Hilal, Ayalon, and Palestinians in Lebanon

Posted: February 22, 2012 by Rex Brynen in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, UNRWA

One PRRN blog reader sent in some thoughts regarding Palestinians in Lebanon, in the context of Leila Hilal’s recent critique in The Atlantic of the Ayalon video on the Palestinian refugee issue. I post them below anonymously and in their entirety:

* * *

Leila Hilal has written an excellent response to Danny Ayalon on the issue of Palestinian refugees.  I do wish, however, she had not used this mantra:

Refugees in Syria have historically enjoyed social and economic rights on par with nationals, while in Lebanon, where confessional balances dictate the political system, the majority Sunni Palestinian refugee population are denied the rights to work and own property out of demographic fears.

UNRWA has had to continuously grovel and praise the regime in Syria for fear that their projects would be stopped or their international staff expelled or denied visas. The Syrian regime is probably responsible for killing more Palestinians than Israel—for example, the War of the Camps (1985-89)  in Beirut and the North which can only be described as an Assad-Arafat war; they also played a leading role in Tel el Zaatar and in cleansing the camps anywhere north of Saida from Fateh/PLO presence. They also used al-Saiqa, the PFLP-GC and the Yarmouk Brigade of the PLA to do their dirty work in the Bekaa and in the North.  

Also her statement about Lebanon is not correct especially when she attributes it to the refugees being Sunni and that the problem is the confessional balance. The Taif agreement in Lebanon was a settlement to end the war and the Palestinian issue was mentioned in it as one of the (major) factors to defuse by saying that there will be no tawteen. This sectarian view of things is mainly in the eye of the beholder. It is like when people say that Lebanon gave nationality to the Christians and the rich, meaning that the Lebanese are sectarian and materialistic—yet there were many Palestinians in the camps that also got the nationality, in the 1950s it was being distributed left right and centre. One refugee from Burj el-Shamali told me that his father and his father’s eight brothers and sisters and all their children got it and they paid 10 LL for it at the time in stamp duty.

One could also note that the Jordanian government also censures researchers and tries to suppress any negative image that can be given about the refugees in Jordan. It is not that the Lebanese government does not care. Rather, they don’t read and anyone can publish anything they like on the topic.

* * *

My own take? I tilt towards Leila’s view on this one, but invite others to weigh in via the comments section below. (Note that comments sometimes take a while to appear, since they are moderated.)

  1. The UNRWA: 60 Years of Hypocratical Discourse and Lying !!!


  2. What is ethnic cleansing… isnt it like this: President Franklin D. Roosevelt put it in 1942, “I actually would put a barbed wire around Palestine, and I would begin to move the Arabs out of Palestine…. I would provide land for the Arabs in some other part of the Middle East…. Each time we move out an Arab we would bring in another Jewish family…” …. and it was far more bloody than just like this !!

  3. Leila Hilal says:

    Rex – i will comment on your comment on my article. I agree that the syria part is a bit of a mantra and one that we need to update and adapt, but I am not sure that I would start with Syria’s killing of Palestinians in Lebanon, especially as the point made concerned the status of the refugees within Syria. The distinction may not be a meaningful one in the end, but the national protection focus is why I pulled the mantra out of the box. I think it would be interesting to have a small roundtable session with researchers and humanitarian workers to revisit how we talk – and what we know – about Pal refugees in Syria – of particular relevance in the current context.

    On Lebanon, I appreciate your point but I don’t think your 1950s example actually contradicts my fundamental one that the treatment of Palestinians in Lebanon is largely due to sectarian conflicts and balances. It may be true that the picture is more complicated. For instance, Lebanon’s historical memory about the civil war and resentment toward Palestinians (this may be generational) probably plays into the continued denial of civil rights. There are other dynamics at work too. I think though that the May 2001 decree extending prohibitions on Palestinian property ownership, which was justified on the tawtin scarecrow, suggests that Lebanon opposes Palestinian resettlement on structural grounds.

    However, as someone who is weary of the sectarian narrative on Syria, I appreciate your flag.

    • Rex Brynen says:


      It wasn’t actually my comment, but rather one from a regular reader who wished to remain anonymous. I tended to agree with you, as you’ll see from my comment at the bottom.

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