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Politics of Palestinian Resistance Pt.2 with Souheil El-Natour

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re in Beirut at the Palestinian refugee camp. And you can see behind me, next to the refugee camp, which is the Mar Elias Camp, you see a lot of nice-looking apartments. But when you see behind our guest, who I’m about to introduce again, who is Souheil el-Natour—thanks for joining us again. And behind Souheil you’ll see parts of the Elias refugee camp. There’s a lot of money in Beirut.

DR. SOUHEIL EL-NATOUR, DEMOCRATIC FRONT FOR THE LIBERATION OF PALESTINE: Not for the Palestinians. It’s money coming from many Arab sources, and from some EU countries also, to help Lebanon for the reconstruction after the war. And we have warlords in Lebanon enough to have big constructions like this. But, unfortunately for the poors of Lebanon, and for the Palestinians who are considered worse than the poors, we didn’t get anything.

JAY: So let’s talk a bit about the Palestinians in Lebanon, then. If I understand it correctly, Palestinians have no basic civil rights or status in Lebanon, including not being able to work in certain professions. Talk a bit about what is the situation.

EL-NATOUR: The number of the Palestinians officially registered in Lebanon is approximately 440,000. Practically, we have approximately 300,000 left in Lebanon. The others were obliged to leave because we don’t have any human right, any basic right left for us to be implemented in Lebanon.

JAY: So for example?

EL-NATOUR: Only we have the right of residence, because we are registered here as refugees since 1948. And no other place in the whole world will accept such a huge quantity to be delivered directly from Lebanon. The politicians of Lebanon adopted generally that we don’t want the Palestinian refugees to stay in Lebanon or to be settled in Lebanon. We want them out. If they cannot return because Israel is forbidding them to implement the right of return, it’s not our responsibility as Lebanese, so let them go to the other places. They consider that UN, when adopting the UN Resolution 181 about the partition of Palestine, created the problem of refugees. And so UN bodies, they have to solve the problem. And in this, if they consider themselves irresponsible [sic] towards the Palestinian refugees, they insisted not to grant any human right for the Palestinians, despite that 62 years already we are here. The old generation who came from Palestine approximately finished. All the Palestinians—we can say 95 percent of the existing Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were born in Lebanon. Many out of them were the result of intermarriages with the Lebanese. And despite that the woman is, the mother is Lebanese, in Lebanon they don’t give any right for the descendants of the mother. This is a male chauvinism attitude.

JAY: You can’t travel. Citizenship [is] through the mother.

EL-NATOUR: No, we have a special travel document for refugees, issued by the Lebanese authorities, in order to facilitate our leaving. Before, it was very complicated, because they adopted for 30 consecutive years a very tight grip by security agency on the life of camps. So we didn’t have rights. We have only the oppression of the local police. And that led that all the youngs who participated in the organizations of the resistance, they made big flareup and they kicked out the police from the camps. Now we are organized, in our internal life of the camps, by committees of the camps, whether elected or sometimes appointed, but no interference from the local police. We cooperate with the Lebanese police around the camps when there is some kind of criminal [inaudible]

JAY: So how do people live? What is the income?

EL-NATOUR: Half of our people is getting salaries from their families who are working outside. All our highly educated people are working, whether in the Gulf states or in some European countries, and they are sending intermittent money for their families. So half of our income is based on this. The other half is based on three categories. One, UN created UNRWA, which is an agency for assisting the Palestinian refugees, and it has a budget not less than say $65-$70 million every year, and it is employing approximately 3,500 Palestinians. That means 3,500 families are offered continuous salary. And we have the second, those who are related to the organizations of the resistance. They have their income from their organizations. And the third is, the NGOs’ salaries, which are paid for many qualified young who are graduated to work in the human field or in the social field, to assist kindergartens, etc., teaching the—. But that created a lot of trouble, because the municipalities and the infrastructure inside the camp, they don’t have enough money. So they needed UNDP, UNESCO, etc., to finance many projects. EU is financing now a lot of projects in order to renovate the minimum standard of life in these camps, while in the time of reconstructing Lebanon after the war they made everything highly developed in the high streets of Lebanon, and construction, big apartments, they stopped on the borders of the camps, and instead of constructing in the camps, they put the checkpoints of the army, not allowing even the construction materials to get into the camps.

JAY: So what is the rationale for this? Because, you know, from the outside, you hear people talk about the—people in the Arab world talk about the Palestinians as if they’re the saints that need to be put on a pedestal. But if you look at the treatment in the camps, it’s quite far from that.

EL-NATOUR: One of the main causes in Lebanon [is] that Lebanon is a sectarian society. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, they are considered as a prolongement of one of the sects. Most of the Palestinians, we were like any other people. We had 10 percent of our population Christians, and we have approximately 2 percent to 3 percent of our population Shia Muslims, and the big majority are Sunni Muslims. So the Christians and the Shia were naturalized in Lebanon, pretending this is not implantation of Palestinian refugees, this is re-Lebanizing old Lebanese who were transferred to Palestine and they were coming back after kicked out by the Israeli occupation. So their interpretations and manipulations of laws—and that depends, from the sectarian points of view, that they don’t want to add the number of the Sunni. This is on one hand. But behind that, Palestinians are not considering themselves as Sunni or Shia or Christian. We are considering ourselves as a national formation of a people. We don’t want to be implanted in Lebanon. We want our right to return as Palestinians. So if you ask me about my religion, my religion is Palestinian [inaudible]

JAY: While we’re listening to this, what—in the camp here—is what we’re hearing taking place in the camp? So in terms of the secular and strength of the Islamic forces inside the camp, how does that [inaudible]

EL-NATOUR: Ah, you know, the Palestinian people originally is a gradual average of religion relationship, because they consider these are the land of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and Mohammed the Prophet visited them [in] Jerusalem before his ascendance. And so people, they go to prayers, usually, but they didn’t politicize the religion until Hamas and the Islamic jihad were created. And this is one of the reactions of the politicizing of religion in the Israeli field, on one hand, and in Lebanon through Hezbollah on the other.

JAY: The Palestinians in the camps in Lebanon are a symbol of resistance, a symbol that someday the Palestinians will have a right to return. And sometimes this is part of the rationale you hear here, why they shouldn’t be more integrated into Lebanese society. Is that a legitimate argument?

EL-NATOUR: Yes. First, we don’t want to be implanted in anywhere except in our country, in Palestine. And we still have some kind of faith, even if it’s minimum, that one day or another, the international community will try hard to implement one of its resolutions concerning justice for Palestinian refugees. But in spite of this, we consider this is a struggle to continue until we get our inalienable right. So if the others who are hosting us, they have problems internally to be reflected on the cause of the Palestinian refugees, that will be seen from our point of view to minimize our dilemma or to aggravate our situation in order to push us farther from Palestine.

JAY: ‘Cause there seems to be this idea that Palestinians need to stay miserable in the camps, because that’s part of the symbol of the resistance, and if they’re too comfortable, they’ll want to stay. So, better they stay miserable.

EL-NATOUR: This idea, yes, it’s frequent with some Lebanese responsibles; it was, even at the beginning of the revolution, with some Palestinian responsibles. They were considering that if we are poors because we are refugees, so the others will try to assist us and to understand our cause. What—by the practice and the process of time, this was very catastrophic to our people, because we are able to have our capacities invested in our society to ameliorate the kind of life for the Palestinian refugees waiting until the moment of return. But you don’t need to be oppressed and impoverished in order to say that I’m refugee, please help me. We don’t want help. We want to implementation of an inalienable right. And in this you don’t need to impoverish the people. On the contrary, you have to assist this people in order to have a dignity and life. People who lost their dignity cannot fight and struggle for the independence of their country, because the independence of their country is a dignity for all.

JAY: Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Dr Souheil el Natour

Dr Souheil was born in Acre, Palestine, 1947, where his family was expelled from by the Israeli occupation forces. He and his family have been refugees in Lebanon, where he remains at the Mar Elias Refugee Camp.

After his studies in Arabic Literature and Law, Dr Souheil joined the staff of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Beirut in 1964. In 1965, Dr Souheil was transferred to the PLO Research Center where he worked as co-editor of the "Shu'un Filistiniah"" (Palestine Affairs) periodical. In 1975