The wonderful Israelinurse translated this must-read article from Ben Dror Yemini in Maariv over the weekend for me.
The Arab apartheid
The real 'Naqba' is the story of the Arab apartheid. Tens of millions, including Jews, suffered from 'Naqba', which included theft, expulsion and becoming a refugee. Only the Palestinians remain refugees because they were victims of persecution and repression at the hands of Arab states. This is the story of the real 'Naqba'.
In the year 1959 the Arab League accepted decision number 1457 and this is its text: "Arab states will reject the giving of citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their integration into the host countries". This is a shocking decision, which stands in stark opposition to international norms on all subjects concerning the treatment of refugees during those years and particularly during that decade. The story began, of course, in the year 1948, the days of the Palestinian 'Naqba'. This is also the beginning of every discussion on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with an accusing finger pointed at Israel with the claim that she expelled refugees and turned them into miserable people. This lie has become the property of many from the academia and the media who deal with the subject.
In previous articles on the question of the refugees we have already clarified that there is nothing unique this subject to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Firstly, Arab countries refused to accept the Partition plan and started a war of total destruction against Israel, which had barely been established. Every precedent on this subject reveal that whoever initiates a war, especially with declarations of total destruction, pays a price for that.
Secondly, we are actually talking about an exchange of populations: yes, there were between 550 -710 thousand Arabs (the most accurate calculations are those of Professor Ephraim Karsh, who counted and found numbers between 583-609 thousand. Most ran away, a minority were expelled, because of the war, and a greater number of around 850,000 Jews were expelled or escaped from Arab countries ("the Jewish Naqba").
Thirdly, the Palestinians are not alone in this story. Population exchanges and expulsions were the norm in those years. They happened in tens of other sites of conflict and around 52 million people experienced loss of property, expulsion and uprooting ("And the world lies").
And fourth, in all the precedents of population exchange which took place during or at the end of armed conflict, or against the background of the creation of national entities, or the breakdown of multi-ethnic countries and establishment of national entities – there was no return of refugees to their previous areas which had become a new nation. The uprooted and the refugees, almost without exception, found refuge in places where they joined populations with a similar ethnic background: the ethnic Germans expelled from central and eastern Europe integrated into Germany, the Hungarians expelled from Czechoslovakia and other places found refuge in Hungary, the Ukrainians expelled from Poland found refuge in the Ukraine – and so on. In this sense, the similarity of the Palestinians originating from Mandate Palestine to their neighbours in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon was similar, or even greater than, the similarity between many ethnic Germans and the original state in Germany, sometimes after separation of many generations.
Arab countries, and only they, behaved in the opposite manner to the rest of the nations of the world. They trampled the refugees, despite the fact that they shared the same religion and were part of the same Arab nation. They adopted an apartheid system in every sense. So the 'Naqba', one must remember, was not created by the actual uprooting, as happened to millions. The 'Naqba' is the story of apartheid and persecution which the Arab refugees suffered (only later did they become 'Palestinians') in Arab countries.
During long periods of time there was no real distinction made between the residents of Egypt and the residents of the coastal plain (of Israel). Both groups were Muslim Arabs who lived under the Ottoman regime. According to the researcher Oroub El-Abed, commercial and trade ties existed between the two groups, mutual immigration and marriage took place as a matter of course. Many of the citizens of Jaffa were defined as Egyptian because they arrived there in waves of immigration such as the one to Jaffa in the days of the invasion by Mohammed Ali and his sons of many areas of the coastal plain. Residents of the Ottoman Empire, which became Mandate Palestine, did not have a different ethnic or religious identity from those of the Egyptian Arabs.
Various records from the end of 1949 show that some 202,000 refugees arrived in the Gaza strip, mostly from Jaffa, Be'er Sheva and Majdal (Ashkelon). The numbers may be inflated because some of the local poor also joined the list of those receiving welfare hand-outs. The refugees arrived in a place where they were part of the majority from all points of view: ethnic, national and religious. Egypt thought differently. For a start, as early as September 1948, the "Government of all of Palestine" was set up, under Ahmed al-Baki. This was an Egyptian-sponsored organisation, which sprang from rivalry with Jordan. The so-called Palestinian government faded away after a decade.
What happened to the people of the Gaza Strip? How did the Egyptians treat them? Strangely, there are very few items of research relating to those days. But it is a little difficult to hide that not so distant past. The Strip became a closed camp. The exit from Gaza was almost impossible. The Gazans (indigenous and refugees) were subject to strict limitations on employment, education and more. Every evening a curfew was enforced from sunset to sunrise the next day. Only in one field did Egypt help as much as it could: textbooks contained severe incitement against Jews. As early as 1950 Egypt informed the UN that "due to over-population" it could not help the Palestinians by resettling them. That was a suspect excuse. Egypt scuppered a proposal by the UN to re-settle 150,000 refugees in Libya. Even many of the refugees who had run away earlier and were in Egypt proper were forced to move to the giant concentration camp which was being created in the Gaza Strip. In fact, all the proposals for the re-settlement of refugees were brought down by the Arab nations.
Despite the total closure, there are witness statements telling what happened in the Strip in those years. The American journalist Martha Gellhorn visited the refugee camps in 1961. She arrived in the Strip too. It wasn't simple. Gellhorn describes the bureaucratic torture involved in securing an entry visa to Gaza, the days of waiting in Cairo. She also describes the "stark contrast between the pleasantries of the clerks and the anti-Semitic propaganda flowering in Cairo". "The Gaza Strip is not a hole", recounts Gellhorn, "but a big prison. The Government of Egypt is the prison guard". She describes a strict military regime, with all the elite of the Gaza Strip residents expressing devoutly Nasserite views. And so, for instance, "during 13 years (1948-1961) only 300 refugees received temporary exit visas". The only thing the Egyptians provided for the Palestinians was hate propaganda.
This isn't the only witness. In 1966 a Saudi Arabian newspaper published a letter from a resident of the Strip:
"I would be happy if the Strip was conquered by Israel. That way at least we would know that those who abuse our honour, hurt us and torture us – are the Zionist oppressor, Ben Gurion and not the Arab brother whose name is Abdel Nasser. The Jews did not suffer under Hitler as we are suffering under Nasser. In order to go to Cairo or Alexandria or other towns, we have to go through torture."
Radio Jeddah in Saudi Arabia broadcasted the following:
"We are aware of the laws which prevent Palestinians from working in Egypt. We must ask Cairo what is this iron curtain which Abdel Nasser and his band have erected around the strip and the refugees? The military governor in Gaza has forbidden every Arab to travel to Cairo without a military permit, which is valid for only 24 hours. Imagine, Arabs, how Nasser, who claims to be the Arab national pioneer, is behaving towards the miserable Arabs of Gaza, who are starving whilst the military governor and his officers enjoy the riches of the Strip."
Even if we take into account that these are exaggerated descriptions, in a framework of the struggle between Saudi Arabia and Nasser, still we are left with a repressive regime of two decades. And it is worth noting another fact – when Israel got to the Strip the local life expectancy was just 48. After a little more than two decades, life expectancy jumped to 72, and surpassed Egypt. More than allocating points to Israel, this just clarifies the depths in which the Strip was during Egyptian rule.
Refugees from Mandate Palestine also lived in Egypt itself. Many of them did not feel Palestinian and preferred integration. The Egyptians prevented them from achieving that. Apart from a short period of time considered a 'golden era', in some of the years of Nasser's rule, which did not include the Gaza Strip refugees, those in Egypt too suffered restrictions on land purchase, employment in some professions and education (for instance a ban on the establishment of Palestinian schools). Egyptian citizenship law allows citizenship for anyone with an Egyptian father, and was subsequently extended to include Egyptian mothers. But in practice, limitations were placed upon those considered Palestinian. Even an Egyptian court decision to cancel the restrictions did not help. The new regime in Egypt recently promised change. The change, if it does occur, can wipe out years of discrimination, which even reached collective punishment. For instance in 1978 the Egyptian Minister of Culture - Yussuf al Shiba'I - was murdered in Cyprus by an assassin from the Abu Nidal group. In retaliation, the Palestinians suffered a new wave of attacks and the Egyptian Parliament renewed laws putting restrictions on Palestinians in education and employment.
Exactly as the identity and the unity between the Arabs of Jaffa and the south of Israel and the Arabs of Egypt were one, a similar identity existed between the Arabs of the West Bank and the Arabs of Jordan. So, for instance, the Bedouin of the Majalis (or Majilis) tribe from the Al Karak area are originally from Hebron. In the days of the Ottoman Empire the eastern bank of the Jordan was part of the province of Damascus, just like other parts of what later became the protectorate of the British Mandate. The area today called Jordan was supposed to be part of the Jewish National Home, according to the Balfour Declaration.
The initial plight of the refugees on both sides of the Jordan was enormous. In the Schem area, for example, witness statements said that "Iraqi soldiers take the children of the rich and others for indecent deeds and return the children to their families the next day, the residents are frequently arrested". Yes, Arab solidarity. Jordan, so it would seem, related differently to the refugees. According to a Jordanian law from the year 1954, every refugee who was in Jordan between 1948 and 1954 had the right to citizenship. Except that this was no more than an external façade. The following is a description of the reality under Jordanian rule in the West Bank:
"We have not forgotten and will never forget the nature of the regime which denigrated our honour and trod on our human feelings. A regime which was built on inquisition and the boots of the people of the desert. We lived for a long time under the humiliation of Arab nationalism, and it hurts us to say that we needed to wait for the Israeli occupation in order to become aware of humanitarian treatment of citizens."
As these words may sound like a public relations booklet from the occupation regime, it is necessary to point out that they were published, in the name of visitors from the West Bank, in an interview in the Lebanese newspaper 'Al Huadat' on 23.4.71.
As in all the other Arab nations, Jordan did nothing to dismantle the refugee camps. Whilst Israel was receiving hundreds of thousands of refugees, from Europe and from the Arab states, into similar camps (Ma'abarot), but went through a tortuous period of rehabilitation, building of new settlements and the dismantling of the camps, Jordan behaved in the opposite manner, and prevented all rehabilitation. In those same two decades not one institution of higher education was built in the West Bank. Higher Education there began in the seventies as a result of the Israeli rule.
The citizenship which had been given to the refugees was mostly for appearances' sake. Even though the Palestinians make up more than 50% of Jordan's population, they are eligible for only 18 seats, out of 110, in the Jordanian Parliament, and only 9 senators, out of 55, which are appointed by the king. It must be remembered that in only one month, September 1970, in one clash, Jordan killed more Palestinians than all the Palestinians harmed in 43 years of Israeli rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In the year 1919 in Jerusalem the first conference of associations was held, the first Arab Palestinian conference. At the conference it was decided that Palestine, which had just come under British conquest, was southern Syria – an integral part of Greater Syria. During the years of the Mandate the immigration from Syria to the British Mandate area increased. For instance, the Al-Horani family, which arrived from the Horan area in Syria, and others. The idea of 'Greater Syria', including mandatory Palestine, was expressed in the growing involvement of the Syrians in both the great Arab revolt and the gangs which arrived from Syria during the war of independence. The refugees, therefore, were not strangers politically, religiously or ethnically. The opposite. Their fate should not been different to that of any other ethnic group which were expelled to a place where they made up the ethnic and cultural majority.
Between 70 and 90 thousand refugees arrived in Syria, the majority from Tzfat, Haifa, Tiberias and Acco. In 1954 they were awarded partial rights, which did not include political rights. Until 1968 they were forbidden to hold property. Syrian law allows any Arab to obtain Syrian citizenship as long as his permanent residence is in Syria and he is capable of supporting himself economically. But the Palestinians are the only ones excluded from the terms this law. Even if they are permanent residents and affluent, the law prevents them from receiving citizenship.
Only thirty percent of those still considered for some reason 'Palestinian refugees in Syria' live in refugee camps. In fact, they should have been considered as Syrians from all points of view a long time ago. They were part of the Arab national identity, they are linked by family connections, they should have been integrated into economic life. Yet despite this, as a result of political brain-washing, they remain in Syria as a foreign body, dreaming endlessly of 'the right of return', and beaten by their inferior situation. Most of them are at the bottom of the career ladder, in service industries (41%) and construction (27%). But there is nothing like the field of education to clarify their situation. 23% do not even get to elementary school and 3% only get academic education.
In the Gaza Strip the Palestinians only suffered for two decades because of the Egyptian regime. In Lebanon the apartheid continues to this very day. The result is poverty, desolation and high unemployment. Until 1969 there were refugee camps under a harsh military regime in Lebanon. According to Martha Gellhorn's description, most of the refugees lived in a reasonable state. Many even improved their situation compared to the days before the 'Naqba'. But then in 1969 the Cairo Agreement was signed which passed the control of the camps to the refugees themselves. The situation only got worse. Terror factions took control of the camps, which turned them into sites of struggle, mainly violent, between the differing factions.
New research, published in December 2010, presents statistics which make the Gaza Strip look like paradise when compared to Lebanon. Yes, here and there appeared some slight publicity on the subject, but as far as is known, there was no international outcry, and no Turkish or international flotilla.
Unlike in Syria and Jordan, where most of those defined as refugees no longer live in refugee camps, two thirds of the Palestinians in Lebanon live in camps, which are "outposts outside the rule of the state". The most amazing statistic is that despite the fact that around 425,000 are registered with UNWRA as refugees, the research found that only between 260 and 280 thousand Palestinians live in Lebanon. The paradox is that UNWRA gets funding for over 150 thousand people who are not in Lebanon at all. This information alone should have led to a serious investigation by the funding countries (mostly the US and Europe) – but there is no chance that will happen. The question of the Palestinians is laden with so many illusions and lies that another lie makes almost no difference. And so, UNWRA can demand from the international community budgets for 425,000 whilst on its website there appears research showing that this is fiction.
According to the research the refugees suffer from 56% unemployment. It seems that this is the highest figure not only among the Palestinians, but in the entire Arab world. Those who do work are to be found at the bottom of the ladder. Just 6% of those within the work-force have an academic qualification of some kind (compared to 20% in the Lebanese work-force). The result is that 66% of the Palestinians in Lebanon live under the poverty line set at $6 per person per day. That's double the number of Lebanese.
This grim situation is a result of real apartheid. A series of laws in Lebanon limits the right to citizenship, to property and to work within the legal professions, medicine, pharmacy, journalism and more. In August 2010 minimal reform was made to the employment laws but practically, the amendment has not led to any real change. Another rule prevents the entrance of building materials to refugee camps and there are reports of arrests and house demolitions as a result of building in the camps. The partial and limited restrictions which Israel put on the entry of building materials into the Gaza Strip was a result of the firing of rockets at civilian areas. As far as is known, in Lebanon the restriction was not the result of similar firing of rockets at civilian populations. And despite that, again, beyond the dry reports of human rights organisations, from the point of view of 'they are allowed', no serious objections have been recorded, and no "apartheid week" against Lebanon has taken place.
In 1991 Palestinians made up 30% of the country's population. Compared to other Arab countries, their situation was reasonable. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. In the framework of attempts at compromise which preceded the first Gulf war, Saddam brought up the 'suggestion' of withdrawal from Kuwait in return for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. The PLO with Yasser Arafat at its head supported Saddam. That support was the opening shot for one of the worst events in Palestinian history. After the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation began an anti-Palestinian campaign which included persecution, arrests and show trials. The difficult saga ended with the expulsion of 450,000 Palestinians. Some of which, incidentally, had been there since the 1930s and many had no connection to Arafat's support for Saddam. And despite that, they were subject to collective punishment, transfer of proportions similar to the 'Naqba' of 1948, which barely merited a mention in the world media. There are numerous academic papers on the expulsion and fleeing in 1948. There are close to zero papers on the subject of the 'Naqba' of '91.
These are the main nations in which refugees are to be found. Apartheid exists in other countries too. In Saudi Arabia the refugees from mandatory Palestine did not receive citizenship. In 2004 Saudi Arabia announced concessions, but made it clear that they did not include the Palestinians. Jordan too withholds the naturalisation of 150,000 refugees, most originally from Gaza. In Iraq the refugees actually received preferential treatment under Saddam Hussein's rule, but since his fall, they have become one of the most persecuted groups. Twice, on the Libyan-Egyptian border and on the Syrian-Iraqi border, thousands of Palestinians were expelled to temporary camps, whilst no other Arab country would take them in. That was an amazing display of 'Arab solidarity', on behalf of 'the Arab Ummah'. And it goes on. Palestinians from Libya, refugees from the civil war, are arriving at this time at the border with Egypt, which refuses to let them in.
Time after time the Arab countries have rejected suggestions for the resettlement of the refugees, despite there being both place available and the need. The march goes on. In 1995 the Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi decided to expel 30,000 Palestinians, just because he was angry about the Oslo accords, with the PLO, and about the creation of the Palestinian Authority. A Palestinian doctor, Dr. Ashraf al Hazuz, spent 8 years in a Libyan jail (together with Bulgarian nurses) having been accused of spreading AIDS. In August 2010, before the current uprising, Libya passed laws making the lives of Palestinians impossible. These were the same days in which Libya sent a 'humanitarian aid ship' to the Gaza Strip. There is no limit to the hypocrisy.
These words are just the essence of the apartheid against minorities in the Arab world as a whole, and against the Palestinians in particular. But there is a difference. Whilst the Copts in Egypt or the Kurds in Syria are real minorities, the Arabs from mandate Palestine were supposed to be an integral part of the Arab nation –the Ummah. Two of the symbols of the Palestinian struggle were born in Egypt - Edward Said and Yasser Arafat. Both of them tried to invent for themselves Palestine as a fatherland. Another two of the prominent symbols of the Palestinian struggle are Fawzi Kuakgi (who contended with the Mufti for the leadership of the Arab revolt against the British) and Izz a Din Al Kassam. The first was Lebanese and the second Syrian. There is nothing strange in that. Because the struggle was Arab. Not Palestinian. And despite that the Arabs of mandate Palestine turned into a downtrodden and rejected group, as a result of the Arab defeat in 1948. In the vast majority of the descriptions from those years are of Arabs. Not of Palestinians. Later, only later, did they become Palestinians.