Refugees in Lebanon victims of racism, sexism and their children suffer
BY: Huda Dawood/Contributing Writer
We Are Not Numbers
“اخشى ما اخشاه ان تصبح الخيانة وجهة نظر.”
This quote is from Palestinian cartoonist Naji El Ali, creator of the little refugee boy Handala. It translates roughly as, “I fear the day that deception and betrayal are regarded as the norm.”
We are living that day now, when supposedly universal values and morals are being called into question as politicians around the world demonize refugees. In Lebanon, the plight of the more than 450,000 registered Palestinians is barely on the radar of international public opinion. But we live a life of perpetual discrimination, and have for the more than 68 years since our grandparents were driven out of their homes in what is today called Israel and into Lebanon, where we lack such basic rights as the ability to own property and hold professional jobs outside of refugee “camps” (which should be called slums). And now, Syrians are joining us as targets.
However, the hate speech rose to a new level this month when Gebran Bassil, the Lebanese foreign affairs minister, posted a Tweet that spread across social media and competed with the “Brangelina” divorce news. It started when he spoke at a North America Lebanese Diaspora Energy Conference in New York and then tweeted this excerpt: “انا مع إقرار السوريين والفلسطينيين للحفاظ على ارضنا” قانون منح المرأة الجنسية لأولادها لكن مع استثناء .” In English, that means he supports a law that enables Lebanese women to pass their nationality to their children, except when they marry Palestinian or Syrian men.
In another Tweet he said, “انا مع حق المرأة المتزوجة من اجنبي بإعطاء الجنسية اللبنانية لأولادها لكن دستورنا وتركيبتنا لا يسمحان بمنح الجنسية الى ٤٠٠ الف فلسطيني.” Here, Bassil defended this blatant discrimination by saying Lebanon can’t give 400,000 Palestinians Lebanese nationality because of the nature of the country’s population and constitution, which allocates government position by religious sect. (Palestinians are Sunni Muslims and thus many in Lebanon oppose giving us citizenship, despite that two generations of us have been born here, because it would give Sunnis more power.) Some people on social media defended Basssil’s declaration. Others became angry, calling it racist. Tweets and Facebook posts raged, including funny videos and sarcastic slams.
But bottom line, this is a case in which a government minister can give a very racist speech and support a law stating that all children of Lebanese mothers are considered equal except for those with Syrian or Palestinian fathers, yet still be viewed as merely defending his country and giving rightful priority to the “original residents” of Lebanon. (This is a bit of a laugh, since one has to wonder how much of a priority Lebanese residents are to their government, when garbage is accumulating in the streets 24-hour electricity is merely a dream.) Simply put, this is nothing more than a case in which children are deprived of their mothers’ nationality merely because they are refugees. It seems that Donald Trump has a Lebanese counterpart in Bassil.
To be honest, as a Palestinian refugee with a Lebanese mother, I actually have never wanted Lebanese citizenship. I just want to be allowed a more respectful life as a refugee—to be allowed to compete for professional positions for which I qualify, for instance. (I recently graduated from university with a degree in economics, and now—like most Palestinians in my situation—cannot find employment.) However, it is very shameful to exclude me and other Syrians and Palestinians by law from this basic right.
If your concern, my dear minister, is about Lebanon, I am more Lebanese than the Lebanese citizens who have emigrated to find better living conditions in France or other countries. I was born here, and I am pretty sure I love this country as much or more as them, despite all that we Palestinians have suffered here.
If we could only free ourselves of this ugly trait of racism and see each other as human beings, regardless of religion, color or nationality, then peace could perhaps be within reach.
WeAreNotNumbers.org is a youth storytelling project that seeks to tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news about refugees.