By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Where is the rage? Where is the Arab chivalry (nakhwa)? Where is the Islamic passion (Rahmah)? Where are the Arab human rights organizations? Where are Abu Mazin and the rest of the Palestinian leadership? The UN refugee agency says there are about 2,500 Palestinians mostly widows and orphans, victims of the violence in Iraq, languishing for the past two years under canvas tents in the Iraqi desert at the Syrian border. These refugee camps lack basic services or medical facilities and the temperature exceeds 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in summer and dips below zero degrees in winter. Syria and Jordan have accepted more than two million refugees from Iraq but they have denied entry for Palestinian refugees who have been trying to escape the attacks and persecution in Iraq. There is no room for these most vulnerable Palestinians in the Arab countries that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean in the west along the southern shores of the Mediterranean to the borders of Persia in the east, and the Arabian Peninsula. What would happen if these refugees were Jews or French or Japanese?
Arabs have developed a theory that the only way Palestinian refugees can return to their homes is if they are kept poor, unemployed, illiterate and sick. It never occurred to Arab policy makers that it is the Palestinians, who escaped the poverty and misery traps and invested in their own personal economic and educational potential, keep the Palestinian issue alive and defend the causes of the Arabs who betrayed them. It never occurred to Arab policy makers that the Zionists have used all their human and material resources to shape the policies of the Western powers and triumph over all the Arabs combined.
Zionist intellectuals influenced the Western public opinion to accept the idea of settling Palestine with Jews as a morally good solution to the Jewish problem. Palestinian and like minded Arab intellectuals today have to work real hard to controvert even the claims of the early Zionists, including Herzl, the Hebrew poet Chaim Bialik and the novelist Joseph Berditchewski, just to name few, that there were no people living in Palestine. Keeping the Palestinian refugees poor and sick is ill-advised and counter-productive policy from humanitarian and political perspectives.
Palestinian refugees in all Arab countries are treated officially as non-persons and stigmatized by the public. Even the Palestinian leaders do not seem to care about the refugees. The Arab people in the meantime learnt to tolerate human rights violations and torture inflicted upon them by tolerating the suffering of their vulnerable neighbors, the Palestinian refugees.
After the first Arab-Israeli war and the establishment of Israel, Gaza was ruled by Egypt and the West Bank was annexed to Trans-Jordan. The Egyptian government had aggressive economic development plans for Egypt especially after 1952, but it never had any plan for the Palestinians under its dominion in Gaza. The only thing it had for them was the rhetoric to recover back Palestine by force. It made no effort during its rule to improve the economic conditions among the Palestinian refugees and the residents in Gaza. They had no job opportunities in Gaza and they could not work in Egypt proper due to Egypt’s discriminatory laws. Gaza had the second largest concentration of Palestinians after the West Bank but Egypt had not allowed them to develop any political or economic institutions. Gaza refugees lived in limbo under Egyptian military rule in severely overcrowded camps as beggars depending on the UN handouts. It failed to extend the Arab social and economic revolution to help the most vulnerable Arab constituency, the Palestinian refugees.
The late Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri was quoted by International Herald Tribune in December 1998 saying: “The Palestinians [refugees] will never receive civic or economic rights or even work permits [in Lebanon]”. The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are not allowed to enroll in public high schools, and therefore, they cannot attend universities. According to unpublished study by the Institute for Applied Science (FAFO) in Oslo, illiteracy among adult male Palestinian refugees in Lebanon exceeds 20 %, 40 % drop out at eleven years of age and unemployment exceeds 65 %.
After they lost their original homes and found shelter in the new available locations, the Palestinian refugees became dependent on the UNRWA agency for their basic needs and services and some employment. The UNRWA is a humanitarian organization and does not provide protection and other political guarantees.
The people of Iceland and Sweden have bigger hearts and more compassion for the Palestinian refugees than their Arab and Muslim brothers. Thirty Palestinian women and children living in the Iraqi-Syrian border camps are “due to leave for settlement in Iceland” and “Sweden agreed to take 155”, according to the news media. The Palestinian community in Iraq that numbered more than 34,000 before the US brought democracy (read anarchy!) to Iraq has been reduced to few thousands living under fake identities to escape persecution by the Iraqis and stay alive.
It is sad that the refugees have been treated as socially inferiors and discriminated against by their host governments and communities. This created boundaries and animosity between refugees and non-refugees. Has lack of compassion towards the weak and the poor among the Arabs and coarse inhumane behavior become a trademark of the Arab regimes and the Arab people? The answer is definite yes and we have examples to prove it!
The Arabs have replicated and reproduced the inhumane behavior of the colonialists. Arab states have cooperated with Israel in committing crimes that are considered genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. Arab states support the crippling blockade of the strip where many Gazans die everyday for lack of medicine and food. It is ironic that the only people who defied the blockade were Westerners and Jewish activists traveling by boats from Cyprus to the Strip.
In 1982, Ariel Sharon, the ruthless Israeli ex-military commander, was responsible for one of the most shocking war crimes against the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. But the massacre was carried out by Arab Lebanese Phalanges units where thousands of Palestinian refugees including women and children were slaughtered in Sabra, Shatila, Tel al-Za’atar and Dbayyeh camps.
Arabs lost their souls and conscience when they accept torturing innocent widows and orphans in the desert just because they are Palestinian refugees. No wonder Arab world justice systems have been universally identified with torture and human rights abuse. The most frightful threat to a prisoner in the US custody, even in the infamous American Guantanamo Base, has been to send him back to an Arab country for investigation.
Just a week ago, Abu Mazin assured the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon that they would be “among those who will return to their soil [in Israel]” a rhetoric they had been hearing for the last sixty years. He also expressed satisfaction with their conditions in Lebanon even with “ninety-five different kinds of jobs which Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are forbidden by law to undertake”.
Abu Mazin and all Arab leaders have no credibility when they talk about Palestine as long as orphans and widows are languishing in the Iraqi desert and the children of Gaza go to bed hungry and without a future to look forward to.
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D, is a political analyst. He contributed this article to the PalestineChronicle.com.