Guide to Lebanon Blog Posts

It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since I was in Lebanon. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday and other times it feels like it was all a dream (yes, I know that sounds cliche!). Whenever I think back to those incredible ten days in Lebanon I always have a smile on my face.

In a few weeks I will be presenting again on my time in Lebanon. This presentation will be at the Hudson Library and Historical Society on Tuesday February 5th at 7:00pm. Again, I hope for those of you in the area, you will consider attending.

For anyone who is new to my blog I thought it might be helpful if I repost the links to each blog post that I made while in Lebanon. I have included a brief summary of each one.

Enjoy!

Oreos with the Ambassador = Pre-departure, reflection on orientation in Washington DC

Details from pre-departure = more information on our pre-departure orientation sessions

Walking Tour = Our first day in Lebanon we took a walking tour of downtown Beirut

All around Lebanon = Big day of touring including Khalil Gibran museum, the Cedars, and the Roman Ruins at Baalbek

Day 4 – Our first meetings = met with Michael Young, Hanin Ghaddar, Ousama Safa and Lokman Slim

Day 6 – More meetings = met with Youssef Fawaz from Al Majmoua (microfinance NGO) and toured American University of Beirut

Parliament Meeting = met with Simon Abi Ramia, member of Parliament and head of the commission for Youth and Sports

Tour of Byblos = visited Jeita Grotto and Byblos

Just Checking In = photos at the border with Israel and with UNIFIL

Music in Lebanon = details on Najwa Karam performance at the Achrafieh Music Festival and our visit to Skybar

Visit to the US Embassy in Beirut = details on the life of US ambassadors in Lebanon

ANERA = met with Bill Corcoran, president of American Near East Refugee Assosciation, who does work with Palestinian Refugees

 

Flower at Baalbek

ANERA

One night we met with Bill Corcoran, the President for America Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) over an American dinner of hotdogs in the hotel. Funny note about these hotdogs – they had corn on them!

ANERA was founded in 1967 in order to give a positive face for humanitarian aid. ANERA simply does aid, no advocacy or political involvement. ANERA works in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine and has projects related to healthcare, education, and economic development. It was a surprise to us when Bill said that there are probably only about 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Most figures we had quoted to us were almost double this number. He said that 450,000 is the figured used by the UN, but there is very little information to back this up. According to Bill, many other NGO’s have done headcounts and estimates which indicate the figure to be closer to 250,000.

The average Palestinian refugee family has six children. With poor living conditions, I asked Bill if there were any family planning programs in the camps. He said there are not and they probably would not be very effective because the Palestinians see their children as their legacy and their social security. I was surprised to learn that particularly in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, they see their large families as their way to beat the Israelis in the long run who only have around two children per family.

Over 50% of the youth drop out of high school and there is over 50% unemployment in the camps. Most people live on less than $6 per day.

One group member has been focused on brain drain during the trip and asked if this is an issue that impacts the Palestinians. Bill shared a surprising insight: if a Palestinian manages to break through all the barriers and gain a college education and then takes a job somewhere else (usually in the Gulf), Bill still sees this as a positive because of the individual success and also because generally they send a large amount of money back to their family in the camps which is a major positive.

The Palestinian refugee issue has been going on for over 60 years and is the longest standing refugee issue in the world, as well as the most religiously charged issue. An example of the frustrations felt by Bill in his position, in November 2008 he was asked to dedicate a wing of a new hospital that had been paid for primarily with money from the US. The frustration is that less than two months after the dedication ceremony, the hospital was completely destroyed by the Israeli army which is US funded. So essentially, US money built the hospital and US money destroyed the hospital. This is an example of the United States’ contradictory policy in the region.

We asked Bill what message he would like us to bring back to the US for our friends and family and he asked that we share the idea that blindly throwing ourselves behind everything that Israel does is not the same as supporting Israel, meaning that we can be more critical certain Israeli actions and decisions while still supporting the country as whole. It’s also important to note that US foreign aid is supposed to help end poverty, but Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid and has an incredibly high GDP. I agree with Bill’s insinuated comment that Israel does not need our aid. Unfortunately, it comes down to the US having an ally in the region and we are essentially paying Israel to remain our ally. To further complicate the situation, I think recent conflicts have shown that Israel is much more of a fair weather friend than the US likes to admit. Israel has indicated recently that they will do what they believe to be best for them, rather than simply do what the US wants them to do.

Hope you enjoyed a longer and more informational post! Here’s the website for ANERA if you’d like more information: http://www.anera.org/

 

Day 6 – More Meetings

Today we had two more meetings. I will tell you a little about each, but first I want to talk about electricity.

I haven’t mentioned electricity so far on my blog. Beirut has the appearance of a modern European city, however the infrastructure is seriously lacking. When the Israeli’s pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, they did their best to destroy as much of Lebanon’s infrastructure as possible. Some things have been repaired and redeveloped, but the electric grids have not. The issue of electricity is really coming to fruition this summer while we are here because people are unbearably hot without AC. There have been protests with people burning tires in the streets. Our very first night in Beirut we experienced two power outages while we were at dinner, each lasting less than one minute. Nearly everyday we have experienced similar power outages for short amounts of time. Anyone who is slightly well off and all restaurants and businesses all have their own generators for back up when the electricity is out. The issue of electricity shows that while Beirut is trying to become a modern European city and travel destination it still has a ways to go.

So for our two meetings today:

Our first meeting was with Youssef Fawaz, the Executive Director of a non profit called Al Majmoua, which is a micro-credit program founded by Save the Children in 1994. In 2003 Al Majmoua became financially self-sustainable and is the leading microfinance NGO in Lebanon. I really enjoyed this meeting because Al Majmoua primarily gave micro-loans to groups of women in the beginning. The loans that they give run from as low as $100 to $5000. Starting in 2001 they began giving loans to men and individuals. Al Majmoua currently has 32,000 clients with a $32 million portfolio. The average loan for a group of women is about $600 and usually goes towards hairdresser or food processing supplies. The average loan for an individual is around $1500 and for men usually goes towards woodworking or some other similar handicraft. Al Majmoua has grown to 19 offices across the country and a staff of 225. One of the issues they currently deal with is recruiting female loan officers. They must have a certain number of female loan officers so that they can go out and meet with the groups of women who are applying for loans. Although Lebanon is more liberal and progressive than many other Middle Eastern countries, it would still be unacceptable for a male loan officer to meet alone with a group of married women.

It was disappointing that Fawaz came off as very pessimistic in his hopes for the Lebanese government. He said the “country is politically bankrupt” and that it is a zero sum game trying to get anything done through the central government.

Our second meeting was at An-nahar which is the primary Arabic newspaper. It was very interesting to hear their optimism about the future of newspaper. When many say that newspaper will obviously face an end, they believe that through adapting to new conditions the newspapers can still exist. The men we spoke with shared that they future role of newspapers is more focus on analysis and less on breaking news because breaking news can easily be shared on Twitter and other online media. Our primary reason for meeting at An-nahar is a program that they have called Youth Shadow Government (YSG). This is a very cool program for youth approximately ages 20-26 to shadow the actual Lebanese government. These youth are assigned Ministers or more than one depending on what makes sense. They follow what policies these Ministers are focusing on and then develop their own individual projects that are often picked up by the Ministers and given national focus. The purpose of the YSG is to empower the youth to be active and involved in their government. The program has been very successful so far in accomplishing its goal and has had alumni of the program go on to many levels of government involvement.

A new program that has grown out of YSG is Lebanese Young Leaders for Tomorrow. The young man who was speaking with us had graduated from the YSG and is currently in the new program.

Oh in between our two meetings we had a tour of American University of Beirut’s campus. It’s very beautiful and just a minute walk from the beach. If I had longer than one year left in my undergrad I would love to study abroad there. Explanation of photos: 1. Graffiti in Beirut outside of Al-Majmoua office. 2. Me on AUB campus in front of main entrance. 3. Banyan tree on AUB Campus. 4. Pretty flowers on AUB campus. Well I think that’s enough for today! Peace and blessing 🙂

Details from Pre-departure

As promised I am going to go into more detail about the meetings that I had in DC at the National Council on June 21st.

From Dr. Anthony’s opening remarks, I was surprised by his comment that the Lebanese lack empathy. He believes this is why there is conflict in the area because people are not able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. Obviously this is not true for everyone, but it seems to be one factor.

I learned that the Shia in Iran look up to the Shia in Lebanon. Also Saudi Arabia pushed for greater representation of Shia in Lebanon because of security and stability. Security and stability are the key terms of the day.

I can’t say enough how interesting Miriam’s presentation was on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. She has focused on getting past the generalities and looking at why the situation is the way it is. Personal and unique experiences are the also important to her in her research. There are approximately 455,000 registered refugees and 12 camps in Lebanon. However, not all refugees are registered. You are only allowed to be a registered refugee if you left pre-1948 or are a direct descendant of someone who did. I was surprised to learn that not all refugees have the same socio-economic status. Some never live in camps and are actually quite well off, although this is certainly a minority. Also Miriam pointed out that the stereotype is that all refugees are miserable in the camps and want to leave. According to Miriam most refugees have turned the camps into their homes and therefore are very attached to them.Naji Ali

The issue with the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is that the balance between Christians and Muslims is so delicate. Giving citizenship to the 455,000 mainly Sunni Muslim Palestinian refugees would tip the scales in favor of the Muslims because the population of Lebanon is small, less than 4 million. Interestingly from 1950-1960 all of the Christian Palestinian refugees were naturalized, approximately 50,000 at the time. Then later in 1994 all of the Shia Muslim Palestinians were naturalized. However, the Sunni Muslims have been ignored all the time.

Another issue for the refugees is that they can not work in Lebanon for the most part. In 1961 the Law of Reciprocity became the primary labor law and it said that only citizens of countries with work exchanges with Lebanon are allowed to work here. However, the Palestinians have no country to make this sort of exchange with and therefore they are not allowed to work here.

Pre-Civil War, circa 1968-1982, the 1969 Cairo Agreement said that Palestinians can do whatever they want in the camps. The PLO created jobs and built up their militia. However, after the Civil War, everyone in Lebanon blamed everything on the Palestinians in order to recover from the war. This negative attitude towards refugees still exists today.

From 1991 to present has been the rise of the NGO. There are two types of NGO’s active in Lebanon: relief work and memory preservation. The major policy issue in Lebanon that is currently debated is that women can’t pass their citizenship/nationality to their children in Lebanon. I am very interested in this issue since my focus next year will be on women in the Middle East.

The cartoon is called Handala by Naji Ali. Miriam said that he represents the Palestinian refugee and you never see his face.