The Twice-Displaced Palestinians

by Jonah Shepp

Alice Su highlights the peculiar predicament of Palestinian Syrians, who unlike other displaced people looking to flee the civil war don’t have the right to seek refuge in neighboring countries:

Amid the millions of refugees from Syria flooding into neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan, a minority group is being quietly denied entry, detained, deported, and pushed out in any way possible: Palestinians. They are refugees who literally have nowhere to go.

In recent months, Jordanian and Lebanese authorities have acknowledged that Palestinians from Syria are not welcome to asylum in the same way that other Syrian refugees are. Jordan and Lebanon have respectively been barring Palestinians from entry since January and August 2013, in contrast with the treatment of some 600,000 Syrian nationals in Jordan and 1.5 million in Lebanon, according to Human Rights Watch. The organization has also documented forcible deportations of Palestinians—women and children included—from both countries.

I touched on this issue last week, and I’m glad to see it’s getting some more press. This is another example of the many ways Palestinians suffer for having no state of their own and no genuine acceptance in the countries where so many of them ended up after being displaced in the 1948 and 1967 wars.

I’m somewhat agnostic on how best to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (more on that later), but the severe impact of Palestinian statelessness on the lives and welfare of Palestinian refugees and their descendants is—or at least ought to be—beyond dispute. Israel is the primary agent of this problem, but it’s worth remembering that most Arab states have not exactly been kind to the Palestinians either.

It’s also an example of how the Palestinian experience in the Arab Middle East since 1948 replicates with eerie similarity the experience of the Jews in Europe in the bad old days. Imagine living your entire life in a country where the majority of people look pretty much the same as you do but consider you foreign, undeserving of the rights of citizenship, and somehow a threat to them for reasons they can’t really articulate. Imagine being in perpetual danger of expulsion or worse at the whim of an autocrat or a populist mob, and having no place to go where you know you will be safe from that danger. One would think that two peoples having both been through such a harrowing experience would be able to find more common ground than they do, but perhaps the fearful worldview engendered by that trauma overrides whatever perspective it might provide.