Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Egypt jails Syrian Palestinians. So why do they treat them this way?

You know how the Arab world loves to say that Palestinians are their highest priority?

Well, not so much.

From Reuters, finally picking up on a story I've had for months:
Of the 2 million people who fled Syria's civil war, none may have it worse than Palestinians, who have known no other home than Syria but do not have Syrian citizenship and have therefore been denied even the basic rights secured for other refugees.

The United Nations says the Egyptian government has refused it permission to register Palestinians from Syria as refugees and give them the yellow card that allows them to settle. As a result, hundreds of Palestinians civilians have ended up detained in police stations, with no place else to go.

If the family [on the ill-fated boat that was intercepted] were Syrian citizens, once detained they would most likely have been permitted to leave Egypt for refugee camps in other countries in the region, says Human Rights Watch.

But because they are Palestinians they have been given no other option but to camp out in a police station indefinitely, or somehow make their way back to the war zone in Syria.

Turkey and Jordan will not accept Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon will only allow them to pass through for 48 hours.

So they live at the four storey police station in Alexandria, where cold winter wind blows in from the sea and families of Palestinians sleep on blankets on cement floors.

They receive one meal a day from an aid group. Many pass idle days praying. The sounds of children crying echo through the drafty chambers.

All those who spoke to Reuters asked that their names not be used to prevent reprisals by the police.

Among some 300,000 people who have fled Syria to Egypt are an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Palestinians, many born in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, established in 1957, which was nearly destroyed by air strikes earlier this year.

The overwhelming majority of the Palestinians have never set foot in the Palestinian territories and have considered Syria their only home. But Egypt refuses to allow the United Nations refugee agency to treat them like other refugees from Syria.

"It is the view of the government of Egypt that Palestinians fall outside of UNHCR's mandate," said Teddy Leposky, a UNHCR spokesman in Cairo. "UNHCR has therefore not been able to provide assistance or advocate effectively on behalf of Palestinian refugees in Egypt."

Hundreds caught in Egypt without the proper documents or apprehended trying to leave for other countries have been detained indefinitely without criminal charge, say lawyers representing them.

"(Prosecutors) have ordered them released, but national security has ordered them detained until they are deported," said Mahmoud Belal of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights.
The reason Egypt doesn't allow UNHCR to register the Palestinian Syrian refugees is also because of its history of treating Palestinians like dirt.

Between 1948 and 1967, Egypt did not allow any of the (real) Palestine Arab refugees to settle in Egypt. They moved them all to Gaza, effectively making Gaza into - you guessed it - an open air prison.

UNRWA was allowed to work in Gaza, but not in Egypt proper, because there were no refugees there.

Now, Egypt says that the Syrian Palestinian refugees don't fall under UNHCR, but under UNRWA - which is not allowed to work in Egypt!

So from this article we see that Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are explicitly discriminating against Palestinian Arabs. Yet these are the very same countries that insist that they are the biggest defenders of Palestinians!

How to reconcile the two?

Because to the Arab world, and even to Palestinian Arab leaders themselves, the entire point of Palestinian Arab nationalism is not to help Arabs whose ancestors happened to live in British Mandate Palestine from 1946-48 (the UNRWA definition of refugee.) No, for them, "supporting Palestine" is just a code phrase for "destroying Israel."

And keeping Palestinian Arabs stateless and miserable is a key part of that plan, in the hopes that one day they will "return" to flood Israel and destroy the Jewish state.

Even if it takes another 65 years.

As usual, every inconsistent Arab position and action vis a vis the Palestinian issue makes perfect sense when you look at it through the right prism.

(h/t Yoel)