Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Politically Inconvenient Suffering of a Diaspora Minoroty

I submitted  this article to The Intifada Magazine, part of the Students for Justice in Palestine group, in New Zealand.

Wars are won and lost, and the victor takes the spoils. Sometimes the victor is just as devastated by war as the loser. Hence the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the biggest military blunder the US ever stumbled into, not JUST because of the haemorrhaging of trillions of dollars into a mirage of  a war that has brought the US economy to its knees. It’s not the more than 4 000 US soldiers killed in action since march 2003 (oh and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths as well, everybody forgets that bit of trivia).
It’s not the chain of bogus claims for going into the war which has irreparably corrupted US credibility. It’s not even the fact that the new Iraq has become a proxy fighting ground for Israel, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.  It’s that today, Iraq has turned from an independent functional state with borders, a constitutional government and the rule of law; to a failed state, an ethnically fractured war zone where the only victors are the US corporatocracies gaining from Iraqi Oil, and the most violent brutal criminal elements of the Mesopotamian underworld.
Much could be written -and has been - about the failure of the Iraq war and the death and destruction it had brought on to the Iraqis. Wars such as this are so explosive, their damage goes much further than their immediate vicinity. This however is a story of blood and tears I was fortunate –or unfortunate- enough to see with my eyes. 
In January 2004 I returned to Iraq for the first time in 10 years. Entry into this new lawless state was easy, it took about 15 minutes for 7 people and a car full of luggage to cross the border. The two weeks we spent there were a bittersweet reminder of our roots and legacy and a constant adrenalin rush of bullets and explosions every hour of every day.
When leaving Iraq, we had to wait 17 hours on the Jordan border in Traibeel to be searched and have our papers checked, alongside thousands of others fleeing this dystopia.
The Traibeel border crossing is a most inhospitable wasteland of desert and hot dusty wind that was painful to our eyes and ears even from the safety of the GMC truck we hid inside.
I remember so vividly looking at the scores of Red Cross tents on the side of the road, shaking violently in the dark of the night that fell. Our driver told us those were Palestinians who had been living in Iraq in since 1948. After the invasion most of them had to escape  torture, harassment and targeted assassinations by various militia groups. Jordan would not grant them entry and they could not return to Iraq. So they had to wait along the border, indefinitely, a politically incorrect logistic that shouldn’t exist.
The history of the Iraq Palestinians is a long and arduous one reeking of political ploys and lost sentiment.
When the collective of Zionist gangs decided to proclaim the land they took by force as the new state of Israel in 1948. They forcibly removed almost 800 000 Palestinians from their homes by direct expulsion and threat of terrorism. Those ejected were absorbed by the Arab countries around them; Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and others. However because of the immense political, national and religious value Palestine held. This 800 000 could not be allowed to settle in any real way, they were given temporary residence or green papers, never offered a permanent solution as those same governments assured that they would be returning to their homeland once the Zionist invader is ousted.
Half a century of failed governments, failed wars and betrayals. There are now more than 3 million Palestinian refugees in vast ghettos, camps and shanty towns living the same limbo existence, waiting for an honorable reprieve from a whore monger government.
The situation in Iraq was a bit different though, according to Wikipedia
“The birth of the Palestinian community in modern Iraq dates back to 1948, when the Iraqi army, which had been fighting in Palestine, returned to Baghdad with a group of Palestinians who had been forced to flee their homes in Haifa and Jaffa. Following the 1967 War with Israel, a second larger wave of Palestinians sought refuge in Iraq. The third and final wave occurred in 1991 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when those Palestinians living in Kuwait and other Gulf states fled or were expelled due to Yasser Arafat’s support for the invasion”
What’s not mentioned here is that in a multiethnic Iraq where Saddam had fractured and brutalized every community and group, the Palestinian refugees were treated very well and given the best accommodation on Haifa street in Baghdad. No official papers were given to them since they were treated as temporary guests, otherwise they were heaped with gifts; subsidies, scholarships, exemptions from military service, and rent freeze in some instances. For a large of sector of the community, especially after the 1991 sanctions, the Palestinians were like Joseph to his brothers. Jealousy and resentment bubbled under the surface.
Fast forward back to the invasion of Iraq and the complete collapse of law and order in a country of 25 million people. A bestial vacuum came to fruition where reprisal attacks and account settling started taking place between different ethnic groups, tribes and even individuals. Where everyone had a tribe or group to back them up, the Palestinians had none. They were orphans, an easy target in a mad house of blind rage and guns.
In the years since the invasions, a relentless campaign killing, torture, rape, kidnapping, imprisonment and threats saw more than 25 000 of them escaping their homes of five decades to find refuge elsewhere. Most of them Palestinians only on paper –or lack thereof - . They otherwise were born in Iraq and spoke with an Iraqi dialect, most had not even been to Palestine.
I mentioned the Palestinian refugees to one asylum seeker being detained at Villawood detention center in Sydney, Australia. To my surprise he saw a perverse justice in their plight. “They lived in luxury off the backs of Iraqis during the Iran war and the sanctions, Iraqi children died and their children lived lavishly” This shocked me and forced me to reassess the war. All this anger felt by victims empowers the militias roaming Iraq to massacre and terrorize justly, creating an endless bloody cycle of vengeance.
The only routes out of Iraq closer to the homeland were Jordan and Syria. Mostly the beaten path of Traibeel, but Jordan wasn’t going to take a further contingent of paperless Palestinians in. They kept them at the border to wait further instructions or an answer from God. At some point they were moved to 4 camps at the Iraqi/Syrian border to reduce their visibility and plight.
For seven years no man answered,  nor God was heard.
This is one sad untold story of thousands, the very real chronicle of the nightmare that is current day Iraq. A quagmire so deep it shall soon prove to have brought to great United States to its knees just like Afghanistan downed the Soviet Union a mere two decades ago.

This is not the end of the story though, a most unlikely ray of hope springs forth like a fairy tale.
Enter Yousef Reemawi. A Palestinian Australian radio presented living in Melbourne. He runs a weekly radio show called “From the River to the Sea, news and views of Palestine”. During one show he presented a report about this sad story one day, of his listeners sent in a message, why don’t we do something about it ?
And so it started, a week later there was an organization, ASPIRE (Australian Society for the Palestinian- Iraqi Refugees Emergency). Supporters and members were found. Yousef travelled to the camps over in Jordan and the subsequent Syrian camps, he met the people, took in their stories, their hopes, their dreams and their humanity.
He came back, a submit an application for 147 of them for asylum into Australia.
A massive effort carried out by scores of volunteers, filling out forms, translating, legal wrangling and string pulling. Months and months of solid work.
16 families were approved.  68 of them are in Australia now.
He’s gone back again for another visit. A hero before the age of the Arab Spring. He’s leading the second campaign to bring in to Australia.
Unlike other stories of despair. This is one you actually join to make a difference. Contact Yousef or join his facebook group to take part in the next campaign. Or start your own campaign in New Zealand.

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