Iraq has just joined the long list of Arab countries that shamelessly practice apartheid against Palestinians. The number of Arab countries that apply discriminatory measures against Palestinians while pretending to support the Palestinian cause is breathtaking. Arab hypocrisy is once again on display, but who who is looking?
The international media -- and even the Palestinians -- are so preoccupied with US President Donald Trump's announcement on Jerusalem that the plight of Palestinians in Arab countries is dead news. This apathy allows Arab governments to continue with their anti-Palestinian policies because they know that no one in the international community cares -- the United Nations is too busy condemning Israel to do much else.
So what is the story with the Palestinians in Iraq? Earlier this week, it was revealed that the Iraqi government has approved a new law that effectively abolishes the rights given to Palestinians living there. The new law changes the status of Palestinians from nationals to foreigners.
Under Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator, the Palestinians enjoyed many privileges. Until 2003, there were about 40,000 Palestinians living in Iraq. Since the overthrow of the Saddam regime, the Palestinian population has dwindled to 7,000.
Thousands of Palestinians have fled Iraq after being targeted by various warring militias in that country because of their support for Saddam Hussein. Palestinians say that what they are facing in Iraq is "ethnic cleansing."
The conditions of the Palestinians in Iraq are about to go from bad to worse. The new law, which was ratified by Iraqi President Fuad Masum, deprives Palestinians living in Iraq of their right to free education, healthcare and to travel documents, and denies them work in state institutions. The new law, which is called No. 76 of 2017, revokes the rights and privileges granted to Palestinians under Saddam Hussein. The law went into effect recently after it was published in the Iraqi Official Gazette No. 4466.
A new Iraqi law, recently ratified by Iraq's President Fuad Masum, effectively abolishes the rights of Palestinians living there (free education, healthcare, travel documents, work in state institutions), changing the status of Palestinians from nationals to foreigners. Pictured: Iraqi President Fuad Masum (right) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) on November 30, 2015. (Image source: Video screenshot, Office of Mahmoud Abbas)
"Instead of protecting the Palestinian refugees from daily violations and improving their living and humanitarian conditions, the Iraqi government is making decisions that will have a catastrophic impact on the lives of these refugees," said Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.
"The recurrent harassment and restrictions imposed on Palestinian refugees in recent years have forced most of them to resort again to other countries such as Canada, Chile, Brazil and other European countries. Due to these violations, only about 7,000 out of 40,000 Palestinian refugees are now residing in Iraq. It is a shame to which an end should be put."
The law means, simply, that Palestinians would rather live in Canada or Brazil or any European country than live in an Arab country. They have more rights in non-Arab countries than they have in Arab ones. In the former, they can at least purchase property and enjoy healthcare and social benefits. Palestinians can even apply for citizenship in non-Arab countries and receive it. But not in countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It is easier for a Palestinian to obtain Canadian or US citizenship than to get one from most of the Arab countries.
In a note of extreme irony, it is the Arab League that has advised its members not to give the Palestinians citizenship. The excuse: By granting Palestinians citizenship of Arab countries, you are denying them the "right of return" to their former homes inside Israel. So the Arab countries want the Palestinians to remain refugees forever by lying to them and telling them: you will one day go back to your former villages and towns (many of which do not even exist anymore) inside Israel.
Take, for example, the case of Amal Saker, a Palestinian woman who moved with her family to Iraq in 1976. Although she is married to an Iraqi national, and although her children have been granted Iraqi citizenship, she herself has not been given Iraqi citizenship. She says that the new law will now prohibit her from obtaining a travel document to visit her relatives outside Iraq. She and many Palestinians are convinced that the timing of the new law -- which coincided with Trump's announcement on Jerusalem -- is not coincidental. They believe that the new Iraqi law is part of Trump's purported "ultimate solution" for the Israeli-Arab conflict, which they are convinced is aimed at "liquidating" the Palestinian cause and depriving the Palestinians of the "right of return."
The Palestinians, in other words, are promoting a conspiracy theory according to which some Arab countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are colluding with the Trump administration to impose a solution that is completely unacceptable and even harmful to the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are "horrified" by the new Iraqi law, and some have begun waging a campaign to pressure the Iraqi government to backtrack. But the Palestinians are also aware that they are not going to win this campaign, because they are not going to win the sympathy of the international community. Why? Because the name of the country that passed this apartheid law is Iraq and not Israel.
Jawad Obeidat, chairman of the Palestinian Lawyers' Syndicate, explained that the new Iraqi law will have "grave repercussions" on the conditions and future of Palestinians living in Iraq. "The Palestinians will now be deprived of most of their basic rights," Obeidat said.
He added that Palestinian lawyers will be working with their Iraqi colleagues to put pressure on the Iraqi government to rescind the new law. Obeidat appealed to the Arab League to intervene with the Iraqi authorities to rescind the law and stop the "injustice" towards the Palestinians in Iraq.
"The Iraqi law is unacceptable and inhumane," stated Tayseer Khaled, a senior PLO official. He pointed out that the Iraqi authorities have failed to provide protection to the Palestinians living in Iraq and that is why they became easy prey for various militias that prompted many of them to flee the country during the past 15 years. Khaled noted that many Palestinian families were forced to live in makeshift temporary refugee camps along the borders of Syria and Jordan after being driven from their homes. "We call on the Iraqi authorities to treat Palestinians humanely," he said.
Iraqi leaders, however, can afford to sit back and relax in the face of Palestinian appeals and condemnations. No one is going to pay any attention to the misery of the Palestinians in any Arab country. Major media outlets around the world will barely cover the news of the controversial Iraqi law or the displacement of thousands of Palestinian families in Iraq. Journalists are too busy chasing a handful of Palestinian stone-throwers near Ramallah. A Palestinian girl who punched an Israeli soldier in the face draws more media interest than Arab apartheid against the Palestinians. A protest of 35 Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem against Trump and Israel attracts more photographers and reporters than a story about endemic Arab apartheid and discrimination against the Palestinians.
The hypocrisy of the Arab countries is in full swing. While they pretend to show solidarity with their Palestinian brothers, Arab governments work tirelessly to ethnically cleanse them. Palestinian leaders, meanwhile care nothing about the plight of their own people in Arab countries. They are much too busy inciting Palestinians against Israel and Trump to pay such a paltry issue any mind at all.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.