Op-Ed: The Poor Palestinians
In case you thought the title was referring to the Arab Palestinians living in Gaza, or even Judea and Samaria, you’d be wrong. From my vantage point, these Arab Palestinians have it pretty good, whether in relation to Palestinians living elsewhere, even in Jordan, or to Arabs generally, living in Egypt or Turkey.
“Palestinian” is a name given to Arabs after the ’67 War, who lived or did live in the area known as "Palestine" during the Palestine Mandate and afterwards right up to the present and includes their descendants even if such descendants never set foot in the area known as Palestine.
Whereas United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) has resettled over 10 million refugees since WWII, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a relief and human development agency, providing education, health care, social services and emergency aid to 5 million Arab Palestine refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. UNRWA was specifically created to maintain the refugee status, not to end it.
Under UNRWA’s operational definition, Arab Palestine refugees are people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. It also includes their descendants.
The world is focused excessively on the “poor Palestinians” living in Gaza or Judea and Samaria and ignores the Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, Syria or Jordan where they number in excess of 400,000, 450,000 and about 2,000,000 respectively. To add to the picture UNRWA had listed in 2010 in excess of 775,000 refugees in the West Bank and 1.1 million in Gaza.
As of January 2010, UNRWA cites 1,396,368 registered refugees in camps and 3,370,302 registered refugees not in camps”. And of course there are millions of Arab Palestinians who are not refugees.
The Arab League has instructed its members to deny citizenship to Palestinian Arab refugees (or their descendants) “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland”.
- “Palestinians are deprived of certain basic rights. Lebanon barred Palestinian refugees from 73 job categories including professions such as medicine, law and engineering. They are not allowed to own property, and even need a special permit to leave their refugee camps. Unlike other foreigners in Lebanon, they are denied access to the Lebanese health care system. The Lebanese government refused to grant them work permits or permission to own land. The number of restrictions has been mounting since 1990”
According to a major report titled, Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon by Sherifa Shafie:
“Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have the worst socio-economic situation in UNRWA’s five areas of operations with the highest percentage of Special Hardship Cases (SHCs).
“..since the early 1990’s, Lebanon has placed immense restrictions on the Palestinians in the form of legislation: Palestinian refugees have no political, social or civil rights (UNRWA, 2002). Any question of granting them rights is seen as a step towards permanent integration (USCR Report, 1999: 2). Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are discriminated against and harassed on a daily basis. They are liable to be arrested, detained and harassed by security forces, as well as by rival Palestinians.”
- “There is a lot of poverty and the unemployment rate is very high. The area of land allocated to the camps has remained the same since 1948. Thus in the more populated camps, the refugees could only expand upwards. Construction is not controlled and buildings do not conform to international safety standards.
Lebanon: Exiled and suffering: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, published by Amnesty International in Oct 2007 was summarized by them as follows:
“This report deals with the appalling social and economic conditions of these refugees, most of whom live in war-torn camps. The discrimination and marginalization suffered by the Palestinian refugees contribute to high levels of unemployment, low wages and poor working conditions. The resultant poverty is exacerbated by restrictions placed on their access to state education and social services.”
Arab Palestinians are treated much better in Syria than in Lebanon or Jordan.
According to a study titled Palestinian Refugees in Syria by the same Sherifa Shafie;
Palestinians in Syria have the “same duties and responsibilities as Syrian citizens other than nationality and political rights.” and are “granted freedom of movement in all parts of Syria.”. They “do not require work permits, they may work in the government, and men must undertake military service (in the Palestine Liberation Army under the Syrian Command). They have the right to own businesses. They also have the right to join labour unions.”
Nevertheless, Shafie reports
- “In most of the UNRWA camps, house constructions remain very basic (UNRWA 2002) : houses are of mud or crude concrete blocks (Brand 1988: 625) . UNRWA is responsible for sewage disposal, solid waste disposal, and control of infestations. The Syrian government provides the basic utilities in the camps; however, the water supply is not constant, most streets are unpaved, and the water and sewage systems, where they exist, are in need of upgrading and repair (UNRWA 2002) .”
In August 2011, the Guardian reported Syria assault on Latakia drives 5,000 Palestinians from refugee camp as “gunships blasted waterfront districts on Sunday in Ltakia, and his ground troops and security forces backed by tanks and armored vehicles stormed several neighborhoods,
In Jordan, less than 20% of the refugees live in camps. This is because when Jordan purported to annex Judea and Samaria after the ’48 War, it granted all the Arabs living there and in Jordan proper, citizenship. After the ’67 War in which Israel regained Judea and Samaria, many more Palestinian Arabs fled to Jordan and over the years since, many Palestinians from Judea and Samaria emigrated there. It is estimated today that the number of Palestinian Arabs in Jordan total in excess of 5,000,000 of which only about 2 million are registered refugees. They constitute about 75¾ of the total population of Jordan. Given this fact and the fact that Judea and Samaria have approximately 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs, one might rightfully argue that Jordan is the Palestinian Arab homeland.
According to Wikipedia,
Palestinians who moved from the 'West Bank' (whether refugees or not) to Jordan, are issued yellow ID cards to distinguish them from the Palestinian Arabs of the “official 10 refugee camps” in Jordan. Since 1988, thousands of those yellow-ID card Palestinian Arabs had their Jordanian citizenship revoked in order to prevent the possibility that they might become permanent residents of the country. Jordan’s Interior Minister Nayef al-Kadi said. It is estimated that over 40,000 Palestinian Arabs have been affected in the preceding months.
- Former UNRWA chief-attorney James G. Lindsay says: “In Jordan, where 2 million Palestinian refugees live, all but 167,000 have citizenship, and are fully eligible for government services including education and health care.”
Mudar Zahran, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, has in the last year written a number of articles which describe the plight of the Palestinian Arabs in Jordan. In Jordan is Palestine, published by the Mid East Quarterly, he writes;
“As a result, the Palestinians of Jordan find themselves discriminated against in government and legislative positions as the number of Palestinian government ministers and parliamentarians decreases; there is not a single Palestinian serving as governor of any of Jordan’s twelve governorships.
“Jordanian Palestinians are encumbered with tariffs of up to 200 percent for an average family sedan, a fixed 16-percent sales tax, a high corporate tax, and an inescapable income tax. Most of their Bedouin fellow citizens, meanwhile, do not have to worry about most of these duties as they are servicemen or public servants who get a free pass. Servicemen or public employees even have their own government-subsidized stores, which sell food items and household goods at lower prices than what others have to pay, and the Military Consumer Corporation, which is a massive retailer restricted to Jordanian servicemen, has not increased prices despite inflation.”
“Decades of such practices have left the Palestinians in Jordan with no political representation, no access to power, no competitive education, and restrictions in the only field in which they can excel: business.”
Palestinian Arabs in Jordan have also developed an intense hatred of the military as they are not allowed to join the army; they see Bedouin servicemen getting advantages in state education and health care, home taxes, and even tariff exemption on luxury vehicles.
- “In most countries with a record of human rights violations, vulnerable minorities are the typical victims. This has not been the case in Jordan where a Palestinian majority has been discriminated against by the ruling Hashemite dynasty, propped up by a minority Bedouin population, from the moment it occupied Judea and Samaria during the 1948 war (these territories were annexed to Jordan in April 1950 to become the kingdom’s West Bank).
Wikipedia amplifies this:
- “There is discrimination against urban areas which consists predominantly of Jordanians of Palestinian origin. This point is argued by Ryan who maintains that the parliament has been dominated by conservative tribal leaders through the manipulation of electoral districts. He has described the institution as a gerrymandered parliament. Jordanian electoral districts are unequal in size, with electoral law over-represents rural conservative districts whilst under-representing urban areas which tend to be the historical base of Palestinian or Islamist support. Some constituencies have seven times as many constituents as others yet have the same number of parliamentary seats . The strategy has resulted in a parliament overwhelmingly representing people from ethnic Transjordan and conservative background governed by tribal affiliations.
Judea and Samaria
The Palestinian Arabs in the Judea, Samaria and Gaza have the right to form a government and govern themselves within the confines of the Oslo Accords. Their government known as the Palestinian Authority (PA) has full autonomy in all matters save for a limitation on matters of security affecting Israel. How they govern themselves is up to them.
In effect the Palestinian Arabs elect Palestinian Arabs to govern them. Whereas in Jordan, the Palestinian Arabs are severely underrepresented in the Chamber of Deputies where the minority Bedouin hold sway. If that wasn’t bad enough, all executive power is vested in the King.
It can safely be said that the Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the authors of their own misfortune. In their past elections, they choose parties, whether Fatah or Hamas, that are wedded to the “resistance” which is a euphemism for terrorism. The result of this “resistance” whether in the form of thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into civilian areas in Israel or the deployment of suicide bombers by Fatah in Jerusalem and Israel generally, Israel has placed restrictions on them such as a legal blockade of Gaza and travel restrictions in the West Bank. These restrictions are for security purposes only and not intended as punishment.
Nevertheless, in the last three years, Israel has been easing these restrictions, and as a result, the Arab Palestinian economy in the PA is experiencing an astounding 7% growth rate.
The PA could at any time compromise their demands and have a state of their own but this they refuse to do. As Gov Romney recently said “It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two-state solution; they want to eliminate the State of Israel,”
But the Palestinian Arabs living in Jordan who have citizenship have no say in their present condition or in their destiny. Their fate is dependent on what the PA chooses to do yet they have no vote in PA elections. Nor do they have a say equivalent to their numbers in Jordan due to the gerrymandering above noted. In cables released by Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy was talking about a deal to integrate the Palestinian Arabs into the political system in Jordan in exchange for them abandoning their illusory right of return. Needless to say, the King went ballistic.
It is the Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon and Jordan who are the poor Palestinians.