Lebanon’s Palestinian and Passing on Property: Inheriting Injustice

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In Shatila camp, Beirut. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)
By: Qassem Qassem | Published Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lebanese law allows all foreigners to own property and assets in Lebanon. But if you are a Palestinian refugee, you need to look for clever ways to keep the property of your parents.

Mazen (not his real name) was startled when his mother cried out “Wake up, there’s something we need to talk about,” one early morning in Bourj al-Barajneh, South of Beirut. She usually wakes her 29-year-old son with coffee, but today was different. It was obvious his mother was very worried.

When the family sat in the salon, everyone knew there was something serious they needed to talk about.

“Son, no one knows when they will die, only God does,” said his mother, in her sixties.

What a way to start a conversation he thought to himself; it felt like he had been struck by lightning. Mazen expected that his mother was about to tell him a relative had died.

“Son, I don’t know when my time will be done on this earth,” the mother continued. “Since you’re Palestinian, you and your brother can’t inherit this house. Let’s think together, we need someone trustworthy to register the house in their name so he can legally inherit it after I pass away. It has to be someone we are sure would do the right thing and would give you and your brother your rights.”

They had had this conversation many times before, but it had never reached this level of seriousness.

After making a list of possible “inheritors” for their home, the Lebanese mother and her Palestinian son started evaluating the possible candidates. They had to meet certain standards – they needed to be honest and trustworthy, and to have supported the family in times of need.

The list gradually narrowed as they crossed family members off the list due to past incidents. They began sifting through the neighbors and eventually settled on a young man, whom they trusted as though he were party of the family.

“He is a religious God-fearing man,” Mazen’s mother said after they had made their decision.

She then called her other son who lives in the United Arab Emirates and urged him to come back to Lebanon as soon as possible “so we can all go to the public notary and register the house in the neighbor’s name.”

Mazen then called their lawyer, a family friend, and asked him about the measures they had to take to ensure that not even the neighbor could “embezzle the house from the kids.”

The inheritance problems faced by the family in this story are compounded by the fact that Lebanese women can not pass their nationality on to their children, making it even harder for her Palestinian sons to inherit the home legally.

According to the lawyer, the legal solution to prevent the neighbor from appropriating the house is to forbid him from selling or taking any decision in regards to the house unless it is done in the presence and with the signatures of both brothers.

The lawyer also said that neither of the brothers could sell the house unless the other was present at the time of sale.

The legal maneuvering this family has had to endure is only one example of what hundreds of Palestinian families in Lebanon have to go through, because they are forbidden from owning or inheriting property and assets in Lebanon.

The law of foreign ownership, No.11614, allows all foreigners the right to own property in Lebanon. But this law changed on 20 March 2001, when the government of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri introduced an amendment (No. 296) that prevented all Palestinians from registering their assets with governmental departments out of fear they would be accorded citizenship.

According to Palestinian researcher Suheil al-Natour, “The implementation of that amendment prevented all Palestinians, even those with other nationalities, from registering their properties in their names.”

“But after the embassies of those Palestinians with dual nationality exerted pressure on the Lebanese government and criticized the discrimination their citizens were being subjected to, Fouad Siniora’s government amended the bill, allowing Palestinians who hold other nationalities to register properties in their names.”

In Bourj al-Barajneh camp, residents who faced similar problems recall the story of Abu Youssef, highlighting the injustices Palestinians suffer under Lebanese laws.

Abu Youssef wanted to register an apartment he had bought in Ghazieh, south Lebanon, in his brother’s name. His brother had been to able to emigrate to Denmark, where he was granted citizenship.

But his plan failed. Between 2001 and 2005, the Lebanese government prevented Palestinian refugees from registering assets and properties in their names, even if they had procured another citizenship.

The only solution Abu Youssef had at the time was to register the apartment in the name of his domestic worker.

In an interview Abu Youssef laughed at his predicament, saying, “we were going out of our way to satisfy her, in order for her not to have a change of heart and take the house.”

He insisted that their helper was “the only option because we don’t have any Lebanese relatives.”

Palestinian activists in Lebanon have launched a campaign called the “Right of Ownership” encompassing 12 Palestinian organizations, to demand that Palestinian refugees be allowed to own properties in Lebanon. Those involved have prepared a proposal to amend the unjust 2001 law.

The proposal has been sent to representatives of Lebanese political parties who will later meet with MPs to present the draft to the Parliament.

Mazen and his mother must now decide whether to pin their hopes on their friend or Lebanon’s parliament.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Source and more at the Al Akhbar English.

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