Civil rights for Lebanon's Palestinian refugees have been denied for too long.

(SHATILLA REFUGEE CAMP, Beirut) – 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 and 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 that 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.”