Refugees caught in no-mans land
WHERE NEXT? Another child of our time? Stranded at al Tanaf on Syrian border.
AS though being driven from their homeland almost 60 years ago was not enough, Palestinians who tried to build new lives in Iraq are once again finding themselves homeless refugees, caught between the barbarity that the imperialists have uncaged in today's "free" Iraq, and the callousness of other Arab states.
An end of the year Action Alert from al Awda(the Return) coalition says that according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other relief agencies, several hundred Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes in Iraq are now stranded in no man's land on the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
Al-Hol and Al-Tanaf camps, located on Iraq's border with Syria, consist of makeshift tents. The camps have become the home of 655 displaced Palestinian men, women and children who continue to languish there under extremely difficult conditions. Another camp, Al-Walid, was just established recently to house an additional 41 Palestinians, all of whom were forced to leave by militias loyal
to the US-backed Iraqi government.
Al-Tanaf camp with its 350 residents is located in a remote area
about 260 kilometers away from the nearest populated area. The
only services the camp receives is provided by local area organizations whose access to the camps may be limited at any time. About 10% of the refugees in Al-Tanaf need urgent medical care which they are not receiving.
In Al-Ruweished refugee camp, which is located on the border with Jordan, there are 148 Palestinians caught in a similar untenable situation. Some of Al-Ruweished's residents have been there for close to three years. Most of the children in the camp have been denied education during that time.
There is more than a tragic historical echo to all this. In 1938 the Nazis in Germany set about deporting all Polish Jews in the country. Some 12,000 were sent to the Polish border, where they were refused admission, and stranded. Sheltering as best they could in disused farm buildings, they were fed now and then by the Polish Red Cross and Jewish charities. A desperate couple called the Grynszpans managed to send a postcard to their son in Paris, pleading for him to help them get away to America.
Hirschl Grynszpan, 17, himself stateless and unable to get work, could do nothing to help his parents. After trying desperately to get help, he took a gun, went to the German embassy, and shot a diplomat. The Nazis made this the pretext for their planned Kristallnacht pogrom against the Jews of Germany. Looking back we could say the Holocaust had begun.
In his speech from the dock, young Hirschl Grynnszpan said: "Being a Jew is not a crime. I am not a dog. I have a right to live and the Jewish people have the right to exist on this earth. Where I have been I have been chased like an animal."
The Grynszpan case aroused sympathy from Leon Trotsky, who knew what it was to be hunted from country to country and denied entry, http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1939/1939-grnszpan.htm and inspired the composer Michael Tippet's oratorio "A Child of Our Time". This was aptly conducted by Daniel Barenboim when he brought his West-East Divan Orchestra, founded with Edward Said, to the 2005 BBC London proms. Substitute "Palestinian" for "Jew" and "Jewish" and you still have a lesson for our time.
The combination of Nazi genocide and the world, notably America, closing its doors on Jewish refugees, led within ten years to the UN decision to partition Palestine. The United States and the Soviet Union backed the creation and expansion of the State of Israel, and it was the Palestinians' turn to be made refugees.
Let al Awda resume the story:
Largely as a consequence of their expulsion from their own homeland by Zionists upon the imposition of the state of Israel in 1948, thirty-four thousand Palestinian refugees lived in Iraq prior to the American invasionin 2003 . Many have since faced harassment, threats of deportation, abuse by the media, arbitrary detention, torture and murder. Palestinian neighborhoods such as al-Hurriyya and al-Baladiyyat in Baghdad have been bombarded and attacked ever
since the US occupation. Many Palestinians were expelled from their homes and initially took shelter in tents in Haifa stadium in Baghdad. Others were either killed, imprisoned or have beenforced to leave.
According to the United Nations, a total of about 19,000Palestinians have left Iraq since 2003, and only 15,000 remain.The Syrian and Jordanian authorities have thus far refused entry to the Palestinian refugees currently stranded in Al-Hol, Al-Tanaf, Al-Ruweishedand
Al-Walid refugee camps.
Here is how you can learn more and help out:
- For a fact sheet on the current situation of Palestinian refugees stranded on the Iraq borders, please see http://al-awdacal.org/iraq-facts.html
- For recent photos from Al-Tanaf refugee camp, please see http://al-awdacal.org/refugees/iraq-photos.html
Al Awda, the US-based coalition for the Palestinian Right to Return is calling on all people of conscience to do the following:
Contact the US Department of State to demand that the American occupationforces in Iraq put an end to anti-Palestinian attacks. According to the Geneva Conventions, the US is obliged and expected to protect all civiliansin areas it is occupying by force.
Write and call Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at http://www.congress.org/congressorg/mail/?agencyindid=117&type=AN
Address: 2201 C St., N.W.Washington, DC 20520, Tel: 1-202-647-4000 Fax: 1-202-647-22832.
(In the UK we could write to Margaret Beckett, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or write to your own MP asking them to raise the issue with her).
Write and call the Syrian embassy in your own country to ask that the stranded Palestinians on Syria's borders be admitted into Syria without delay.
Write and call the Jordanian embassy in your country and ask that the Palestinian refugees stranded in Al-Ruweished camp be admitted into Jordanwithout any further delay
Write and call the Iraqi "embassy" and demand an immediate end to the persecution of Palestinian refugees in Iraq.
Write and call United Nations offices and demand that:-- The United Nations agencies do their utmost to ensure that the Palestinian population in Iraq is protected in the interim.
-- That UNRWA and UNHCR provide the refugees stranded at the Iraqi-Syrian and Iraqi-Jordanian border with shelter, basic and medical needs until their situation is resolved.
-- UNRWA and UNHCR help Syria and Jordan as needed, to admit the stranded Palestinians.
-- Demand that The United Nations act to ensure implementation of the inalienable natural, legal, individual and collective rights of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and land of origin in Palestine per United Nations Resolution 194. This resolution has been affirmed more than 130 times by the United Nations General Assembly since 1948 with the imposition of the state of Israel, and the expulsion and dispossession of the refugees.
Write and Call H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan, The Secretary General of the United Nations at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
PO Box 131352Carlsbad, CA 92013, USA
Tel: 760-685-3243 Fax: 360-933-3568