Protecting Rights Amidst a Series of Wrongs

I recently attended a lecture about the ironies apparent in the history of Palestine and Palestinians. As I sat and absorbed the content, a discussion about Palestine and Palestinians seemed to grow dangerously synonymous with a discussion of Israel and its oppressive policies. Several minutes later, Israel was referred to as an “apartheid state.” I could not help but wonder whether those two topics were necessarily inextricably linked. Are Palestinians and Palestinian refugees victims only of Israeli-induced apartheid?

Israel is not blameless. Yes, Jewish immigrants displaced Palestinians as they moved to occupy the land. Yes, a number of Palestinians were forced out of the country in the chaos of Israeli independence and the ensuing 1948 Arab-Israeli War. And yes, a number of Palestinians also fled Israel under the belief that they would be able to return after Arab countries emerged victorious. The miscalculation cost them their homes. At the same time, Jewish emigration to Israel rapidly increased. Jewish communities that had existed peacefully in Arab countries for centuries were forced out or obliterated. History reveals countless wrongs committed by numerous parties.

But what wrongs are being committed today? I vaguely remembered a comment by a family friend, a Jordanian professor, who once told me sadly that the Jordanians probably cared less for Palestinians than do Israelis. I tried to recall what I knew of 1970’s Black September, a period perhaps overlooked by our generation. During this period, King Hussein of Jordan, perceiving a threat in the autonomy of the West Bank Palestinians, drove the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) into Lebanon. In the months of fighting that ensued, thousands of Palestinians were killed or expelled. This was not Israel’s doing.

During the lecture’s question and answer session, I could not figure out what exactly it was that I wanted to say. As I predicted, a number of questions posed towards the lecturer were impassioned and some bordered upon verbal insult. Defenders of Israel were accusatory, a man voicing the plight of Palestinian Christians was indignant, a law student was eager to explore the technicalities of international rights.

As I debated whether or not I would enter the fray, it happened. One question emerged calmly and composedly–almost innocently–from the audience. Did not Lebanon, Jordan, Syria–countries that share borders with Israel and the Palestinian territories–too strictly maintain their borders to keep out the Palestinians trapped in refugee camps?

The answer: Two wrongs do not make a right. Next question.

No, two wrongs do not make a right. But ignoring the wrongs of one party to focus on the wrongs of another is equally problematic. If we hope to help the plight of the Palestinian refugee, if endeavors to defame Israel and divest funds are truly campaigns for human rights and dignity, then disregarding the wrongs of neighboring Arab countries to focus entirely upon Israel is its own fallacy, particularly because so many Palestinians are settled in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

Palestinians residing in Syria and Jordan do not enjoy the benefits of full citizenship, though they do have access to education, healthcare, and employment. But according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees living in abject poverty is actually in Lebanon. Today, there are 400,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, over half of whom live in camps. They do not have access to state education and healthcare. As of 2009, they are banned from taking up employment in 20 different professions.

If this is the treatment received by Palestinian refugees in countries whose civilians have not been subjected to suicide bombing and rocket attack by Palestinian terrorist groups, I wonder where the term apartheid is best applied.

Perhaps some enterprising student should create the SCAL (Students Confronting Apartheid in Lebanon) group, or the SCAACBI (Students Confronting Apartheid by Arab Countries Bordering Israel). Perhaps, at the very least, we can widen our horizons. Numerous wrongs will not make a right, but in paying due consideration to all of them we will be better able to understand the situation at hand and effect some sort of positive change.

Miriam Ellora Marks loves competition, random facts, and studying both Arabic and Hebrew. She wants to use her Public Policy degree as a stepping stone towards becoming the next George Mitchell.

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