Archive | Israel RSS feed for this section

Cluster Bombs: The weapon that keeps on killing

12 Sep

By Dalila Mahdawi

A deminer with MAG searches for buried cluster munitions in Kfar Joz village in South Lebanon. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.

KFAR JOZ, South Lebanon, Sep 12, 2011 (IPS) – Even in the summer heat, the hills of South Lebanon are an impressive sight – a patchwork of green, brown and red fields interrupted only by sleepy villages, rock formations and dirt tracks.

Most residents here have traditionally depended on agriculture to provide for their families. But instead of sowing crops or herding their flocks through the grassy terrain, for the last five years locals have viewed the surrounding hills with caution. Lurking in these fields are hundreds of thousands of cluster munitions, silently waiting to claim their next victim.

“Every day we find cluster bombs in between the houses and in the fields,” says Ali Shuaib, community liaison manager at the Mines Advisory Group, a British non-governmental organisation clearing landmines and other remnants of war in Lebanon. “There are tens of villages like this all over the South.”

Although Lebanon has been plagued by landmines since its 1975-1990 civil war and subsequent Israeli occupation, it faced unprecedented contamination levels from cluster munitions after Israel launched a 34-day war in July 2006. According to Human Rights Watch, Israel’s use of the weapons was the most extensive anywhere in the world since the 1991 Gulf War.

In the last 72 hours of fighting, at a time when the United Nations Security Council had adopted Resolution 1701 calling for an immediate halt to hostilities, Israel dropped more than four million cluster bombs over South Lebanon. Of those, at least forty percent failed to explode upon impact, according to the UN, becoming de facto landmines across Lebanon’s agricultural heartland.

These are the most indiscriminate weapons of modern warfare; 95 percent of all victims of cluster munitions are civilians, according to the NGO Handicap International. Since the cessation of hostilities five years ago, 408 Lebanese civilians have been killed or injured by cluster munitions, 115 of them under 18 years old. Unless properly disposed of, the weapons keep killing and maiming for decades.

Cluster munitions continue to wreak havoc on the Lebanese economy, too. With an estimated 36 percent of contaminated land being used for agricultural purposes, the already deprived South Lebanon has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in income, says Major Pierre Bou Maroun, chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces’ Regional Mine Action Centre in Nabatieh, which oversees all demining operations in the country. In 2007 alone, Lebanon lost an estimated 126.8 million dollars in agricultural revenue because of cluster munitions.

Israel’s use of the weapon in Lebanon helped galvanise an international ban in May 2007, when 107 countries voted for the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions. The convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of all forms of cluster munitions. It also requires countries to clear contaminated areas within 10 years, destroy supplies within eight years and provide assistance to victims.

Lebanon was among the first countries to sign the convention in December 2008 and although it only entered into force in May this year, officials have been keen to take an international leadership role on its implementation. This week Beirut hosts the second international meeting of states parties to the Convention. Delegates from over 110 governments, UN and other international organisations will attend the week-long conference along with survivors of cluster munitions to discuss how to further advance the Convention’s obligations.

The meeting “is a golden opportunity for Lebanon,” says Haboubba Aoun, one of Lebanon’s representative members of the Cluster Munition Coalition and International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and a member of Lebanon’s National Committees on Risk Education and Victim Assistance. “We hope the people of the world will take a closer look at the cluster bomb problem in Lebanon and decide to continue supporting clearance activities and victim assistance activities.”

Clearance teams have made formidable progress in Lebanon despite almost continuous funding concerns. “We have 2,259 well-known minefields” in addition to thousands of other contaminated areas, says Bou Maroun. Some 1,578 minefields have been now been cleared and returned to residents, but 22 million square metres of contaminated land remains. This figure does not include heavily contaminated areas along the so-called Blue Line border area between Lebanon and Israel, whose clearance has been left to the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL.

“Our vision is a Lebanon free from cluster bombs, land mines and explosive remnants of war,” Bou Maroun tells IPS. With sufficient funding and support, he says Lebanon could be cleared of cluster munitions by 2016. Following international pressure, Israel provided the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with maps showing the areas it targeted with cluster munitions. But, says Bou Maroun, as these maps do not show the coordinates of those targets, they are merely “papers for the trash”.

Mine clearance is painstakingly slow and dangerous work. Deminers sent to the field must abide by strict regulations and are flanked by ambulance and medics. “It’s a calculated risk,” says Daniel Redelinghuys, MAG’s Technical Operations Manager. Two MAG deminers have lost their lives and 18 have been injured in the five years since hostilities ceased, he adds. The LAF and other clearance organisations have also experienced considerable losses.

Yet the possibility of an accident doesn’t deter Hussein Tabaja, a mine clearance site supervisor with MAG. “You’re working for your country,” he says with a shrug. “When you see the faces of people after you have cleared their land, you see how many people you have helped, who can go back and use their fields again, it makes you happy. Sometimes during the holidays I actually miss coming to work.”

While there is growing international support for a universal ban, there remains staunch opposition from the world’s biggest producers, traders or users of cluster munitions, such as Israel, China and the U.S., who have not signed the Convention. As recently as late August, Handicap International censured Israel for laying fresh landmines along the border of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

And for many, any international ban will come too late. “I wish I could change my leg and get a new one,” says 12-year-old Mohammad Abd al-Aal, who has been left with a prosthetic leg after stepping on a cluster bomblet while herding his family’s goats. (END)

Advertisements

Flotilla killings: Enough violence and enough hate

3 Jul

(It’s been about a month now since Israel invaded and attacked a boat full of peace activists bound for Gaza. The issue has pretty much slipped off the media radar and the appalling siege on Gaza and occupation of Palestinian land continue. Here is a piece I wrote at the time, published by Common Ground News Service, where I tried to harness my emotions in a positive way. Decades of hate and violence have got the Palestinians and Israelis absolutely nowhere. I’m sick of it, I’m tired, I want peace and dialogue. And I want it now.)

by Dalila Mahdawi

08 June 2010

Beirut – The tragic bloodshed aboard the MV Mavi Marmara aid ship has, justifiably, provoked criticism about Israel’s use of force against civilian populations. It has also, if somewhat tardily, refocused the international community’s attention on the need for an immediate end to the siege on Gaza.

Louise Arbor, President of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to preventing and resolving deadly conflict, was quoted in The Independent as saying: “It is easy to condemn Israel’s attack on a flotilla of aid bound for Gaza as unnecessary, ill-conceived and disproportionate. What is harder to do – but what must now be done – is understand how this incident is an indictment of a much broader policy toward Gaza for which the wider international community bears responsibility.” Arbor’s argument, however, doesn’t go far enough in recognising that the latest bloodshed is also an indictment of the international community’s failure to prioritise and pursue a just peace process.

Lifting the blockade on Gaza’s 1.8 million residents is a much required step, as is a full and independent investigation into what occurred on the flotilla, but both are only part and parcel of the more urgent need to end a 62-year-old conflict.

What is required now, just when it seems least likely, is the immediate resumption of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Rather than serve as another opportunity to exchange fiery political rhetoric and further entrench divisions between two already polarised communities, let the deaths of those aboard the Mavi Marmara provide the impetus needed to persuade both Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table once and for all.

Unfortunately, however, reactions to the flotilla killings from international power brokers like the United States, Canada and Great Britain suggest little change to the status quo. Watered-down comments, such as Ottawa and Washington’s expressions of “deep regret”, are counterproductive and suggest an unwillingness to make any definitive statement on moving the peace process forward. Even the United Nations has only condemned in nebulous terms the “acts” aboard the flotilla and urged an investigation “conforming to international standards.”

Few countries have mentioned the need for constructive dialogue and as emotions run high, it is possible indirect peace talks launched just a few weeks ago will stall. But as French President Nicolas Sarkozy noted a few days ago: “Lasting peace and security in the region can be achieved only through peaceful dialogue and not through use of force.”

Western and Arab nations have remained largely silent throughout decades of appalling violence and suffering, but they must now find their voices. They are not only complicit in Monday’s tragedy, but also in the failure to achieve peace. The road towards a lasting and just peace, as countless failed negotiations testify, is one fraught with obstacles. But the difficulties can and must be overcome.

Violence and finger-pointing is unsustainable – only a decisive agreement will protect the rights of the Palestinians and provide assurances to the Israelis. The two sides must accept the inevitability of peace and coexistence, and the international community must help them achieve that.

The United States, Israel’s closest friend, has the biggest role to play in coaxing along negotiations. When US President Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world in Cairo last year and pledged to seek a new era in relations, he was lauded by the Palestinians as setting the tone for a more balanced American policy in the Middle East. Now is the time for him to seize the opportunity and live up to his words.

If anything is to be gained from the flotilla deaths and injuries, it is that they will symbolise a critical moment in reigniting peace-building efforts. If the opportunity for a peace settlement is squandered, it is inevitable that such bloody confrontations will only continue. Let us hope that international outrage at such senseless and avoidable violence will push the world into demanding an end to the bloodshed and hatred that led to it in the first place, working alongside both Palestinians and Israelis for a sustainable, constructive solution.

Lebanese protest in front of Parliament for civil marriages

19 Mar

Activists dressed in wedding outfits react as they take part in "Chaml" (union) campaign that is trying to legalize civil marriage in Lebanon during a gathering in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, March 18, 2010. In the Middle East, civil marriage doesn't exist and no religious authority will perform an interfaith wedding. But Lebanon recognizes civil marriages as long as they're performed abroad, and the closest venue abroad is Cyprus, 150 miles from Lebanon. The banners in Arabic read:"A wedding with a stay of execution." (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Demonstration organized to mark day of ‘freedom of choice’
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, March 19, 2010

BEIRUT: Bassam Jalgha, 23, has decided he doesn’t want a religious marriage. There’s only one problem: civil marriages are not performed in Lebanon.

Jalgha was one of around 200 people who marched on the Lebanese Parliament Thursday to demand politicians amend the law to allow people the option of marrying outside religious establishments.

The demonstration was organized by the Non-Violent Non-Sectarian Youth Lebanese Citizens association (CHAML) to mark the day of “freedom of choice,” which the Lebanese National Campaign for Personal Status designated years ago as March 18.

Wearing wedding dresses and tuxedos, the protesters marched across Downtown Beirut to outside Parliament, ululating and chanting their demands. “It makes no sense [not to have the option of civil marriage], especially if they want us to live together and survive together as one population inside one country,” Jalgha said. “They should allow people from different religions who love each other to get married in their own country.”

The Lebanese state recognizes 18 different religious groups, which preside over personal status matters like marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance. Marriages across the sectarian divide are allowed, provided one of the partners converts to the other’s religion, and are registered in the husband’s jurisdiction of birth.

Although Lebanese cannot have a civil marriage at home, the Lebanese state will recognize civil ceremonies performed abroad, so long as the marriage is registered at the Lebanese Embassy or consulate in the country where it took place.

In nearby pluralistic countries like Israel, Jordan and Syria, civil marriages are also not an option. As a result, numerous travel agencies in the region advertise one or two-day civil marriage packages in countries like Cyprus or Turkey.

But these trips are prohibitively expensive for many of those wanting a civil union. In addition, “this forces couples to get married alone, without their friends or families,” said Diana Assaf, a volunteer with CHAML. She said it made little sense for Lebanon not to allow civil marriages when they recognized those performed abroad. “We’re just asking for the simple right [for the Lebanese people] to get married in their country.”

 

The protest also fell on the anniversary of a bill by former Lebanese President Elias Hrawi in 1998, which almost succeeded in introducing the option of civil marriage. The bill gained approval from Cabinet members but was vetoed by the late former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He possessed both Saudi and Lebanese passports, and was said to have heeded the rulings of Saudi clerics who said granting civil marriage rights contravened Islamic Sharia law.

A number of Lebanese politicians still back civil marriages, though. MP Ghassan Mokheiber, who works closely with civil society, was outside Parliament to lend his support to the protesters. He told The Daily Star civil marriage should be one of the “basic rights” enjoyed by the Lebanese people. “There has been a lot of talk about de-confessionalizing Lebanon,” he said. “This could be one of the tools to bringing people closer together.”

 He noted that protesters were not looking to abolish religious marriages or confessional laws. “It is an optional law that would not deny faith nor good morals nor religious weddings. It is simply an alternative that now the Lebanese have to find in other countries,” he said. “It’s time that we recognize our own marriages in Lebanon.”

Although the option of civil marriage doesn’t seem like it will be granted anytime soon, the movement for greater civil freedoms is picking up momentum.

In February 2009, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud issued a circular granting Lebanese citizens the right to remove their religion from their Civil Registry Records. Baroud said the initiative was in line with the Lebanese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Lebanon helped author, and several other international human-rights treaties signed by Beirut.

An online petition and Facebook group demanding civil marriage are also gaining more and more supporters. In addition, CHAML will soon present a draft law to parliamentarians granting the option of civil marriages, Assaf said.

But until that option comes to pass in Lebanon, those wishing to marry outside of a religious institution will still be forced to travel abroad to do so.

Robert Fisk: Western media fails to report ‘real horrors of war’

14 Jan

Journalist’s lecture slams bias in American journalism
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

BEIRUT: Veteran Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, as he notes in one of his books, has lived a “charmed but dangerous life.” He has been a resident of the Beirut seafront for 34 years, covering the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War and its numerous atrocities, most memorably the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinian refugees by Christian militias and their Israeli Army allies. The British-born journalist has reported on 10 other wars, several insurgencies, Iran’s bloody 2009 elections, and has interviewed Osama bin Laden no less than three times.

Over the years, Fisk has provoked as much anger as admiration, enduring two kidnap attempts and a beating by a group of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. His critics dismiss his writing as lies and embellishments, and his numerous awards and books, which have sold millions of copies around the world, are a source of some jealously for other correspondents in the region. No one in the world of journalism, it seems, is quite as divisive as Robert Fisk.
Kicking off a series of “Distinguished Journalists” lectures at the Lebanese American University of Beirut on Tuesday, however, he was firmly among friends and admirers.
Speaking to hundreds of journalism students, Fisk was quick to condemn “the lethal way in which [Western] reporters support war,” manipulating language to change meaning and historical context. Editors were also to be criticized for avoiding shocking photographs of war victims, an act which he said sterilized and hid the consequences of conflict.
One example of this was a newspaper that published a photograph of an Iraqi father carrying his supposedly injured daughter. The girl, Fisk said, was in fact already dead and her feet, which had been blown off in an explosion, had been tidily cut out of the photograph. “I’m against all violence, but because we protect our own readers from it, we produce a clean war,” he said. “For all the criticisms I have of the Arab press … at least your pictures in your newspaper … tend to show the real horrors of war.”
“A lot of journalists do not see their job as a vocation,” he continued. “Many journalists regard their job as the same as working in a bank, driving a truck or becoming a lawyer  … But I think journalism should have responsibilities over and above just earning a salary to pay off the mortgage.”
His strongest criticism was reserved for the American media, where there was an “osmotic parasitic relationship between journalism and power.” Since the Bush administration, for example, Fisk observed US newspapers had followed on from Washington’s example in referring to the occupied Palestinian territories as the “disputed territories” or “the so-called occupied territories.”
Such glaring bias and half-truths have led, Fisk argued, to the “normalization of war” among Westerners. An additional reason for this was journalist’s obsession with reporting “50/50” from all sides of a story. “But the Middle East is not a football match, it’s a bloody tragedy,” Fisk said, adding journalists had a “duty to be unbiased and neutral on the side of those who suffer.”
Though he is best known for his reporting on Arab countries, Fisk avoided discussing the problems faced by the region’s journalists or the political woes of the Middle East, dedicating only a few closing lines to the subject.
But does Fisk, with over three decades of experience in the region tucked under his belt, see any prospect for peace? “I have no optimism about the Middle East. The chances of a Palestinian state are less by the day,” he said. And as for Lebanon, where Fisk calls home, it is a “Rolls Royce with square wheels” that won’t be a modern state until it has secular governance.

UNRWA determined not to scale back amid crippling funding crisis

6 Dec
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, December 05, 2009
BEIRUT: The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees is struggling with a “dire” financial crisis but will not cut back on its provision of services, its head of operations in Lebanon said Friday. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on Wednesday it was facing its worst budget deficit in history. According to a recent document posted on the agency’s website concerning UNRWA’s financial situation, a shortfall of $79.6 million for 2009 and $125.7 million for 2010 has been projected. It said a continuing lack of funds since 2005 had “resulted in the complete depletion of UNRWA’s working capital.
“UNRWA is faced with a dire financial crisis,” Salvatore Lombardo, director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, told The Daily Star. He said the agency’s operations in Lebanon were facing a $9 million deficit for 2010. “We have been operating with approximately the same budgets for the last [several] years whilst the needs are growing considerably and the cost of services is increasing,” he said. “Our expected budget is 14 percent less than what UNRWA needs to cover the most basic requirements of Palestine refugees.” 
The UN official added that although the agency would continue to provide health care, education and relief and social services, the standards of those services would drop. “Whilst UNRWA strives to ensure services are not cut, the overall environment it operates in will deteriorate,” he added. 
There are over 422,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, most of who live in the country’s 12 squalid refugee camps. 
The figure may no longer be accurate, however, as UNRWA does not remove refugees who have moved abroad from its records. There are also an unknown number of nonregistered refugees and an additional 40,000 Palestinians residing in 42 so-called “gatherings,” or ghettoized neighborhoods. 
UNRWA has routinely faced funding shortages in the past, but the ongoing international financial crisis and a lack of financial reserves have resulted in a “situation of unprecedented gravity,” the UNRWA website said. 
The agency held its annual pledging conference at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, hoping the international community would respond to its financial emergency. “It would be timely, and extremely welcome, if UNRWA was to receive new pledges of support from unexpected quarters or else the announcement of increase in funding from those that have historically underperformed in this respect,” said Andrew Whitley on behalf of UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Abu Zayd ahead of the conference. 
“The refugees and our 30,000-strong Palestinian staff, who live in great anxiety these days about the prospect of further reductions in their modest living standards, would be enormously relieved.” UNRWA has warned salary cuts were straining relations with its employees. 
But Lombardo said that while pledges were made at the conference, it was “not enough to cover the shortfall for 2010.” 
Speaking in September on the occasion of UNRWA’s 60th anniversary, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the agency’s serious funding shortages and appealed to the international community to give generously. “The agency’s work is too important for it to suffer budget crisis after budget crisis,” he said. 
UNRWA’s funding shortfall will impact other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with Palestinians, said John Viste of ANERA, an American NGO which provides humanitarian relief aid to Palestinian refugees. “It does affect us when UNRWA services are cut back.” 
Medicine, normally provided by UNRWA, was a case in point, Viste said. “If they don’t have any medicine available, others have to fill in the gap. If they can’t provide then the Palestinians are forced to buy, which places greater strain on their resources.” 
In spite of the financial difficulties, UNRWA is pursuing internal reform that requires no additional funding, Lombardo said. “We are committed to improving the management of our services. We will do so through decentralizing decision-making to the head teachers, medical officers and relief workers that run our schools, clinics and camp officers, communicating better with our beneficiaries and eliminating bureaucracy in our processes.” 
Nevertheless, the cutbacks have raised fears that the security situation in the camps could explode. “The consequences of the financial deficit extend beyond the level of quality of services we provide,” Lombardo said. “Instability feeds on poverty and a lack of opportunities. There are very concrete steps that can be taken to push back against such scenario. 
“Providing health, education, and relief and social services means not only teaching the young, caring for the sick and fending for the poor. It means creating a platform of stability on which future political progress can rest. UNRWA is part of the solution here in Lebanon,” he said.

Lebanon closer to signing land-mine-ban pact

16 Nov

Country’s actions in sync with global trend to curb use of mines, cluster munitions
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 16, 2009

BEIRUT: Despite not signing the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Lebanon has made considerable progress on mine clearance operations in recent years and appears to be moving closer to signing the treaty, a report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has said. “Landmine Monitor Report 2009: Towards a Mine-Free World,” released Thursday at the UN, said that although Lebanon was continuing to carry out mine-clearance activities, these efforts were facing significant set-backs because of a lack of funds.

Lebanon’s actions were in sync with a global trend to curb the use and effects of mines and other unexploded remnants of war, the 1,253-page report said.

“The norm against mine use is firmly taking hold,” said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch, Landmine Monitor’s Ban Policy editor. “Antipersonnel mines have been stigmatized as an unacceptable weapon globally, including by countries still outside the Mine Ban Treaty.”

Lebanon is contaminated by land and sea mines laid by Israel during its withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 and during a 34-day war in July 2006, and to a lesser extent, by mines planted by Syria during the 1975-90 Civil War. Around 5 percent of the country’s agricultural land is affected by cluster munition contamination.

Some 80 percent of the world community has signed the Mine Ban Treaty, and though 39 countries, including Israel and the US, have yet to join, most are more or less in compliance with the treaty’s core provisions.

“Positive movement toward [Lebanon] joining the treaty in 2005 and 2006 was set back” by a war with Israel in 2006, ICBL said. Like Israel, Beirut has cited regional tensions as the reason why it can’t sign the document, although it appears to be slowly moving towards formal acceptance. “Lebanon’s signature of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions has given rise to hopes it will also join the Mine Ban Treaty,” said the report, adding Beirut “appears generally committed to mine action.”

Although there are thought to be at least 2,720 mine and explosive remnants of war survivors in Lebanon, victim assistance programs fall short of expectations, ICBL said, citing a similar global trend.

“Victim assistance has made the least progress of the major mine action sectors over the last decade, with both funding and the provision of assistance falling short of what is needed,” said Stan Brabant of non-governmental organization Handicap International, a Landmine Monitor editorial board member. “Progress in the most affected states has been variable, with some countries actively engaged, and others hardly at all. Hundreds of thousands of people need more and better assistance, and they need it now.”

In Lebanon, the report found the cost of services and transport, insufficient psychological and financial support, and lack of awareness of services available were barriers to the rehabilitation of survivors. Risk education programs also needed improvement.

The ICBL report also noted that although Lebanon was the fourth top recipient of mine action funding in 2008, receiving some $28.2 million, donor fa­tigue has since led to serious cut-backs in clearance operations.

There were 64 mine-clearing teams operating in Lebanon in the months following the war in 2006, with Hizbullah volunteers also working to clear an unknown number of cluster submunitions. Today only 18 teams remain. But with seven deminers and peacekeepers killed and 12 injured since 2002, 352 people injured or killed by cluster bombs since the cessation of hostilities in 2006, and the fact that “areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants [in the agriculture-dependent South Leba­non] … are very difficult to mark,” clearance efforts are es­pecially urgent, the report noted.

ICBL used its annual report to encourage states that have not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty to sign up, and urge signatories to make greater efforts to protect their citizens from the effects of war. “The Mine Ban Treaty has led to lives and limbs saved over the past decade,” said Jacqueline Hansen, Landmine Monitor’s Program Manager. “In the next decade more countries must meet their clearance obligations and efforts to educate affected communities about mine hazards should be sustained to ensure no more people are killed or injured by these indiscriminate weapons.”

Refugee boss urges better deal for Palestinians

13 Nov

Crippling restrictions breed ‘radicalism’ and ‘militancy’ in Lebanon’s camps
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 13, 2009
BEIRUT: The deprivation faced by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon should be eased to allow for a greater sense of security and prosperity among the extremely marginalized community, the chief of the United Nations Palestinian relief agency said Thursday. Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said the extreme poverty and desperation endured by Palestinian refugees pushed disaffected youth into the clutches of militancy.

While Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Syria are seen as “enjoying the broadest spectrum of freedoms,” those in Lebanon face considerably more difficulties, she said.

“Here, the currents of vulnerability are very much in evidence,” said AbuZayd.

There are 422,188 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as well as an unknown number of non-registered Palestinians who fall outside of the scope of UNRWA. An additional 40,000 Palestinians reside in 42 so-called “gatherings,” or ghettoized neighborhoods consisting of 25 or more Palestinian houses.

The memory of the role Palestinians played in Lebanon’s devastating 1975-90 Civil War, the fragility of Lebanon’s sectarian and political system, the susceptibility of the country’s 12 refugee camps to foreign actors, and factional splits within the camps only exacerbated divisions between the Lebanese and Palestinians, and the Palestinians themselves, AbuZayd argued.

“In the years since the early 1990s, there has been a progressive isolation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, both in a physical sense of limiting their presence to the camps, and in terms of the constrictions and scope of economic and civil rights they enjoy,” she said.

Unlike their compatriots in Jordan, Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy legal status and have little access to medical, education and social services outside the provisions of UNWRA. The refugees are subject to severe restrictions of movement, forbidden from owning or repairing property and are barred from all but the most menial professions. An unknown number of Palestinians without formal identification are even more vulnerable to chronic poverty.

But AbuZayd said there were clear advantages to granting the Palestinian refugees greater rights.

“Marginalization and entrenched poverty have never served the ends of security and stability,” she said. “Restrictions breed radicalism and create an atmosphere in which disaffected youth become receptive to the call of militancy and violence.”

Boosting economic activity, raising living standards and expanding the currently limited choices afforded to Palestinians “are goals whose benefits will expand beyond the camps boundaries,” AbuZayd argued.

The existence of Palestinian and other refugees also lays a burden of duty upon the international community to uphold basic human rights during periods of asylum, she said.

So long as refugees are unable to return to their homes, the global community and host countries are “duty bound” to ensure the displaced enjoy their human rights and have access to social services and other provisions, said AbuZayd.

Her remarks came weeks before she is due to step down from her position, held since June 2005. A US national, AbuZayd has 28 years of professional experience in refugee work and previously served as an assistant secretary general of the UN and deputy commissioner-general of UNRWA.