In its series of non-periodical publications, the Palestinian Return Centre/London has published a book titled “Displaced Palestinians in Lebanon—the bitterness of refuge and tragedies of migration” by the representative of the centre in Lebanon, Mr Ali Huwaidi.
The 1723 book consists of 146 pages, and covers the political and humanitarian situation of the displaced Palestinians in Lebanon. The book sheds light on the category of displaced Palestinians, a marginalised and absent group on local, regional and international levels. In spite of efforts by research and study centres, activists, and those concerned with the issue of Palestinian refugees, in publishing studies, articles and reports, it was noted that this category of the Palestinian people—who sought refuge in the camps of Lebanon after the Nakba of 1948, and especially in the two camps of al Nabatiyah in South Lebanon, and Tel al Zater in East Beirut—have not been covered.
In 1974, because of the recurrent Zionist bombardment of al Nabatiyah refugee camp, the camp was removed from the Lebanese map. This was followed by the dismantling of Tel al Zater refugee camp in 1976, because of the Lebanese civil war. In such a way that the return of Palestinian refugees to the two camps, or the rebuilding of these was now an impossibility. The number of refugees displaced from both camps, at that time, was estimated as 20 thousand refugees.
The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are currently dispersed over four locations:First: the official refugee camps recognised by the Lebanese state and UNRWA, established after the Nakba in 1948. These currently number 12 camps.Second: refugee population centres that generally were also established after the Nakba; these number 35.Third: a large number of refugees are to be found in the Lebanese cities, towns and villages. According to UNRWA, the number of refugees living in the camps are 210952, i.e. 52.5%, while those outside are 189630.The book on displaced Palestinians investigates the fourth location, where Palestinian refugees are situated—the centres that grew up after the fall of al Nabatiya and Tel al Zater refugee camps in 1974, and 1976 respectively, other than the migration of a number of others from the refugee camps of the Tyre area, close to the Lebanese-Palestinian border, because of the recurring Zionist bombardment.
The number of refugee families displaced to the refugee population centres numbered 1317, i.e. 7092 refugees. The number of males was 3532, and the females 3560. Those who were not registered [with UNRWA] numbered 97 families, while 23 families had no identity documents. The book indicates that the displaced refugees are spread over 13 refugee population centres; two in North Lebanon, “Hai al Muhajareen” in Nahr al Barid, and “al Badawi”; two in Beirut, “Gaza” and “Shatila” refugee population centres. As for the majority of these centres—nine—they are distributed in the Sidon area of South Lebanon, consisting of; al Madinah al Sina’iyah, Bustan al Quds, Ouzou, al Baraksat, al Awda, Darb al Seem, al Tawari’, al Hamshari, and al Fawar. As for the rest of the refugees displaced from the two camps mentioned earlier, they are found scattered individually in the aforementioned camps, centres, towns, and villages, other than the emigration of large numbers, as individuals or families to western countries, especially in the three years, 1985–1987, during and after the war of the camps.
After field visits to the camps, the book delves into the history, and circumstances of the establishment of these camps, in addition to a census of the displaced population, including the names and number of displaced refugees in each refugee population centre, the serial number of the UNRWA card of each family, the names of villages or towns in Palestine including the provinces the refugees come from, the number of migrations – as some had been displaced as many as six times. The book searches into the debilitating effects of this recurring migration, and its psychological, social and humanitarian toll generally, focusing on the diseases that these refugees suffer from, especially asthma, diabetes, and hypertension that are uncharacteristically high, other than speaking about unemployment that is estimated by UNRWA in Lebanon to stand at 48%, while popular committees and NGOs working among the Palestinians put this at 65¬–70%. The book looks into the causes of unemployment in the refugee population centres, and the occupations undertaken by the displaced refugees, prominent being scrap metal, citrus, and self-employment… Therefore, the cases of poverty and deprivation are manifest when noting the unstable monthly income of a family, which generally does not exceed US$250 for a family of six. In addition to covering the educational, health, social, economic circumstances, as well as infrastructure.
Gathering sufficient and vital information for the study, involved field visits to all the families whose names were mentioned, speaking to and questioning all the members of the family; children, women, men, and the elderly, and from all social and cultural strata. Questions that aimed at acquiring topical and scientific data that would help achieve the aims of the study. In addition to visits to the leadership of camp popular committees, which represent the administrative and political reference for the displaced. We did not forget to coordinate with all the Palestinian forces and factions across the political spectrum, in order to achieve complementarity and smooth the way, as well as liaising with prominent personalities and religious authorities.
The book points to the services provided by the popular committees, UNRWA, the PLO, the Lebanese government, and Palestinian and international NGOs. UNRWA plays the lead role in service provision, whether educational, health or social, however falling short of meeting their the needs, where it recognises the displaced refugees, but not the ground on which they live, and so provides its services to them sometimes inside the refugee population centre, and at times outside. As for the Lebanese state, it does not provide any services, with the exception of facilitating and permitting infrastructure improvements in some refugee population centres done by some international agencies, usually funded by the European Union.
It is worth mentioning that the book also points out that all the land on which the displaced live, either belongs to the Lebanese state, is privately-owned, or owned by the PLO. However in all cases, the displaced refugee lives in a state of uncertainty, under constant threat of eviction. This was the case in Darb al Seem, close to Ain al Helweh refugee camp, which was split into two, by decision of the Lebanese state, in order to build a main highway linking Tyre to the coastal city of Sidon. It was the lot of the displaced refugees living in the area to be removed, and displaced one more time. As for the PLO, it represents the authoritative political reference for these refugee population centres, but has nothing to provide in the way of services. As for the popular committees, they execute their duties inside the camps, as an intermediary between these refugee centres and NGOs, following up every new development.
Fundamentally, the book highlights the leading factors of these refugee centres, which translate into words or deeds from all the target group of the study, whether the refugees themselves, popular committees, the factions, NGOs, or religious authorities. Such that the main reason for the dire humanitarian circumstances suffered by these displaced refugees, is the natural result of the state of refuge endured by the Palestinian people in Lebanon and elsewhere, for more than 57 years. Otherwise, were it not for the Nakba, there would not have been refugees, and there would not have been the camps, nor refugee population centres, nor the Diaspora. Hence, the responsibility is directly and principally that of the Zionist enemy, who expelled a people, and stole their land, with the aim of bringing the Jews from all over the world to live on that land, and enjoy its resources. Secondly, responsibility lies with the international community, and the UN that has dealt with the issue of Palestinian refugees in a way completely different from the case of other refugees in the world. At a time, where UN agencies have intervened to secure the return of 10 million refugees to their homes in Guatemala, Mozambique, Kosovo, and others, in the space of less than ten years, they stand incapable, due to American influence that controls the international organisation, of intervening to return more than four million and a half Palestinian refugees scattered the world over.
The book notes—despite the suffering and cases of displacement—that the displaced refugees are greatly attached to their Palestinian customs traditions, and culture. We see, for example, that some refugee population centres are given Palestinian names like “Bustan al Quds” or “Gaza”, while others give clear indication of the desire to return like “al Awda [Return] refugee population centre”, in addition to the marked family unity, strong social ties, and preservation of the family unit, and nationalist upbringing of children in the family. You walk along the narrow alleys to see the slogans, and poetry relating to Palestine written on the walls, in addition to images of martyrs and prisoners, as well as posters that present the Palestinian issue. If you enter a home, you see the Palestinian flag, the Kafiyeh [head dress], a picture of the Dome of the Rock, al Aqsa Mosque, and the map of Palestine… In addition to those refugee population centres that house persons from the same Palestinian village, living side by side.
The displaced refugees look to their suffering as political in the first instance, before being a humanitarian issue. Despite the cases of extreme poverty and the difficult humanitarian circumstances that they suffer daily, they reject all forms of settlement and citizenship in Lebanon, in line with the other refugees scattered elsewhere. They have two demands:first: improvement of their daily living conditions, and gaining their civil, and social rights in the host country, Lebanon, and so gain their right to work, ownership, education, medical treatment, membership of unions, social security, and freedom to establish organisations and societies.
Second: this follows from the first demand, to grant them these rights so that they are able to challenge projects for their settlement, and citizenship, and to have the ability to work with the aim of securing a return to their homes and possessions in Palestine.
It is worth mentioning that the Palestinian Return Centre is a Palestinian organisation that is concerned with the resurgence of the issue of Palestinian refugees in the different places where they are found, and demanding their right to return to their homes. It acts as a media and academic resource, and seeks to become an information repository and focal point of political action on the Palestine question and the issue of return in particular.