iraq & palestine

palestinian tent in al ruweished refugee camp, jordan
palestinian tent in al ruweished refugee camp, jordan

having lived in jordan i spent much of my time working with refugees. at the beginning, it was just palestinian refugees living in camps. some had fled in 1948 and some had fled in 1967 when they were ethnically cleansed from their land in palestine. but midway through my year in jordan i read about another refugee camp–a new one–that had a significant number of palestinian refugees in it. this new camp was for people fleeing iraq. and in this camp there were palestinian refugees among them, all of whom had fled their homes for a 3rd or 4th time. al ruweished refugee camp, which also housed a number of other people, including kurds from iraq and iran, is now gone. the families have largely been resettled in canada, northern europe, and south america (there is an electronic intifada article about the resettlement in chile). (i have written about this at length on this blog in earlier posts when i was going to the camp regularly you may search to find out more about this. you can also click here to see more photographs from the camp.) but i was struck by these twin refugees: iraqi and palestinian, both of whom were trapped in jordan under a regime that treated them with hostility. a regime that, for many palestinians, has always conspired against them with the british and then with the zionists. one of my students shared a poem with me today about this. he wrote a poem that talked about jordan as the real enemy of palestinians. but the important thing that both sets of refugees demand their right of return. the sad thing is that both groups who remain in jordan–and elsewhere for that matter–seem to be in despair over whether that right will be something they see in their lifetime. nisreen el-shamayleh did a report for al jazeera from gaza camp in jerash, jordan today on palestinian and iraqi refugees in jordan:

of course there are so many other parallels between the iraqi and palestinian refugees. both are subjected to governments, for instance, that are puppet regimes serving the american and israeli terrorist interests not theirs. neither group is a priority for the regimes in their home countries. and yet here are the puppet presidents meeting today in iraq one promising the other protection. as if!

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has received guarantees that Iraqi leaders will protect Palestinians living in Iraq.

The assurance was given on Sunday during his first visit to the country since the US-led invasion in 2003, which toppled Saddam Hussein from power.

Abbas said that the Iraqi officials he met consider Palestinians living in Iraq to be “part of the Iraqi people, so we believe that they are in safe hands”.

He praised Iraq’s pledge to support Palestinians, but did not publicly mention reports of human-rights abuses against Palestinians living in Iraq.

“We would like to thank the Iraqi government for its concern about Palestinians living in Iraq,” Abbas said after a meeting with Jalal Talabani, his Iraqi counterpart.

Abbas also met Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, in a trip that marked a major step in improved ties between the Baghdad government and the Palestinian leadership.

of course they did not talk about the perilous state of palestinians in iraq or their flight from iraq, or the palestinians still in refugee camps in syria because they had to flee iraq. (see human rights watch’s report on palestinian flight for background on this.) the letter below is one of the reasons for the flight of many palestinian refugee families i met in al ruweished camp. but of course iraq doesn’t protect palestinians in iraq what makes abbas think that maliki is going to protect palestinians in palestine or anywhere else for that matter?

letter threatening palestinins in baghdad forcing them to flee
letter threatening palestinins in baghdad forcing them to flee

there is a great article about palestinian refugees displaced from iraq in electronic intifada by anaheed al-hardan. here is some of the article that provides context for palestinians in iraq, though the rest of the article is worth reading, too:

Umm Nawras generously invited me to her home where I was introduced to Suhaila as well as Amira, their nine-months-pregnant sister-in-law. Amira is a current resident of al-Tanf camp who was given temporary permission to enter Syria in order to give birth and then return to her tent home in al-Tanf as there are no medical facilities in the camp. The family histories of these women are similar to many Palestinians refugees from Iraq.

Like most Palestinian refugees in Iraq, their families were originally from villages in the Haifa district that were ethnically cleansed between May and July 1948 and later wiped off the face of the earth. Furthermore, their families too had first sought refuge in the Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarm areas in the West areas before the retreating Iraqi army withdrew with approximately 5,000 refugees in 1949. However, unlike the fate of the villages of most of the refugees who found themselves in Iraq, Umm Nawras and Suhaila’s families hail from a village that was not demolished owing to its architectural appeal to some in the unit that occupied it: Ayn Hawd today is an “artists’ colony.” The implications and injustice of 1948 could not be crueler, especially when some of the original inhabitants of Ayn Hawd as well as their descendants are languishing in tent-camps yet again.

“When they first brought them to Iraq from Palestine, they put them in Basra, in a place they used to call al-Shuaybah camp,” Umm Nawras explained, referring to where her family, alongside the rest of the new Palestinian arrivals, were first placed in Iraq. Shuaybah was an abandoned British military barrack in the desert south of Basra where the Palestinians were placed under military jurisdiction. Two years later they came under civil jurisdiction and their welfare was relegated to the newly-created Refugee Affairs Department of the Ministry of Interior. They were issued Iraqi travel documents for Palestinian refugees and allowed equal access to health, education and public sector employment. These conditions were generally consistent, with a few exceptions during the various regime changes of Iraq’s post-independence history.

Under civil jurisdiction, the Palestinians were moved between Mosul, Basra and Baghdad, although the overwhelming majority then, as in 2003, were placed in the capital. In Baghdad, the Palestinians were housed in various public buildings until most were placed in complexes: al-Baladiyyat and al-Durra in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. Some families did remain in the various public buildings and the more affluent rented at their own expense. Later on, the housing issue would be one of the main catalysts of Iraqi resentment toward Palestinians that exploded after 2003 due to their perceived preferential treatment under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

“I came of age in [the area of] al-Za’faraniyya where we used to live in huge blind peoples’ homes … It was a huge complex with many rooms; it had huge halls around which every family was allocated a room,” Umm Nawras told me after I probed about life in pre-2003 Iraq. “I remember that whenever we would write our postal address, we would write: the former blind peoples’ homes, the Palestinians’ houses.” In the late 1980s, the women’s families were allocated a private apartment in the purpose-built al-Durra complex and shared the fate of other residents of the country who lived through the Iran-Iraq war and later the UN-imposed siege after the first Gulf War.

all of this got me thinking about an episode of jassem azzawi’s “inside iraq” this week on al jazeera featuring anas al tikriti (who is one of the most eloquent and powerful speakers) and some israeli terrorist professor named mordehcai kedar (who, thankfully, sucks when it comes even to serving up his own propaganda). the episode looks at the zionist entity’s role in creating the invasion and occupation of iraq. it is well known that

don’t you love how the israeli terrorist tries to goad al tikriti into thinking that iran is iraq’s greatest enemy. blatant attempt at divide and rule there. but al tikriti’s response is beautiful and apt: no, of course, not the zionist entity is the greatest enemy of everyone in this region. in this episode you will also hear the israeli terrorist pretend like mossad is not operating in iraq, but here is an interview with seymour hersh and amy goodman on democracy now! from 2004 (and i can tell you from friends who have been in kurdistan that israeli terrorists are all over the place, some rather obviously so):

AMY GOODMAN: Sey Hersh, what is Israel’s role in the covert presence in Iraq?

SEYMORE HERSH: Obviously acquiescence. At the minimum, acquiescence. We certainly didn’t lean on them. There is a high level—i think the chief of staff of the Turkish armed forces, there is a very high level military dell investigation of Turkish military officials in Washington now. They arrived over the weekend I think. They are certainly here now, leading generals, to talk just about this issue. What are we going to do with Israel? I asked add senior C.I.A. Intelligence official about this last week. And his comment, which I think is really pretty accurate, he said really how much control do we have over Israel. They will do what’s in their best interest no matter what we say. This is a complicated one. Because Richard Perle, a Neocon, was really a great champion of the Turkish-Israeli relationship and now that move into Kurdistan is destabilizing that. What the Israelis did, which is remarkable stupid, I think, and I understand has caused enormous problems inside the Israeli government on just the issue of how dumb they are is when the Turks began to raise questions about the obviously growing Israeli presence in Kurdistan, and Kurdistan, Iran has got great intelligence and so does turkey. It is not hard to penetrate. Kurds are, you know, they’re great bargainers and buyers and sellers. And one can easily buy information there. In any case, turkey learned quite a bit earlier this year and asked the Israelis their great buddies about this. And Israel said officially to them that there is nothing there and the people that are there, Israelis are there as private citizens doing their own work. And I can tell you I was an anchor and I did see—I can’t quote him, but it’s clear from my story, very senior people in the government and they are really angry about this. They will not tolerate an independent Kurdistan. They will simply go to war immediately and they won’t even tolerate the idea that the Kurds are getting closers and edging—in their public statements, the Kurds are saying more and more that if things go badly in Iraq, they will consider going independent. So, Israel sort of screwed the pooch with its own ally and then they put themselves in a terrible position with a journalist like me of having to issue these stringent and strong denials, which, between you and me, people in the government acknowledge are just pro forma. They stuck themselves. They said we don’t have anything there. What happened is some of the intelligence people and some of the military people, obviously don’t go into Kurdistan and run operations in Iran with Israeli passports or anything connected to Israel. So, they wash them. We use the word sheep dip for taking in a military person. In America, when you take in a military officer and redress them as a civilian and send them into a war zone, that’s called sheep dipping. Same thing happened with the Israeli Mossad and their military people. They went in undercover.

in theory any palestinian and iraqi leader should be and would be partners in fighting colonialism and neocolonialism in their countries, in the region. but the american-israeli colonial tactic of divide and rule is making that rather impossible. al-tikriti’s point in the “inside iraq” interview, however, is important: the people are completely in solidarity with one another. it is their governments that continue to make deals with and be controlled by the devil.

and in the interest of solidarity here is one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, mohja khaf, entitled “Snowfall on the Colossal Ruins” from 2000. it is about iraqi refugees in amman.

In the Roman amphitheater in Amman,
life is beautiful and sad. Unexpected snow
falls like a gift from heaven, settles
slowly on the hillocks,
curves, and rumps of bodies
strewn across the steps. The human floor
stirs. Thousands of Iraqis sleep here
nightly, this winter of the year 2000,
this tenth winter of the sanctions.
The proud, the dignified,
the ones you might have met in gracious homes
by appointment, bringing with you flowers,
fruit, or any small token,
to avoid arriving empty-handed,
you will find them here, roseate cheek
laid against the subzero stone.
You will find them curled against each other
in piles so that a walker must step watchfully
not to tread on wrist or groin.
You will find minds trained
in the construction of buildings and poems
wrapped around a crate of unsold chewing gum.
You will find them here, parentless girls
and boys, who in former days were carefully forbidden
to stay out past a certain hour.
You will find them here now, some ready
to sell to you for next to nothing
anything they still own,
snowflakes clinging
to their lush Iraqi lashes, a bare leg
here and there gleaming golden in moonlight.
There is not cover enough to go around
in the Roman coliseum in Amman.
You will find them here coughing
in the air of this winter, turning
from one side to the other, exposed
to whatever is to fall upon them next,
and not upon us, not tonight. (79-80 in E-mails from Scheherazad

of course iraqis are not the only people in the region made refugees by the americans or israeli terrorists. there are uncountable afghan refugees, including some children found by italian police today:

Italian police have found more than 100 immigrants, including 24 Afghan children, living in the sewer system beneath railway stations in Rome.

The children range in age from 10 to 15 years and are now being looked after by the city’s social services.

They were found when the railway police followed up reports of children living near the city’s stations.

The police say they do not speak Italian and broke into the sewers by removing manhole covers.

The charity Save the Children Italy says that more than 1,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Rome last year from various countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

and then, of course, there are the new pakistani refugees and internally displaced people because of the obama bombs falling on pakistan in our undeclared war on that country:

AMERICAN drone attacks on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are causing a massive humanitarian emergency, Pakistani officials claimed after a new attack yesterday killed 13 people.

The dead and injured included foreign militants, but women and children were also killed when two missiles hit a house in the village of Data Khel, near the Afghan border, according to local officials.

As many as 1m people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army. In Bajaur agency entire villages have been flattened by Pakistani troops under growing American pressure to act against Al-Qaeda militants, who have made the area their base.

Kacha Garhi is one of 11 tented camps across Pakistan’s frontier province once used by Afghan refugees and now inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis made homeless in their own land.

are we to expect iranian refugees to be next? how many millions of people will be rendered homeless at the hands of these rogue states? if jonathan cook’s latest report is any indication we might be seeing such a fate as a strike on iran in the near future, which of course would have refugees following right behind:

The White House under Barack Obama has made conciliatory gestures towards Tehran, culminating in a video statement from the president a fortnight ago in which he appealed for a “new beginning” in relations between the two countries.

But since Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Israeli prime minister on Tuesday, he has preferred to highlight the military option as a way to prevent what Israel and the United States have claimed are Iranian plans to acquire a nuclear warhead under the guise of a civilian energy programme.

Statements from Mr Netanyahu and his officials over the past few days have been designed to suggest that Israel is preparing to launch such a strike, even if it contravenes the wishes of the White House.

The public differences between Israel and the United States on Iran have accelerated since Israel’s military intelligence chief, Amos Yadlin, published an assessment last month that Tehran had passed the “point of no return” in developing nuclear technology.

He concluded that sanctions had failed and that, if Tehran gave the go-ahead, its scientists had the technology to assemble a warhead within a year or so. The US director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, has dismissed such claims as a “worst-case” scenario.


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