that the average camp Palestinian family of six now exists on less than $ 6 per day, unemployment for Palestinians camps and gatherings is approximately 70 %, average life expectancy is decreasing, diseases and serious illnesses are increasing, and school drop-out rates are rising alarmingly. So is drug use among children.
Marginalized by Lebanese law denying the internationally guaranteed civil rights to work or to own a home and thus fated to joblessness, poverty and no perceived future, many Palestinian youth, even those among the relatively few who are university students( 800 to 1000 these days according to the Beirut-based Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) are increasingly tempted to smoke it up and get high fast, many soon becoming addicted. In any given semester, according to the Executive Director of the SSSP and the Washington, DC-based American Friends of the SSSP (AFSSSP), which from 2013 to date has awarded more than two hundred Palestinian college tuition grants, there are only approximately 1000 Palestinian students currently attending universities in Lebanon. This avoidance of higher education spreads as younger children mimic their older sibling’s behavior.
Lebanon is becoming a human rights pariah state which is seriously endangering its economy, owing to its politicians’ refusal to allow Palestinians to work. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports and myriad other economic studies focusing on Lebanon make plain that if Palestinians were allowed to work as required by international law, their participation would enhance Lebanon’s economy, create thousands of jobs, encourage confidence by international investors and help heal the still smoldering Lebanese “cold” civil war and this country’s debilitating sectarian divisions. Having studied this problem with many in Lebanon’s Palestinian community, this observer proposes in brief, the following local and international initiatives to help Lebanon comply with its own Constitution and international law. Once Palestinian refugees are allowed to work, much good will result from their new status and this will uplift camp children in many ways, including fortifying and emboldening them to resist the camp drug dealers.
Given the poisonous sectarianism that has brought Lebanon to its continuing lamentable social and political status, its government’s leaders need encouragement from inside and outside the country to comply with the elementary international legal norms which unequivocally mandate the right to work for Palestinian refugees- until they return to Palestine and not one minute longer.
Enforcing Lebanon to Comply: Economic Sanctions
From outside Lebanon, encouragement is urgently needed from the United Nations and the European Union to impose tough economic sanctions on Lebanon and freeze all categories of aid to this country until it abides by its international legal obligations respecting the Palestinian families’ elementary civil right to work.
With respect to the United States, the incoming Trump administration, consistent with American values which were a theme during its election campaign, should apply American law and cut off all aid to Lebanon until its meets its legal obligations and allow Palestinians the elementary civil right to work and to purchase a home. Specifically, Washington is obliged to apply the clear provisions of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act and the 1976 US Arms Export Act, and other relevant provisions of American law, all of which require cutting off all US assistance to Lebanon because it systematically denies human rights to refugees.
Unfortunately, the US Congress recently granted another 38 billion dollars of US taxpayer money to Israel to maintain its illegal occupation of Palestine. It also gives annually millions of US taxpayer money to Lebanon, which continues outlawing jobs and home ownership for Palestinians. With respect to Lebanon, that will change rapidly if Washington freezes aid to Lebanon until it grants Palestinian refugees their internationally mandate civil rights. The result would save many Palestinian children from the drug dealers.
Economic Boycott of Lebanon
Other countries, including the 28 in the EU, many of which have similar laws on this subject, should invoke them and freeze aid until Lebanon decides to respect international law. In addition, human rights groups and supporters of Palestinian refugees should organize an economic boycott similar to the BDS, entitled: ‘‘No Business As Usual With Lebanon While Blocking Palestinian Civil Rights Is Business As Usual’’.
According to Lebanese MPs with whom this observer has discussed the subject, few in Lebanon’s government doubt that within one month Palestinians in Lebanon would be granted the same elementary civil right to work as any other refugees from 192 countries when their foot touches Lebanese territory.
These are the same rights granted by international law to every other refugee in Lebanon and to every other Palestinian refugee globally, and even by the occupiers of Palestine. While some political leaders locally and across the region play ad nauseam the “Palestinian card” laced nearly always with shockingly interminable “Solidarity and Resistance” mouthings, the most elementary civil rights to work and to own a home are denied exclusively to Palestinians.
What needs to be done without further procrastination to stop drug dealers from addicting Palestinian camp children in Lebanon, is to achieve for the children a secure birthright.
The R2P (Responsibility to Protect and Rescue) Palestinian children from drug dealers Movement
One hoped-for achievement of the Emergency Conference would be the launching of a country-wide movement to stop all children in Lebanon from being targeted for drug addiction. A skeptical humanitarian worker in the Bekaa valley, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported that humanitarian agencies in Lebanon are “aware of drug dealers in the camps targeting Palestinian children, but consider that they have no jurisdiction over the matter.”
This mentality must change.
Each of us is obliged to help organize, join and work with, and to assure the success of the proposed R2P (Responsibility to Protect and Rescue) Palestinian children from drug dealers Movement. We as adults owe this to vulnerable Palestinian as well as to all other youth in Lebanon.