Even as some Australian Palestinians and their supporters spent Tuesday evening disrupting commuters in Sydney in the course of their Nakba Day protests against Israel, SBS World News ran a segment on the recent resettlement of several dozen Iraqi Palestinian refugees in Australia.
(While the video will only be accessible on the SBS website for the next week, a transcript of the segment has been created for the purposes of this blog and can be referenced here.)
While the segment was framed by the SBS presenters as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue of Palestinian refugees on the anniversary of Israel’s creation, in reality the story had very little to do with Israel.
Instead, the subtext of the segment clearly spotlighted two issues: first, the mistreatment of Palestinians by Arab governments that claim to support them, and second, the resistance of Mideast governments, including especially Palestinian political leaders, to the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in other countries – even if the refugee families demand it.
In the four-minute SBS clip – a must-see – some of the refugees are observed arriving at the airport, where they are eager to tell anybody who will listen the terrible ways they have been mistreated. Not mistreated by Israel, mind you, but by Arab governments and societies.
Said arriving refugee Shhadi Ameen Badwan about his family’s treatment in Iraq:
“[Iraqis] would come to our homes and draw a noose on the door saying that they will hang us if we do not leave. We were targeted as Palestinians. They would say that the buildings we live in are theirs. They say that Iraqi families are living on the streets while we are living in buildings. They say they do not want us there at all and we have to leave.”
Saddam Hussein had given preferential treatment (although not citizenship) to Palestinians during his reign as he sought to fashion himself a champion of the Palestinian cause. After Saddam was deposed in 2003, however, many Iraqis bore resentment and expelled the Palestinians from their midst.
Many ended up in squalid tent camps on the Syrian-Iraqi border.
Separated by time and distance from the Palestinian conflict, Iraqi-Palestinians tended to be perhaps less interested than others in being drawn back into it. Unlike the Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, the Iraqi-Palestinians fell under the jurisdiction of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) instead of the UNRWA organisation created specifically for Palestinians.
In interviews conducted during the refugee crisis, Iraqi Palestinians repeatedly expressed their eagerness to be settled quickly out of the region and welcomed an end to their refugee status.
“We just want to be resettled,” a 53-year-old Iraqi-Palestinian told a reporter for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in 2009.
“I don’t mind where. I just want to live the rest of my days in peace.”
The article continued:
Europe is the hope for most refugees who point out that each country need only take 10 families each in order to empty out the camps. Every visit by a foreign delegation raises the refugees’ hopes of resettlement. But without pledges by any countries, it remains just that – a hope.
Syria and Jordan rebuffed appeals from the UN, US and human rights NGOs to accept Iraqi-Palestinian refugees.
A report in the UK’s Times in 2009 further illuminated the gulf between the politics of Palestinians and the reality of those like these Iraqi-Palestinians that seek resettlement.
“Resettlement is a dirty word when it comes to the Palestinians,” Laurens Jolles, the head of the UN refugee mission in Damascus, said. The Palestinian Authority and the governments of Arab states oppose resettlement on grounds of political principle, an abrogation of the right to return to Palestine and an abandonment of hopes of a Palestinian state. “We don’t agree with that,” Mr Jolles said.
Neither do the refugees. “We don’t have a nationality, a passport, a home,” Mr Ahmad said. “We want to be settled. Who are they to tell us what is good for Palestinians? No Arab country wants us so if a European one does then I will go there. It is about our children’s future.”
In 2009, the US announced that it would accept 1350 Iraqi-Palestinians:
Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington advocacy group, applauded the U.S. decision, calling it “a significant step … consistent with the new U.S. message of accommodation and finding solutions with the Muslim world.”
However, Mr. Asali cautioned that it is bound to irk Palestinian and Arab leaders who interpret U.S. willingness to resettle Palestinians — which comes with full rights such as citizenship down the road — as “a conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian refugee issue.”
In fact, the thinking Mr. Asali mentions means that any public move to resettle Palestinian refugees, nor matter the circumstances, can risk a vociferous and even violent reaction from some Palestinian actors. In 2001, then-Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley merely mused that in the context of a peace deal, some Palestinian refugees could be resettled, if they wished, in Canada. For this, he was burned in effigy at demonstrations in the West Bank (for more details, see this Ottawa Citizen news story, as well as this except from Efraim Karsh’s book, Israel in the International Arena.)
So it would not be surprising if the Australian government has kept this resettlement relatively quiet by design.
While politically incorrect, the quiet success of the Iraqi-Palestinian resettlement cannot be ignored by Australians, who may yet question why any Palestinians should be forced to be used as political pawns against their will, when many would be satisfied with being absorbed in a new country.
After all, Subhi Ameen Badwan, a brother to the recent refugee arrivals who himself arrived in Australia in 2007, volunteered to SBS that he would be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country: Australia.
“I would sacrifice my blood for Australia. Australia is democracy. We’ve seen real democracy here. We’ve never seen that in any Arab nation. All we saw there is killing and death.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence of how the refugee issue is cynically exploited to harm Israel, mainstream syndicated articles continue to be written with a fundamental misreading of the situation. All to often, these articles rely to heavily upon Palestinian sources, or those of self-serving agencies whose existence relies upon the perpetuation of Palestinian misery, such as UNRWA.
Commenting on the the Iraqi-Palestinian refugee situation in 2009, the pro-Israel blog Elder of Zion offered a clear read on how the resettlement of this group highlights the contrast between UNHCR, which actually works to lower the numbers of refugees, and UNRWA, which does nothing but work to increase the number – whether real or imagined.
More recently, the blog took apart a Reuters article which parroted UNRWA’s line.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, Clfford D. May, President of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies gave his own take on the Palestinian refugee canard.
UNRWA’s plan is to continue growing – rather than shrinking – the Palestinian refugee population ad infinitum. According to UNHCR projections, by 2030 UNRWA’s refugee list will reach 8.5 million. By 2060 there will be 25 times the number registered by UNRWA in 1950 – even though not one of those who actually left Israel is likely to still be breathing.
Finally, in related commentary regarding Nakba Day, former AIJAC analyst Dr. Daniel Mandel writes in the Washington Times about what he terms the perverse implications of a Palestinian mindset that celebrates its refugee status.
The very fact that Naqba commemorations are held today is therefore instructive in a way few realize: It informs us that Palestinians have not admitted or assimilated the fact – as the Germans and Japanese have done – that they became victims as a direct result of their efforts to be perpetrators.
It informs us that Palestinians still would like to succeed today at what they miserably failed to achieve then.
It also informs us that they take no responsibility for their own predicament, which is uniquely maintained to this day at their own insistence.