The Arab Boat: It’s an Arab-Palestinian Nakba, and We Are All Refugees

May 13 2015 / 7:58 am
A small vessel loaded with 353 people believed to be refugees fleeing Syria lies around 50 nautical miles southwest of Cyprus' coast in Sept 2014. (Cypriot Defense Ministry)
A small vessel loaded with 353 people believed to be refugees fleeing Syria lies around 50 nautical miles southwest of Cyprus' coast in Sept 2014. (Cypriot Defense Ministry)

By Ramzy Baroud

In a western capital far away from Gaza and Cairo, I recently shared a pot of tea with an “Egyptian refugee”.

The term is familiar to me, but never have I encountered an Egyptian who refers to himself as such. He stated it as a matter of fact by saying: “As an Egyptian refugee ..” and carried on to talk about the political turmoil in his country.

It made me shudder as I tried to conjure up a possible estimation of Arabs who have been made refugees in recent years. But where does one start the estimation if we are to set aside the Palestinian Nakba in 1948? Or forget the successive waves of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that followed, and disregard the various exoduses of Lebanese civilians as a result of Israeli invasions and civil war?

Iraq can be the start – the country that served as a foundation of everything Arab. Their culture, history and civilisation, which extends to the very beginning of human civilisation, ushered in the new Arab exodus.

The American promise to bomb it “back to the stone age” was worse than expected. Millions of Iraqis became refugees after the US-led war, a situation that was exacerbated in the mid-2000s with the invasion-provoked civil war.

Last year alone over two million Iraqis were displaced, most of them internally as a result of the so-called Islamic State’s violent takeover of numerous territories in northern and western Iraq.

A recent report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) finally placed the crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya, etc, in a larger context, accentuating the collective Arab tragedy. “These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signaling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians,” according to Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, the organization behind IDMC.

War and conflicts have resulted in the displacement of 38 million people, of whom 11 million were displaced last year alone. This number is constantly fortified by new refugees, while the total number of people who flee their homes every single day averages 30,000; a third of those are Arabs who flee their own countries.

Yes, 10,000 Arabs are made refugees every day, according to IDMC. Many of them are internally displaced people (IDPs), others are refugees in other countries, and thousands take their chances by sailing in small boats across the Mediterranean. Thousands die trying.

“I am a Syrian refugee from the Palestinian al-Yarmouk camp in Damascus,” wrote Ali Sandeed in the British Guardian newspaper. “When I was small, my grandmother used to tell us how she felt when she was forced to flee to Syria from her home in Palestine in 1948, and how she hoped that her children and grandchildren would never have to experience what it feels like to be a refugee. But we did. I was born a Palestinian refugee, and almost three years ago I became a refugee once more, when my family and I had to flee the Syrian war to Lebanon.”

“’I thought the boat was my only chance,” was the title of the article in which Sandeed described his journey to Europe via boat.

Many of Yarmouk’s refugees are refugees or descendants of Palestinian refugees who once lived in northern Palestine – in Haifa, Akka and Saffad. Reading his testimony immediately summoned the chaotic scenes as the refugees fled the Zionist invasion of Haifa in 1948.

Thanks to Palestinian and Israel’s new historians like Ilan Pappe, we know so much about what has taken place when the tens of thousands of people attempted to escape for their lives using small fishing boats:

“Men stepped on their friends and women on their own children. The boats in the port were soon filled with living cargo. The overcrowding in them was horrible. Many turned over and sank with all their passengers.” (Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p. 96)

The brutality and sense of despair embodied in that scene is repeated every single day in various manifestations throughout Arab countries: Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and so on. If the destination of these refugees were illustrations via small arrows, the arrows would be pointing in many different directions. They would overlap and they would, at times, oppose one another: innocent people from all walks of life, sects and religions dashing around in complete panic along with their children and carrying whatever they could salvage.

The Palestinian Nakba (the catastrophe of war, displacement and dispossession of 1948) has now become the Arab Nakba. Palestinian refugees know too well what their Arab brethren are going through: the massacres, the unredeemable loss, the despair, and the sinking boats.

One recalls a question that persisted in the minds of many when the so-called Arab Spring first began in early 2011: “Are Arab revolutions good for Palestine?”

It was impossible to answer. Not enough variables were in place for any intelligent assessment, or an educated guess even. The assumption was: if Arab revolutions culminate in truly democratic outcomes, then, naturally, it would be good for the Palestinians. This assumption followed the simple logic that, historically, Arab masses – particularly in poorer Arab countries – perceived Palestine as the central and most common struggle that unified Arab identity and nationalism for generations.

But not only did democracy not prevail (with the Tunisian exception) but many millions of Arabs joined millions of Palestinians in their perpetual exile.

What does that mean?

My Egyptian friend, who declared himself a “refugee,” told me: “I am optimistic.”

“I am too,” I replied, with neither one of us feeling a bit surprised by the seemingly curious statements.

The source of optimism is twofold. Firstly, Arabs have finally broken the fear barrier, a prerequisite essential for any popular movement that opts for fundamental change. Secondly, now most Arabs are equally sharing the burden of war, revolution, destitution and exile.

That is far from being a “good thing,” but it certainly accentuates the element of urgency in the collective Arab fate.

“We are in this together,” I told my Egyptian friend. Indeed, it is as if all Arabs are riding on a single, overcrowded dinghy and we must all make it to the other side safely. Sinking in not an option.

– Ramzy Baroud – www.ramzybaroud.net – is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

image_pdfimage_print
Posted by on May 13 2015 . Filed under Articles, Editorials . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

1 Comment for “The Arab Boat: It’s an Arab-Palestinian Nakba, and We Are All Refugees”

  1. Vacy Vlazna

    The Arab refugee dispersion, so well encapsulated here, is the karma Europe pays for being allies in US military imperialism. Reaction to the Arabisation of Europe is Neo-nazism and fascist laws. Europe is a deserved mess and it will get hellova lot worse. All thanks to the US neocons and their coalitions of the willing.

    As for Palestine, as Baroud says, it independence is optimistically inevitable.( once the treacherous and corrupt PA/PLO is dissolved)

Leave a Comment

Please insert the correct number.


The Free Zone | Blog

  • May 27, 2016

    No Israeli Resistance to Bilin Protests – First Time in 11 Years

    Bilin in the West Bank stages a weekly demonstration of resistance against Israeli occupation. For the first time in the 11-year history of this popular form of opposition, Israeli forces did not use tear gas and other crowd control weapons to disperse protesters, locals said. - Witnesses said Israeli forces photographed protesters, and ambush attempts failed. Protesters raised Palestinian flags and marched in the... More →
  • May 27, 2016

    Dutch Government Affirms the Right to Endorse BDS Movement

    The Dutch government Thursday affirmed the right of individuals and groups to promote and engage with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), stating the movement falls under basic rights that are safeguarded by the Dutch constitution. - When asked about Israel’s ongoing threats to human rights advocates and the concerted attack on the BDS movement, Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Bert Koenders... More →
  • May 27, 2016

    Israeli Minister Resigns in Protest of Lieberman's Appointment as Defense Minister

    An Israeli minister announced his resignation Friday in response to the ultra-right Yisrael Beytenu party joining the government coalition and appointment of right-wing Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister. - Calling Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Lieberman as defense minister while expanding his coalition to include the Yisrael Beytenu party “a step that he couldn’t live with,” Minister of... More →
  • May 27, 2016

    Marwan Barghouti Moved to Unknown Location

    Palestinian MP Marwan Barghouti was moved from Israel’s Raymond prison to an unknown location yesterday, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Affairs Committee said. - In a statement the committee said: “Barghouti was transferred to Raymond prison five days ago and the prison administration prevented him from moving between the prison sections and communicating with other detainees as part of the deliberate restriction on... More →
  • May 26, 2016

    Islamic Jihad Accuses PA of Trying to 'Rein in the Intifada'

    The Palestinian Authority has been accused of carrying out “politically-motivated” arrest campaigns against members of the Islamic Jihad, in the occupied West Bank. - Ma’an news agency was told by Islamic Jihad that “a number of our brothers have been recently arrested in the Jenin, Ramallah and Bethlehem districts” by PA security forces. - Islamic Jihad claims that these detentions and summoning of its... More →
$12,000.00
$10,800.00
$9,600.00
$8,400.00
$7,200.00
$6,000.00
$4,800.00
$3,600.00
$2,400.00
$1,200.00
$0.00
Support Palestine Chronicle
Support Palestine Chronicle
"The Palestine Chronicle is a beacon. History, witness, analysis and ways forward are here, written with authority and humanity. Long may it publish." — John Pilger.
Subscribe to Newsletter
Enter your email address to subscribe to our mailing list.
Email:
I Remember My Name
separator
Jerusalem Interrupted: Modernity and Colonial Transformation 1917-present
My Father Was A Freedom Fighter
Disclaimer RSS Feed Contact us Donation Popup
© Copyright 1999-2016 PalestineChronicle.com. All rights reserved
Powered By MediaSeniors