Are Palestinian Students in Lebanon Being Pressured to Choose Kalashnikovs over College?

MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA, 22 Jul 2013

Franklin Lamb – TRANSCEND Media Service

The choice for many Palestinian young men in Lebanon has come down to guns or education.  By force of Lebanese law and under threat of prison for violators, Palestinians are denied the elementary civil rights to work in more than 50 professions and are barred by a 2001 racist law from even owning a home. Among Palestinian youth unemployment rates hover around 70%, while refugee students are discriminated against in admission to Lebanese state institutions of higher education, including the relatively low-tuition fees Lebanese University. This makes it difficult for young Palestinians in Lebanon to pursue higher education after graduating from UNWRA schools and passing the Baccalaureate II exam. Being barred from most jobs, it is very difficult to come up with even modest sums for tuition payments.

Against this backdrop of flagrant state sponsored discrimination, if one were to offer un-employed young camp resident, say $ 200 per month, an AK-47 with plenty of ammo, and free cigarettes you just might have yourself a militiaman. Those who spent much of the summer of 2011 in Libya saw a similar phenomenon and now it’s also the case in Syria.  In Lebanon, its resurgent from the 1975-90 civil war days.  The gun for hire resource is being exploited across the political spectrum here among many of the same confessions and political parties that ignited this country’s civil war more than three decades ago.

Hiring young men as gunmen in Lebanon is also impliedly condoned via silence by various polarized and politicized religious leaders.  Some of Lebanon’s religious personalities, too often, with pious faces and donning prelatical ‘Pope-wannabe’, if sometimes comical, outfits, and often sporting fingers ringed with gold and precious jewels, intone their gospels according to St. Mark, or equivalents, about human dignity and being our brother’s keeper,  and often referencing  “ our blood-veins support for Palestine’ and the Right of Return.” While simultaneously in Janus-faced opposition to the elementary internationally mandated right to work for Palestinians in Lebanon.

Rumors abound these tense days, as if to say, “I told you didn’t I? The Palestinians are the source of most of Lebanon’s problems!” (or the Zionists, or the Saudis, EU, Iranians, Syrians, other Lebanese sects or the Americans, or just about anyone except, this countries massively destructive confessional system and the Lebanese who profit from this, to date, failed state.

When a Palestinian is arrested for carrying a weapon, it’s often front-page news but also usually exaggerated or later shown to be inaccurate.  What is more surprising is that more Palestinians are not in the streets, motived by the Arab Spring and Islamic Awakening, demanding the civil right to work. Yet signs are starting to appear of a pending and overdue intifada in Lebanon demanding this universally recognized right of every refugee to be able to seek word to sustain oneself and family.

Too many Lebanese politicians reject granting rights to Palestinian refugees while they seek to gain personal, regional and international benefits from playing the “Palestinian card”. Meanwhile, dangerous temperature and pressure levels are building in the huge Presto cookers that are Lebanon’s camps.

Outrageously, and in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and fundamental fairness, one of the very few “legal” jobs being allowed for Palestinians today in Lebanon, are as gunmen.

On a brighter note, arriving with a late news item of 7/18/13, are the just released results of the General Science (SG) and Life Science (SV) secondary school official exam results known as the Baccalaureate II exam results. Preliminary analysis suggests that despite all their hardships, Palestinian and Syrian refugees have done well.

One Palestinian mother from Yarmouk camp in Damascus, now among the 700 Palestinian refugee families temporarily here from Syria, and squeezed into the already overflowing Shatila camp explained to this observer as she proudly displayed this week’s announcement of her children’s academic success.  She beamed that even with little electricity in her family hovel, polluted drinking water, no fresh air and not much food this past year, her daughter’s and son’s success in passing ‘the BACC II” made her forget her family’s misery.

So it is that the doors are cracked open for higher education, if Palestinian refugees in Lebanon can come up with tuition, sometimes fairly modest by western standards but beyond the means of a majority of camp families.  The good news that there will be places in Lebanon’s institutions of higher learning this fall semester, assuming that these youngsters, desperate to be allowed to work at the same jobs that every other foreigner in granted on arriving to Lebanon, do not heed the sirens calls of various sects here, singing seductive songs of quick cash in exchange for carrying a gun.

On April 19, 2013 at the Shatila Camp Youth Center,  exactly 30 years to the week following the death of American journalist, Janet Lee Stevens here in Beirut, and recalling times during the 1982 Israeli aggression that rained American bombs of various types down on the civilian population, and still  hearing Janet’s voice telling young Palestinian defenders, during the 75-day Zionist siege, “ Once the fighting ends you must, everyone of you, return to school, whether to study quantum physics or hair dressing.  Higher education is what will hasten your return to Palestine.  Education is your greatest resource and your most potent weapon.”

Speaking at the Shatila Scholarship Award event, one American, paying tribute to Janet as a mediator and advocate for Palestine, and to the tuition grant recipients, sought to encourage these future Palestinian leaders:

 “An education is forever and its purpose is to enjoy a more productive lifetime while seeking to fulfill all of what each of us is capable as we give back to our respective communities. Staying in school here in Lebanon where we are all guests, just for the time being, and pursuing knowledge and practical skills is a quintessential and noble  act and commitment of Resistance against oppression and occupation – anywhere.

Education cannot be ethnically cleansed, stolen, tortured, jailed, uprooted, bulldozed, massacred, murdered, bombed or burned down. Rather, staying in school and pursuing ones dream is what your cherished for-bearers, who were forced from their homes and lands into Lebanon and trekked from Palestine- approximately 130,000- in the summer and fall of 1948, would want for you, and expect of you.

 Education is a Saladinian Resistance toward liberating, six decades after the Nakba, those still under occupation in Palestine.  And to help achieve for refugees in the diaspora, their inalienable full Right of Return.” 

How do we put an end to this outrage which is an urgent humanitarian imperative shared by every one of us?

We end it immediately.

By Lebanon’s parliament, taking 90 minutes of its time, which is all that would be required, and grant these youngsters the most elementary civil right to work which will also enable them to pursue their dreams of higher education.

This can be facilitated by international support. One telephone call from Washington, Riyadh, or Tehran, to local political allies, can get the job done in just over an hour without further procrastination. If not, to add to its other problems, Lebanon may face a civil right intifada– ignited by continued repression.

In the words of the angelic Miss Hiba of Ein El Helwe camp, now 19 years old and three years after her defiant declaration in 2010 to those who sneered at her that she should get married at age 16 and forget about college:  “There is no other choice than success with the civil rights goal of every Palestinian in Lebanon to seek a job and to pursue education as we peacefully intensify our struggle to Return to our stolen and still occupied country, Palestine. “

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Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 22 Jul 2013.

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One Response to “Are Palestinian Students in Lebanon Being Pressured to Choose Kalashnikovs over College?”

  1. […] The choice for many Palestinian young men in Lebanon has come down to guns or education.  […]