Scribblings: The Arab States and Palestinian “return”

Tzvi Fleischer

The Arab States and Palestinian “return”

As is widely known, most Arab states have not exactly been welcoming to the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants. Virtually all Arab states deny Palestinians citizenship even when they are born on their territory – Jordan being the one major exception. There are often additional restrictions that keep Palestinians from building a normal life even after living in a country for generations – restrictions on holding many jobs, on accessing the national education and health systems, on owning land and even where they can live. Lebanon is the worst offender in this regard, but not the only one.

However it is often argued that Palestinians do not want citizenship in these countries and fully support the Arab policy, in place since the 1950s, that refugees and their descendants must be kept stateless until they can return to the original homes inside Israel they left in 1948. For instance, in 2010, when Lebanon eased slightly some of the restrictions on refugees, Reuters reported that:

Palestinians themselves have repeatedly said they oppose plans to settle them in Lebanon, saying they want to go back to the villages their families fled or were forced to flee during fighting which created the state of Israel in 1948.

However, while that is certainly the public line given out by Palestinian leaders, when we look at Palestinian actions as opposed to words, it does not seem to be true. Palestinians, very understandably, are quite prepared to vote with their feet to take up citizenship when given the opportunity.

For instance, more than 50,000 Palestinians managed to gain Lebanese citizenship in the 1950s and 1960s. They achieved it by hiring lawyers and going to court to prove one or more of their ancestors originally came from Lebanon. Another 20,000 obtained citizenship by similar means in the 1990s (Source: “Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon” by Sherifa Shafie on www.forcedmigration.org).

There are around 250,000 Palestinian “refugees” living in Lebanon, so the at least 70,000 who have fought their way through the courts to get citizenship constitute a substantial proportion – and presumably many others have not tried because they do not have the proof of Lebanese ancestry to succeed.

Then there is Egypt. An Egyptian law passed in 2004 grants Egyptian citizenship to children of Egyptian women married to foreign men, with one significant exception – Palestinian men. The Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court in 2006 ruled this exception for Palestinians invalid but the Egyptian Government for years refused to implement this decision. This led to protests by parents demanding Egyptian citizenship for their children, including both a Facebook page dedicated to their plight and a demonstration in Tahrir Square in March 2011.

In the wake of the protests, it was reported that tens of thousands of Gaza residents applied for Egyptian citizenship, claiming descent from an Egyptian ancestor. Finally, the Egyptians authorities in late 2011 granted citizenship to some 1,200 Palestinians. (All information above collected by the “Elder of Ziyon” blog – elderofziyon.blogspot.com.au)

So despite the rhetoric, many Palestinians, perhaps most, will seek citizenship in host countries where they have any chance of getting it.

Thus, the Arab claim to be serving Palestinian interests and preferences by creating discriminatory laws denying them citizenship, even when born on national soil, does not withstand the slightest scrutiny. It is a human rights violation, pure and simple, and should be treated as such.

Antisemitism and Ideology

In this edition, Douglas Davis (pp. 29-30) does a thorough job exploring the worrying implications of the latest polls on antisemitism in Europe.

However, I thought it worth calling attention to one particular result.

Twenty-one percent of all Jews surveyed in a poll conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights said they had experienced at least one incident involving antisemitic “verbal insults, harassment or a physical attack” over the past 12 months. Asked who was responsible for these incidents, 27% of respondents who reported such an incident said the perpetrators had held “Muslim extremist views”, 22% said they held “left-wing political views”, while 19% blamed people with “right-wing views”.

That’s pretty surprising on the face of it. We are talking about Europe, home of various far-right groups, from open neo-Nazis and skinheads to very problematic far-right parties such as Hungary’s Jobbik party, France’s Front National, Britain’s British National Party and English Defence League, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and others. Yet more incidents of antisemitic harassment of European Jews appear, according to the survey, to be coming from left-wing individuals than from adherents to right-wing groups.

Yet it may be less surprising than one would initially think, because up until the rise of Nazism, antisemitism was not generally associated solely with the far right, but also existed quite extensively on the far left. One need only read Karl Marx’s “On the Jewish Question”, or follow the story of Stalin’s “doctors’ plot” show trials to recognise this. In fact, it is worth remembering that historians generally agree that Adolf Hitler picked up many of his antisemitic beliefs from the political atmosphere in his youth created by the antisemitic Christian Socialist Vienna mayor Karl Lueger, whose political origins were primarily on the left.

My point is that there is a naive assumption in much public debate that antisemitism is exclusively a phenomenon of the far right, and the political left is consistently anti-racist and therefore immune to the antisemitic disease. This is not true historically and, as the evidence from the European surveys seem to show, empirically not true today.