Reuters reports: After escaping shelling in Damascus and terrifying bloodshed at sea, 14 month-old Palestinian twin girls are now among hundreds of people living in limbo in grimy Egyptian police stations, with no end in sight to their plight.
Of the 2 million people who fled Syria’s civil war, none may have it worse than Palestinians, who have known no other home than Syria but do not have Syrian citizenship and have therefore been denied even the basic rights secured for other refugees.
The United Nations says the Egyptian government has refused it permission to register Palestinians from Syria as refugees and give them the yellow card that allows them to settle. As a result, hundreds of Palestinians civilians have ended up detained in police stations, with no place else to go.
The twins’ family fled Syria after their house was nearly hit by shelling. But when they arrived in Egypt they were denied permission to work or to receive refugee benefits. After five months, with no other way of obtaining a living, they attempted to leave Egypt for Italy.
They were captured at sea on September 17 by the Egyptian navy, which fired on the overloaded rickety craft, the mother of the twins said. She held her daughters tight as bullets flew by. At least one person was hit and the boat was filled with blood and flying shrapnel.
“The children were traumatised,” she said. “I was holding my daughter hunched down. The bullets were coming…. There was so much screaming… There was so much blood….”
If the family were Syrian citizens, once detained they would most likely have been permitted to leave Egypt for refugee camps in other countries in the region, says Human Rights Watch.
But because they are Palestinians they have been given no other option but to camp out in a police station indefinitely, or somehow make their way back to the war zone in Syria.
Turkey and Jordan will not accept Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon will only allow them to pass through for 48 hours. [Continue reading...]
The Economist: In the vanguard of the Islamist surge across the region a few years ago, Gaza’s Islamists now feel like the last men standing. Trapped between the Mediterranean sea and the walls of two hostile neighbours, Egypt and Israel, they wonder how long they, too, can survive. “It’s hopeless,” cries a senior man from Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist movement. “We tried democracy and we failed. We tried to reach out to the Israelis, accepting two states, and failed. We tried the armed struggle, and we paid the price.”
In olden times a crossroads between Africa and Asia, the tiny enclave of Gaza has rarely felt more isolated. Egypt’s generals, who took power last summer, have destroyed 90% of the tunnels through which Gaza got its fuel, shrouding the place in darkness. Mothers wake at midnight when the electricity briefly flickers on, to flush toilets and iron clothes. Lifts in high-rise buildings do not work. Sewage flows untreated. Farmers, unable to irrigate their fields, face ruin. “I should never have tried it,” says the owner of a hotel that opened last summer, overlooking Gaza’s picturesque port. Paying for his generators costs him more than he earns in a night.
Much of the mess is of Hamas’s own making. Carried away by the Arab awakening, its politburo abandoned its old patrons in Syria and Iran and rushed to embrace the Islamists who had taken power in Egypt. But the fall of its president, Muhammad Morsi, has left Hamas friendless. It has been kept out of the current negotiations, under America’s aegis, between Palestine and Israel. The only time the world seems to notice Gaza is when violence erupts. Gazans say they have dropped off the map. [Continue reading...]
Der Spiegel reports: In the shadow of the Syrian civil war, a growing number of refugees are surviving in Lebanon by illegally selling their own organs. But the exchange comes at a huge cost.
The young man, who called himself Raïd, wasn’t doing well. He climbed into the backseat of the car, in pain, careful not to touch any corners. He was exhausted and dizzy. A large bandage looped around his stomach, caked with blood. Despite that, the 19-year-old Syrian wanted to tell his story.
Seven months ago, he fled the embattled city of Aleppo, in Syria, to Lebanon with his parents and six siblings. The family quickly ran out of money in the capital, Beirut. Raïd heard from a relative that the solution could be to sell one of his kidneys, and then he spoke to a bull-necked man, now sitting in the passenger seat, smoking and drinking a beer.
His acquaintances call the man Abu Hussein. He said he’s employed by a gang that works in the human organ trade – specializing in kidneys. The group’s business is booming. About one million Syrians have fled into Lebanon because of the civil war in their home country and now many don’t know how they can make a living. In their distress, they sell their organs. It’s a dangerous and, of course, illegal business. That’s why the gang has its operations performed in shady underground clinics.
Abu Hussein’s boss is known in the poor areas of Beirut as “Big Man.” Fifteen months ago, Big Man gave the 26-year-old a new assignment: find organ donors. The influx of Syrian refugees from the war, Abu Hussein’s boss argued, made it more likely people would be willing to sell organs.
Lebanon has a tradition of illegal organ trading. The country has immensely rich people and a huge number of people living in poverty. And organ traffickers don’t need to worry about government controls. Those are exactly the ideal conditions for organ trafficking, said Luc Noel, transplant expert at the World Health Organization in Geneva.
Every year, tens of thousands of rich Arabs from around the region come to Beirut for treatment in the country’s excellent hospitals. The authorities don’t pay attention whether a patient flies home with a new nose — or with a new kidney.
Previously, it was mostly destitute Palestinians who sold their organs. Then came the war in Syria, and then the refugees. Now the groups are in competition and the prices are falling. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Palestinian civilians are being embroiled in Israeli military training, including mock arrests, raids on private homes and incursions into villages, without being told they are involved in army exercises.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) defended the training exercises following complaints from an Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, about two separate drills held earlier this year. In the first, a large number of troops in full combat gear spread out in a small Palestinian village for several hours, causing alarm and fear among its population. In the second, about 15 armed soldiers raided the house of a family while they were finishing their evening meal during Ramadan. In neither case were residents told that it was a training exercise.
The Palestinians caught up in training drills are not informed in advance that an arrest or raid is an exercise. According to the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers, civilians with no connection with militant activity are usually selected for such exercises. “We used houses, streets, people like cardboard practice targets,” said one. [Continue reading...]
Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: “Is it easier to get a visa to Belgium or Sweden? How do I apply for asylum? Should I tear up my passport or hide it? Will the iris scan be conducted in the first country in which I arrive or the country in which I will seek asylum?” These questions, among others, are what busy the mind of 23-year-old Mahmoud Yahya these days.
Only a year ago Mahmoud was optimistic for change, and two years ago in 2011, Mahmoud took to the streets to effect that change. He says he felt like a giant then, capable of anything.
Mahmoud told Al-Monitor, “With every passing year, my despair increases. When I recall what I was like a year ago, I remember the hope I had that our hate-filled political and social reality could change. But when I look at how I was at the beginning of 2011, I cannot believe how convinced I was that I was Superman, and the same goes for how I saw all the other young people. The Arab revolutions had truly changed us.”
He added, “For the first time we felt like we had some agency. We went out to the streets on Dec. 5, 2010, and we confronted Central Security of the deposed government without blinking an eye. We broke through our collective fear and took to the streets protesting the closure of the Sharek Youth Forum. We took to the streets again in 2011 during the Egyptian and Syrian revolutions and were imprisoned and beaten, which also happened to our counterparts in the West Bank. Finally we had our own revolution on Mar. 15, 2011. Our defining chant was, “The people want to end the division!” They beat us, slandered us, broke our limbs, smeared our reputation and blackmailed us, which culminated in the killing of our Italian comrade Vittorio by unknown assailants. From that moment on, sadness and frustration would silence us forever.”
Mahmoud gazed at the ceiling, eyes welling up, “We believe in our strength, but we were romantic. When I saw all of the March 15 activists emigrating and traveling away from Gaza, I knew that we had failed to bring about our Palestinian Spring, so I decided to travel as well.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is facing widespread condemnation and anger in the Palestinian territories and abroad after he publicly waived his right to return to live in the town from which his family was forced to flee in 1948, a repudiation of huge significance for Palestinian refugees.
After his image was burned in refugee camps in Gaza, Abbas rejected accusations that he had conceded one of the most emotional and visceral issues on the Palestinian agenda, the demand by millions of refugees to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.
He insisted that comments made in an interview with an Israeli television channel were selectively quoted and the remarks were his personal stance, rather than a change of policy.
Abbas told Channel 2 he accepted he had no right to live in Safed, the town of his birth, from which his family was forced to flee in 1948 when Abbas was 13.
“I visited Safed before once, he said. “But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.”
Referring to the internationally-recognised pre-1967 border, he went on: “Palestine now for me is ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever … This is Palestine for me. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts are Israel.”
The comments sparked protests in Gaza, where people in refugee camps burned images of the Palestinian president. Abbas was denounced on Twitter by pro-Palestinian activists.
Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas ruler in Gaza, said the issue was not about Abbas’s right to return to Safed but “the rights of 6 million Palestinians”.
Reuters reports: Palestinians in the West Bank go to the polls on Saturday in long-delayed municipal elections that have already highlighted deep divisions in the occupied territory and stoked complaints about a lack of leadership.
The October 20 ballot will hold up a cracked mirror to a political landscape clouded by financial crises, failure to reconcile the major Palestinian factions and stalemate in peacemaking efforts with Israel.
The powerful Islamist group Hamas is boycotting the election and preventing voting from taking place in the Gaza Strip, leaving the field largely clear for the mainstream Fatah party in the race to take charge of 94 West Bank towns and villages.
But, as has happened so often in the past, President Mahmoud Abbas’s nationalist Fatah movement has failed to present a united face, with party rivals presenting their own candidates.
Roger Waters, newest Jury member of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, explains why he supports the initiative.