Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hold the Huddled Masses

It is as if International watchdogs are after us, with Amnesty International accusing us of mistreating Palestinian Citizens.

Well yes, we are.

And no, it is not that simple…

In Principle; They Have a Point.

For all practical purposes, Palestinians are now citizens of Lebanon, though it is not Politically Correct to state this, as all Lebanese now unanimously reject any talk of “nationalizing” (tawtin) them in the country. This taboo even lead to an absurdity, as Lebanese women cannot pass their citizenship on to their children

After all, for a while, they ruled the roost, and abused the population so much that many were glad to see Israeli tanks waltz in over the PLO… Incidentally, the mothers of most of those who now excoriate the “little Satan” were throwing flowers are the Merkavas and Ben Gurions rolling by… But that was then, in another Lebanon.

There was talk of giving them some sort of “automatic work permits”, but short of citizenship. This suits many business leaders fine; The Lebanese market currently takes 400,000 to 700,000 Syrians. So it can easily take 100,000 to 200,000 Palestinian workers.

Business Profits

However, doing this in isolation, without other measures, will only deepen local inequalities in the country, and add more instability. Initially, the location of the camps was not chosen randomly. They were set up in the 50's in this manner in order to provide cheap labour to expanding local industries. And, incidentally, to "break" nascent labour movement. Over time, those “labour souks” turned into fortified camps, home to Arafat & Co, SAR(T)L…

So this proposal will not work, unless it comes with real labour protection rules, or at least he enforcement of existing ones. It would also be nice if work permits were not free; at least charge the Syrians the same rates they charge other brotherly foreign workers…

You know, the stuff normal countries do.

Yes, this whole thing will push wages up by some measure. Yes, it will not benefit some in the construction industry and other industries, but labour costs are not a large percentage of total costs… And this will force some level of automation. It may benefit the country as a whole, by "retaining" a certain amount of hard currencies inside the country, rather than exporting them; many people in the poorer areas of Lebanon will not mind the added income.

In Practice: It’s Bad Timing…

Bad timing indeed. No way can we discuss those things now; a trip to Akkar, Tripoli and Dennieh would changed the minds of anyone who is considering things like the rebuilding of Nahr El-Bared.

When a people, traditionally fanatical about education, are unable to afford bus fare to free public schools, you know something is wrong.

Recall that all those reported attacks against Syrian workers in 2005 were not carried out in the supposedly anti-Syrian regions, but in the poorer, pro-Syrian areas. There were worse unreported clashes soon after the withdrawal; when Syrian workers tried to come back to “their” job sites, with no Mokhabarat to protect them, they were many unreported attacks against them by their Lebanese competitors…

The Proletarian struggle ain’t what it used to be… Or was it ever? it is always the poor of the world that face one another, brandishing their masters’ banners, driven by their masters' opium

Incidentally, who printed those slick posters that were brandished by last Friday’s demonstrators? A dead soldier’s pension makes for a tight pension for his parents. More especially that the army appears to have forgotten the tradition of promoting a martyred soldier, in order to boost that same pension… But I digress

For all their misery; it looks like the Palestinians will have to wait… Ever longer.


JoseyWales said...

Yes Jeha,

Big complicated thing and timing is bad. Good post.

I'd add that, in the broader context, no solution will be found for those people until the Lebs and Palis and Arabs shed their main delusion, and source of many troubles: the fugees are going back home one day. They're not.

It's a typical Middle Eastern problem. Don't ask the right question, you won't get the right answer.

ghassan karam said...

Josey has in his "straight shooting" scored another Bulls Eye hit. The Arabic speaking countries have chosen to make the Palestinian issue their number one concern and they have consistently used the Palestinian cause in order to score political points, secure undemocratic rule and justify dictatorships. Many groups in the Arab world have benefited from trading in the Palestinian issue but sadly the Palestinians have not. In that context one should look at the Palestinian refugees problem as one that desreves the attention and help of all the Arab countries.

The reality , however, is that the host countries have not done much if anything in order to improve the lot of the Palestinian refugees and so all the Lebanese governments must carry part of the blame for what is ultimately a human tragedy and a mistreatment of 400,000 human beings. The largest part of the blame is to be born by those who have propagated over the decades the pure myth that living in misery and squalor will make it easier to argue for the right of return.What a crock!!! The wretched living conditions in the camps amount to another act of victimization of the poor and helpless refugees. Lebanese politicians, just like other Arab politicians and Palestinian leadershave been trading in the Palestinian cause for their own personal political gains. They have been opportunistic and disingenuous. Chief among these Lebanese pols is President Emile Lahoud who never tires of the canard that the refugees are exploited and mistreated for their own good, in order to get them back their "right of return". (Charitablt one could explain Lahouds' position by saying that he is following Syrian orders).
The Palestinian refugees pose a problem that will not go away by shirking our responsibility and moral obligation to do what is right. The best thing to do is to raze all the camps and provide a helping hand to all the camp residents so that they might be integrated and so that they can get the means to better themselves. If that happens then all parties will gain. We might be surprised to find out that better living conditions and a brighter more hopeful future will result in less militancy and a lower fertility rate.