Palestinians have long grated on the Lebanese who have bore the brunt of the refugee crisis over the years. Still, when a group of adventure-seeking students end up deported, you know the xenophobia is systematically ingrained.
When it comes to contempt in broad daylight, getting through security almost always proves a case of hit-and-miss in the Arab world.
“I arrived at Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut for the first time on Thursday, April 25 to enjoy the Easter holidays with a group of other Palestinians who had paid for the same trip. I had been notified that the so-called ‘visa’ had been issued and had taken care of all legalities and paperwork to ensure I would be able to take this weekend’s selfie at the Beirut marina,” wrote Iba Abu Layya in a Facebook post.
Instead, she was held in detention and denied access to basic amenities (or a lawyer) and was not allowed to contact anyone for more than 15 hours, she told the world, all for being Palestinian.
In her words, "the head officer showed a clear contempt for Palestinians. After hours of negotiating with him and explaining my situation, he ordered one of his employees to include my name on the blacklist."
"My mom is Palestinian and I cannot wait to get rid of her. Do you want me to let you into Lebanon?" the hostile officer told Abu Layya.
"The Lebanese officers who were sat on the couch added insult to injury, saying that the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon had no power or authorisation to help me when I asked them to call him," she wrote.
The group had applied and received tourist visas, as well as a paper specifying that they are not barred entry into Lebanon. In spite of these arrangements, 13 ended up on the blacklist anyways (they are all temporary Jordanian passport holders, while the four who were allowed through had only Palestinian laissez-passez documentation).
“I was told I would have to stay the weekend because my airlines only operate a few days a week,” she says. “I kept asking for a new reservation to get me out of detention sooner. The deportation officers were a bit nicer than the previous officers I met initially. They wanted to help, so they let me and other group members contact the tourism office we reserved this holiday through. We were eventually deported to Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport, where we had flown in from”.
Such predicaments are nothing new for Palestinians, refugees or otherwise, in Lebanon, a country in which not only is casual racism widespread, but also a state in which state-backed racist policies are implemented against Palestinians in Lebanon until this very day.
The officers denied her entry on grounds that by living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, she was sanctioning the normalisation of ties with Israel, a country that is officially in a state of war against Lebanon.
Yet if that is the case, would the officers who are so vehemently opposed to relations with Israel offer Abu Layya an alternative in Lebanon, a country in which the almost-half-a-million refugees that have lived there since 1948 (many in run-down areas) are still barred from the formal education system and can't enter into more 30 professions, in addition to being unable to own businesses or purchase land?
Indeed, in light of such systematic marginalisation, it becomes hard to make any distinction between Israel's apartheid policy towards the Palestinians and the way they are treated in Lebanon.
Numerous reports and studies have been conducted on this issue. Yet whichever way you look at it, it remains as contentious now as it did 70 years ago.
Lebanese women still can't pass on their nationalities to their Palestinian children.
There is no way anyone who is born to a Palestinian man and Lebanese woman would pass under the radar unnoticed.
Under the guise of preserving Palestinian rights, Lebanon (and a great many Lebanese citizens) have long claimed that they would never grant citizenship or voting rights to Palestinians for fear of upsetting the "fragile" sectarian demographic (and also to "ensure" they retain the "right to return" to Palestine). The official party line has long been that assimilating Palestinians into the Lebanese system is a betrayal of the Palestinian cause (if only either premises were believable).
Bassam Khawaja, who works for Human Rights Watch in Beirut, says: “Nothing prevents Lebanon from respecting the basic human rights of Palestinians even while withholding permanent residency or citizenship. Instead, generations have grown up in limbo without basic protection mechanisms.”
While Lebanon rightly says it has bore the brunt of neighbouring conflicts, it is not alone, but has far outdone all its neighbours in its discriminatory policies.
Take, for example, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, where refugees have been treated much better over the years.
These countries have taken in hundreds of thousands (and in some cases, millions) of refugees. In Syria, for instance, Palestinians are only barred from voting. They are otherwise treated equally to Syrians.
In Jordan, citizenship rights have been granted to most Palestinians and basic rights have never been an issue.
Lebanon can certainly stand to learn a thing or two from Turkey's policy towards housing Syrian refugees.
Despite the fact that social tensions would inevitably rise with inflation and overpopulation, “whether by default or by design, the government seems to have begun gradually implementing a policy of integration, suggesting that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other key leaders realise that many Syrians are in Turkey to stay.”
Indeed, reality and rhetoric are oftentimes worlds apart, particularly when it comes to handling domestic affairs and the needs of the local population.
Still, by constantly wishing away its refugee problem, Lebanon has done little to nothing in accepting the fact that this will not rid them of the millions who have long since settled in the tiny country (nor will depriving Palestinians of jobs create jobs for Lebanese citizens).
In fact, Lebanon would do well to learn from these dire deficiencies by creating protective mechanisms for fair governance in order to create a more tolerant and accepting society.
In 2017, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil tweeted “we are racist (to protect) our Lebanese identity”. The statement came in defence of Prime Minister Michel Noun's refusal to naturalise Syrian citizens (in an address to the United Nations).
In that light, Abu Layya powerfully concludes: “The Arab world dehumanises Palestinians much more than the occupation itself. I need another lifetime to recover from the inhumane way in which I was treated. I suffer from the consequences of the Israeli occupation on a daily basis. Do I deserve to be treated the same way from an neighbouring Arab country? Checkpoints, interrogation, restrictions on movement and right violations are not restricted to Israel. They extend to Lebanon and other Arab countries in the region.”
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