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Rights for Palestinian refugees

05/07/2008

We all agree - every person should have the right to a decent job, good housing, health care and education. Every person should also be the responsibility of some nation state, whether or not that state represents the national feelings they hold in their heart of hearts. There are ethnic Greeks and Jews and Sudanese with American or French or British citizenship, and they are permitted to feel any way they wish about about it. These are fundamental rights, aren't they?

No people have more NGOs and institutions supposedly defending their "rights" than do the Arab refugees of Palestine. One of seven subdivisions of the UN Secretariat is devoted to the rights of the Palestinian Arabs, equivalent to the attention paid to the entire rest of the continent of Asia with its teeming billions. Dozens of NGOs supposedly devote their efforts to the rights and welfare of Palestinian Arab refugees, and remind us continually of their rights. And yet, of all the peoples on earth, the Palestinian Arab refugees are those who are most conspicuously and senselessly deprived of fundamental rights.

Since 1948, many of the Palestinian refugees have been living in a sort of legal noman's land. For them, the "night and fog" of war have gone on for 60 years. As distinguished from all other refugees in the world, their needs are handled by a special United Nations Agency. The rights of Palestinian refugees are also defined differently from those of all other refugees. Their situation varies from country to country. Contrary to the stereotyped picture, most of the refugees do not live in camps.

In Jordan, there are about 1.9 million "refugees," all of whom have Jordanian citizenship. Only about 300,000 live in camps. In the Gaza strip, there are slightly under a million refugees, all of whom are citizens of the Palestinian authority. About half of them live in the infamous refugee camps. In the West Bank there are 700,000 refugees, of whom about 175,000 live in camps. They too are citizens of the Palestinian Authority. In Syria, there are about 430,000 refugees, with about 250,000 living in official or unofficial camps. Palestinian refugees in Syria can work and travel, but they are not citizens and cannot vote, in order to "preserve their identity." In Lebanon, there are about 400,000 Palestinian refugees, of whom about half live in camps. In addition to registered refugees, another 10% are not registered, and about 10,000 are "non-ID" Palestinians, Palestinians who escaped from Jordan in September 1970, and never bothered to register with authorities. In theory, Lebanon, like Syria, ratified the 1965 Casablanca protocol on treatment of Palestinian refugees. In practice, rights of Palestinians in Lebanon are severely curtailed, as they have no access to Lebanese schools or health facilities.

The reason for maintaining the misery of the people in the camps is unclear. The rights of a refugee who lives in Jordan or the United States are not diminished by the fact that they have citizenship and do not live in miserable camps. Why is it OK for Mahmoud Abbas, refugee from Safed, to live in a big house with all the amenities, while other refugees from Safed or Majdal or Hiriyeh are condemned to live in squalid camps? Who is responsible for this situation? Who is responsible for the fact that no improvements were made in the Gaza refugee camps, and no move was made to resettle the refugees, in 60 years of Egyptian rule, Israeli rule and PLO rule?

A circular letter that I got the other day called for an end to the siege of Gaza, citing the urgent case of a poor refugee family that is without a bathroom. But lifting the siege of Gaza will not give this family a bathroom. This family had no bathroom before the Hamas came to power and before the international community blockaded Gaza. They had no bathroom under PLO rule, and no bathroom under Israeli rule and no bathroom under Egyptian rule. Palestinians exerted pressure to prevent Israel from resettling the refugees in Gaza, and the PLO did nothing for them. They did not pave the streets, or install modern plumbing or sanitary facilities. The Arab leadership decreed that for the good of the cause, the Palestinian refugees would be deprived of bathrooms. They were sentenced to remain constipated for 60 years, and the UN and the entire international community acquiesced in this decision. After Operation defensive shield in 2002, the persons whose homes were destroyed in Jenin refugee camp were not given new homes in the West Bank. Rather, the camp was carefully rebuilt to recreate the same squalid and hopeless conditions as existed before. Nobody objected! None of the defenders of Palestinian rights came forward to register any sort of protest at this inhumane, wasteful, cruel and silly decision!

You do not believe me, perhaps? You think that the condition of the refugees is due to the machinations of Israel or the United States? Then please read this article in Naharnet:

Palestine Liberation Organization Representative Abbas Zaki on Tuesday agreed with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun on "Lebanese-Palestinian practical approaches" to reject the naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Zaki, talking to reporters after meeting Aoun at the latter's residence in Rabiyeh, said both Palestinians and Lebanese would "upgrade the support for the right of the Palestinians to return" to their homeland.

Palestinians in Lebanon and the PLO are not involved in domestic political affiliations and "we are only guests ... awaiting our return to Palestine," Zaki said.

Don't you find it incredible that the organization that is supposed to represent Palestinians opposes giving them the most fundamental rights in Lebanon? Do all the Palestinian leaders who oppose rights for refugees really live in these camps? Do any of them? Can anything be more cynical than to rob generations of children of their future under the pretense of defending their "rights?" Can you explain why not a single organization that supposedly defends Palestinian rights has protested this cruel and cynical stand?

I cannot explain it. I don't see how it is possible, yet nonetheless it is a fact.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000693.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 2 comments

What about the rights of the one million jews from arab countries whom were kicked out and had all their assets confiscated, who speaks for thir rights.

Posted by victor L @ 05/24/2008 06:44 AM CST

This article is ridiculous! What are you saying Palestinians should not return back to their own land but to be naturalised in Lebanon while you have Jews flying from already comfortable homes in USA and Europe to settle in Israel to they can support the oppression?

Jews in USA are comfortable, living freely so why is there a need for them to come and immigrate in Israel and contribute further to this mess?

Posted by Jakib @ 06/03/2008 08:52 PM CST


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