Palestinians protest against the crackdown on foreign labor in Beirut, Lebanon, July 16, 2019. (AP/Hussein Malla) (AP/Hussein Malla)
Palestinians in Lebanon

Why are the UN and other international institutions remaining silent as Palestinians are being thrown out of their jobs in an Arab country, while more than 100,000 Palestinians enter Israel on a daily basis for work?

By Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute

More than 100,000 Palestinians from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) have permits to work in Israel, according to Palestinian and Israeli sources. In addition, the sources said, thousands of Palestinians enter Israel every day without permits.

On July 15, the number of Palestinian workers who entered Israel, according to the Israeli Defense Ministry, was estimated at more than 80,000.

Last week, as part of efforts to reach a truce agreement between Israel and Hamas, Israel was reported to have agreed to increase the number of Palestinian merchants and businessmen allowed to go from the Gaza Strip to Israel from 3,500 to 5,000.

Reports said that the latest Israeli gesture were the outcome of attempts by Egypt and the United Nations to prevent an all-out military confrontation between Israel and Hamas.

While Israel is constantly increasing the number of work permits for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Lebanon, on the contrary, has launched an unprecedented crackdown on illegal foreign workers, including Palestinians, thereby triggering a wave of protests among Palestinians living there.

The Lebanese authorities say the crackdown on illegal foreign workers is directed mostly against Syrians who fled to Lebanon after the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011. As part of this campaign against illegal workers, several businesses have been closed and many Palestinian and Syrian workers have been suspended from their jobs.

Lebanese Minister of Labor Kamil Abu Sulieman denied allegations that the campaign was organized as a “conspiracy” targeting the 450,000 Palestinians in his country. “The plan to combat illegal labor was prepared several months ago and does not target the Palestinians,” Abu Sulieman said. “There is a labor law in Lebanon, and we have decided to implement it. We gave a six-month warning to all the illegal workers and businesses to seek proper permits.”

The Lebanese minister admitted, however, that as a result of the campaign against illegal workers, some Palestinian businesses have been shut.

The Palestinians have rejected the minister’s claims. Instead, they launched protests in different parts of Lebanon against the crackdown on illegal foreign workers. Protesters burned tires at the entrances to a number of refugee camps, and some Palestinian factions and officials, condemning the campaign, have asked the Lebanese authorities to halt their measures against Palestinian businessmen and workers.

“The Lebanese measures cause harm to the Palestinians,” said Ali Faisal, member of the PLO’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). He urged the Lebanese authorities to rescind their measures against Palestinians and pointed out that the Palestinian contribution to Lebanon’s economic growth is estimated at 11%. The DFLP official also noted that, “on various pretexts,” Palestinians in Lebanon are legally barred from working in several professions.

Barred from Professions, Cannot Own Property

Lebanese law restricts Palestinians’ ability to work in several professions, including law, medicine and engineering, and bars them from receiving social security benefits. In 2001, the Lebanese parliament also passed a law prohibiting Palestinians from owning property.

According to reports in the Arab media, the Palestinian protests could mark the beginning of a Palestinian “Intifada” [uprising] against Lebanon. The reports said that anyhow Palestinians face difficulty in obtaining work permits from the Lebanese authorities.

“The rate of unemployment among Palestinians in Lebanon is very high,” said Palestinian businessman Ziad Aref. “We have the right to work towards solving this problem. The new campaign by the Lebanese authorities will leave thousands of Palestinians jobless and aggravate the financial crisis.”

Aref said he believes the rate of unemployment among Palestinians in Lebanon is estimated at 56%. He also took Palestinian leaders to task for failing to address the distress of Palestinian workers and businessmen there.

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Lebanon say they are in daily contact with the Lebanese authorities in an attempt to halt the crackdown on Palestinian workers.

Senior PLO official Azzam al-Ahmed, who is in charge of the “Palestinian portfolio” in Lebanon, expressed deep concern over the Lebanese campaign against illegal foreign workers. He said he has contacted several Lebanese officials to warn them against harming any Palestinians.

Hamas, for its part, has accused the Lebanese authorities of employing a policy of “slow death” against Palestinians in Lebanon. Hamas said in a statement that the Lebanese campaign against illegal workers and businesses seemed to be part of a “conspiracy to liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees. We will not accept any threat to the lives and future of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and we will thwart the policy of slow death.”

The Lebanese authorities’ measures against Palestinians again highlight the discrimination Palestinians have long been facing in this Arab country. “Palestinians in Lebanon,” according to a 2017 report by the Associated Press, “suffer discrimination in nearly every aspect of daily life… Many live in settlements officially recognized as refugee camps, but better described as concrete ghettos ringed by checkpoints and, in some cases, blast walls and barbed wire.”

“The discrimination and marginalization [Palestinians] suffer is compounded by the restrictions they face in the labour market, which contribute to high levels of unemployment, low wages and poor working conditions.,” according to a UN report. “Until 2005, more than 70 jobs were barred to Palestinians – around 20 still are. The resultant poverty is exacerbated by restrictions placed on their access to state education and social services.”

Where Are the Pro-Palestinian Activists?

Yet, somehow, Lebanon’s discriminatory and racist measures against Palestinians do not seem to bother pro-Palestinian groups around the world. These groups regularly turn a blind eye to the anguish of Palestinians living in Arab countries. Instead, they set their sights on Israel, scrutinizing it for imagined abuses against Palestinians.

It is high time for the pro-Palestinian groups on university campuses in the US, Canada, Britain and Australia to organize an “Arab Apartheid Week” instead of accusing Israel of “discriminating” against Palestinians. It is also high time for the international media to take notice of anti-Palestinian measures taken by Lebanon against the Palestinians at a time when Israel is increasing the number of Palestinian workers allowed to enter Israel for work.

Who will address the following question: Why are the UN and other international institutions remaining silent as Palestinians are being thrown out of their jobs in an Arab country, while more than 100,000 Palestinians enter Israel on a daily basis for work? Will we see an emergency meeting of the Arab League or the UN Security Council to denounce Lebanese apartheid and racism? Or are they too busy drafting resolutions condemning Israel, which has opened its doors wide open to Palestinian workers?

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