Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 11:55 GMT

Assessment for Palestinians in Lebanon

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Palestinians in Lebanon, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 14 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Lebanon Facts
Area:    10,400 sq. km.
Capital:    Beirut
Total Population:    3,506,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

It is difficult to be positive in assessing the future condition of Palestinians in Lebanon. While Maronites, Sunnis, and Shi'a of Lebanese descent attempt to find an equitable political solution within the country, the Palestinians have been largely marginalized, and there is no sign of the Lebanese government changing its policies. The eventual creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza may give Palestinians in Lebanon a homeland, but with recent violence stalling this scenario and the economic viability of such an entity in question, the Palestinians may have to wait indefinitely for their condition to improve.

Analytic Summary

Today's Palestinians are descendants from the earliest recorded inhabitants of the Levant. These inhabitants later intermarried with various populations, including Philistines, Jews and Arabs, that controlled the area. Due to the formation of independent Jordanian and Israeli states, the area known as Palestine never became a state itself. As a result of the wars of 1948 and 1967 (fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors), most Palestinians were forced to abandon their homes and now live under Israeli occupation or throughout the Arab world as functional or actual refugees. Palestinians in Lebanon constitute approximately one-tenth of the population, and are distinct religiously from Lebanon's Maronite advantaged minority (BELIEF = 3; LANG = 0). While political and social conditions in Lebanon following its civil war have improved for most groups since the 1990s, this has had little impact on the situation of Palestinians living in Lebanon. Most Palestinians in Lebanon are refugees who live in overpopulated camps (some in existence for over 50 years) that have suffered repeated damage as a result of fighting in the region (GROUPCON = 1; CONCENX8 = 3), whether during the Civil War (1975-1990) or Israeli occupation and cross-border raids against terrorists (1982-2003). As a result of the ongoing Intifada since 2000, the living conditions in the camps has deteriorated even more (DMSICK01-03=3).

Adding to the plight of Palestinians are Lebanon's immigration policies, which classify all Palestinians as foreigners and not citizens, excluding them from most political rights, such as participating in national elections (POLDIS01-03 = 4). Most Palestinian refugees are unable to obtain citizenship in Lebanon. The Lebanese Government does not provide health services to Palestinian refugees, who rely on the UNRWA and UNRWA-contracted hospitals (DMSICK99-00 = 2). The economic plight of the Palestinians in Lebanon is dismal, and is generally worse than those Palestinians in Jordan and the territories, since they are unwelcome by their host country. For example, in 2001 the Lebanese Parliament enacted a law that prohibited Palestinian refugees from owning property in the country. Under the new legislation, Palestinians may not purchase property and those who already own property will not be allowed to pass it on to their children. In addition to not being able to buy property, Palestinians are forced to reside in the designated refugee camps (POLIC201-03 = 2). Although the Lebanese government has abolished the law that denies work permits to foreigners, Palestinian refugees are prohibited by law from working in 72 professions. In the available job market, Palestinians are largely unable to find stable jobs or work unskilled occupations because they are discriminated against in the economic sector (ECDIS01-03 = 4). In recent years, the income level of Palestinians continued to decline.

With few economic resources and conventional political outlets at their disposal, Palestinians in Lebanon have generally supported militant organizations, although many of the grievances of these groups (e.g., Fatah, DFLP) are directed toward Israel and not Lebanon. From 2001 to 2003, there was also fighting between rival factions within the camps, adding to the turmoil the refugees already face. From 2001 to 2003 most of the intra-communal fighting was between Fatah and Usbat Al Asnar (also known as the Partisan League and has possible ties to Al-Qaeda). According to the U.S. Department of State, an estimated 17 Palestinian factions operated in Lebanon. There were also "popular committees" that met regularly with UNRWA and visitors, generally organized around leaders in the camps. Unrest in the refugee camps had at times led to crackdowns by the Southern Lebanese Army (SLA, a militia comprised of Maronites, Druze, Sunni and Shi'a and traditionally allied with Israel) and arrests of Palestinians (REP0199-01 = 3), (note: it is important to differentiate the power held by the SLA in southern Lebanon and the central government in Beirut opposed to the SLA). Thus while protests against Israel were commonplace in these camps, these rallies of 1999 and 2000 also involved anti-SLA sentiments (PROT99-00 = 3; REB99-00 = 0), thereby nominally directed at local Lebanese residents. In 2002, at least 20 demonstrations and sit-ins took place in support of the Palestinian Intifada, only one of which had any reported limited violence by Lebanese police (PROT02 = 3, REP1802 = 1). A petition campaign in 2003 to amend the law that forbids Palestinian refugees from owning property in Lebanon collected thousands of signatures (PROT03 = 1).

After decades of chaos the first signs of hope are now visible in Lebanon. Parliamentary elections were held in 1992, 1996, and 2000. Most of the warring factions were satisfied with the reforms to the electoral system and took part. Several militias have disbanded and/or disarmed. The relationships between the many diverse religious and ethnic groups remain tense, but for the first time in decades, this tension does not constitute the greatest threat to Lebanese stability. The greatest threat to Lebanon's stability is the ongoing Israeli-Syrian conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the first case, as long at Israel and Syria remain in an official state of war, Lebanon's strategic value will remain quite high. Israel and Syria have supported one group or another since the civil war in 1976 in an attempt to control Lebanon and with it a territorial corridor to their enemy in case of invasion. While Israel has pulled out militarily from Lebanon and Syria initiated its withdrawal in 2005, it is unclear how this will affect Lebanese politics in the future, especially in regards to the Palestinian population.

List of Ethnic Parties and Militias in Lebanon


Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)


National Liberal Party

Phalangist Party

Tiger Militia

Lebanese Forces (LF)

Kornet Shehwan Gathering

National Bloc

Free National Current (FNC) (Al-Tayyar al-Watani al-Hurr)

Waad Party

Maronite League

World Maronite Unions

American Maronite Union

World Lebanese Organization


PLO / Fatah: (formerly led by Yasser Arafat until his death in 2004)

Progressive Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command

(PFLP-GC): Headed by Ahmad Jibril. Headquartered in Damascus but has

bases within Lebanon

Fatah Revolutionary Council (FRC): Headed by Abu Nidal

Fatah-Intifada: Pro-Syrian group headed by Colonel Abu Moussa

Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP): pro-Syrian

group, opposed to the PLO

Usbat al-Ansar (League of Followers/Partisan League): An armed gang that aims to incite violence among Muslims within Lebanon, headed by Abu Mahjan (AFP,

February 15)

Al-Nur group (since 1994) a split off faction from Usbat al-Ansar, led surrently by Abdallah al-Shuraydi, son of founder Hisham al-Shuraydi.

Palestinian Armed Struggle (since 1969; linked to former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, and is responsible for security inside the Lebanese camps)


Amal (supported by Syria)

Hizbollah (Party of God) (supported by Iran)

Higher Islamic Shi'a Council (in Lebanon since 1969) is a conventional lobbying force for the Shi'a community.

Muslims Without Borders is a nonviolent group since 2003. Its mission is to promote solidarity and cooperation between the Islamic parties, movements, and organizations in Lebanon.


Mouabioun Militia

al-Ahbash: A non-violent, pro-Syrian, ultra religious, Sunni Islamic,

philanthropic organization (also known as the Islamic Charitable

Projects Association)

Jama al-Islamiya: A Sunni Islamic organization

People's Lebanese Congress: A Sunni opposition group, hostile to Syria's

military presence in Lebanon

Lebanese Movement for Islamic Unity (LMIU): A fundamentalist Islamist

movement with close ties to both Syria and Iran, headed by Sheikh Saeed

Shaabane (until June 1998)

There seems to be no official Sunni party but all of its

delegates in Parliament seem to act together.

Islamic Unification Movement (MUI)

Muslims Without Borders is a nonviolent group since 2003. Its mission is to promote solidarity and cooperation between the Islamic parties, movements, and organizations in Lebanon.

Redemption of Islam (also known as Redemption and Dawn of Islam) is militant group active within and outside of Lebanon.

Al-Dinniyeh is a militant organization around since 1995. It is union between a fundamentalist group in the town of Al-Qar'un and a militant group based in Al- Dinniyeh in Lebanon. It is headed by Bassam Kanj.

Hizb al-Tahrir ([Islamic] Liberation Party) is a Sunni Islamist group around since 1953. It is both militant and conventional.


Southern Lebanese Army (SLA): A 3,000 man force in southern Lebanon

allied with Israel. The force is made up of local residents including

Christians, Sunni and Shi'a Moslems, and Druze.


Amnesty International. 2002 Human Rights Report. Date accessed: 2/24/2004.

Brand, Laurie A. Palestinians in the Arab World, New York, Columbia

University Press, 1988

Congressional Quarterly Inc, 1990, "The Middle East Seventh Edition"

Congressional Quarterly, Washington D.C.

Degenhardt, Henry W. (ed), 1987, Revolutionary and Dissident Movements:

An International Guide, A Keesing's Reference Publication, (London: Longman)

Hark, Judith, "Change and Continuity Among the Lebanese Druze Community:

The Civil Administration of the Mountains, 1983-1990" Middle Eastern

Studies, Vol 22, No 3 (July 1993), Frank Cass, London.

Hark, Judith, "Perceptions of Community and State Among Lebanon's Druze

Youth" Middle East Journal Vol 47, No 1 (Winter 1993), Middle East


Hooglund, Eric. (ed), Middle East Journal, "1990 - 1993, Chronologies of

Middle Eastern Events."

Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Reports 1993: Events of

1992, 1993, (New York: Human Rights Watch-Africa Watch, Americas Watch,

Asia Watch, Helsinki Watch, Middle East Watch, and Fund for Free Expression)

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, 1990-1993, Keesing Record of World

Events: Record of National and International Current Affairs with

Continually Updated Indexes, Keesing's Publication, (London: Longman

Group Ltd.)

Lexis/Nexis: Reuters, Middle East Intelligent Bulletin, BBC Monitoring International Reports, Xinhua General News Service, Agence France Presse, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and others 9/1/93 to 2003.

McDowall, David, Lebanon: A Conflict of Minorities, London, Minority

Rights Group Report Number 61.

Norton, Augustas. 1987. Amal and the Shi'a: Struggle for the Soul of

Lebanon, University of Texas Press, Austin.

U.S. Department of State Human Rights Reports, 2001-2003.

Search Refworld