An Inconvenient Truth--Palestinian Refugees

 Wavel Palestinian Refugee Camp. Baalbek, Lebanon. July 10, 2018

Wavel Palestinian Refugee Camp. Baalbek, Lebanon. July 10, 2018

I’m writing this as I am sitting in my apartment in Amman staring out over the hills of East Amman. The view is basically a monochrome of beige and brown or beige and beige. It’s a cooler day, only low 80s, which is a welcome relief from the relentless sun and heat that summer brings. It’s windy which welcomes the cooler temperatures but brings with it a nice haze of dirt or dust or sand in the air--more beige. If that is even possible. It’s Sunday so the sound of church bells are intermingled with the call to prayer, that is a particular sound I only associate with the Middle East and it brings a smile to my face. 

I don’t have the same love for Jordan that many foreigners do. I ended up here as a mistake, if you do recall. In 2014, I was denied entry to the West Bank from Israel. I was returned to the border of Jordan courtesy of the IDF. And instead of running back to Beirut, I toughed it out here. Amman just doesn’t have the same pull on my heart or my soul as Lebanon does. Maybe because I associate Lebanon with a vibrancy of colors and remember, Jordan is beige. But, this post isn’t about my love obsession with Beirut. 

I can’t help but wonder as I look out over Amman what was it like for Palestinians displaced decades ago, to look out at this view. And I can’t help but be filled with sorrow. This summer, I have spent 4 months in the Middle East on a fast and furious trip. I have split my time between Lebanon and Jordan working side by side with Palestinian refugees to serve their communities—Palestinian refugees from Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. It’s been a flurry of people and camps and accents and food and problems and joy and Arabic. OMG, so much Arabic. But, one common denominator in all that variety—the Palestinians themselves. 

Across the board, no matter what refugee camp or country I am in, I experience their generosity. Regardless of how little they have, they share the best of it with me. Their sense of humor will floor you and the zest they have for life is infectious. It challenges me daily to live in the moment. And maybe they do that so well because that is what they have, the present. As hard as the present is, they still celebrate the joy and mourn the losses. They have always welcomed me and are pleased to have me join in the work to help their communities. One of my favorite words in Arabic is “ma3 ba3d” which means together or with each other. 

I realize that after nearly 15 years of doing this, I have an advantage, and on some level, they know I am with them for the long haul. So, my perspective is vastly different than most. 15 years in Palestinian refugee camps in the Middle East have shaped me, they have shaped my heart. Because at this point, they are friends—people for whom I want the best for. People I see that are up against tremendous odds and still get up every morning to face their day. 

And after 15 years, I see their situation worsening. Late last year, President Trump announced that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the United States Embassy to Jerusalem. This prevents the Palestinians from sharing Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State.[1]Earlier this year, the current administration held up 300 million dollars to UNRWA.[2]UNRWA is the UN agency charged with supplying humanitarian relief to Palestinian refugees.[3]In August, the administration announced a 200 million dollar cut in aid to the Palestinian authority in the West Bank.[4]This week, there are reports that the administration will cap the number of recognized Palestinian refugees from over 5 million to under a half million. [5]And the final announcement that the U.S. will end all funding to Palestinian refugees. [6]

All of this has happened in less than a year. The United States is saying this is a peace deal. To me, and I am saying this on a very personal level, it feels like they are trying to erase the Palestinian people--particularly those who have refugee status. Because if you erase their refugee status, you remove any responsibility the world (Israel, United States, Arab States, and Europe) has for the injustice they have suffered for 70 years. No compensation needs to be made to them and they have no right to return to their homes or land under international law and definitely no immigration to the West. 

To try to erase a people group because they are an inconvenience never works, I won’t even address the immorality of it. Palestinian refugees are an inconvenience to the narrative we would like to believe – Palestine never existed, people were never displaced, their homes were never taken, and they were absolutely never forced to live in exile for 70 years. They are an inconvenience to many Christians and their theology of dispensationalism. They definitely are an inconvenience for the Israeli government. This is why their situation has never been addressed in the peace processes or why they have never had proper representation—they are a sticking point. Because by acknowledging and addressing their injustice and finding a solution for over 5 million stateless people is messy, painful, and will cost (on many levels) all involved. But, if you erase their status, problem solved because they never existed, right?

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This latest attempt at an insincere peace process by my country will not work, because it is not true peace. Only when there is justice for Palestinian refugees that have been living in squalor and without basic human rights in permanent refugee camps for 70 years, will we all be on the right path towards peace. Not until then. And we must do it together. Ma3 Ba3d. History is watching us. 

 

[1]https://www.vox.com/2018/5/14/17340798/jerusalem-embassy-israel-palestinians-us-trump

[2]https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/07/unrwa-cut-jobs-axes-300-funding-180726044529078.html

[3]https://www.unrwa.org

[4]https://www.npr.org/2018/08/24/641689522/u-s-cuts-more-than-200-million-in-aid-to-palestinians

[5]https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/report-trump-to-cap-palestinian-refugees-at-tenth-of-current-number-1.6412962

[6]https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/08/28/middle-east-palestinian-israel-pompeo-trump-kushner-u-s-to-end-all-funding-to-u-n-agency-that-aids-palestinian-refugees/

Suzann MollnerComment