Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The Arab Boat:
It's an Arab-Palestinian Nakba, Catastrophe,
and We Are All Refugees
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 18, 2015
In a western capital far away from
Gaza and Cairo, I recently shared a pot of tea with an “Egyptian refugee”.
The term is familiar to me, but never have I encountered an
Egyptian who refers to himself as such. He stated it as a matter of fact by
saying: “As an Egyptian refugee ..” and carried on to talk about the
political turmoil in his country.
It made me shudder as I tried to
conjure up a possible estimation of Arabs who have been made refugees in
recent years. But where does one start the estimation if we are to set aside
the Palestinian Nakba, Catastrophe, in 1948? Or forget the successive waves
of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that followed, and disregard the
various exoduses of Lebanese civilians as a result of Israeli invasions and
Iraq can be the start - the country that served as a
foundation of everything Arab. Their culture, history and civilization,
which extends to the very beginning of human civilization, ushered in the
new Arab exodus.
The American promise to bomb it “back to the stone
age” was worse than expected. Millions of Iraqis became refugees after the
US-led war, a situation that was exasperated in the mid-2000s with the
invasion-provoked civil war.
Last year alone over two million
Iraqis were displaced, most of them internally as a result of the so-called
Islamic State’s violent takeover of numerous territories in northern and
A recent report by the Geneva-based
Monitoring Center (IDMC) finally placed the crises in Syria, Iraq,
Libya, etc, in a larger context, accentuating the collective Arab tragedy.
“These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation,
signaling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians,” according to
Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, the organization behind
War and conflicts have resulted in the displacement of 38
million people, of whom
11 million were displaced last year alone. This number is constantly
fortified by new refugees, while the total number of people who flee their
homes every single day averages 30,000, a third of those are Arabs who flee
their own countries.
10,000 Arabs are made refugees every day, according to IDMC. Many of
them are internally displaced people (IDPs), others are refugees in other
countries, and thousands take their chances by sailing in small boats across
the Mediterranean. Thousands die trying.
“I am a Syrian refugee
from the Palestinian al-Yarmouk camp in Damascus,”
wrote Ali Sandeed in the British Guardian newspaper. “When I was small,
my grandmother used to tell us how she felt when she was forced to flee to
Syria from her home in Palestine in 1948, and how she hoped that her
children and grandchildren would never have to experience what it feels like
to be a refugee. But we did. I was born a Palestinian refugee, and almost
three years ago I became a refugee once more, when my family and I had to
flee the Syrian war to Lebanon.”
“'I thought the boat was my only
chance,” was the title of the article where Sandeed described his journey to
Europe via boat.
Many of Yarmouk’s refugees are refugees or
descendants of Palestinian refugees who once lived in northern Palestine -
in Haifa, Akka and Saffad. Reading his testimony immediately summoned the
chaotic scenes as the
refugees fled the Zionist invasion of Haifa in 1948.
Palestinian and Israel’s new historians like Ilan Pappe, we know so much
about what has taken place when the tens of thousands of people attempted to
escape for their lives using small fishing boats:
“Men stepped on
their friends and women on their own children. The boats in the port were
soon filled with living cargo. The overcrowding in them was horrible. Many
turned over and sank with all their passengers.” (Pappe, The Ethnic
Cleansing of Palestine, p. 96)
The brutality and sense of despair
embodied in that scene is repeated every single day in various
manifestations throughout Arab countries: Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and so
on. If the destination of these refugees were illustrations via small
arrows, the arrows would be pointing in many different directions. They
would overlap and they would, at times, oppose one another: innocent people
from all walks of life, sects, and religions dashing around in complete
panic along with their children and carrying whatever they could salvage.
The Palestinian Nakba (the catastrophe of war, displacement and
dispossession of 1948) has now become the Arab Nakba. Palestinian refugees
know too well what their Arab brethren are going through: the massacres, the
unredeemable loss, the despair, and the sinking boats.
a question that persisted in the minds of many when the so-called Arab
Spring first began in early 2011: “Are Arab revolutions good for Palestine?”
It was impossible to answer. Not enough variables were in place for
any intelligent assessment, or an educated guess even. The assumption was:
if Arab revolutions culminate into truly democratic outcomes, then,
naturally, it would be good for the Palestinians. This assumption followed
the simple logic that historically Arab masses - particularly in poorer Arab
countries - perceived Palestine as the central and most common struggle that
unified Arab identity and nationalism for generations.
But not only
democracy never prevailed (with the Tunisian exception) but many millions of
Arabs joined millions of Palestinians in their perpetual exile.
What does that mean?
My Egyptian friend, who declared himself a
“refugee,” told me: “I am optimistic.”
“I am too,” I replied, with
neither one of us feeling a bit surprised by the seemingly curious
The source of optimism is twofold: Firstly, Arabs have
finally broken the fear barrier, a prerequisite essential for any popular
movement that opts for fundamental change. Secondly, now most Arabs are
equally sharing the burden of war, revolution, destitution and exile.
That is far from being a “good thing,” but it certainly accentuates the
element of urgency in the collective Arab fate.
“We are in this
together,” I told my Egyptian friend. Indeed, it is as if all Arabs are
riding on a single, overcrowded dinghy and we must all make it to the other
side safely. Sinking in not an option.
- Ramzy Baroud –
www.ramzybaroud.net - is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently
completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is
My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).
Share this article with your facebook friends