Refugee: Palestinians in Arab countries have it bad, too

November 30, 2012

A day after the U.N. General Assembly voted to grant Palestinians limited recognition of statehood, Israel authorized the construction of 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, prompting swift condemnation from Palestinians.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that with its announcement, Israel was “defying the whole international community and insisting on destroying the two-state solution.”

The AP also noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has "refused to negotiate with Israel while settlement construction continues in occupied territories." 

The news media have reported frequently on Israel's settlement building in the West Bank and its blockade of the Gaza Strip, but the experience of Palestinians in surrounding Arab countries is less well-known.

Palestinian children show bullet casings they gathered after early morning clashes in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh near the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, on March 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
Palestinian children show bullet casings they gathered after early morning clashes in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh near the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon in March 2011. (Mohammed Zaatari/AP)

In a long online Q&A on Reddit, one Palestinian refugee challenges the assumption that Israel is the only country in the region that has either restricted the rights of or discriminated against Palestinians. The situation of Palestinians in Israel's neighbors has been just as bad as many Palestinians say it is in the West Bank, he writes.

Here are some of the Arab countries the user throwaway874832749 highlights:

Lebanon:

At least 300,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon in what Human Rights Watch calls "appalling social and economic conditions." They're blocked from working in a variety of professions, and the Lebanese government has largely resisted granting them broader property rights.

The Redditor quotes British member of Parliament Gerald Kaufman on his 2011 visit to the refugee camps in Lebanon:

When I went to Gaza in 2010 I thought I had seen the worst that could be seen of the appalling predicament of Palestinians living in conditions which no human being should be expected to endure. But what I saw in the camps in Lebanon is far worse and far more hopeless. The conditions are unspeakable, but for over 400,000 of our fellow human beings this is their life: today, tomorrow and for a future that cannot even be foreseen. At least in Gaza, frightful though the situation is, the people are free within the confines of their blockaded prison. In the camps of Lebanon they are not free.

Egypt

Egypt recently helped broker the most recent cease-fire between Gazans and Israeli troops, and in July, Egypt eased travel restrictions on Palestinians. In addition, some 50,000 Palestinians, most of them from the Gaza Strip, have been granted Egyptian citizenship over the past few months.

Before this summer, however, a years-long, restrictive travel policy meant that most Palestinians attempting to cross the border into or out of Gaza had to be escorted by Egyptian security guards, and they were sometimes detained at the border or airport for days as a result. 

"It's time to end this and forever. It makes no sense to travel all over the world, then Egypt, an Arab country, treats you like an animal," Youssef Ramadan, a 36-year old merchant from Gaza traveling to China through Egypt, told Al-Jazeera.

The measures instituted in July ended the procedure, allowing Palestinians to cross through Egypt according to their own arrangements and stay in the country for up to 72 hours to do so, al-Jazeera reported.

Iraq

Life for Iraq's Palestinians deteriorated after the fall of Saddam Hussein, who had encouraged the migration of thousands of Palestinians to Iraq in the early 1990s. After he was deposed, Shiite militias began attacking Palestinians, angered by their association with the the pro-Hussein Baathists and, later, by allegations that they supported the Sunni Arab insurgency, according to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.

Baghdad was once home to 30,000 Palestinians, but more than half have fled since the U.S.-led invasion there. In 2010, UNHCR finally closed a refugee camp on the Iraq-Syria border where hundreds of Palestinians had been stranded for years. Earlier this year, Palestinian refugees appealed to Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, saying that they had been denied medical care and had to use fake ID cards to receive treatment.

"After the 2003 war [Palestinians] were severely targeted with discrimination or killings and the majority fled the country," throwaway874832749 writes. "If a non-Palestinian Arab speaks of the maltreatment of Palestinians by Israelis, tell them to ... demand rights for Palestinians in their [own] countries."

Judging from the number of supportive comments he's received, it seems he may have struck a chord.

What do you think? Have Palestinians faced challenges in other parts of the Arab world?

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