The initial international neglect, particularly in the United States, towards the growing refugee crisis, especially involving thousands of Syrians who have been illegally and dangerously crossing into Europe underlining a saddening humanitarian situation, has been shocking and disheartening. It only jolted leading countries and some world leaders into action when pictures of a three-year-old Syrian child who washed ashore in Turkey were flashed in the international media.
The belated European response, which was especially warm from Germany, unlike the cool response from the Obama administration, underlined a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for this increasingly tragic situation. Germany said it was ready to take 800,000 migrants by year’s end while Britain and France declared they will absorb tens of thousands who were running away from home, mostly from the Arab world.
This calamity brings to mind the case of some 750,000 Palestinians, who escaped to neighbouring Arab states from the Holy Land in 1948, after clashes with the Jewish community, unaware that they would never be allowed to return to their country of origin. Under the infamous Partition Plan sanctioned by the United Nations, Israel was allotted 55 per cent of Palestine and the remainder was given to the Palestinians, who were dismayed by this ruling, which led to continued clashes between the two parties. Much as Arab countries have tried to help them in the ensuing warfare, the Jews regained to date 78 per cent of Palestine, and more recently, remain in virtual control of the whole country despite the presence of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in the West Bank.
What has been most appalling is the failure of the leaders of the western world to compel Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and allow Palestinians to retain their properties that are in Israel. Less likely, Israel would not want any Palestinian to return to live inside even if he has property there.
Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has this week vehemently rejected a suggestion from Isaac Herzog, the leader of the centre-left Israeli Labour Party, to let some Palestinian refugees in Damascus to return to Israel-occupied West Bank. “Jews cannot remain indifferent when hundreds of thousands of [Palestinian] refugees are seeking safe harbour,” Herzog said last Saturday, pointing out further that “our people experienced first-hand the silence of the world,” alluding to the Holocaust, the New York Times reported last Monday. He continued: “...and [they] cannot be indifferent in the face of rampant murders and massacres taking places in Syria.” Several key Israeli opposition leaders have also echoed the call.
Mahmoud Abbas, the PNA President, last Saturday instructed his ambassador to the United Nations to act to bring Palestinian refugees now fleeing the war in Syria to Israel-occupied West Bank. He also urged the European Union and others to do the same despite the fact that Israel controls the borders and all entry points from Jordan to the West Bank.
Although Israel has fences at most of its borders, with Lebanon and Syria as well as the besieged Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, it is now planning to build a fence along its border with Jordan, a development that is bound to shock Jordan, one of two Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Sadly, it is likely that most of the Syrian (and some Iraqi) refugees who are escaping to Europe represent the country’s middle class, a sector that will urgently be needed once calm returns to the countries. In other words, it is hoped that they can and will do that in the near future, unlike what happened to their Palestinian friends.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at email@example.com