The Palestinian Refugees Deserve Better, Much Better.

By Ghassan Karam It is that time of the year when the Arab world rediscovers the Palestinian people and their just cause. Alas the discovery does not last for more than a few hours

By Ghassan Karam

An elderly Palestinian carries a symbolic key during a sit-in marking the 62nd anniversary of the "Nakba," Arabic for catastrophe in front of the United Nations office in Beirut

It is that time of the year when the Arab world rediscovers the Palestinian people and their just cause. Alas the discovery does not last for more than a few hours during which politicians make their speeches and compete with each other in an effort to establish their political concern and awareness. We have been going through this ritual for over 60 years and there isn’t anything that anyone can show for these efforts. One cannot help but feel sorry for the Palestinian people since with such friends who needs any enemies.

The Lebanese , in general,have been possibly the worst opportunists and exploiters on these occasions. I have no doubt that there are some very sincere Lebanese who truly believe that the Palestinian people have been unjustly treated and must be supported in their struggle for an honorable settlement. But I am so very disgusted when I hear the disingenuous sentiments expressed in support of the Palestinian struggle by those who have consistently exploited them and abused them. The crocodile tears shed on this occasion are a convenient cover to argue against the Palestinians through a shrewdly constructed rationale that argues that the Palestinians should be abused and discriminated against; they should be deprived of many of their human rights and educational opportunities in order to preserve their right of return. We discriminate against them because of our love, concern and support for them. This strange logic is similar although it predates the Vietnam policy of “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”.

Does our duplicity know any bounds? Would we want to be treated like we treat the Palestinians? After all isn’t that the best guide for action: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? Let us play a mind game if you will: Let us imagine that a group of people invaded Lebanon and that half the population decided to flee the war for a variety of reasons. They sought refuge in a number of neighbouring countries till the hostilities end. To their surprise when the war was over they were not permitted to go back. Would we then want these refugees to spend the next 63 years living in the hastily erected temporary refugee camps that were set upon their arrival or would we expect their host countries to treat them like they treat any other immigrant? Wouldn’t we expect and even insist that the hosts make every effort to alleviate their suffering and to integrate them into their respective societies and economies? Shouldn’t they be allowed to own property like all other inhabitants and enjoy the same privileges and protections of the law of the land? And wouldn’t we insist that if they choose then they should become citizens of their adopted countries of residence so that they will be able to exercise their right to vote and thus participate fully in shaping the society in which they are an integral member?

I am confident that our answers to each and every one of the above hypothetical question is in the affirmative. Not only that but we would expect all people anywhere in the world to be treated that way whether they are Iraqi refugees, Vietnamese refugees, Somali refugees or Armenian refugees, just to name a few groups. We will never sanction that we be treated differently than the population where we sought refuge and most importantly we will not accept the argument that we need to be discriminated against for our own good, as if love of country and adherence to moral values and principals are best promoted through mistreatments and opprobrium.

Palestinians carry flags and banners during a sit-in marking the 62nd anniversary of the "Nakba," Arabic for catastrophe, in front of the United Nations in Beirut

And finally let us repeat one more time what many studies have made abundantly clear: The right of return will not be diminished or watered down in any way form or fashion if the mistreatment and abuse of the Palestinians comes to an end either through acquiring the citizenship rights of where they live or the right to be permanent legal residents with all the rights enjoyed by all other residents.

Lebanon and the Lebanese must right what has been wrong for 63 years. The shameful treatment of the Palestinian refugees is a blot on our national character and history, a blot that we have the moral duty and the obligation to ameliorate by admitting our past errors and by offering the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon full equality under the law in each and every sphere. We also need to offer citizenship to those that want it. Nothing else will do.