(TO EXIST IS TO RESIST) III. REFUGEE LIFE
This report deals with the appalling social and economic conditions of the Palestinians refugees in Lebanon, most of who live in war-torn camps.
There are today about 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the majority of them live in refugee camps run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The largest is Ein El-Hilweh refugee camp in Saida (South of Lebanon) with 65,000 Palestinians. Others are Bourj Al-Barajneh, Shatila, Bourj Al-Shamali, Rashidiyeh, El-Bass, Baddawi and Nahr-el-Bared refugee camps. Palestinians were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes and lands at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and again when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. Many of them took refuge in Lebanon, where they remain today, together with their descendants.
For the past 60 years, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continue to live in horrific conditions inside overpopulated refugee camps. Their right to return to home continues to be completely denied by Israel, in direct violation of many international legal instruments such as the 4th Geneva Convention, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
The discrimination and marginalization suffered by the these refugees contribute to high levels of unemployment (In 'Ayn al-Hilwah’ camp, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, the rate of unemployment is 80%. It mainly attributes this to laws discriminating against Palestinian refugees in their ability to seek work. They are barred from practising in over 70 professions such as law, medicine, pharmacy, and journalism due to a requirement of possessing Lebanese citizenship or to having reciprocal treatment in the country of the foreign national wishing to practice this profession.), low wages (The average individual income (44$) is a quarter of the Lebanese minimum wage) and poor working conditions (The majority of Palestinians are forced to work illegally, and in unskilled labour, mostly in manual, irregular and daily – either paid, or in petty commerce in the camps.). The resultant poverty is exacerbated by restrictions placed on their access to state education and social services.
In terms of education and healthcare, things are not better. Due to the living conditions are so poor, many young people give up school to work illegally, in order to secure income for their families. Others use drugs, crime or join politico-religious factions to earn money. In Lebanon, public hospitals are largely insufficient, and the majority of the population relies on private hospitals, which cost too much for most Palestinians. UNRWA provides medical services in 24 private general hospitals, and one maternity and child care centre. Basic services are offered only in the areas of maternity, childcare, family planning and control of infectious and non-infectious disease.
UNRWA has estimated that 60% of Palestinians in Lebanon live below the poverty line. Other studies have indicated that proportions have risen to 80%, with 56% living in extreme poverty.
Also, Palestinians refugees are restricted from rebuilding or redeveloping refugee camps due to government-imposed restrictions and repairs as well as building new structures have been forbidden in all the Southern camps since 1991. They do not have the right to own property in the country. They no longer may purchase property and those who owned property prior to 2001 would be prohibited from passing it on to their children.
The “security measures” make their lives even more difficult. Palestinians are not permitted to organize and form associations and NGOs unless through a Lebanese citizen. Where authorities discover that the associations are not Lebanese, they are forced to cease activities. Those waiting to go in and out of the camps may be subject to identity checks (to show the ID) by the Lebanese army.
With a population of 40,000, Naher Al Bared camp, situated 16 kilometres north of Tripoli was the second largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, where it was established in 1949. In May, fighting broke out and left 40 civilians, 167 Lebanese troops and 200 Fatah Islam fighters dead.
Refugees have fled to the nearby Baddawi camp, which have at most 18,000 inhabitants. By October, when it appeared safe to return, Naher Al Bared camp had lost 85 percent of its buildings and its remaining homes had been looted (in short, there was nothing to return to.) They took refuge on the UNRWA schools, which they were distributed in four parts, and in each part there were a whole family (sometimes of more than 8 members, most of them children) The health and food situation is unsustainable and the level of trauma that suffers this population, moreover the children, is very high.
Harsh discriminatory practices by the Lebanese government and the incapacity of lack of UNRWA to fulfill its mandate have driven Palestinian refugees into a situation characterized by abject poverty, isolation, and persecution. Also, much of the discriminatory treatment Palestinians face is rooted in their statelessness, which has been used by the Lebanese authorities to deny them equal rights.
This background, the idea of injustice, the discrimination and denial for so many decades affected me so deep inside, as a Palestinian but also as a human being, that I decided to develop a body of documentary work about “Palestinians in Lebanon”. This reportage has individuality by itself because of the strong subject, the importance as a separate work where Lebanon means a complex field full of hard situations and determinant and historical moments, but also as a very important part of a long term project about a concrete issue such as “Palestinian Identity” in progress since 2005. This idea is the nexus that unify every work I do about Palestinians, nor the conflict, neither the Diaspora, but everything at the same time. To be a Palestinian is more complicated that it seems, moreover to be a Palestinian refugee. The conflict, the occupation, then the Diaspora, and so many years of pain, loss and resistance change every little thing of their lives. Even the music and behaviour change. The intention of this long term project, as a general goal, and on each reportage, as individual aims, is to show, document and analyse the essence of the Palestinian Identity and see how it grows up, change and evolves depending the place and conditions of living, as a way to preserve it and also condemn the horrible and unfair situation of the Palestinian people.