The story of Palestinian displacement to Lebanon is a peal. Palestinians did not choose to be refugees; Israel repeatedly forced them into this. Under the weight of occupation and massacres, Palestinians left their most cherished possessions: home, land, homeland, stories … They left everything behind in the hope of returning soon, very soon. Palestinians carried the keys to their homes and still carry them; the dream of return has not been taken away from them.
The first displacement happened 70 years ago – as if it were yesterday. Their stories are rooted in the tradition of displacement: uprooting, dispersion, torture and setbacks. Seventy years during which Palestinians continued to dream, work and fight for return. The first generation is almost gone. Today, the fourth generation is currently re-producing its dream with the bits and pieces of hope and prayer.
Refugees are taken in as refugees and not as tourists or businessmen. The suffering was devastating for their humanity: Tents in place of homes, estrangement from their homeland, alleys instead of orange groves, houses and fields, leaden skies instead of a blue expanse all the way to the horizon, UNRWA their “paper” home that keeps them alive, basic minimum assistance for the bare minimum.
Palestinian refugees counted on their Arab brothers. How long and deadly was the torment of the wait. Palestinians did not despair. They clung on to the keys to their homes, the fragrance of the soil, the smell of the orange groves, the mornings of days and their beautiful nights. They waited long. Then came Naksa Day, and along with it there was an influx of new refugees in successive waves. Palestine was occupied in its totality, and the armies of the regimes crumbled in face of the might of the Israeli military machine. … Palestinians were made to carry their cross and endure its peal. They took up arms. With them, they might return to their homeland or to their lord.
Guests are burdensome, even more so when hospitality is protracted and without end: years, decades and more. It was natural for the Lebanese to feel this burden and responsibility. It was just as normal for the Palestinians to feel like a burden to themselves and others. The hosts’ grumbling about their overstaying guests is part and parcel of displacement, and it is natural for refugees to demand more than the basic minimum. … Silent and grueling conflicts arose: Palestinians were allowed low wages and unfair incomes. The camps are overcrowded shelters, with all the misery and lack of health, life and education services that come along with that. The camps are a repository of cheap labor for jobs and occupations that the Lebanese turn their noses at, unless they come from the peripheries where the misery of the Lebanese equals that of Palestinian camps.
Palestinians took up arms before and after the Naksa. They no longer counted on Arab regimes. States tolerate no arms other than their legitimate arms as represented by their armies. The Palestinian resistance clashed with the Jordanian Army. It lost there, infiltrated into Lebanon, and quickly transformed the misery camps into a repository of fighters. Each camp became a front…
Palestinians became a political and military burden. The Lebanese conciliatory formula did not absorb the newcomer. The formula lost its balance, dividing Lebanon between those opposing Palestinian arms and advocates, supporters and participants. There was a schism in Lebanon along sectarian lines. Open fronts, infighting, a movable tragedy, in which Palestinians became strong and imperious. The dissatisfaction of a Lebanese segment of population turned into armed hostility.
Years of conflict and madness, with Lebanon emerging enfeebled. It was no longer the same. The Palestinians were accused of replacing Palestine with Lebanon. The image of the Palestinian became the image of the usurping enemy. Lebanon has become a battlefield in which all enemies are involved: Arab regimes support and rein in, Western countries do the same, and Israel too, over and over again, militias and organizations that are born between two neighborhoods. They sprouted like poisonous mushrooms in every corner, killing, kidnapping, abusing, displacing, stealing and many other atrocities, to the rhythm of battles that wipe out humans and stone. All this away from Palestine.
The center of Beirut was destroyed. Terrible massacres occurred in villages, towns, mountains and camps. Each massacre called for a counter-massacre. Israel intervened, invading three-quarters of the country. The fighting only stopped temporarily after the expulsion of PLO forces from Beirut and their dispersion from Yemen to Tunisia.
In 1982, the Lebanese and Palestinian wars ended with the exception of battles in Tripoli and Bekaa, while the Lebanese-Lebanese sectarian wars raged on fiercely and violently. Everyone lost, and no one won. The Palestinians’ lot was to be cursed. They were blamed as the root of the problem. Without them, Lebanese sectarian conflicts would have been capped by stances and declarations, nothing more.
After that, a new Lebanese chapter began, which was reserved for the authority of the Taif Accord. The Palestinians’ lot was to be disregarded. “Let them go back to their camps.” They were no longer a political problem, but they remained a refugee problem. Thus, after the Taif Accord, Palestinians regained their initial title: refugees, and the title of fidayeen was forgotten.
The political weight of Palestinians declined to almost naught. Lebanon had not yet recovered from the Palestinian complex, Palestinians were feeling neglected and marginalized, and almost lost hope in realizing their dream of return. Palestinians became a threat of settlement. The right of return is diminishing. Their right to a decent and free life outside their homeland is almost unattainable. They are not entitled to what a natural person is entitled to in their homeland. Palestinians became more miserable and perhaps more desperate. Their light arms, their way to Palestine is blocked and forbidden. These arms turned into “wars of enemy brothers” inside some camps. A number of which lives with the plague of continuous violence. Palestinians kill their Palestinian brethren. The chapters of the clash have not yet ended. They may yet spread to other camps. In addition, they have become a burdensome guest for many Lebanese. The labor market is locked to them, their movements calculated. That is how they were taken off the Lebanese map and returned to isolation.
The Lebanese have not yet recovered from the remnants of the war. There was an attempted apology. It was accepted grudgingly. Seventy years of bad blood and misunderstanding, misfortune and bad outcomes, never ending with reconciliation from above. The Lebanese and Palestinians have yet to reconcile. Their concern of fighting settlement has to be shared. Palestinians are not satisfied. Their reality is a tragedy, their future is uncertain and their hope is lost. The Lebanese continue to fear that the refugee crisis will be resolved with the affliction of settlement. This is impossible because of the harm that would do to the sectarian balance of power. … If complaints about Palestinians today have receded into the background, it is because the Syrian displacement is at the center of attention and because the Lebanese have become prisoners of their daily problems relating to water, electricity, debts, etc. Seventy years of displacement. How many more years? How many years will Palestinians endure displacement? How many years will the Lebanese wait?
When will the Lebanese and Palestinians reconcile? Reconciliation from above is flawed. The hope is that there would be reconciliation with the cause: the Palestinian cause and the Lebanese-Palestinian brotherhood.
Is this a dream?
It is an urgent demand for the establishment of a lasting peace based on deep mutual understanding. Security-based remedies are flawed. Injustice generates conflicts. In-depth remedies are required.
If only that would happen. It’s long overdue.