Palestinians in Lebanon are worried that the Lebanese authorities may use the coronavirus as an excuse to intensify restrictions even further on their refugee camps, after Samir Geagea, a prominent Lebanese politician, called for the immediate closure of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps in his country.
While Israel is working overtime with Palestinians to curb and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Arab states appear to be doing what they do best when it comes to helping their Palestinian brothers: nothing at all.
In the past few days, Israeli authorities delivered 200 coronavirus testing kits to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. In addition, Israeli and Palestinian professional teams have been working together to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Israeli authorities have also delivered another 200 coronavirus testing kits to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, despite the thousands of rockets and incendiary and bomb-carrying balloons that the ruling government, Hamas, has launched from there towards Israel.
In addition, Israeli authorities have coordinated the transfer of 20 tons of disinfectant material from Israeli factories to the Palestinian health sector. The material included chlorine and hydrogen peroxide, used for disinfection, preservation of hygiene and sanitation. These disinfectant materials are used for cleaning surfaces in open areas and help in cleaning closed areas, including mosques and churches.
It is worth noting that Egypt, which has a shared border with the Gaza Strip, did not send any test kits or disinfectant materials to the Palestinians living there.
Palestinians in Lebanon, meanwhile, are worried that the Lebanese authorities may use the coronavirus as an excuse to intensify restrictions even further on their refugee camps.
Samir Geagea, a Lebanese politician and chairman of the Lebanese Forces, an anti-Palestinian Christian political party, has come under sharp criticism for calling for the immediate closure of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps in his country.
As of January 2019, there were 475,075 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). “Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy several important rights,” UNRWA pointed out.
“They cannot work in as many as 39 professions and cannot own property [real estate]. Because they are not formally citizens of another state, Palestinian refugees are unable to claim the same rights as other foreigners living and working in Lebanon. The conflict in Syria has forced many Palestinians from Syria to flee to Lebanon in search of safety. Nearly 29,000 of them are receiving UNRWA assistance in the country, including cash assistance, education, health care, and protection.”
Palestinian refugees are barred from numerous professions in Lebanon, including medicine, law and engineering.
“After more than seventy years, Lebanon remains the country where Palestinian refugees suffer the most, where they are deprived of many of their economic and human rights, including working in certain professions, procedural complications in obtaining work permits, and denial of the right to own property,” said Dr. Mohsen Saleh, Director-General of the Zaitouna Center for Studies in Beirut.
“The continued restrictions on Palestinian refugees, which deny them their right to work, lead to feelings of injustice and oppression. This leaves them open to extremism and social problems. They can be exploited, which harms Lebanon and its security and relative stability. Hence, allowing Palestinian refugees to work in decent conditions is a political, security and social imperative for Lebanon, as well as an economic need.”
Palestinians are now worried that, in addition to the discriminatory and apartheid measures, the Lebanese authorities may confine them to their refugee camps on the pretext of fighting the coronavirus. They are concerned that Geagea’s “racist” call for imposing a lockdown on their refugee camps would severely aggravate the humanitarian and health conditions of the Palestinians.
Tayseer Khaled, a senior member of the PLO’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) denounced Geagea’s proposal as “racist and unacceptable.” The idea of imposing a lockdown on the refugee camps, he said, “is in violation of human rights and human values.”
Another PLO faction, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said in response to Geagea’s proposal that “racist minds, and not refugee camps, need to be placed in isolation.”
Palestinian human rights activist Mohammed al-Shuli replied that there should be no discrimination between Lebanese and Palestinians in the war on the coronavirus. He pointed out that the Lebanese authorities have not imposed a lockdown on any Lebanese city or village or banned its citizens from leaving their homes.
“Geagea’s statement is a political measure targeting only Palestinians,” al-Shuli commented. “No coronavirus cases have been registered in the refugee camps and the Palestinians are not opposed to precautionary measures. There is no need for such extremist statements.”
A group called The Alliance of Palestinian Factions in Lebanon also condemned as “racist” the Lebanese politician’s demand to close all refugee camps and prevent Palestinians from entering or leaving. “This global epidemic crosses countries and communities, and trading in it at the expense of the Palestinian refugees and their right to life is reprehensible and unacceptable,” the group announced in a statement. “The demand reflects the dark mentality of the Lebanese politician.”
As Palestinians were expressing concern over Lebanon’s discriminatory and apartheid laws, Assad Abu Khalil, a Lebanese-American professor at California State University, Stanislaus, came out with another blood libel against Israel -- the only country that is helping the Palestinians in the war on the coronavirus. On March 8, the professor tweeted: “Israel will – I am sure – have different medical procedures for Jews and non-Jews. Non-Jews will be put in mass prisons.”
The Lebanese professor, who claims to be “pro-Palestinian,” does not seem concerned about the severe restrictions imposed on Palestinians by his own country -- Lebanon. Nor does he seem bothered that a Lebanese (and not Israeli) official is the one who is actually calling for placing Palestinians in “mass prisons.”
It appears that it would be imprudent for the Palestinians to harbor any illusions that Lebanon, Egypt or most of the Arab countries would come to their aid, particularly in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus. Lebanon has been discriminating against the Palestinians for decades, and it hardly seems likely that it will change its policy just because of a virus.
Egypt, for its part, long ago abandoned the Palestinians by essentially sealing its border with the Gaza Strip. The Lebanese, Egyptians and most Arabs perceive the Palestinians as Israel’s problem. When the current virus crisis has passed, it is to be hoped that the Palestinians will remember that one country alone came to their rescue: Israel. They might also remember that their Arab brothers betrayed them -- not for the first time, and no doubt not for the last.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
By Khaled Abu Toameh/Gatestone Institute