Monday, March 21, 2011

Arab discrimination against Palestinians: How to fix it

Today is the Arab Mothers' Day.

To commemorate the occasion,  hundreds of Egyptian mothers who are married to Palestinian Arab men are demonstrating in Tahrir Square to give Egyptian citizenship to their children.

An Egyptian law passed in 2004 allowed Egyptian mothers to pass their citizenship to their children with foreign spouses - except Palestinians.

The reason given is the usual excuse. As Al Ahram wrote when discussing the law in 2006:
Also, children of Palestinian fathers are not eligible for Egyptian citizenship. While this seems unfair, asserted Diaaeddin, it is in accordance with Arab League Decree 1547 for 1959. The decree calls for the preservation of the Palestinian identity as an integral part of the Palestinian cause, and prevents it from assimilating into the identity of the host country.

The Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court in 2006 ruled that the law should apply to Palestinian Arab fathers as well, but that ruling has been completely ignored by Egyptian authorities.

There is a Facebook page for the mothers in this predicament, called The Ugly Duckling's Sons. The group claims that the law could allow hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs to become Egyptian citizens, although that number seems to be exaggerated.

This is only one example of the state-supported discrimination against Palestinian Arabs, and Palestinian Arabs alone, in every Arab state.

The mothers' protest shows that the excuse given by every Arab leader - including Palestinian Arab leaders, and even parroted by UNRWA - that Palestinian Arabs do not want to become citizens of their host countries, is a complete lie. When given the opportunity, many if not most of them would jump to gain the equal rights that citizenship affords them.

There is a simple thing that could be done that could help galvanize the world to help these victims of Arab discrimination. It would not cost much and could be done by a private organization.

Commission an independent poll of Palestinian Arabs living in Arab countries, and ask them these simple questions:

  • Do you feel legally discriminated against in your host country because you are a Palestinian?
  • Do you feel that the citizens of your host country discriminate against Palestinians?
  • If you had the option, and if it would not impact your status as a Palestinian, would you want to become a citizen of the country you live in?
  • If you had the option to become a citizen of your host country but it meant that you would lose your status as a Palestinian, would you still want to become a citizen of your host country?
  • If given a choice, would you like to move to another Arab country and become a citizen there? If so, which one?
  • If given a choice, would you prefer to become a citizen of your host country or to move your family to the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas?

Never has anyone dared poll Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere to ask them if they would take advantage of citizenship if it was offered. It is impossible to know how bad the problem is without simply asking them.

Once the poll results are known, assuming that most Palestinian Arabs are like the protesting mothers in Tahrir Square and the poll is done without bias and without governmental pressure, the issue of systematic discrimination against Palestinians in Arab countries can be tackled properly.

Human rights groups like HRW who bend over backwards to pretend that the problem doesn't exist would be forced to acknowledge that there is a problem and that the Arab governments must be pushed to stop their discrimination.

We need to expose the truth. And it would not be that hard; to commission a poll like this can't possibly cost that much money.

For decades, the world has been fed lies about how the Palestinian Arabs feel about their own lives. Isn't it time to simply ask them what they think?

And then shouldn't every Western nation and human rights group mobilize to give Palestinian Arabs the simple human right to become citizens of any Arab country, under the same rules as any other Arab?