EDUCATION: SHRINKING

Less than half of young people of secondary school age (16-18 years old) are even enrolled in schools or vocational training centers. Eight per cent of the Palestine refugee population of school age (7-15 years old) are not enrolled in any school as 2011 begins. Only 6 per cent of Palestinians refugees in Lebanon are university degree holders whereas in the Diaspora the figure is often in the 80-90 percentile for Palestinians.

Formerly one of the Palestinian refugees’ characteristics was a strong educational background. This proud attribute has now vanished in Lebanon’s camps. High dropout rates and insufficient skills combined with multi-barriers established by the Lebanese government severely limit the refugees’ ability to find even menial ‘informal economy’ or ‘black market’ jobs.

FOOD INSECURITY: INCREASING

Sixty three per cent of Lebanon’s Palestinians experience food insecurity, and 15 per cent of Palestinians are severely food insecure and are in acute need of food assistance.

Approximately 25% of refugee households consume inadequate amounts of fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat, and one-third of the population is not meeting their micronutrient requirements.

According to the authors of the UNWRA survey, micronutrient deficiencies cause stunting, poor cognitive and psychomotor development of children.

Unhealthy dietary habits are common among Lebanon’s refugees.

Fifty-seven per cent have unhealthy dietary habits including the excessive consumption of sweets.

Sixty-eight per cent consume sweetened drinks which directly increases the burden of chronic diseases.

HEALTH: DETERIORATING

Chronic illnesses affects close to a third of Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees.

All Palestinian households with a disabled head of household live in extreme poverty.

Twenty one per cent of Lebanon’s Palestinian refugees attest to experiencing depression, anxiety, or distress. Ninety five per cent of the population is without medical insurance but UNRWA, which is again being targeted for dissolution by the US Congressional Israeli lobby, does its best to provide primary and secondary health care.

100 percent of the camps and gatherings potable water is polluted.

HOUSING CONDITIONS: SQUALID

Sixty-six per cent of the houses suffer from dampness and leakage which often results in psychological and chronic illnesses. Eight per cent of households live in shelters where the roof and/or walls are made of corrugated iron, wood or asbestos. Eight per cent live in overcrowded conditions (more than three people in one room) while as many as seven to a room is not uncommon.

Every group and political party in Lebanon has failed the Palestinian refugees-including their leadership. The best of the Palestinians are those struggling to survive in the Camps and it is their young people who will likely take the Palestinian struggle to survive and to return to Palestine to the next level if necessary.

A 2011 SOLUTION FROM THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY?

It would take Lebanon’s Parliament just two hours to fix half of the problem and to abolish the racist 2001 law that forbids Palestinians from owning a home. Unfortunately its author, who is currently Minister of Labor, has not altered his mindset a decade later.

Indeed, he has just submitted to Parliament a draft law that would outlaw Christians selling any property at all in Lebanon to Muslims (read:  Hezbollah supporting Shia) for the next 15 years under penalty of ten years in jail and a fine double the sale price. He has declared that such a law is “necessary in order to advance sectarian harmony” while denying that he favors building medieval walls around the 18 sects land holdings.

It would take roughly the same amount of time for Parliament to declare that Palestinians shall be allowed the full right to work.  Not the mockery of the August 17, 2010 public relations  feel good “cancellation of  the work permit fee” gesture that likely has not and will not help one refugees secure a job, the same right that all other foreigners have.

By way of contrast to Lebanon inaction, the Palestinian’s arch enemy  Israel, as if to taunt Lebanon, announced this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer to increase the number of Palestinians from the West Bank allowed to work in Israel. Ben-Eliezer is to allocate 5,000 more work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank.

So at the beginning of 2011 the score might be said to be: 5000 Israeli work permits for Palestinians.  Zero from Lebanon.

Increasingly, political analysts are concluding that Lebanon’s politicians are simply not capable, given this country’s virulent sectarianism and civil war memories, and despite occasional sweet words about the 1949 Universal Declaration of the Human Rights being partly authored by a Lebanese gentleman, of granting internationally mandated elementary civil rights to Palestinians. This despite the fact that those who came to Lebanon 63 years ago were forced here by Zionist ethnic cleansing.

IT’S THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY’S OBLIGATION ALSO, STUPID!

On the other hand, it would require of President Obama, President Ahmadinejad, the European Union or any one of a number of other heads of major powers only the time required to send the right communication to Lebanon’s three key politicians to correct this now 63 year long injustice.

The UN and the international community must politely demand that Lebanon end this unacceptable discrimination against their sisters and brothers because it is no longer internationally tolerable.

They must make clear that all foreign aid to Lebanon will be suspended until Parliament meets its internationally mandated humanitarian obligations toward Palestinian refugees.

The current Christian, Sunni and Shia back scratching Parliamentary leadership trio would likely stumble over each other, scrambling to comply with the remarkable, long overdue international involvement.

Were the international community to cease averting its eyes and actually give some meaning to the more than 100 UN Resolutions on Palestine and the more than 500 conference declarations over the past half century dealing with Palestinian refugees, Lebanon’s six decades of shame would be lifted.

More importantly, the implementation of the Right of Return to Palestine, and the refugees’ departure from Lebanon would be advanced as the warehoused refugees gain some economic strength to pursue their inalienable right and responsibility to regain Palestine.

A win-win formula for Lebanon and humanity if ever there was one.

Hopefully, all of Lebanon’s politicians and parties, along with the international community, will assure that 2011, is not just the year of the Rabbit, but the year that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon secured the internationally mandated elementary rights to work and to own a home.