An unusual meeting with the minister about an unusual memorandum
from Bernard - 01.12.2005 01:36
An appointment with the minister – an unusual meeting about an unusual memorandum
We met at 10pm in the Southern Suburb not at the Sahah restaurant of the religious scholar Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah offthe airport road, as I thought, but rather at a café close to the airport bridge. The minister had been very friendly on the phone and he had agreed to the meeting on the spot. “Come to the café and we will have a talk.” He did not object that a Palestinian friend and lawyer would come with me.
I learned from a friend, a German journalist, that the Minister who ran two ministries – Agriculture and Labour – Trad Hamadeh was easily accessible. It was the 27th of June and the media had finally begun to pick up on the issue of the Palestinian labour in Lebanon. My Palestinian friend and I went to a shabby café in the small amusement park some hundred meters away from the Shatila Refugee camp. We found a group of eight men sitting around, smokingwater pipes and sipping glasses of tea. Some of them had the Hizballah stubbly beards; but others could spend their time in Hamra without being identified as sympathizers or members of the Party of God.
I introduced myself, as a journalist and NGO activist mostly working in the Palestinian sector. The minister ordered tea for us; the regulars had tea in pots but we got the yellow Lipton tea bags. Trad Hamadeh explained his unusual decision, the memorandum – muzakira – 67/1 of 7th of June 2005.
“It is a memorandum (muzakira), not a law or decree,” he explained. “It is also not an initiative concerning only Palestinians, but it has to do with the general situation foreign workers.” He says– while interspersing quotes from religious texts and the Quran with some socialist undertones – “the Palestinian should live decently and work decently, it is a humanitarian issue. They are in Lebanon for over 50 years and cannot work legally in most trades. After taking over the ministry I asked experts to look into the files of Palestinian labor. And we found a loophole, that the minister can exempt groups from specific rulings by a memorandum.” The issue could not be a decree or law, since such a legislative act would require that the cabinet agrees. This also explains the exclusion of the other seventeen trades which remain prohibited for Palestinians. The execution of these professions requires membership to a syndicate or union. According to Lebanese rulings, non-nationals are not allowed membership in such organizations, therefore Palestinians remain excluded. To change this would require legislation beyond the powers of Minister Trad Hamadeh. For the government of Premier Najib Mikati , with its two-month shelf life and the political situation of Lebanon made such a decision not feasible. “We also organized the Syrian workers by introducing a compulsory registration.” Registration and a work permit need to be aquired for Palestinians and Syrians before they can be e,ployed. This is all part of the minister’s reform efforts during his short period of being a minister.
Hamadeh is a particular minister. He is the first minister on a Hizballah ticket in a Lebanese cabinet. As a journalist, political commentator, and university professor of philosophy he is not a party member, but a sympathizer.. Formerly he was Lebanese partisan of Palestinian Fatah movement from the early 1970s until the late 1980s, in 1984 he fled with his family to Paris. He remained there for 10 years, completing a doctorate in philosophy from the Sorbonne and working as a journalist. His nomination to the cabinet post was interpreted as allowing communication between the Hizballah and critical political actors, like the US. The U.S. Ambassador Jeffery Feltman may have difficulty meeting with the leadership of an organization Washington has branded international terrorists - and Hassan Nasrallah may not want to be seen meeting with Feltman - but meetings between Feltman and Hamadeh are another matter.
In an interview on 18.5.05 with the Daily Star after he took office in April 2005 , Hamadeh already mentioned that the Syrian guest workers and Palestinians labor was on his agenda. After the publication of the memorandum the decision has not met major opposition among Lebanese politicians. On 29th of June, 22 days after the memorandum was signed, the public responses began to surface, Edmond Saab from an-Nahar tried to link the issue of labor rights with long term goal of granting Palestinians citizenship in al-Jazira’s “Wara al-Khabar”. It was the day of the press conference when Hamadeh announced the change in the regulations. But such reactions seem to be the minority. Even MP Ne’matallah Abi Nasr, known for his polemics against the Palestinians in Lebanon, was more moderate then Saab. He did not agree to the form, but approved the content of the memorandum. He was interviewed in the LBC talk show Naharkum Said. The MP and new minister of Industry Pierre Jemayel also did not object, but was in favor of improving the condition for Palestinians in Lebanon. “This is would guarantee their return”, he said.
The chief editor of As-Safir Joseph Samaha in a commentary reminded his readers that the ministers who were previously in charge of the Ministry of labor, where members of the Baath party and SNNP party which are close to Syria. He argued that not only did their political ideology not conform with the legal situation in Lebanon, but also that Palestinians in Syria have the same rights and duties on the labor markets as their Syrian brothers.
During our meeting Hamadeh mentioned that a minister could reverse the status of Palestinian labor, but now with the return of Hamadeh as minister of Labor in the Cabinet of the new Prime Minister Fouad Sinoura this does not to be likely. Now, as my Palestinian friend accompanying me during the meeting with Trad Hamadeh said, “We should monitor the issuing of the work permission for Palestinians. Legislation, application of the law and reality often differ in Lebanon. The issue of Palestinian unions and syndicates should be tackled as well by a law.” Such a legislation –currently already applied in Syria – would seem to be unusual activism for Lebanon, but why not learn from Syria?