Women and Peace Movements in Israel

I do not identify with feminism because I believe that gender equality falls under the umbrella of human rights which itself broadly explains equality between men and women as a social status. It is a method of discourse that acts as a solution to inequality and does not blame a specific gender but rather enables a platform for both men and women to work together to challenge socially constructed ideologies and ultimately enhance a pluralistic and peaceful society. While it is clear that global data shows physical violence and discrimination against women far outweighs that of men, human rights aims to educate and challenge the causal roots of gender inequality, which I believe can be caused by the ideology of masculinity that is itself a type of socially-inflicted psychological abuse used as a tool to pressure, undermine and manipulate men who then respond and react to that pressure. This can either be by tolerating or conforming to hurting themselves and others, which then leads to a chain reaction that permeates throughout the culture of a society and effects women, children and the next generation. Read More

A Brief Political History of Modern Syria

The 1967 Arab-Israel war transformed the landscape of the Middle East, where in only six days the failure of the Arab offensive enabled Israel to capture the Golan Heights. This has become strategically beneficial since the name itself exemplifies the elevation, but rebel groups following the Syrian civil war have captured areas near the buffer zone that warns of a threat of escalating violence, particularly with the proxy war with Iran ever looming in the shadows.

In order to really understand the dynamics of the region and ultimately the reason for the civil war in Syria, it is especially important having a clear understanding of its recent past. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire the immense global changes and foreign intervention in the region stunted the post-colonial identity of those indigenous to the regions. Syria, indeed most of the Near Eastern region, has a unique religious history that shaped and influenced the structure as has Iran, Lebanon and Iraq since many heterodox and syncretistic religions were located in these areas including Druze, Ahl-e Haqq, Yezidi and Alawi. For centuries, the Ottomans had poor relations with these Shi’i sects and both met with antagonism and ultimately violence, most notable with the conflict between the empire and the Safavid’s. Heterodox groups were never granted the status of millet that consequently left them unprotected and were often required to pay high taxes. Long experiencing persecution for their beliefs, they retreated to the region that isolated them into an impoverished environment, found themselves tasting relative freedom and independence for the first time. Read More

Is It Possible To Be Pro-Palestinian Without Being Anti-Israel?

There is a great deal anti-Semitism around, even today. A great deal. A quick peruse through social media and you’ll find scores of people posting theories and postulates that iterates previous systemic racism against the Jewish community (i.e. taking over the world), some doing it so well that you have to read between the lines to realise the embedded racism that methodically attempts to generate fear and hatred (‘we give to them and we care for them, but what do they do for us?’). It is no wonder Benjamin Netanyahu’ diplomatic antagonism against the world is so believable and indeed endorsed by the Likud Party that it has penetrated deep into the executive and legislative divisions within Israel. Read More

Deterrence of Punishment Against Palestinian Children

The preamble to the Convention on the Rights of a Child states: “Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” To include the rights of children as members of this human family and as having equal and inalienable rights is a topic of more complexity than what one would assume, considering questions such as consent vis-à-vis cognitive capacity and whether children are capable of making or even understanding decisions and choice. But human rights are not merely about our individual rights and entitlements, on the contrary it also represents our obligations toward those who may not be capable of protecting or understanding their own rights, to safeguard and protect equality by refraining from actions that could undermine the indivisibility of our moral duty to humanity. It is intriguing that the Convention on the Rights of the Child – whilst signed by the United States – remains unratified alongside countries such as Somalia and South Sudan. Notwithstanding the ridiculous political climate with Donald Trump ready to be inaugurated as the new president, the USA has – among a plethora of reasons for the failure to ratify – over 20% of children living below the poverty line, though it spent a mammoth $598.5 billion just on military expenditure in the last year alone. It is not the only nation-state that emphasizes security above the lives of children. In 2012, the Human Rights Council brought forth a statement on behalf of Defence for Children International (DCI) that Israeli patrol boats were stripping, blindfolding and tying children who were fishing along the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza and violently interrogating them in violation of its international legal obligations. Yet, it was only several weeks ago that reports confirmed Israeli naval forces confiscated several fishing boats and arrested fisherman including a child.[1] While it is clear that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has perpetrated the heightened level of security particularly following events such as the Ma’a lot and Mercaz HaRav massacres that involved the deaths of children, justifications that purport such extreme behavior that betrays the dignity of Palestinian children and international law itself is simply unfounded. The question raised here is how can Israel maintain its level of security without violating the Convention of the Rights of a Child?[2]

Following the Six-Day War[3] in 1967, Israel captured what is referred to as the ‘occupied territories’ of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip when war with its Arab neighbors Egypt, Syria and Jordan broke out. While relations with Egypt and Jordan have to a degree since normalised, territorial disputes particularly relating to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights remain. The Oslo Accords – agreements between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – became an attempt to develop negotiations that would establish peace and an opportunity for Palestinian self-determination, drawing several border areas known as A, B and C with PNA authority over A and B with cities such as Bethlehem, Jericho and a majority of Hebron; the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), however, continue to conducts unauthorized entry into the regions.[4] Area C remains in control by Israel and the allusion of ‘occupied’ refers to United Nation resolutions[5] regarding both settlement policies but also the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. It is clear that there exists gross discrimination against the Palestinian population residing in the West Bank – and why references to the apartheid are made – since the same geographical area contains two separate legal systems, namely the military legal system administered by the army against the entire Palestinian inhabitants whilst the Jewish settler population – now at almost half a million – living within the same jurisdiction are subject to Israeli law, denoting clear segregation and discrimination and a composed flagrance to international law. The Accords intended that Area C will eventually be transferred to Palestinian authority and with the rise of Jewish settlements and the restrictions permitting Palestinian construction of homes, it is clear that the intention is otherwise with ludicrous propositions that Israel is somehow immune to international law since the world is “dedicated to destroying Israel”[6] and therefore anti-Semitic in addition to the right for Israelis to settle in Judea and Samaria through historical and biblical romanticizing that nevertheless strengthens ideological nationalism. Not only are there clear, discriminating restrictions but martial law prohibits freedom of expression and association through the Israeli Defense Force’ Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions[7] that forbids any gathering in a public space, holding or displaying political symbols and showing support to what is deemed a hostile organization, providing the authorization for military personnel to exercise powers as vested in the order.

When I was in Eilat walking one warm evening along the coast, I saw a child probably about four or five years old holding a toy gun. As one who lives in a country where guns are illegal,[8] when I think of a child holding such a ludicrous toy, I visualise the toy being carelessly suspended and maybe making noises like ‘pow pow’ perhaps mimicking a movie or show on television. This child, however, held the gun with his elbows up and one eye closed as though he were a sniper or holding an AK51 and made spraying bullet sounds; to see a small child do that was frightfully shocking, I can assure you. He was symbolically a child soldier. It would be astounding to know that child recruitment during armed conflict is not uncommon in both Israel and Palestine and though rightly prohibited by international law, through a scarcity of documentary evidence it has been noted that Israel recruit Palestinian children to obtain information, particularly following their arrest and interrogation.[9] The level of child fatalities in Palestine is alarming, whereby a majority of these deaths are caused particularly by military offensives in Gaza. Statistics show that since 2000, a total of 1417 Palestinian children have died as a result of air and ground attacks, clashes and random gunfire among others.[10] These attacks can also be sporadic. On the 25th November, Israel shot and killed sixteen-year-old Mohammad Zidan for allegedly attempting to stab a group of Israeli security officers, a narrative so unbelievable that consideration of Israel having the worlds most ‘moral army’ is dubious to say the least, perhaps such rhetoric the very ideological fibre used to justify the brutality. Notwithstanding the death toll, the rate of children who have been detained, arrested or interrogated is far worse with the situation in East Jerusalem more complex to say the least. A report in 2011[11] showed that whilst reforms for Law 5731-1971 (‘Youth Law’) were comprehensively adopted to “greatly improve the treatment of minors in criminal proceedings,”[12] Israeli police consistently violate the provisions of the reforms. “In East Jerusalem, 860 Palestinian children were arrested, including 136 between 7 and 11 years of age, under the age of criminal responsibility.”[13] Recently enacted Order Number 1745 by the Israeli Armed Forces purports documentation and language used during the interrogation process of a minor suspected of committing an offence must be done in the language understandable to the minor and recorded with audiovisual documentation. However, 136d(b)6 states, “This article does not apply to minors suspected of committing security offenses,”[14] which clearly makes the rationale of the directive null and void, undermining the overall attempt to adhere to international norms of protecting minors.

Children are subject to martial law if they throw a stone. The Knesset had recently passed legislation that amended the Penal Code to increase the sentence of stone throwing with a minimum imprisonment of three years, claiming a ‘rock’ as a harmful tool.[15] Without any shame, the Knesset had the audacity to state in its press release on the subject of this legal change that “[i]f a child is convicted of a security crime or of rock-throwing, his parents will not receive NII benefits while he is serving his sentence,”[16] with Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky purporting that throwing a rock is an attempt to murder. Whilst it is clear that the endeavour is to use harsh force as a deterrent and perhaps targeting children to generate a consciousness of the threat of punishment for misbehaviour, discouraging terrorism through acts of terror only breeds further hostilities, which is clearly shown by the statistics that prove an increasing number of violence in the occupied territories. This would be difficult for a highly militarised nation to understand, particularly with Netanyahu in a leadership role who consistently utilises historical narratives and other forms of right-wing ideological validations in similar vein to revisionist Zionism that excuse breaches of human rights and humanitarian laws; any attempt to challenge this hardline approach falls on deaf ears since they have the ideological reason to believe otherwise. This extreme Jewish nationalism is the greatest barrier for peace with the Palestinians, clearly shown by the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin murdered by ultra-Orthodox Jew Yigal Amir. The U.N Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the occupied Palestinian territory reported on ‘price-tag’ strategies of Israeli settlers in certain regions, attacks carried out against Palestinians by Israeli satellite settlements built without official authorization by the government and usually on Palestinian-owned land as a way of deterring authorities from removing them.[17] Thousands of settler attacks have occurred and there is no discrimination against Palestinian children during the violence. In addition, retaliation against Palestinian families who have been accused in some way of attacking Israelis have their homes demolished by authorities as yet another excessive deterrence method, clear by the fact that neighbours are also punished to generate a sense of communal avoidance of hostilities.[18]

The question thus raised is whether these extreme actions have or will have in the long run any influence to reduce the rate of Palestinian terrorism in Israel? The broad definition of terrorism, while undefined in international law with the intent that in doing so one can isolate and address specific or multiple factors causal to an incident, nevertheless is generally considered an “[a]ct intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act,”[19] taking into consideration that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. To understand the complexity of terrorism or when discussing the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, I often consider the following problem:

If one is incapable of providing formal proofs concerning a decision often moral in nature, what is the nature of their certainty and to what degree can one achieve this certainty in order to sufficiently justify the conviction?

It has somewhat become a formula of mine when I subjectively reach a point that I can no longer trespass without the content becoming dubious, requiring relativistic flexibility in an attempt to traverse their frame of mind, cultural position, historical and environmental influences etc &c., to reach an appreciation of the conviction that may or may not make much sense otherwise. This includes an understanding of the Israeli psyche and the rationalization behind decisions.

It is clear that the situation is having a devastating impact on Palestinian children, the lifelong effects from consistent intimidation and harassment in an environment plagued by the fear of continuous violence or the threat of violence, poverty, restrictions to movement and employment opportunities and therefore a sense of hopelessness for a better future cannot – according to the logic of the IDF – break their will for self-determination to form what could be considered an enslaved people – but rather develop the very core issue; it only creates the need to fight back. In Australia, for instance, the impact of the Stolen Generation[20] on indigenous communities resulted in widespread substance abuse, poverty that hinders achievement in education, and neglect that ultimately fosters the failure to attain equal opportunity. The experience of being stripped, blindfolded and detained without reason or an offence not only violates the inherent dignity of the child due to the emotional and physical harm, but the neurological caused by the stress, fear whereby brain development due to their response to such a threat is impaired can cause lifelong interpersonal difficulties, delays and injury to emotional and interpersonal wellbeing such as aggression and anger.

“Children living under occupation have been found to experience significantly more traumatic events than Palestinian citizens of Israel, and report higher levels of post-traumatic symptoms, more pessimistic future orientation, and less favorable attitudes toward peace negotiations… living in proximity to the Separation Wall has led to feelings of sadness and fear amongst women, to a lack of motivation to perform daily activities among men, and is associated with feelings of loneliness and physical ailments. Children have shown increased aggressiveness, and have developed a fear of the night.”[21]

Children do have dignity and have a right to be respected for this indivisible, inherent right that is often overlooked. In the case of domestic violence, for instance, it is assumed that by only supporting the mother during the traumatic experience and helping her recover, she would in turn be capable of supporting her children and whilst this may perhaps be true, during the period of her trauma [where she becomes incapable] the stress this may have on the child is often overlooked. That is, to have potentially witnessed violence against the mother and to witness their mother distressed and incapable of emotionally supporting them consequently isolates and impacts on the development of the child; even when the mother recovers, a continuation of neglecting any dialogue of the incident as a way of overcoming it could potentially and perhaps even permanently leave the child emotionally displaced and confused. The emotional unavailability of parents living under Israeli occupation and the lack of communal, cultural and social inclusiveness encouraged by a hope for a better future dismantles their capacity to develop a healthy, moral construction and development of their own identity and self that the damage could easily be irreversible. It is not just their own physical experience with trauma, the effects just as damaging when witnessing. “[I]t it possible that the symbolic or “imprinting” effects of trauma (e.g., witnessing violence being inflicted on family members) is more traumatic to children than suffering injuries themselves.”[22]

While the concluding observations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child express dismay at the lack of willingness that Israel displays vis-à-vis the implementation of the convention,[23] it is clear that from the report – submitted by Israel seven years after its requested due date – that an exploration of different strategies to encourage and enforce the application of international human rights and humanitarian treaties is required. In Australia, for instance, Victoria has implemented a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 along with the ACT’ Human Rights Act 2004 as a stepping stone toward the implementation of human rights at federal level. The practice by local municipals to adopt international human rights treaties was approached by the Ashdod City Council in 1997, affirming that it will adhere to and respect the principles as set out by the Convention of the Rights of the Child. If more continue, it could influence a voice that will pressure that hardliners to approach the Palestinian question with more compassion particularly if a future between both is imminent. As a way of facilitating and strengthening a commitment toward measures that seek to prevent and protect children from the damaging effects of living under occupation, implementing compliance to international law by councils could strategically influence national adoption of human rights principles. The voice of the Israeli population who are in support of peaceful relations with the Palestinians could also become the impetus to build a structure of change. Other measures, including rehabilitation, healing through education and other approaches that will strengthen the inherent dignity of Palestinian children is absolute. It is to remember that violence, aggression or fear will not resolve the loom of terrorism, on the contrary it will only breed it.

There is never a justification for violence against children.

[1] http://imemc.org/article/israeli-naval-forces-continue-to-chase-palestinian-fishermen-in-gaza-sea-6-fishermen-including-child-arrested-and-2-fishing-boats-confiscated/
[2] Article 44 (2) of the Convention
[3] The 1967 war took place between 5-10 of June in 1967 between Israel and its surrounding Arab neighbours Egypt, Syria, and Jordan with casualties and crippling losses on the Arab side. Whilst the victory confirmed the state of Israeli military power in the Middle East, it also resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
[4] See Operation Defence Shield in the introduction to Norman G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, 2003
[5] Resolutions 465 and 446
[6] Thomas G. Mitchell, Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution, McFarland (2013) 40
[7] Israel Defense Forces, Order No. 101 Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions 
[8] Simon Chapman, Over Our Dead Bodies: Port Arthur and Australia’s Fight for Gun Control, Sydney University Press, 2013
[9] Also see Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict (A/70/836–S/2016/360) 
[10] http://www.dci-palestine.org/child_fatalities_according_to_circumstances_of_death
[12] Second Periodic Report Concerning the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of a Child (2010) 14
[13] https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/countries-caac/occupied-palestinian-territory-and-israel/
[14] http://www.militarycourtwatch.org/files/server/Military%20Order%201745_ENG%20(2)(1).pdf
[15] https://www.knesset.gov.il/spokesman/eng/PR_eng.asp?PRID=11736
[16] Ibid
[17] http://www.ochaopt.org/theme/casualties
[18] See (A/69/926-S/2015/409)
[19] Art 2, par 1.(b) Convention on the Suppression of Financing Terrorism
[20] Learn more about the Stolen Generation in ‘Quarterly Essay 1: In Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Right’ by Robert Manne
[21] Bruno Charbonneau, Genevieve Parent, Peacebuilding, Memory and Reconciliation: Bridging Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches, Routledge (2013) 150
[22] Stanley Krippner, Teresa M. McIntyre, The Psychological Impact of War Trauma on Civilians: An International Perspective, Greenwood Publishing Group (2003) 288
[23] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding Observations: Israel, 9 October 2002, CRC/C/15/Add.195, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3df587210.html %5Baccessed 18 December 2016]

Islamic Mysticism in the Near Eastern Region

The syncrestic religious groups in the Near East have adopted oral methods of transmission and maintain a particular level of secrecy due to the esoteric content of their faith and the consequent risk of persecution. Most members of the syncretistic religions are often left uninformed about their beliefs, yet they distinctly class themselves as religious adherents to Islam. Similarities between their traditions include their close relationship with Shi’ism, particularly Ismail’i, while also singing, dancing or chanting to hymns and poetry. Pre-Islamic traditions by the Turcoman tribes, Nestorian Christianity and even Buddhism together with the accompaniment of Persian and Zoroastrian beliefs all working within the social complexity of isolation, diaspora and migration for religious heresy adds to this intricacy. It is said that the steady conversion of many Christians in Anatolia to Islam introduced Gnostic elements that spawned the creation of a unique community of Muslims. Parallels between Near Eastern syncrestictic cosmogony and Christianity can perhaps be dated back to the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 that generated the gradual migration and invasion of Anatolia by the Turks, while the Oghuz people under the Seljuk’s expanded their population until the region became predominately Turkish. Although cosmogonic traditions vary between each heterodox group in and around the Fertile Crescent and Anatolia, religious views of angels and the universe together with accounts of the symbolic and mythological tales about God or the Divine Essence provide evidence of their unique similarities. Persecution by the Ottoman Empire for their religious heterodoxy isolated and ultimately developed a unique community and an orally transmitted tradition. It is important to elucidate the basic tenets of these heterodox communities within and around the Fertile Crescent in order to compare their unique relationship to one another.

Bektaşi – Turkey

The Bektaşi are a Sufi dervish order originating from the Balkan region who acknowledge the twelve Imam’s (Twelver Shi’i) and venerate both ‘Ali and the sixth Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq.[1] The tarikat or Bektaşi Brotherhood particularly view Haci Bektaş Veli as a saint. Haci Bektaş Veli was a Persian mystic from the 13th century and author of the Makalat, his own discourses and teachings that were religiously and spiritually progressive for his time, particularly since he was sympathetic to the poor living conditions and the rights of women.[2] It is often claimed that Haci Bektaş Veli fought against Arab influence over Islam and attempted to release the oppressed rural and impoverished from the exploitation by the elite, preaching “[a] version of Islam which synthesized Sunni and Shi’i beliefs with Muslim and Christian religious practices.”[3] There are claims that Mustapha Kemal was himself a Bektaşi that consequently established a strong political link between the Bektaşi and the Kemalists, but the legitimacy of the argument is weak.

Although similarities between Alevi and Bektaşi exist particularly because of the mystic Haci Bektaş and Pir Sultan Abdal whom they both revere,[4] there are clear differences. “Her ne kadar, Bektaşi ve Alevi, her iki topluluk da, kendilerini Haci Bektaş’a bagliyor ve ayni kokenden geliyor olsalar da, erkan oldukca farklidir.”[5] Unlike the Alevis who were persecuted and consequently isolated, the Bektaşi Order had considerable protection by the Ottomans and contact with the administration.[6 Bektaşi leadership can be offered upon completion of a degree and while being more theologically scriptualised or codified, any person who wishes to join the order are permitted to convert, a clear difference to Alevis who must be a talip or belong to a dede lineage. “Alevism and Bektaşism share neither the same geographical frameworks nor possess the same internal mechanisms and rules… Bektaşism is dominantly Balkan, while Alevism finds its origins in Anatolia. Bektaşism has been mainly urban, while the Alevism was, until recently, mainly rural.”[7]

While most social and religious duties are held by a dede who guides the various prayers and rituals at the cem house, the head of a tekke (dervish lodge) is led by a baba.[8] The tekke at Hacibektaş was once a place of ritual servitude but has now become a museum and a place of ceremonial gathering. It contains the monastery (maydin evi) which is where most of the services are held, but it also has an ekmek evi that includes the women’s quarters and a bake house (or an aş evi which is the kitchen) as well as an area for guests staying at the lodge (mihman evi).[9] Their religious beliefs incorporate a unique blend of Islamic and Christian elements, such as tying Muhammad, ‘Ali and Allah into a trinity or distributing wine, bread and cheese to new members (murshid or aşik), which is “probably a survival of the Holy Communion as practiced by the Artotyrites.”[10] The Bektaşi distinguish rank through the number of folds in their white cap. “The number four symbolises the “four gates”: shari’a [şeriyat], tarika, ma’rifa, hakika and the four corresponding classes of people: ‘abid, zahid, ‘arif, muhibb; the number twelve points to the number of imams. Particularly characteristic are also the twelve-fluted taslim taşi, which is worn around the neck, and the teber (double-axe).”[11]

As mentioned, the Bektaşi had considerable protection by the Ottoman Empire particularly because the Janissaries appreciated the similarity the order had with Christianity. Esra Ozyurek states that between the 16th and the 19th centuries, the Ottomans embraced the Bektaşi Order and made it the central religious organisation of the Janissaries, until 1826 when many Janissaries were killed and the Bektaşi Order made illegal. Like the Alevi, the Bektaşi allow women to participate in rituals and often sing and dance to hymns, bestowing great favour to ‘Ali and also Shah Isma’il among others. A translated version of a nefes poem is as follows:

I took the mirror to my face
Ali appeared to my eye…
He is Jesus and Christ
He is the refuge to the believers
He is the Shah of the two worlds
Ali appeared to my eye
Ali is the pure, Ali is the clean
Ali is the hidden, Ali is the manifest
Ali is the first, Ali is the last
Ali appeared to my eye
Ali is the life, Ali is the Beloved
Ali is the religion, Ali is the belief
Ali is the merciful, Ali is the compassionate
Ali appeared to my eye.[12]

Alawi – Syria

The endeavour to further understand the Alawi (traditional known as Nusayr’i) of Syria has increased over recent decades, particularly because most of the political and military elite are from an Alawi background. An ethnic minority numbering three million, the Alawis are mainly populated around the rural mountains of the Latakia region in Syria (75%) with a small proportion in urban cities of Syria; they can also be found in Lebanon and Israel (after the capture of the Golan Heights). Groups of Arab speaking Alevis who distinctly trace their lineage to the Alawi in Syria are located in southern Turkey (particularly Hatay and Adana) and though they share a similar name and other practices, the Alawi in Turkey do not correspond or affiliate with the Alevis of Anatolia.

Like many of the heterodox communities, little is known of their origin and mixed views are often reiterated, although it has been claimed that the Alawi are remnants of the ancient Canaanite people who were influence by Christianity and Isma’iliyyah Islam before adopting Arabic as their primary language.[13] It has been claimed that the sect developed during the mid-ninth century in Iraq under Muhammad B. Nusayr al-Namiri who revered the tenth Shi’i Imam[14], yet unlike the Anatolian Alevis who were Turcoman that converted to Islam, the Alawis were Arabs that similarly converted. “The Alawites in Syria… had already established their religious sect during the tenth century in Jabal Ansariyya near Latakia. Their secret faith is described as a blend of ancient Syrian or Phoenician paganism (mainly the worship of the triad: the sun, the moon and the stars or sky), possibly influence by various Christian Trinitarianism… and largely manifested in a Shi’i-Ismaili fashion with adherence to Imam Ali, Prophet Muhammad’s first cousin and son-in-law, and to Salman al-Farisi, one of Mohammad’s Persian followers.[15]

Because of their esoteric religious beliefs, the Alawi have experiences centuries of poverty, isolation and persecution by the Sunni elite in the region. The greater risk of violence forced the Alawi to practice taqiya much more rigorously than Alevis. The use of particular codes or jargon in their scriptures can only be understood by the initiated who are orally taught the socio-dialect and the meaning behind the content, while some manuscripts have little information about the divine charactic of ‘Ali, though it is widely known to be an integral part of Alawi belief. Most Alawi members are often excluded from the traditions and practices, especially women who are considered incapable of comprehending the vast scale of their beliefs. Sulaiman Efendi al-Adhani (b. 1834/1835) published the kitab al-bakurat as-Sulaimaniya fi kashf asrar ad-diyanat an-nusairya that discusses the origin of myth in Alawi tradition and contains narrative accounts of their cosmological structure and ideas.[16] According to Alawi beliefs, God revealed himself to the world seven times, each time as a different figure accompanied by two others.[17] With the divine triad and the transmigration of souls, it is believed that ‘Ali was thus an incarnation of God, accompanied by Muhammad and Salman al-Farsi.[18] Tord Olsson provides some valuable information about the religious doctrines and esoteric content of the Alawi community that is gradually slipping into the hands of researchers.

Q[uestion] 1: Who is our Lord, who has created us?
A[nswer]: He is our master, the commander of the faith, the prince of the bees, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, and he is god, of whom (it holds true that) there is no god except him, the merciful, the compassionate.[19]

The initiated can only be male and both his parents must also be Alawi. Both the Shi’i and Alawi regard Nahj al-Balagha (Peak of Eloquence), a collection of sermons and sayings written by or attributed to Ali, as critical to their religious beliefs. A dede is quite different to a hoca used in Alawi communities, particularly southern Turkey. A dede practices tarikat while a hoca would prefer the practice of şeriyat. Anyone can become a hoca and often learn or teach in Arabic, while a dede must be born into a family lineage. “They have additional specialized functions: a hoca reads the nikah before the consummation of a marriage and it is a hoca who leads the burial service cenaze and intones hymns, ilahi, over the body as it is laid to earth.”[20]

The community are split into four tribal divisions or associations, namely Khayyatun, Haddadun, Matawirah and Kalbiyyah.[21] While only men can be initiated into Alawi rites, there are no particular patrimonial or lineage requirements and any Alawi man can be initiated to become a tribal leader; most tribal leaders still retain a level of power amongst the rural and uneducated. The Alawi communities in the urban or coastal areas in Syria are fragmented, particularly because of their loose tribal associations and their previous dominance by the Sunni or Christian elite, sharply contrasting with the Alawi tribes in the mountainous regions who hold stronger tribal and religious ties. Nevertheless, the last several decades have shown a new and emerging Alawi community developing in both rural and urban environments, particularly due to education and career opportunities, something I shall further elucidate in another post.

Ahl-e Haqq – Iran

The Ahl-e Haqq (or Yarsan) is an Iranian based esoteric community primarily situated in western Iran, but also Iraq and Turkey, while being scattered amongst the mountains in Geran, Kermanshahan and western Azerbayjan. Most adherents are from a Kurdish or Lak (an ethnically unique Persian group closely related to Kurdish) ethnicity. It is difficult to determine the exact genesis of the religious order and white it is generally agreed that they began under the leadership of Sultan Sahak during the late 14th or early 15th century, there are hardly any sources that can directly prove this.[22] Similar to Alevis, the Ahl-e Haqq believe in the interconnectedness of ‘alam-i batin (inner world) and ‘alam-i zahir (outer world).[23] Like most of the syncretistic religions of the Near East, the Ahl-e Haqq believe in dunudunu or the transmigration of souls as well as mazhariyyat or the manifestation of the divine essence (God or zat-I haqq) in human beings. “The division of beings into two distinct categories is perhaps a later development of Zoroastrian ideas. The sacrifice of the cock has been several times connected with the corresponding Jewish rite, while the biblical names (Dawud, Musi) may have come through the intermediary of the Qu’ran.”[24] The etymology of the name Ahl-e Haqq translates to, ‘followers, or people of the truth, the divinity.’[25] Unlike the Alawi who worship ‘Ali and revere Sultan Sahak (who is also used as an avatar in Yezidi traditional commentary), conversely the Ahl-e Haqq worship Sultan Sahak and revere ‘Ali.

The Ahl-e Haqq texts such as the Tadhkira’i A’la, the Shah-nama-ye Haqiqat and the Ilam-e Haqiqat explain tales of the genesis of the universe together with the light of God. It also similarly speaks of the ‘pearl’ that the Yezidi use to describe the divine essence. Zat-I haqq or the divine essence was originally hidden in a pearl in the ocean of the universe, and this divine essence transformed into Khavandgar (creator) in the first cycle of divine manifestation (the decond is ‘Ali before the cyclic cosmogony establishes the shari’at (Islamic law), the tariqat (ritual teachings) and ma’rifat (knowledge of divine reality) until finally manifesting in Sultan Sahak who established Ahl-e Haqq.[26] A collection of kalam (sacred hymns) can be found in the book Kalam-i Saranjam (conclusion) sid to be written by the angel Pir Musi, a companion of Sultan Sahak who was charged with recording the actions and behaviour of people, though this elusive text written in Gurani is difficult to obtain.[27] Like the Alevis, the Ahl-e Haqq do not follow the pillars of Islam and have instead adopted their own methods of ritual and practice. “Instead they have their own sacred universe and their own rituals, which centre on the jam (lit., assembly) when they chant their sacred hymns (kalam), play their sacred lute (tanbur), make offerings of food, and share a sacrificial meal,” while adhering to religious secrecy or sir (mystery).”[28]

The Ahl-e Haqq have sayyids or direct descendants of Sultan Sahak and have eleven different holy lineages called khandan (house) each headed by a pir.[29] What differentiates them from other syncretistic religions, however, is that common members of the community can obtain high-ranking religious positions while not obtained the sacred texts, instead relying on a kalam-khan or one who can recite the kalam orally without the text.[30] Publication of Borhan al-Haqq (demonstration of truth) by Nur Ali Elahi, a Persian jurist and philosopher, describes the historical and theological of the Ahl-e Haqq and provides valuable information about their rituals, rites and beliefs.

Yazidi – Iraq

Most Yazidi reside in the province of Mosul, settling particularly in the mountainous areas of Jabal Sinjar and Shaikhan, and while most Yazidi communicate officially in Kurdish, small communities can be found in Armenia, Georgia, Syria and Turkey.[31] The Yazidi believe in unique cosmogony and myths about the genesis of the universe, angels and prophets, since their “[t]heology and mythology, particularly cosmogony, show traces of a non-Islamic tradition which may be of ancient Iranian origin.”[32] Like most heterodox communities, the Yazidi were separated and persecuted from the Muslim world that intensified during the Ottoman period through their centralisation and sunnification policies against heterodox communities. It is difficult to trace the historical emergence of Yazidism, but “[i]t seems that Yazidism, an indigenous Kurdish faith influence by Zoroastrism, was revived by ‘Adi b. Musafir (c. 1075 – 1162), an Arab Sufi shaikh whom the Yazidi regard as the saintly founder of their religion.”[33] Like many of the hetrodox communities, hymn (kawl) are often used to orally channel their affection for the prophets and saints and illustrate their religious beliefs.

The Yazidi believe in the one God and seven archangels, haft surr or the “Seven Mysteries”.[34] The most revered archangel is the Ta’use-e Malak (Peacock Angel). The peacock angel known also as Melek Tawus or Azra’il has been labelled seytan (devil) by the wider Islamic community, although the Yazidi deny this assertion. They believe that human beings were created through Adam, without Eve, claiming that while “Christians, Jews and Muslims were sprung from Adam and Eve, their own patriarchs were descendants of a certain Shahid, the son of Adam alone”.[35] The Yazidi text, Meshef Resh, tells the tale of how God created the White Pearl and the bird Enfer, before the haft surr are formed through this white pearl sitting on the back of Enfer. The Yazidi sharply contrast the love for ‘Ali unlike most of the other syncretistic religions, instead venerating Yazid b. Mu’awiya (particularly in Sinjar), the second Ummayad Caliph and son of Muawiya B. Abi Sufyan, known to be the cause of the martyrdom of Hasan and Huseyin.[36]

It was once prohibited to read and write amongst the Yazidi that consequently created a unique oral and syncretistic tradition encapsulated within a tribal and hereditary social order with strong ties to kinship; the Yazidi hierarchical divisions also include the requirement or custom to only marry within the tribe. Worldwide horror at the violent death of a young Yazidi girl, stoned by the community due to her apparent intentions to marry a non-Yazidi and filmed on camera by the youths present, expose the simplicity to breach moral law because of such a custom. There are bavs or bras (tribal sections) that function as the main political units for the Yazidi.

Druze – Lebanon

Similar to the Alawi, many members of the Druze community are unaware of the secret doctrines of the religion and only those who are initiated are allowed to learn the esoteric content of their unique faith. Persecution forced the Druze to isolate themselves in rural or mountainous areas of southern Lebanon where their religion flourished and spread to Israel (Galilee) and Syria (Aleppo). The Druze religion began in the 11th-century during the Fatamid empire under the leadership of Hamza ibn-Ali, where in Cairo the Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah became revered as an incarnation of God.[37] As the Druze believe in the transmigration of souls, they claim that successive reincarnations of al-Hakim will gradually allow him to return and re-establish the Druze movement. The Druze have combined their belief in the ta’wil (esoteric secrecy) and the tanzil (outer meaning) through their reverence of al-Hakim who, along with Hamza ibn ‘Ali after establishing missionaries within the Fatamid Empire, disappeared.[38] Leadership was later given to al-Muqtana Baha ad-Din whose collected writings and epistles together with those of Hamza ibn ‘Ali developed the foundation of Druze scriptures, even though persecution turned the order into a secret religion.[39] “Like Druze, Shi’a and Alawis they [Alevi] practiced dissimulation and secrecy about their religion (taqiya).”[40]

The dynamics of contemporary Druze communities are highly individualised, whereby “[e]veryone “knew” or interpreted the meaning or function of every social interaction… everyone was enmeshed in it.”[41] There are hierarchical divisions in traditional Druze communities, not only between the initiated or the ‘uqqal (sage) and the non-initiated or juhhal (ignorant), but also spiritual hierarchies amongst the ‘uqqal.[42] The juhhal have no spiritual obligation and merely adhere to the basic tenets of communal obligation, while the ‘uqqal work as mediators if there are any social conflicts. They are highly respected for being the guardians of the esoteric and secret content. “Through their attendance at meetings in the khilwe (prayer house) on Thursday and sometimes Sunday evenings, the ‘uqqal are responsible for maintaining the spiritual well-being of the community in which they live.”[43] Spiritual hierarchies amongst the ‘uqqal or okhtyar (old man) – who must wear distinct clothing with a laffi (red and white turban) – can be observed by the wearing of the headdress and whether one has a beard or moustache. Since the Druze believe in transmigration of the soul, women are viewed to play a crucial role in birth and the transcendental process of reincarnation, although they are not particularly allowed to participate in initiation or religious hierarchy.

[1] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 1162
[2] Ibid., 1162
[3] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 152
[4] Irene Melikoff, Haci Bektas Efsaneden Gercege Ceviren: Turan Alptekin (Istanbul: Cumhuriet Kitaplari, 2004) 290. Pir Sultan Abdal is a famous poet – “Hatai etkileyici ve surukleyici (charismatique) bir kisilik olmakla birlikte, Betasi-Alevi sairler icinde en taninan vee n evilen suphesiz Pir Sultan Adbal’dir.”
[5] Ibid., 255
[6] Stewart, op. cit., 135
[7] Ibid., 177
[8] Mahmud Faksh. “The Alawi Community of Syria: A New Dominant Political Force.” Middle Eastern Studies 20 (1984): 133–153
[9] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 1162
[10]Ibid., 1162
[11]Ibid., 1162
[12]Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 152
[13] Faksh, op. cit., 135
[14] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 146
[15] Olsson, Ozdalga and Raudvere, op. cit., 152
[16] Ibid., 177
[17] Faksh, op. cit., 135
[18] Ibid., 135. Salman al-Farsi was a companion of the prophet Mohammad.
[19] The sources are from the kitab ta’lim diyanat an-nusairiya.
[20] White and Jongerden, op. cit., 44
[21] Faksh, op. cit., 137
[22] Hosseini, Z. Mir, “Inner Truth and Outer History: The Two World of the Ahl-I Haqq of Kurdistan” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 26 (1994) 268
[23] Ibid., 267
[24] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 263
[25] Hosseini, op. cit., 267
[26] Ibid., 271
[27] Ibid., 268
[28] Ibid., 268
[29] Ibid., 270
[30] Ibid., 270
[31] Fuccaro, Nelida. “Communalism and the State in Iraq: Yazidi Kurds (c1869 – 1940) Middle Eastern Studies (35:2, 1999) 1.
[32] C.E. Bosworth; H. Pearson; JD Pearson; E. Van Donzel; P.J. Bearman; J. Van Lent; H.U. Qureshi. Op. Cit., 314
[33] Fuccaro, op. cit., 10
[34] Ibid., 314
[35] Driver, op. cit., 201
[36] Fuccaro, op. cit., 15
[37] J. Oppenheimer, “Culture and Politics in Druze Ethnicity”, 1:3 (1977) 623
[38] Ibid., 623
[39] Ibid., 623
[40] Zeidan, op. cit., 2
[41] Louise E. Sweet, “Visiting Patterns and Social Dynamics in Eastern Mediterranean Communities” Anthropological Quarterly, 47:1 (Jan., 1974) 113
[42] Oppenheimer, op. cit., 624
[43] Ibid., 624

Exploitation of Syrian Women and Children: Refugee Law In Lebanon and Jordan

As of March 2017, key figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that more than 5 million refugees have fled Syria, with 6.3 million internally displaced and a total of over 13 million in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.[1] Turkey has accepted a large number of the refugees, hosting over 2.8 million refugees, comparably with Europe where less than 900,000 applicants since 2011 have applied for asylum, data retrieved from 37 European countries that provide UNHCR with monthly figures.[2] Additionally, countries such as Lebanon has taken in over 1 million and over 650,000 have fled to Jordan, two countries that have not signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted in 1951 and further still, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that extended the former boundaries that were initially limited to Europe so as to enable universal coverage. Article 1 of the 1951 Convention nevertheless transformed the international status and human rights of refugees by providing a single definition:

“As a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951 and owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”[3]

Like many instruments that developed at the time, the convention strengthened principles particularly relating to the fundamental rights of refugees such as non-discrimination and particularly non-refoulement,[4] the latter where asylum seekers are forced to return back to a country where they there may be a strong likelihood of experiencing persecution in a number of various ways. It also reinforced the universality of international human rights law without exception to State provisions as well as prejudice toward race, religion or country of origin.

Nevertheless, there have been a number of concerns relating to the effectiveness of the Refugee Convention and its Protocol in managing the influx of refugees and demonstrated by the huge number of asylum seekers displaced from the Syrian War. Some of these failures have enabled discussions on reforming the instruments to deal with the crises of asylum seekers to suit the current economic and social conditions and to satisfactorily manage a system fraught with problems. One of these includes the convention’ failure to ameliorate new global changes to social, demographic and national environments that render it ineffective to adequately deal with the logistical, financial and humanitarian aspects of the influx of refugees. While taking a rights-based approach, both the refugee convention and the protocol fail to address the complexities of man-made catastrophes and the unique regional differences that causally play a role in these catastrophes. As such, it has been argued that a holistic approach is required to enable better considerations of regional and cultural attitudes that enhance a decisive clarity of the causes in order to measure, prevent and manage man-made disasters. It is clear, for instance, the dynamics of ISIS in the Middle East, the ramifications of the gulf-war, oil and water politics and the post-colonial economic hardships that have enabled destabilising political regimes demonstrate the necessity for a holistic approach specific to the Middle East.

In order to compare the possible effectiveness of a holistic approach to the concerns raised by the recent influx of Syrian refugees, development of a number of additional instruments that attempt to define the legal confusion on the status of a refugee in other regions have been adopted. In 1999, the Tampere Council – a special European Council meeting held in Tampere – attempted to improve changes to immigration as well as consolidate foreign and security policies through the opportunities that the Treaty of Amsterdam afforded. The Treaty of Amsterdam altered the former Treaty of Maastricht [where the development of supranational institutions such as the European Court of Justice was initiated] and includes a number of protocols and declarations that empowered the European Union to develop legislation that would effectively coordinate policies and procedures more effectively, along with strategies that would strengthen intergovernmental cooperation subject to protecting its own interests. Since then, there has been an ongoing development to improve legislative frameworks that recognise, for instance, the importance of the financial output during an influx of those seeking asylum and thus established the European Refugee Fund [ERF] that administers financial support to member countries to manage and resettle refugees and displaced persons.

Syrian children who have fled into Jordan and Lebanon are being illegally exploited and due to their status are forced into labour rather than schools; despite countries like Jordan being a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. 


Representatives that drafted the 1951 Convention also desired signatories to exceed the demands set out in the convention, thus it was not long after that the European Union developed The Qualification Directive.[5] This followed the Temporary Protection Directive[6] that was developed due to the poor management vis-à-vis violence in the former Yugoslavia that resulted in large numbers of displaced persons in the region and thus, under exceptional circumstances such as war, became a process to provide temporary protection. It sought to exemplify minimum standards for refugees, stateless persons or third-country nationals that required international protection and develop a common policy on asylum by advancing the Common European Asylum System Agency (EASO), as well as facilitate better cooperation between member states by improving protection and “affirming the principle of non-refoulement and ensuring that nobody is sent back to persecution.”[7] The Common European Asylum System guaranteed standards of protection where asylum seekers are treated fairly and with dignity. The Qualification Directive established a criterion that would qualify the minimum standards that confirms the status of a refugee and thus regulating the process that determines the granting of international protection. An act of persecution must be sufficiently serious that would violate human rights including act of physical, sexual and psychological or any disproportionate legal prosecution that would result in discriminatory prosecution.

And yet, with what appears to be a small number of refugees from Syria seeking asylum in Europe comparably to other States, none of these instruments have been put to use, on the contrary, it appears that there may either be a hesitation as the limited timeframe for providing asylum for a maximum of up to two years to Syrian refugees is not realistic in relation to the ongoing length of the war, or there is a hidden exclusivity to these instruments limited to the possibility of use in the event of a European catastrophe. UN High Commissioner for Refugees determined that the needs of the refugees require hefty financial support and pledged nine billion at the conference in London.[8] While financial support would enable countries experiencing an influx of refugees to manage the economic strain, it is clear that the ERF may still struggle to manage, whereby OCHA estimates that a total of $3.4billion dollars is required to fund a humanitarian response plan for the life-saving assistance to 13 million Syrians in need of urgent humanitarian support, funding that has only reached 11.3% of this required target.[9]

Other failures also include no guarantee that unaccompanied children will have access to legal representation, along with the absence of provisions that deal with Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), knowing that within in Syria there are 6.3million IDP’s that require urgent assistance. That is, the Convention does not “apply to those refugees who have a status equivalent to nationals in their country of asylum.”[10] It has been argued that the Convention should be reformulated to address these issues however the potential problem to removing and establishing a new convention is that it would still fail to address continuous regional changes that may impact on the development of even more disputes. For instance, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that States “shall not return to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk of irreparable harm to the child,”[11] and while they clarified the responsibilities of States to ensure how the assessment of this risk should be conducted, this risk is nevertheless open to interpretation. For instance, Suresh v Canada[12] questioned procedural fairness whereby even if a refugee is at risk being tortured, they can be deported to their homeland if they conversely a serious risk to Canadian security. Procedural fairness without the inclusion of assessing unaccompanied minors or other vulnerable groups including women who are pregnant or survivors of serious trauma that have developed serious mental health issues may lead to prejudicial outcomes.

Other global and regional instruments enacted to ensure adequate support for asylum seekers are effectively taking place can act as a catalyst to developing changes to the Middle East. In Africa, for instance, where a number of political and social instabilities have resulted in an influx of refugees, established the Organisation of African Unity and the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa[13] that attempted to ameliorate a stronger understanding of the legal or political aspects to refugee protection but specific to Africa. Together with the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees[14] in Latin-American, the protection of refugees within the instruments were extended to include a more demographically and culturally appropriate – thus holistic – approach to regional affairs that the Convention and its Protocol were unable to adequately compliment, thus enabling better responses to mass displacement. For instance, while the convention and the protocol are rights-based instruments, OAU Convention seeks to address humanitarian responses to mass influx of refugees by enabling its member States to legislate domestically in order to address and protect all those seeking asylum. It additionally clarified the differences between groups of refugees as a result of a disaster with individual refugees seeking protection.

The United Nations estimates Lebanon is housing 1.14 million Syrian refugees and not being party to the Refugee Convention and Protocol, Lebanese domestic laws that purport any person without legal documentation within its boundaries are considered illegal have left Syrian refugees without legal status. In fact, while Lebanon is constitutionally bound by customary law and other human rights obligations being a signatory to a number of human rights conventions,[15] not becoming party to the 1951 Convention or its following Protocol has left only a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the UNHCR[16] as the only instrument to assist refugees coming from Syria. UNHCR has noted that even with the MOU protection remains notoriously difficult.[17] Domestic legislation in Lebanon governing refugees is extremely limited whereby Law of 1962 regulating the Entry and Stay of Foreigners in Lebanon and their Exit from the Country[18] fails to provide legal protection and other important human rights services for Syrian refugees. Unlike OAU Convention that treats individual and group assessments based on contingent situations such as fleeing war or other man made violence, the provisions of the 1962 law treat individual cases. “Any foreigners who is subject of pursuit or has been convicted for a political crime by a non-Lebanese authority or whose life or freedom is threatened because of political considerations may ask for political asylum.”[19] As such, Syrian refugees in Lebanon are without any legal protection and according to Article 32 of the 1962 Law, can be fined and even imprisoned as illegal entrants.[20] While the MOU signed between Lebanon and UNCHR enables the latter to ensure temporary residence permits are provided as a solution – albeit temporary – to the problem with Syrian refugees, the limited time (of a maximum of nine months) may not be estimative of the realistic timeframes necessary to support them pending the continued violence in Syria. Clarification of renewing residency permits remains ambiguous and any rights including seeking employment are extremely limited, if not non-existent and leaving refugees in an incredibly vulnerable position. This was further delayed when the Lebanese government requested that UNHCR suspend registrations of Syrian refugees in 2015.[21]

The image below exposes the horror of what happened to almost 75 Syrian women who fled the war and were tortured and forced into sexual slavery within ‘Chez Maurice’ in the Lebanese town of Jounieh. Notwithstanding the horrible men involved in this disgusting trafficking incident, it also shows the failure of the government to protect asylum seekers and why it is so important.


While Lebanon has recently enacted changes to domestic legislation amid continued discussions relating to the status of refugees, in particular waiving fees for Syrian refugees fleeing the war [a charge of US$200 that was introduced in 2015], this unfortunately excludes a large number who were unable to register with UNHCR, almost half a million.[22] The impact of these failures in Lebanon can have devastating effects to the rights and protection of Syrian refugees since by having no legal status and being at risk of imprisonment, movements become restricted and in order to survive many refugees are becoming victims to exploitation. According to the final report on Syrian refugees in Lebanon by Freedom Fund, incidence of slavery and human trafficking is growing including child labour and marriage, sexual exploitation and forced labour[23] that clearly exemplifies why ratification of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol is necessary. In addition, children from families without residency permits in Lebanon are unable to obtain a formal education as well as access to healthcare for families including pregnant women whose children are at risk of statelessness. It is also clear that existing regulatory frameworks are modified along with domestic legislation protecting Syrian refugees from harm including exploitation and trafficking is afforded. Although Lebanon is constitutionally bound by the customary law principle of non-refoulement, recent talks between Lebanon and the Syrian opposition to return those seeking asylum – whereby Hezbollah stated that they have been mediating the possible return of refugees from the Arsal border to the Qalamoun region in Syria[24] – that begs the question of whether non- refoulement procedures are adequately adhered.

According to Amnesty International, while Jordan is hosting over 650,000 refugees, in mid-2016 it closed its borders that stranded over 75,000 Syrian refugees between the Syrian-Jordanian borders in the horrific al-Rukban and Hadalat refugee camps within desert conditions.[25] This is not a problem with Jordan alone, whereby Human Rights Watch has also reported shootings against Syrian refugees attempting to enter the country at Turkish borders. Whilst citing security concerns amid threats from ISIS, the strain that Jordan has experienced economically due to the lack of international aid has pressured the government to regulate occupation that only Jordanian citizens are allowed to work in, forcing asylum seekers toward illegal working conditions.[26] Jordan also signed an MOU with UNHCR that enabled recognition of refugee status for a duration of up to six to twelve months[27] but consideration of the massive influx of Syrian refugees was not adequately deliberated as domestic law similarly observe a case-by-case basis.[28] In addition to this, each of the individuals fleeing are required to have documentation, something that clearly may not always be possible considering the situation. Constitutionally, Jordan must adhere to international customary law on non-refoulment, where extradition of political refugees is prohibited.

With the surmounting difficulties along the borders of Lebanon and Jordan, the clarity and necessity of including internally displaced persons within the international framework becomes clear as millions of Syrian refugees are unable to flee. The United Nations– along with reaffirming – has called upon States such as Jordan and Lebanon to become party to the Convention.[29] Regarding the problem of stranded refugees along the Jordanian-Syrian border, comparatively the OAU Convention explicitly reaffirms that in the even where a member state may find it difficult to continue granting asylum it will appeal to other Member States of the OAU to assist in supporting them.[30] As such, the development of a similar regional instrument amongst Middle Eastern States that touch on relevant concerns specific to the demographics and culture would be an important step forward to strengthen a cohesive process for Syrian refugees to adequately manage man-made disasters as well as improve processes for countries such as Jordan and Lebanon to better protect asylum seekers. It will also ensure that compliance to the States’ ratification of the relevant instruments along with a complementarity between the regional and international refugee protection frameworks are adequately observed. Other improvements and regulations would be the consistent pressure to ensure Lebanon and Jordan ratify the 1951 Status of Refugees Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as honing down on better domestic legislation that will ensure legal protections are provided to refugees and asylum seekers. With stronger mutual cooperation in the Middle East, the distribution of services to victims of mad-made disasters specific to regional affairs may protect women and children from becoming victims of exploitation.


[1] http://www.unocha.org/syrian-arab-republic/syria-country-profile/about-crisis
[2] http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/asylum.php
[3] Article 1 (a)(2) The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951
[4] Ibid., Article 33(1)
[5] Qualification Directive 2004/83/EC
[6] Temporary Protection Directive 2001/55/EC
[7] Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council, 13 December 2011
[8] Supporting Syria & the Region Conference in London on 4th February, 2016
[9] http://www.unocha.org/top-stories/all-stories/syria-us-34-billion-needed-provide-life-saving-assistance-13-million-people
[10] Op. Cit., 1951 Refugee Convention
[11] General Comment No 6 – Treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin, UN Doc CRC/GC/2006/6 (2005)
[12] Suresh v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2002] 1 S.C.R. 3
[13] OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, September 10, 1969.
[14] Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, November 22, 1984.
[15] Section B of the preamble of the Lebanese Constitution, Lebanese Constitution (1926), as amended to 1995
[16] UNHCR Regional Office in Lebanon, Country Operations Plan 1 (2004)
[17] UNHCR, Submission by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation Report – Universal Periodic Review: The Republic of Lebanon 2 (Apr. 2010)
[18] Order No. 319 Regulating the Status of Foreign Nationals In Lebanon, Date of Entry into Force: August 2, 1962 (19620802)
[19] Ibid., Article 26.
[20] 1962 Law, Pursuant to article 32 foreigners who enter Lebanon illegally can be imprisoned for one month to 3 years and/or fined.
[21] Human Rights Watch Country Report, Lebanon: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/lebanon#4694c7
[22] Human Rights Watch, Lebanon: New Refugee Policy a Step Forward: Open the Door to Legal Status for All Syrian Refugees, February 14, 2017: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/14/lebanon-new-refugee-policy-step-forward
[23] Freedom Fund, Struggling to Survive: Slavery and Exploitation of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, http://freedomfund.org/wp-content/uploads/Lebanon-Report-FINAL-8April16.pdf
[24] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2017/Feb-11/393177-hezbollah-mediating-safe-return-of-syrian-refugees.ashx
[25] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/syria-jordan-border-75000-refugees-trapped-in-desert-no-mans-land-in-dire-conditions/?utm_content=bufferdbc2e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
[26] List of Professions Not Allowed to Foreign Workers, Ministry of Labor, http://www.mol.gov.jo/Portals/ 0/Decisions/closed.pdf
[27] UNHCR Global Appeal 2013 Update: Jordan, UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/4ec231020.pdf
[28] Law No. 24 of 1973, art. 12, Al-Jarida Al-Rasmiyya, 16 June 1973, at 1112, http://www.lob.gov.jo/ui/laws/ search_no.jsp?year=1973&no=24 (official website of the Jordanian Council of Ministers)
[29] Declaration of States parties to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Ministerial Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, Switzerland, 12-13 December 2001, UN Doc. HCR/MMSP/2001/09, 16 January 2002. The Declaration was welcomed by the UN General Assembly in resolution A/RES/57/187, para. 4, adopted on 18 December 2001.
[30] UNHCR, Persons covered by the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and by the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (Submitted by the African Group and the Latin American Group)Persons covered by the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and by the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees (Submitted by the African Group and the Latin American Group) EC/1992/SCP/CRP.6 (6 April 1992)