Sunday, June 20, 2004

I was having dinner at 10:00PM last Friday night. This little boy came around the tables at the restaurant in downtown Beirut selling perfume. I asked him about his age. Eight-years old, he said. My friend and I asked him if he goes to school. He said that he does, while working at night. I was quite distressed. Child labor is a big problem here, and you run into beggars who are 6 or 7 years old. You see, the billionaire Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri (a tool of the House of Saud) has "reconstructed" Lebanon as a place where rich Arabs from Gulf countries can come and "have fun." The entire economy is based on that. He also lowered taxes on the rich and on tariffs, to open Lebanese markets for US and western products. The local industry is hampered, while his rich merchant friends made millions. He has an agenda that is fundamentally hostile to poor people. He needs to leave his many palaces and visit poor neighborhoods, in the southern suburbs, Akkar, and South Lebanon. He has no clue, and he buys people, especially during election times. In the last municipal election in Sidon, he chartered jets to bring workers from his companies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to vote for his candidates. I heard this from relatives of people who came in Sidon. The people of Sidon (his birthplace) rejected him, and the opposition list won handedly. I was quite happy, and saluted the people of Sidon for their courage when I spoke there. Lebanon is abuzz with the rumors that King Fahd of Saudi Arabia may be spending the summer in Lebanon (in Brummana to be exact). A businessman here told me that the entire business sector is eager and hopeful. Do you know how much Fahd and his entourage spend in one day when they go to his palace in Spain for example? Do you know how many planes they charter? An entire complex (the Mu`awwad complex is booked, just in case, as are many hotels and furnished apartments). I doubt that he will come to Lebanon. His brothers may worry about his safety or about the political ramifications. Hariri also has been callous in disregarding the humanitaran situation of the Palestinian population in Lebanon. The people in Burj Al-Barajnah camp showed me the edge of the camp: you know how you can identify it? By the Asphalt that begins just outside the boundaries of the camp. The misery of the Palestinian population in Lebanon is something that is not talked about, and Arafat (who may be busy sending his millions to Suha Arafat) is totally oblivious. A Palestinian in Lebanon who owns property (unlike people of other nationalities) can NOT even pass on that property to her/his children. They are LEGALLY excluded from the laws pertaining to ownership of land in Lebanon. A Canadian citizen who may have Israeli citizenship may own property in Lebanon, but NOT a Palestinian who has lived here since 1948. They are LEGALLY excluded from a whole category of jobs (some 70 odd jobs) by the Ministry of Labor. I have brought up the issue here with offcials, only to be told that nothing can be done about it. I know Palestinians here who suppress their accents for fear of discrimination. This is the double tragedy of Palestinians. You should read Fawaz Turki's old book The Disinherited. It tells a story of a Palestinian refugee. But of this I am certain: Palestinians will NOT rest until they recover their homeland.