Palestinians in the Arab World: Why the Silence?
by Khaled Abu Toameh
July 20, 2010 at 5:00 am
When was the last time the United Nations Security Council met to condemn an Arab government for its mistreatment of Palestinians?
How come groups and individuals on university campuses in the US and Canada that call themselves "pro-Palestinian" remain silent when Jordan revokes the citizenship of thousands of Palestinians?
The plight of Palestinians living in Arab countries in general, and Lebanon in particular, is one that is often ignored by the mainstream media in West.
How come they turn a blind eye to the fact that Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and many more Arab countries continue to impose severe travel restrictions on Palestinians?
And where do these groups and individuals stand regarding the current debate in Lebanon about whether to grant Palestinians long-denied basic rights, including employment, social security and medical care?
Or have they not heard about this debate at all? Probably not, since the case has failed to draw the attention of most Middle East correspondents and commentators.
A news story on the Palestinians that does not include an anti-Israel angle rarely makes it to the front pages of Western newspapers.
The demolition of an Arab-owned illegal building in Jerusalem is, for most of these correspondents, much more important than the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon continue to suffer from a series of humiliating restrictions.
Not only are Palestinians living in Lebanon denied the right to own property, but they also do not qualify for health care, and are banned by law from working in a large number of jobs.
Can someone imagine what would be the reaction in the international community if Israel tomorrow passed a law that prohibits its Arab citizens from working as taxi drivers, journalists, physicians, cooks, waiters, engineers and lawyers? Or if the Israeli Ministry of Education issued a directive prohibiting Arab children from enrolling in universities and schools?
But who said that the Lebanese authorities have not done anything to "improve" the situation? In fact, the Palestinians living in that country should be grateful to the Lebanese government.
Until 2005, the law prohibited Palestinians from working in 72 professions. Now the list of jobs has been reduced to 50.
Still, Palestinians are not allowed to work as physicians, journalists, pharmacists or lawyers in Lebanon.
Ironically, it is much easier for a Palestinian to acquire American and Canadian citizenship than a passport of an Arab country. In the past, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were even entitled to Israeli citizenship if they married an Israeli citizen, or were reunited with their families inside the country.
Lebanese politicians are now debating new legislation that would grant "civil rights" to Palestinians for the first time in 62 years. The new bill includes the right to own property, social security payments and medical care.
Many Lebanese are said to be opposed to the legislation out of fear that it would pave the way for the integration of Palestinians into their society and would constitute a burden to the economy.
The heated debate has prompted parliament to postpone a vote on the bill until next month.
Nadim Khoury, director of Human Rights Watch in Beirut, said, "Lebanon has marginalized Palestinian refugees for too long and the parliament should seize this opportunity to turn the page and end discrimination against Palestinians."
Rami Khouri, a prominent Lebanese journalist, wrote in The Daily Star that "all Arab countries mistreat millions of Arab, Asian and African foreign guest workers, who often are treated little better than chattel or indentured laborers…The mistreatment, abysmal living conditions and limited work, social security and property rights of the Palestinians [in Lebanon] are a lingering moral black mark."
Foreign journalists often justify their failure to report on the suffering of Palestinians in the Arab world by citing "security concerns" and difficulty in obtaining an entry visa into an Arab country.
But these are weak and unacceptable excuses given the fact that most of them could still write about these issues from their safe offices and homes in New York, London and Paris. Isn't that what most of them are anyway doing when they are write about the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?