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/

 

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.

Oreos with the Ambassador

My first update! I’ll be boarding my flight momentarily, but I wanted to tell you all about my crazy day.

We started off with a chat with Dr. Anthony the founding President of the National Council on US-Arab Relations (referred to as National Council or the Council for short). He is a brilliant man who we were lucky to meet and spend a great deal of our time with.

Our first presentation was from Miriam who is a relatively new employee at the National Council. She is a Lebanese Canadian who is doing her research on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. I learned so much from her presentation and it created lots of further points for research.

Next we went to the Lebanese Embassy. Yes we ate Oreos with the Ambassador! Here’s the photo from our visit:

After the Ambassador we met with several other scholars and prominent thinkers of the Middle East. Due to security reasons, we are not allowed to share the names/titles/employers of all those we met with (no joke!). But every session was very informative and generated lively discussions.

Several unscheduled highlights of the day:

  1. Attempting to hail a cab outside the National Press Building and two huge black SUV’s pull up. Security guys in suits step out, followed by Leon Panetta! We got a smile and wave from the Secretary of Defense!
  2. While waiting in line to go through TSA in Dulles, our study visit leader saw Ambassador Cook, former ambassador to Oman. We were introduced to her as well!

All together a busy and exciting day. I’ll try and post again later with some more detailed comments based on the tons of notes I took from all the sessions today.