ENG - Employability of Palestinians in Lebanon


Comment on a chosen article: Sari Hanafi and Åge A. Tiltnes; The Employability of Palestinian Professionals in Lebanon: Constraints and Transgression, Knowledge, Work and Society. 2008, Vol 5, n°1. Paris: Harmattan

This is a paper I wrote during my time in Ben Gurion University.

The major findings of the article

There is a clear exclusion of Palestinian refugees from the Lebanese labor market. Some will claim that it is because they are “temporary residents” (they live in Lebanon for more than 60 years but only have a resident card, they are not citizens but considered as foreigners) as an excuse; therefore, they should not be integrated into the Lebanese society.

Lebanon has institutionalized a guard against foreigner workers and particularly Palestinian professionals. Indeed, the legal obstacles are tremendous and legion, therefore, it become legally nearly impossible for Palestinian to obtain a legal work. As a consequence of those legal impediments, Palestinians receive a low salary, there is a high rate of unemployment and if not, they work outside of their field of expertise and end up in low-productivity. They multiply jobs in order to assume a decent living.

Moreover, the article highlights all the strategies Palestinians founded in order to get hired, and work somehow. Indeed, the first canal is by the family and networks. Plus, there are almost no Palestinian entrepreneurs in Lebanon because of the legal obstacles created to establish a business. Nevertheless, the article also show that despite the plural obstacles, some Palestinians succeed in overcoming them and work as doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers etc., but using transgression, and this has costs; indeed, the Palestinian professionals that entered the Lebanese labor market are exploited, compared to the one working in the refugee camps (UNRWA offers good work conditions). The problem is that, this generalized practice of the state and Lebanese employers actually incites Palestinian to get illegal works; it encourages illegal employment and therefore discriminatory practices and abuse.

Moreover, we know that Palestinian refugees have a high level of education, we might think that these circumstances would discourage Palestinian refugees in Lebanon from university studies and professional careers.Moreover this article highlights this discriminative paradox animating the Lebanese state and professional associations; Lebanon considered as a democratic and liberal political and economic system, is actually discriminating Palestinians in Lebanon. The authors argue that the corporatist ideology that emerged in Europe spread in Lebanon as well and gave a preponderant role of professional associations in the Lebanese labor market, however, Lebanon added a local dynamic and this corporatist influence is today combined with nationalism. Thus, it creates a double standard in the labor market: the logic of neo-liberal market for expert’s professionals, and a second category of workers exposed to exploitation, where this is no space for refugees. Eventually, Hanafi and A. Tiltnes argue that today, the third generation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should not be considered as foreigners anymore, as it is in most Western countries. However, they add that the professional associations in Lebanon actually promote the status quo instead of accompanying the Palestinian in the Lebanese society.

How are the findings and insights discussed related to the history of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since 1948?

The case of the Palestinians in Lebanon is idiosyncratic compared to other Arab hosts countries. Their integration in Lebanon is almost non-existing, and as a main reason, the complexity of the Lebanese society. Indeed, the ethnic spectrum of the Lebanese society is extremely complex and works on a weak political balance between the different groups (Maronite’s Christians, Druze, Sunnite’s Muslims and Shiite’s Muslims). When Palestinians arrived in 1948, as being mostly Sunnites Muslims, they unbalanced this fragile equilibrium; therefore, Lebanon government judged that it would be smart to keep the Palestinians closed in refugee camps, without giving them any kind of rights. They hide behind the excuse that they are here temporary, therefore, they should not be integrated to the Lebanese society, however after 60 years, it appears indeed as a real masquerade.

However, it has not been the same since their arrival. Indeed, we can define three different periods, and particularly during the middle period 1969 to 1982, we can talk about “Golden Age” for the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Indeed, UNRWA developed many facilities, employment was good, high education permitted a higher level of politicization; it gave thus mobility for the Palestinians starting to work outside the camps, and therefore being lightly more integrated to the Lebanese society. However, as a consequence of the 1982’s war between Lebanon and Israel, the Lebanese government put a huge responsibility of this war on the Palestinians and started to exclude them completely from the Lebanese society, arrest some of them etc.

Their exclusion therefore, since those years is quite total: political, social, economic. Today, Human Rights Watch considers that there are 300,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, when they arrived, they were approximately 100,000. At the time, they represented 1/10 of the Lebanese society, today 1/15 approximately. Compared to the situation of the Palestinians in Jordan for instance, the gap is huge. First of all because they represent a third of the Jordanian society, therefore, exclude them completely would have been almost impossible. Moreover, historical and political reasons enter the game. Lebanon and Jordan are politically very different. In Jordan hence, Palestinians are citizens and relatively well integrated in the society, as in Syria before the war started. Moreover, Palestinians in Jordan are part of the most educated; their social and economic integration is good. However, the political integration is still discussable because indeed, in Jordan, Palestinians are considered more politically radical, and form a political ethnic group distinct from the rest of the Jordan society. Thus, if the integration of Palestinian in Jordan is excellent, it has to be nuanced on the political prism.


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by LK (2018)

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