So much of the coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War talked about the 40 years of Israeli Occupation of Palestinian territories. Very few reports mentioned two key facts. The first we covered last week (see Another Israeli 40th Anniversary: Land for Peace.)
Tonight I would like to discuss another key part of the “occupation” story that the media does not cover. There have been Palestinian refugees for fifty-nine years not 40 years. During that time not one Arab nation that “hosted” refugees allowed them to become part of their society. In fact they were kept in “camp” and not allowed to leave. You wonder why the Palestinians became radicalized. It was not the “horrors of occupation,” it was the horrors of being fenced in to camps by their Arab brothers. Why would the Arabs do something like that—they saw the a radicalized group of Palestinian refugees as their best weapon against Israel.
The story below is from Asharq Alawsat an Arab Newspaper. In it Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed the general manager of Al -Arabiya television talks about the treatment of the refugees by their hosts saying that the Arabs treat the Palestinians worse than the occupying Israelis ever did.
40 Years: The Real Stigma
There is no questioning the fairness of the Palestinian issue: land is being occupied by force and a nation is displaced. However, only a few know about the inhumane aspects of the issue such as the refugees in camps that are shrouded in misery and despair. They have existed for many decades, either because of a longstanding indifference and oblivion or due to giving priority to both military and political concerns over humanitarian matters.
Regarded by some as a temporary issue, the tragedy of the Palestinians is rarely presented to the Arab and international public opinion through the media or during political occasions. Even some Arabs and Palestinians intentionally turn a blind eye to the issue so as not to expose abuses. What is happening in Lebanon’s Nahr al Bared camp today is just one such example where battles have raised an overwhelming number of questions: who are these people? How long have they lived in the camp and how? What are their rights? The answers can be found on the UNRWA’s website. Tens of thousands of people crammed in undignified houses, where many of them were born and have lived for five decades.
Some Arab countries “hosting” refugees ban them from leaving [camps], from occupying a large number of positions and deny them any other legal rights. Some of them have to jump over walls and sneak out to complete their chores or to breathe and experience the outside world. One can imagine these randomly and poorly built houses during the winter chill and sweltering heat of the summer among the sewage and insufficient services. It is a shame. How can we talk about the liberation of Palestine, which we simply associate with stolen land, a desecrated mosque and a powerful enemy, while we do not allow Palestinians to settle down, earn a living or travel like all other human beings?
Our insistence to lock the Palestinians in camps and treat them like animals in the name of preserving the issue is far worse a crime than Israel stealing land and causing the displacement of people. The 60 year-old camps only signify our inhumanity and double standards. Israel can claim that it treats the Palestinians better than their Arab brothers do. It gives citizenship to the Palestinians of 1948 as well as the right to work and the right to lead a somewhat normal life, although they are treated as second-class citizens.
In Nahr al Bared and other camps, however, they are neither citizens nor humans based on weak pretexts. I cannot believe Lebanese allegations that state that they have been confining the Palestinians, being Sunnis, to camps so as not to disturb the demographic balance between the Shia and Christians. It is a ridiculous excuse that even Israel would not try to use. No one is asking for citizenship or permanent settlement for them—only permission to live like any other foreigner. Blame lies with the Arab League and Arab governments that took part in or kept silent about this moral scandal. Rather than seeking to help them or provide for their demands, they preoccupy Arab public opinion with conferences and hollow rhetoric on the issue and on refugees.
Finally, we have to be true to ourselves and ask whether the way of life of these one million people is fair.