Lebanon viewed as one sizeable Palestinian camp
Wissam Saada, Lebanese writer and researcher
Economic collapse and political standstill impact all aspects of Lebanon’s life, making it more difficult for everyone. However, such difficulty varies depending on where you stand; it varies across society among different levels, layers, and professions.
While this ‘era of collapse’ results in a new exit wave of Lebanese joining the diaspora, it is taking a heavier toll than ever on Lebanon’s Palestinian and Syrian refugee communities.
Palestinian refugees are among those who suffer most from the ramifications of this social and political weakness, thus posing several demands and questions about multiple challenges—the challenge of life as refugees in a country suffering such a debilitating economic crisis.
This is a country where people have restricted access to the money in their bank accounts, limited job opportunities, wages that fell 90% in value within two years, unprecedented unemployment rates, and where 75% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Today, the country feels like a large refugee camp, where actual refugee camps and chronic poverty belts surrounding cities combine in one borderless social disaster.
This is the case while Palestinians are forbidden from practising many professions and do not receive their civil rights, under claims that it would weaken their cause as refugees and would pave the way for accepting Lebanese nationalization in the long run.
Months before the 17th October Revolution, the young people of the camps marched to protest their conditions and declare their rejection of the Ministry of Labor’s procedures related to non-Lebanese workers.
Similarly, UNRWA’s financial crisis – caused by donor countries failing to meet their commitments – preceded the financial and banking system crisis in Lebanon, which began as an issue with the US dollar being unavailable, and grew to be a significant, if initially overlooked, bankruptcy crisis for the country, the central bank and commercial banks.
The fact is, we cannot isolate the movement in the camps months before the Lebanese revolution from the social context of decay and collapse in the country as a whole. The impoverishment process became more severe years before the central implosion of social contradictions manifest in the demonstrations on the 17th of October and the following days in Beirut when citizens rose in protest for weeks across Lebanon.
However, the social depth of the 2019 uprising was quickly weakened by the claim of ‘political issues first’ while reducing political reform that lacked a social dimension to merely several partial technocratic thoughts.
On the other hand, some of those in the controlling group claimed that the uprising had quickly lost its status as an uprising of the poor, as part of a process to deconstruct and break the overall public movement, letting down an entire generation of young people who soon turned from being eager to change things, into being painfully broken.
Today, two years after the movement by young people from the camps across Lebanon, followed by the October uprising of the Lebanese people, the social cause presents itself under dire conditions, where the currency is collapsing, prices are skyrocketing, a crisis looms as commodities subsidy is being removed, and scenes of humiliating queues of people waiting for fuel are seen everywhere.
This vision, however, misses the actual social cause itself; in a sense, it is related to the collapse of the economic model that ruled over Lebanon’s modern history, more so after the war, with increased social injustice for lower levels of the society, especially paid labor of every nationality in Lebanon.
This social cause is not separate from the political one, particularly in terms of sovereignty, represented by regional influence on the Lebanese state, lack of the rule of law across the republic, and the state’s lack of control over decisions of war and peace, and lack of its own foreign policy.
As much as the social cause is absent in light of the economic collapse, social peace is being eaten away further by elements of weakness in a way that indicates things will deteriorate further.
This brings to attention the conditions of the Palestinians in Lebanon – inside and outside the camps – who are affected by the poverty wave more than others and are further experiencing discriminatory measures in addition to the consequences of UNRWA’s crisis and the impact of COVID-19, which all make the living conditions in the overcrowded camps intolerable.
There are also issues among the Palestinian factions themselves. However, the movement by Palestinian young people against the Lebanese Ministry of Labor showed that they have, to a great extent, broken free from the ‘era’ of those factions.
The current situation is unbearable for the Lebanese and the Palestinians in Lebanon.
Today, the Lebanese people are generally living under miserable ‘camp-like’ conditions, while the Palestinians are suffering the consequences of the collapse of the failed thieving economic model and the political ‘reconciliatory’ blockage that is irrational and controlled by lobbyists seeking support from the outside.
There are attempts to reduce the social collapse by tightening control on security in poorer areas to prevent outbreaks of civil conflict like recent examples in Tripoli. More than ever, it becomes even worse today to turn a blind eye to the increasingly tragic reality of poverty and unemployment in the camps and try to sum it all up as a security issue.
The fate of all classes in the country is connected, although no movements are rising to address the common interests.
For all that, today more than ever, there is common social and economic suffering among most Palestinians in the camps and the Lebanese people. There is no joint movement to fend off this dark fate at the society level, neither among the Palestinians nor the Palestinians Lebanese. There’s a significant difference between having a role in the problem and not having a plan to turn such a role into a popular social pushback. This will not happen simply by wishing for it.
The problem is getting worse because no preparations were made for such eventualities in past decades, and it’s difficult to just come up with solutions during a time of collapse.
However, no magic alternative could compensate for the lack of a comprehensive public resistance movement. There’s no attempt to bring to account those with the responsibility to take the fall for the financial collapse caused by an economic model, a banking model, a model for the controlling class, a model for a state controlled by militias. There’s no viable movement calling for justice for all Lebanese and residents in Lebanon.
In the absence of such public movement, one that defends the livelihoods of Lebanese workers, farmers, teachers, and clerks, and similarly protects the livelihoods and rights of Palestinians in Lebanon to work and enjoy civil rights, the country is turning more and more into another Ein El-Hilweh camp.
The new version is spread across an area of more than 10,000 square kilometers, where both the Lebanese and the Palestinians compete to leave their dire conditions behind in the hope of surviving, yet both share one thing – a false hope.