Thursday, August 13, 2009

A contrasting tale of two refugees

Criticizing how the Palestinian refugees have been treated by the Arab countries in which they live, Daoud Al-Shiryan, Al-Hayat columnist and deputy secretary-general of Al-Arabiya TV, contrasts the treatment received by two refugees - one Jewish, the other Palestinian - from Lebanon. He called on these countries to integrate Palestinian refugees into their societies and to resettle them before they are forced to do so by the international community. Via MEMRI (With thanks: Jerusalem Posts):

"In the third article on the subject of refugee resettlement, Al-Shiryan related the stories of two Lebanese women, one Palestinian and the other Jewish. He wrote: "The [Jewish] Lebanese woman, Hannah [Efraim], invited the Palestinian woman, Umm Bilal, to come spend the weekend at her house… [saying], 'I want you to help me pack my things, since I have decided to emigrate to the U.S. As you can see, the political and social situation after the 1958 [Lebanese civil] war does not encourage one to stay [in Lebanon], and intensifies sectarianism here. I prefer my son to live far away from Lebanon.' [Shortly thereafter,] Hannah left [Lebanon] and lost touch with Umm Bilal.

"Upon her arrival in New York, Hannah received assistance from Jewish organizations. A short time later, she received U.S. citizenship, enrolled her son in a private school, and started working in a bank, earning a good salary. [Her son] Avraham grew up, finished university, and advanced at his job, becoming director-general of a reputable bank. Ten years after completing his degree he married, had three children, and bought a fine house in a New Jersey suburb [for himself], and another for his mother.

"In 1995, Hannah decided to visit Lebanon and spend her summer vacation there. She arrived in Beirut and moved into a luxurious hotel. The next day, she asked her driver to take her to the refugee camp where Umm Bilal lived. She entered the camp and inquired after her. By nightfall, she managed to find her - [living] in a dilapidated hut with fabric-covered windows, her body ravaged by tuberculosis.

"Hannah asked Umm Bilal about [her husband], Abu Bilal; Umm Bilal replied that he had died in the civil war. 'And what about [your son] Bilal?' [Hannah asked]. [Umm Bilal] replied, 'He is working at a bicycle repair shop down the street. His salary is barely enough to cover my basic needs and those of his three sisters.' 'Is Bilal married?' Hannah asked. 'In this hole, where would we get the money to feed another mouth?' [answered Umm Bilal].

"'Aisha [Umm Bilal] is just one example among the thousands of Palestinian mothers [like her], and Hannah is just one example among the Jewish mothers [like her]. The Arabs kept the Palestinians in refugee camps and made into a people defeated both morally and materially. In contrast, the West welcomed the Jews and made them a leading [force] in science, arts, literature, economics, and politics.

"Are we capable of reassessing the idea of the refugee camps, [thereby] saving the next generation of Palestinians from a fate [similar to that of] Bilal and his contemporaries? There is still an opportunity to do so. The Palestinians do not want to be resettled. All they want is to be treated the same way the West treated the Jews. Then they will win and recover their rights."

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