Monday, March 3, 2014

Perpetual Nakba

So that Australian (and American, and British, and...) Zionists can lay back in comfort and fantasise about a supposed genetic connection to a set of mythical Middle Eastern figures known as Abraham, Isaac and Joseph, and even, in a manic moment, act on that fantasy by (LOL) ascending ('making aliyah') to Israel, millions of people, refugees from the former Palestine, must perforce remain in exile from their homeland, condemned to lives of never-ending dispossession and turmoil.

More of UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi's moving speech (on the other side of 'the Zionist dream') cited in my previous post:

"Of course, all civilians suffer in Syria. But Palestinians, unlike many Syrians, do not have support networks beyond where they live. They have been buffeted from camp to camp in search of safety. Vastly compounding their plight is the fact that options for external flight are extremely limited. About 53,000 have approached UNRWA in Lebanon, a country hosting also hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, and where the situation of close to 300,000 Palestinians in existing camps is already dire and inhospitable - with limited or no access to jobs, property and services.

"Jordan has an explicit no-entry policy for Palestinians from Syria. Approximately 11,000 have sought assistance from UNRWA there. Throughout the region, in support of Palestinians fleeing Syria, we promote humanitarian principles of non-refoulement and equal treatment of refugees, but to little avail in the case of Jordan. Palestinians are also no longer granted visas to Egypt. Some 5,000 fled the Syria conflict there and are in need of assistance. Making it possible has been a complex exercise in a country undergoing its own, difficult transition.

"Palestinians from Syria are reportedly seeking safety further afield, including in Turkey, in Gaza, even in Asia. Last fall, we saw them board boats by the hundreds towards Europe, and sometimes, tragically, lose their lives at sea. This matches the sad and resigned explanations we are now hearing from Palestinians in Syria and those who have fled to neighboring countries: 'We are not wanted here, we cannot manage any longer. I want my children to have a new life, away from this region, which for us is only trouble.'

"We estimate that at least 70% of the Palestine refugee population in Syria have been displaced, whether inside the country or beyond its borders. It is in fact the largest displacement of Palestinians since 1967, although - one should say - displacement and insecurity have been main characteristics of the Palestinian condition: including the expulsions from Kuwait and Libya, the destruction of camps in the Lebanese civil war and more recently of Nahr el-Bared, and the grave violations of human rights against Palestinians that occurred a few years ago in Iraq.

"And look carefully at pictures of Yarmouk - of the distribution of small parcels of food to thousands of desperate women, men and children coming out of the besieged area. The stark grayness of the people and the rubble remind me of the black-and-white archive pictures from the Palestinian diaspora in 1948: children in tattered clothes and unkempt hair warming themselves by small fires, old people looking into the camera, their lined and leathered faces deep with concern.

"Um Ahmad and many others told me that what is happening to them is as bad as the Nakba of 1948, and in some ways even worse. I first heard this in December 2012, and it has taken me some time to process. How can it be as bad as the seminal story of expulsion and flight from cities and villages, worse than the original forced exile from the homeland? Then, of course, I understood. In 1948, Palestinians fleeing their land were welcomed throughout the region in solidarity. In 2014, there is simply no more welcome. Hence Um Ahmad's question: where do we go? In 1948, they fled with families and neighbours and then set up camps with UNRWA's help that maintained familial and community networks and support systems. Now - in the much more complex patterns of forced displacement that have emerged in the global age - they are often compelled to flee individually, while those networks, built over many years of exile, quickly disintegrate. Economics and logistics dictate that families are separated; young people go alone using the family assets to pay smugglers. Cohesion is lost, solidarity is weakened, hope is threatened. This is a major crisis affecting the scattered Palestinian nation.

"One must understand the special significance that Yarmouk has played in the Palestinian conscience in preserving the precious notions of identity, culture and belonging throughout the exile. Yarmouk was the centre of Palestinian life in Syria, and recognized region-wide as a positive embodiment of diaspora life. An economic and cultural centre, where Palestinian identity was nurtured. It was the example of how Palestinians, though refugees, could thrive on the many opportunities provided by stability, peace, official hospitality and UNRWA services. It was a relative oasis of prosperity in a long and difficult journey. It made the absence of a just solution to the question of Palestine refugees less unbearable. It enabled people to be patient, as they waited for that solution to be found.

"The unfolding tragedy of Yarmouk is therefore devastating to the psyche of every Palestinian refugee in more ways than the sheer suffering of those directly affected by it. There is a ripple effect of anxiety and fear emanating from the Yarmouk experience. Yarmouk has defined Palestinian solidarity and hope, and it now defines the loss and uncertainty not only for its residents, but also for Palestinians all over Syria, and of the wider community.

"Yarmouk has come to represent all places where - for Palestinians and especially refugees - control over one's life is an illusion, where the safety of decades can disappear overnight, where land is confiscated, homes are demolished, rights are denied, travel is restricted, jobs are lost, resentments and prejudices prevail. Yarmouk is Gaza, the open-air prison. Yarmouk is Nahr al-Bared, destroyed by bombs. Yarmouk is Jenin, it is Sabra & Shatila, it is Tel az-Zaater. Yarmouk is the expulsion from Kuwait, it is 1967, all the way back to the Nakba. It was a beacon of resilience. Unless we act quickly, it risks becoming a symbol of dispossession, and of a history of repeated dispossessions."

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