Lebanon’s Palestinian Civil Rights Campaign moves into the Christian Heartland

Dr. Franklin Lamb,Shatila Camp, Beirut, Lebanon, 24 Oct 2010

Even though not even one work permit has been issued to one Palestinian in Lebanon since the August 17, 2010 “right to work” law passed in Parliament and even though Palestinians are still forbidden from owning a home, the cause of Palestine Civil Rights in Lebanon endures.

Ms. Leila El-Ali, executive director of Najdeh, a Palestinian advocacy group that has long campaigned for civil rights for refugees in Lebanon is pleased that the new law has at least provoked real debate among Lebanese about the plight of Palestinian refugees but agrees that it will have no impact on the ground.

”All of the professions – doctors, lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, academia – will remain closed to Palestinians,” she says. ”There is no syndicate here that will admit Palestinian members. And to actually be allowed to work legally in other jobs, the new law says you need specific guarantees from your employer – things that in the end make it very difficult for Lebanese to employ Palestinians.”

The August 17, 2010 ‘cave in’ by progressive forces in Parliament that allowed Parliament to do essentially nothing towards granting internationally mandated basic civil rights for Palestinian refugees, was obviously a bitter disappointment but it was not entirely unexpected.

The reason is that current political pressures here in Lebanon, internal and external, eroded the requisite political will in Round One.

As wounds are cleaned from last summer’s Parliamentary debacle, NGO’s and human rights activists regroup, tactics and projects are being discussed and readied to forge ahead. Neither the Palestinian refugees here nor the growing international coalition to secure these rights has been daunted. This, despite the fact the more than two months after the meek and fairly meaningless Ministry of Labor gesture of cancelling work permit fees for Palestinian refugees, nothing has changed in the camps employment wise and all the other barriers to Palestinians working remain in place. By law and prejudice.

The currently being launched Round Two of the struggle for Palestinian Civil Rights in Lebanon is concentrating on developing much more international involvement in the campaign to secure the right to work and to own a home. Prominent endorsers of Palestinian Civil Rights for Palestinians in Lebanon who have signed an Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI and Lebanon’s Maronite Patriach Nasrallah Sfeir include:

* Dr Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury,
* Archbishop Tomasz Peta, of Maria Santissima in Astana, Kazakhstan
* President Jimmy Carter
* Joseph Zen, Roman Catholic Cardinal of Hong Kong,
* Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu
* The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson
* Nelson Mandela
* Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, Cuba
* The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, Dean of the National Cathedral, Washington, DC
* Mary Robinson, former President of the Irish Republic
* Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, Moscow
* Cardinal Simon I. Pimenta, Archbishop Emeritus of Bombay, India

A major effort is being undertaken to take this civil rights struggle to the rightist Christian community in Lebanon who constitute the only real barrier to enacting meaningful rights in Parliament. Christian support, at least one quarter of the Lebanese Forces, Phalange party or Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement is vital in convincing their members in Parliament to help Lebanon by allowing its economy to benefit from Palestinian involvement and by lifting the growing international outcry over Lebanon’s violations of basic rights that all refugees are guaranteed by international law and local regulations. Certainly the endorsement of the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, is very important.

The following Open Letter has been delivered to Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and is now released to the public.

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PRESS RELEASE FROM THE PALESTINE CIVIL RIGHTS CAMPAIGN-LEBANON

Embargoed until October 22, 2010 9 a.m. Beirut time EET (GMT + 2)

The Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon and the Washington DC-Beirut based Sabra Shatila Foundation have released a copy of the Open Letter that was delivered this morning in Rome to representatives of Pope Benedict XVI and Lebanon’s Marionite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir on the occasion of the VATICANS 2010 SPECIAL SYNOD ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Supporters of civil rights for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, from 105 countries have signed hard copy and online Petitions, totaling more than 430,000 signatures urging Lebanon’s Parliament to support the immediate enactment of elementary civil rights, including the full right to work and to own at home, in Lebanon’s Parliament.

The personal appear to the Pope and Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch is part of the recently launched campaign to achieve civil rights for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees, the largest and oldest refugee population and the one depraved of the most basic civil rights in Lebanon.

According to PCRC spokeswoman, Ms. Ghada Jiliani, “As the Palestinian civil rights struggle continues in Lebanon, following the disappointing results of the August 17, 2010 Parliamentary vote, the focus will shift to two fronts.

One is seeking to involve in a major way the Lebanese Christian community in this critically important human rights cause. Secondly, and this is crucial, we must achieve the participation of the international pro-Palestinian, pro-peace activist community through education and awareness to dramatically broaden the global campaign to encourage Parliament to act for the good of Lebanon and her refugees pending their return to their country, Palestine.

During “Round one” of our campaign we found that most of the international community had no idea about the squalor and lack of civil rights Palestinian refugees are subjected to nor the big gap between what international law requires and what Lebanon prohibits by law, in terms of elementary civil rights.

Round Two of our struggle will include building support here among Christians and involving the international Christian and human rights community.”

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On the Occasion of the Vaticans 2010 Special Synod on the Middle East

An Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir from students and families in Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp,

Beirut, Lebanon

In the early days of his Pontificate, in April of 2004 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his strong desire for a “pilgrimage to the heart of the Christian East” and “to examine and to resolve together, in a Plenary Congregation for the Eastern Churches and in the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, human rights problems of significant importance with solutions anchored in the teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Accordingly, Pope Benedict XVI has summoned a Special Synod of Archbishops and Patriarchs for the Middle East to convene in Rome during October, 2010 on the theme: “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness,” and he asked for communications from Lebanon regarding issues of concern including, “the importance of Muslim-Christian dialogue and brotherhood.”

We are mindful that the Pope’s faithful Lebanese brother, the Patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, has repeatedly and nobly expressed his devotion to the teachings of Jesus from Palestine and to the missionary work and human rights teachings of the 5th century Syrian Christian monk, St. Maron from “Kefar-Nabo,” who devoted his life to his quest for nurturing and healing the “lost souls” of both non-Christians and Christians of his time.

The Patriarch of Antioch has also issued periodic urgent petitions for Christians to return to and remain in Lebanon and to live in peace and charity with their neighbors. Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir has also earnestly counseled Maronite clergymen and all faithful congregations of all religions, on the urgency of healing Lebanon and bringing all citizens and temporary refugees closer together and rejecting racist ethnic and confessional speeches that encourage strife.

We have studied that in 1997, Pope John Paul II visited Lebanon to give hope to Lebanese who are downtrodden and discriminated against and who said, “Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message from Calvary to love thy neighbor as thyself.” John Paul II reminded us of the divine Sheppard’s plea, “Care for my lambs… Care for my sheep” (John 21:16-17).

We stand with our Maronite sisters and brothers, and all Christians in Lebanon in their growing and certain belief that by turning the page from the past, we can protect Lebanon and achieve a national, sisterly and brotherly, and comprehensive reconciliation that would allow Lebanon to solve all issues, achieve justice, solidify stability, and provide a new hope for the new generation and the return of many from the Diaspora.

Christian-Muslim relations in Lebanon today can benefit from the letter and the spirit of the civil rights enactment guaranteed to Christians in 628 C.E. when Prophet Muhammad granted the Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. The Charter consists of several clauses enacting civil rights for Christian refugees including freedom of movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest and confinement, freedom to work and to own a home.” There is magic when the power of the people comes together. We can overcome whatever the obstacle is, whether it’s a tyranny or discrimination or lack of basic civil rights for some. When we come together we can overcome.

We respectfully petition the Vatican and the Patriarchy to urge and advocate that all Christians in Lebanon to the Lebanese and international movement to enact meaningful civil rights legislation for Palestinian refugees in compliance with international law and Christian morality. We respectfully and humbly urge the Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir to condemn the racist and anti-Palestinian language and graffiti that has polluted public discourse for the past half century in Lebanon and has undermined dialogue. Examples such as “ the duty of every Lebanese is to kill a Palestinian,” “Palestinians are a bacillus,” “Lebanon must not be a dumping ground for human waste,” and similar hate speech. Cardinal Sfeir has stressed the importance of the role of clergymen in bringing Lebanese closer and rejecting ethnic and confessional speeches that encourage strife.

We beseech the Apostolic See and the Patriarchy of Antioch to address those in Parliament who to date have prevented the enactment of the most elementary civil rights for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees forced from the homeland of Jesus Christ. We urge you to take the required and sincere stances and preach and use your moral and political authority to implement here in Lebanon the Gospel’s words, as Christ has taught us “to defend the wronged, the poor, the hungry, the sick.” We ask you, on the occasion of the 2010 Special Synod to demand civil rights for all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who are forbidden employment and who are not allowed home ownership. Jesus identified all his love for them. Matthew the Apostle’s gospel urged equality for “These who are viewed as lesser individuals.”

Some in Lebanon report to Palestine Civil Rights Campaign volunteers that many in Christian areas do not care and will not heed pleas for elementary justice and civil rights mandated by international law and Christian morality. Some will say, “We do truly care but is there anybody willing to hear?”

We remember what St. Maroun taught us all as he preached the Gospel, “Christ came to his special people, but at first they didn’t understand him or accept him. But in spite of rejection, Jesus spoke, and he advocated for justice for refugees, the downtrodden and those facing discrimination, and he spoke Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And what Jesus said, nobody had ever said, and nobody must ever ignore and nobody must rest or be silent from trying to achieve.”

Civil rights for Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees have been denied for too long. These days are pregnant with potential new tragedies that nobody wishes upon anybody else. We petition Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir to command their faithful to support the earliest possible enactment of Civil Rights legislation for Palestinian refugees currently pending in Parliament. *

We urge words and acts from Rome and Antioch which are sympathetic, strong and courageous towards the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and those under occupation that Zionism had been subjugating for more than sixty years to a terrible and continuous uninterrupted Holocaust, with unlimited Western support.

We respectfully urge Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir to heal the wounds and prevent civil strife, international sanctions, obviate the need for massive peaceful civil rights movements and protests, international boycotts, sanctions, and divestments, and prevent the currently pending termination of all foreign aid from the USA as required by the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act which forbids American aid to countries that engage in serial violations of civil rights.

We respectfully invite Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir to visit Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, to conduct a meeting of the Lebanese Bishops in our youth center, to teach the children, to listen to the adults, to sleep a night in our home and share our life as Jesus of Nazareth did and will ask upon his return. As faithful Christians and Muslims we humbly and respectfully offer with all our love and importunity, our supplications.

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In addition to the 432,000 combined hard copy and on-line Petition signers from 195 countries who, as of mid-October 2010, have chosen to ‘twin’ in solidarity with a Palestinian Refugee in Lebanon the following high-profile personages are among the endorsers of the Palestinian Civil Rights Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Sfeir are the following:

* Dr Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury,
* Archbishop Tomasz Peta, of Maria Santissima in Astana, Kazakhstan
* President Jimmy Carter
* Joseph Zen, Roman Catholic Cardinal of Hong Kong,
* Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu
* The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson
* Nelson Mandela
* Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, Cardinal Archbishop of Havana, Cuba
* The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, Dean of the National Cathedral, Washington, DC
* Mary Robinson, former President of the Irish Republic
* Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, Moscow
* Cardinal Simon I. Pimenta, Archbishop Emeritus of Bombay, India

* The draft bill introduced in Lebanon’s Parliament in July 2010 by the Syrian Socialist National Parry most closely mirrors the requirements of International law.

Media inquiries:
PCRC office, Ms. Ghada Jiliani,
01-352-127/71-899-164/70-497-804

Email: fplamb@palestinecivilrightscampaign.org

PLEASE SIGN HERE!

http://www.petitiononline.com/ssfpcrc/petition.html

“Failure is not an option for the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign, our only choice is success”

15 year old Hiba Hajj, PCRC volunteer, Ein el Helwe Palestinian Camp, Saida, Lebanon

Please check our website for UPDATES:
www.palestinecivilrightscampaign.org

Franklin Lamb

Franklin Lamb

Dr. Franklin Lamb, is a researcher at the American University of Beirut, and the author of  “The Price We Pay: A Quarter-Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons Against Civilians in Lebanon” and “Hezbollah: A Brief Guide for Beginners.”