Shock and indignation are sweeping the Arab world as reports emerge of the 150,000 Palestinian refugees who have been forced to flee the Yarmouk refugee camp in the southern suburbs of Damascus due to attacks by the Syrian government.
“Second ‘Nakba’ empties the Yarmouk refugee camp of the majority of its population,” reads the main headline in the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat. The paper states that the impact of the clashes between the Assad regime and rebel forces has led to “a real humanitarian disaster,” with thousands of Palestinians resorting to camping out in public parks and squares in Damascus.
In response, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern for the refugees’ plight and called on “all neighboring countries to open their borders to them and allow them to move into their territory, including Israel.”
His comments prompted Arab newspapers to run editorials advocating that in light of the situation in Syria, Palestinians should be re-located to Israel proper.
“This is not the first time in which Palestinian refugees find themselves in a position of danger and it will not be the last,” states an editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi called the “Jerusalem opinion.” “Palestinians have experienced similar problems in Iraq, in Lebanon, and in Libya… if there is justice in the international system, then these people will be returned to Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Safed, and all the other towns and villages from where they were expelled.”
“The plight of Palestinians in Syria and other Arab countries reaffirms the right of return and the inevitability of its application in all ways and means,” the editorial continues. “It is a shame on the international community to force those facing murder and displacement [in Syria] to remain there. The plight of displacement has been experienced by millions of Syrians, Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Lebanese, and Libyans… But only the Palestinian refugees are constantly on the move.”
‘The plight of Palestinians in Syria and other Arab countries reaffirms the right of return’
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated his willingness to offer the West Bank as a safe haven to Palestinian refugees in Syria. However, his ability to provide adequate assistance is being called into question considering his government’s dire financial straits.
“Strikes engulf the Palestinian Authority, Fayyad: ‘We don’t have half the salaries,’” is the leading headline in the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat. The article reports on a general strike being held throughout the West Bank by employees of the Palestinian Authority, who have not received paychecks for over two months.
Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad said his administration cannot muster the funds to pay even half of its employees’ salaries, threatening the existence of the Palestinian Authority itself. The financial collapse was hastened by Israel’s decision last month not to release taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
With the Palestinian Authority in a financial bind and Israel unlikely to suddenly embrace the Palestinian “right of return,” the Arab world’s shuffling around of Palestinian refugees continues without a hitch.
Inciting against Jews
Arab dailies are also picking up the breaking story of the Tunisian Association to Support Minorities’ decision to file a lawsuit against a prominent Tunisian imam for hateful incitement against Jews.
According to an article in the liberal Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, during a Friday sermon broadcast live on November 30 on Hannibal TV, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Suhayli of Rades, a suburb of Tunis, told his followers at the Khatib mosque that “God wants to destroy this sprinkling of Jews… and is for sterilizing the wombs of Jewish women.”
‘God wants to destroy this sprinkling of Jews… and is for sterilizing the wombs of Jewish women’
Qais El-Beltagi, a lawyer representing the association, alleges that Sheikh Al-Suhayli’s comments violated Decree 115 passed in 2011, which criminalizes “calls to hatred between races and religions, and the population.” He said that article 52 of the decree calls for “a prison term of between one and three years and a financial fine ranging from 500 and 1000 euros” for hate-filled speeches.