In 2015, a Saudi court in Abha sentenced Palestinian artist and poet Ashraf Fayadh to death by beheading for "apostasy." Later, however, the court overturned the death sentence and replaced it with an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes. The "evidence" against Fayadh was based on poems included in his book Instructions Within, as well as social media posts and conversations he had in a coffee shop in Saudi Arabia. Pictured: Abha, Saudi Arabia. (Image source: iStock)
Saudi Arabia appears to have joined the list of Arab countries that mistreat Palestinians.
In Syria, thousands of Palestinians have been wounded, murdered and arrested since the beginning of the civil war in 2011. The latest statistics show that nearly 4,000 Palestinians -- 3,920 to be exact -- have been killed in Syria in the past nine years, while 1,750 others are being held in various Syrian government prisons. Another 323 Palestinians have gone missing during the same period.
In Lebanon, Palestinians have long been facing discriminatory and "Apartheid laws" that deny them basic rights, including access to dozens of skilled professions, health-care and education services. According to some reports, thousands of Palestinians have been fleeing Lebanon in recent years as a result of the dire economic conditions and government regulations that deny them basic rights.
It now seems that it is Saudi Arabia's turn to harass and intimidate Palestinians.
A report in the Gulf-based Al-Khaleej Online news site disclosed that the Saudi authorities have in recent weeks arrested and terrorized Palestinians living in the kingdom while the Palestinian embassy in Riyadh has chosen not to intervene.
The report said that more than 30 Palestinians, including students, academics and businessmen, have been secretly rounded up by Saudi security forces. The Saudis, the report added, have also threatened to ban dozens of Palestinians from leaving the kingdom, while many others have been dismissed from their jobs and are facing deportation.
Palestinian sources said that the crackdown on Palestinians in Saudi Arabia began nine months ago, but has intensified in recent weeks.
Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, a Saudi academic and opposition figure, revealed that the Saudi authorities have also frozen the bank accounts and confiscated property belonging to Palestinians in the kingdom. He claimed that the Palestinians were accused of "sympathizing with the Palestinian resistance, supporting Hamas and displaying interest in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip."
In early March, the Saudi authorities announced , without providing further details, that they had arrested six Palestinians in connection with security-related offenses. The Palestinians were among 50 suspects with eight different nationalities arrested by the Saudis. In addition to Saudi Arabia, the remaining suspects are from Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Yemen and the Philippines.
At this stage, it is not clear whether the security crackdown on Palestinians in Saudi Arabia is linked to the arrest of the 50 suspects. Palestinians insist that the crackdown began long before the arrests.
Palestinians families said that their sons who are residing in Saudi Arabia have been subjected to "humiliating interrogation" by Saudi security officers. "The Palestinians were threatened and prohibited from leaving the kingdom," the families were quoted as saying.
As part of the unprecedented crackdown, the Saudi security forces have raided some Palestinian homes and conducted "violent searches" before taking their occupants into custody. The Palestinian detainees are being held in undisclosed locations, their families said.
Nidal Hamideh, a Palestinian living outside Saudi Arabia, said that on April 5, one of his relatives -- Abu Fadi -- was arrested after being summoned for interrogation. "Abu Fadi has been working as an employee for a Saudi company for three years," Hamideh said.
"He and his family members are legal residents of Saudi Arabia and he was never involved in any illegal activities. Lately, Abu Fadi was harassed several times by the Saudi security forces, who questioned him about his residence, work and even political affiliation."
Hamideh said that his family's attempts to find out where Abu Fadi was being held have thus far been unsuccessful.
The Paris Francophone Institute for Freedoms condemned the "arbitrary" Saudi measures against Palestinians in the kingdom as a "blatant violation of international human rights conventions." The institute said it has received testimonies and statements indicating that in Saudi Arabia, in the past few months, dozens of Palestinians have been arrested. The Saudis, it added, have also confiscated properties belonging to the Palestinians.
One of the Palestinians targeted by the Saudis told the Paris Institute that the Palestinians were being interrogated about their support for Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip and for criticizing the Arab government's policies towards the Palestinian issue. "The prolonged detentions without charge, trial or appearance before a judge are arbitrary measures that violate Saudi law and international human rights standards," the institute said.
"The crackdown on freedom of opinion and expression violates human rights conventions and laws and reflects the tyranny of the regime in Saudi Arabia, which denies public freedoms to its citizens and those who come to the kingdom."
The Paris institute expressed deep concern that the Palestinian detainees were being subjected to widespread abuses, including extended periods of incarceration without charge, trial or legal assistance, and called on the Saudi authorities immediately to release all Palestinians, end their travel ban and the confiscation of their properties, and to compensate them for physical and psychological harm.
In November 2015, a Saudi court sentenced Palestinian artist and poet Ashraf Fayadh to death by beheading for "apostasy." Later, however, the court overturned the death sentence and replaced it with an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes. The "evidence" against Fayadh was based on poems included in his book Instructions Within, as well as social media posts and conversations he had in a coffee shop in Saudi Arabia.
In the past few years, relations between the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia have been extremely tense, particularly after reports about a rapprochement between the Saudis and Israel. Several Palestinians have taken to social media to badmouth Saudi leaders and denounce them as corrupt, mentally retarded and traitors.
For now, Palestinian officials are refusing to comment on reports about the crackdown on Palestinians in Saudi Arabia. Palestinian dignitaries are acutely careful when it comes to criticizing Arab heads of state or Arab government policies. They appear to be afraid that any criticism of Arab leaders and governments will only worsen the conditions of Palestinians in the Arab world. They also seem afraid of losing Arab political backing for the Palestinian leadership, especially as the US administration prepares to announce its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "deal of the century."
Palestinian leaders do not seem to care about the suffering of their people at the hands of Arabs. Yet, these same leaders are quick to condemn Israel on almost every occasion and available platform. Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are so busy fighting each other (and Israel) that they seem to have forgotten about the Palestinians in Arab countries, being killed, wounded and arrested every day.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.