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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I stumbled onto this 2015 article in Slate about 3000 descendants of Palestinian Arabs who fled in 1948 to Egypt.

It shows exactly how much the Arab world really cares about Palestinians.


Ghafra, now an 80-year-old grandmother, is one of 40 members of the Abu Hussun tribe who fled Beersheba, an oasis in the Negev desert in what is now Israel, in 1948. They journeyed 13 days on camelback across the Rafah border, along the Mediterranean coastline of the Sinai, and southwest to the Nile Delta governorate of Sharqeya. There, they settled on a piece of land they called Jeziret el Fadl—“Island of Favor.” Nearly seven decades later, 3,000 Palestinians remain marooned on the figurative and largely forgotten island.

Under President Abdel Nasser, we were granted equal status with Egyptians, so nobody set up specific services for us,” says Said el Namudi, the community leader. “But now, they classify us as foreigners and nobody knows about us. International charities don’t know about us.”

Even neighboring Egyptians don’t know about Jeziret el Fadl. The village is invisible from the road, surrounded by a 9-foot wall of mud and brick. Inside the wall is a maze of one-story houses and dirt paths lined by children. Their distinctive light eyes, dulled by malnutrition, watch me with lethargic indifference as I pass by. These children make up 75 percent of the village’s population today, the result of three generations of relentless reproduction aimed at increasing Palestine’s future population, Namudi explains to me.

“Egypt has been a gracious host to us,” he says, speaking in slow, elegant Arabic. “All we want from the Egyptian government is for someone who lives in Egypt and was born in Egypt to be treated like an Egyptian. … Today, our poor pay the prices of Egypt’s wealthiest. All we want is for our poor to be treated as the Egyptian poor.” As foreigners, the Palestinians don’t have access to the state subsidies provided to poor Egyptians.

Sixty-year-old Maliha remembers well the days when she could pick up bread, sugar, oil, and rice for mere pennies. Growing up, she never worried about having the right papers—why should she? She was born in Egypt and had never thought to question whether she had the right to be there. But suddenly, about 30 years ago, something changed, she tells me as she swings her scythe at knee-high clovers with gusto disproportionate to her age and frame.

God knows why, but suddenly, we had to pay for everything,” she tells me. “Everything costs money now.”

What Maliha doesn’t know is that 37 years ago, after extended discussions in a place called Camp David, her host country signed a treaty that began U.S. military aid to Egypt—and the end of equal status for Palestinians. With the swish of a pen, the state’s allegiances shifted toward the power and wealth of the West and away from the stateless Palestinians, who had become a political nuisance and a drain on the country’s resources.
Salon may be trying to pin the blame here, obliquely, on the US and Israel. However, an Al Monitor article on this topic says that Egypt started giving Palestinians "foreign" status after Nasser's death, years earlier. Egyptians hated the Palestinians from the start but Nasser liked them.

The situation had already been gradually getting worse throughout the 1970s, but the nail in the coffin came with Camp David and then later that year when a Palestinian assassinated the Egyptian culture minister, Yusuf Sibai, according to Oroub el Abed, a post-doctoral research fellow at the British Institute of Amman. “They started changing laws. During the days of Abdel Nasser, the laws used to say things like, ‘Education is to be free for all citizens, including Palestinians,’ ” Abed says. “But after the killing of [the minister], the words changed to ‘except for Palestinians.’ ”

As these laws began to be implemented in the ’80s under President Hosni Mubarak, people like Maliha gradually lost access to food subsidies, free education, and free health care—and they were then required to obtain and maintain legal residency as foreigners. Failure to do so could mean fines or even jail time, Abed says.

They live in prison, literally,” Abed says. “Often, the state turns a blind eye because they know they cannot run after everyone. But when they do catch them without the right permits, what do they do? Deport them where? Nowhere. They cannot deport them. They simply put them in prison.”
I follow the region pretty closely, and I had no idea about this. No one wants to notice the facts: Arab states and NGOs claim to care about Palestinians, but in the end the only ones they care about are the ones that can be used as cannon fodder against Israel.

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