Middle East Monitor / March 6, 2020
There have been numerous blows dealt to the Palestinians living in Iraq since 2003, the most recent of which is the deprivation of a group of them from housing allowances, on which they relied to pay their rent. The decision stipulated the deprivation of about 300 families from housing aid, targeting the poorest and most destitute of the Palestinian population in Iraq.
The decision was justified as being a result of the financial difficulties faced by UNHCR. The news did not receive much attention, nor did the previous blows targeting the Palestinians of Iraq receive the attention they deserve. Despite the long-suffering of the Iraqis, and the extent of the violence and destruction they suffered and were exposed to, by Iraqi society, the tragedy of the Palestinians on the margins of this requires a special pause.
The number of Palestinians residing in Iraq was not significant, compared to other neighbouring Arab countries. Still, it fell sharply from about 40,000 before the American occupation of Iraq in 2003 to less than 4,000 now. The reasons are well known. In the first years of the occupation, they were exposed to campaigns of violence and killing from militias that took advantage of their peaceful stance and not having armed forces to defend them in a country where the state collapsed.
Of course, the accusation against them was ready, which was sympathising with the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The criminals and chauvinists echoed those accusations, justifying their actions, without regard for the fact that the vast majority of the Palestinians of Iraq distanced themselves, throughout its history, from Iraqi internal politics. In addition to this, Palestinian organisations did not operate in Iraq at the same level as they did in other Arab countries.
It is also well known that violence and killing targeted the Iraqis too, as many of them fled, seeking asylum in Syria and Jordan, and, of course, further. But the gates of those Arab countries were closed to the Palestinians, and a large group of them remained stuck for a long time in the desert on the borders, until very far countries, such as countries in Latin America and Iceland, guaranteed them the right to asylum.
However today, the Iranian-backed armed forces that control Iraq say they are hostile towards Israel, and some of the most prominent Iraqi militia leaders linked the demonstrations calling for reform and an end to corruption and sectarianism in Iraq as a conspiracy that Israel was behind. The leaders of these groups know the gravitational attraction of the Palestinian cause, and for this reason, they have joined forces with a long line of traffickers exploiting the Palestinian cause, including regimes, parties and even individuals.
However, the test always came when matters were related to the human rights of the Palestinians, whose cause is used by the dealers. In Iraq, the same forces and militias that are now talking about their hostility towards Israel and their alleged confrontations with it are the ones who targeted the Palestinians and killed them in Iraq. This occurred before the eyes of these groups and with their blessings. For example, the municipalities district, which includes the well-known housing complex that was the largest gathering of Palestinians in Iraq, was always under the control of the militia after 2003.
Those forces are now in control of the Iraqi parliament, to add to their control of the field situation throughout Iraq, except for the Kurdistan region. While years of killing the Palestinians of Iraq ended with a reduction in their number from 40,000 before the occupation to a tenth of that number now, in recent years, measures aimed at strangling the rest of the economy economically, began by depriving them of economic means that they cannot live without.
The most severe measure was to deny the Palestinians the right to receive basic foodstuffs at a subsidised price, or what is known in Iraq as the ration, and also to deny them free education, work in the government sector, and pension rights. This was done based on the citizenship and residency law issued by the Iraqi parliament more than two years ago, with the approval of the majority of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs. This was when the Palestinians were deprived of their legal status that was equal to the Iraqis, and this was done by repealing Law 202 issued in 2001, which gave the Palestinians rights equal to the Iraqis, except for the right to citizenship.
It should be noted here that this alleged equality in the previous era was not issued by law except at the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule. At the time, it included a rather strange clause that threatened employees who did not give the Palestinians their rights with severe punishment. This is despite the fact that this should be obvious. Still, this clause clarifies the magnitude of the suffering of the Palestinians, even in those days, with the jurisprudence and prejudices of those who hate their existence, even under the most strict and dominant regimes.
A quick and fair look at the history of the Palestinians in Iraq before its occupation shows that they only shared with the Iraqis their misery and their suffering with wars, and the long and bitter years of the economic embargo. They have worked, since they came to Iraq, most of them after the first Nakba in 1948, in the field of education and others, serving the society and its generations.
As for culture, Jabra Ibrahim Jabra was a true Arab godfather of culture in Iraq, translating Shakespeare and Falkner, writing criticism about them as strongly as he wrote about Al-Jawaheri’s poetry or about the fine works of the great Iraqi artists he has always supported, and contributed to their progress and spread. Khaled Ali Mustafa also left a poetic, critical and academic heritage, while Rawhi Al-Khamash was a musician and generations of oud players and students of oriental music graduated at his hands.
As for Muhammad Hussein Abdul Rahim, he made a very distinctive imprint on the Iraqi comedy theatre. The list goes on, and names that should not be forgotten may be forgotten. The point is not glorification or courtesy, but rather a reminder of the bonds, principles and meanings that link humans. After the decision to deprive the Palestinians of housing aid, it was reported that some of them participated in the protest demonstrations in Liberation Square in Baghdad. I hope this is true.
If the Palestinian presence in Iraq is almost extinct, due to the actions and forces controlling Iraq, then the Iraqi protests should expand to include part of the Palestinians’ suffering, as the cause of revolting against oppression is one and the fight is ongoing for rights that do not die.
This is Rafed al-Jabouri’s first contribution to Middle East Monitor