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Israel is bad but the Arab leadership is worse

Palestinian suffering and humiliation at the hands of the Israeli occupation occurs on a daily basis and has done ever since the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of 1948, when the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine began in the run-up to the creation of the state of Israel. The human rights abuses continue unabated and with no immediate end in sight.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon observed in December, much to the annoyance of the government in Tel Aviv, that it's hardly a surprise when those who are living under occupation lash out with violent resistance occasionally. Personally, I am not too surprised by the behaviour of the Israeli military and the religious extremists who live in the illegal settlements, for that is what occupiers do — they oppress, subjugate and brutalise the people — and the Israelis have been doing this for 68 years while the leaders of the "international community" swing between complete apathy to feigning mild concern.

Following a recent field trip to Lebanon with an all-female delegation for the British charity Interpal, my mind has focussed on the fast approaching Nakba Day in mid-May, and I wonder just how many more anniversaries will come and go before the world's longest ever military occupation ends. The answer, I believe, lies not with the Israelis, for as long as American taxpayers are happy to prop up the Zionist State with billions of dollars every year, the military occupation of the Palestinian people will continue. Nor does the answer lie with other Western countries, although most of the problems of the Middle East can be traced back to Britain and its damned Empire.

I believe that the answer lies with the Arab world and, in particular, those hedonistic, corrupt leaders and their elite friends who rule with such contempt and cruelty for the less well off in their societies. Tens of millions of ordinary Arabs have a love for Palestine which is engraved in their hearts but this loyalty is not shared by their leaders.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, for instance, hold so much sway and power in both the East and West but they will not use their influence to free Palestine. Instead, they have spent billions of dollars destabilising the Arab Spring which promised to give ordinary people a say in their own lives. Owning vast property portfolios in London as well as feeding the British and American arms industries, these sheikhs and sultans wield immense power but they will not use it for the common good.

For nearly 70 years, Palestinians have been largely denied citizenship of Arab countries (apart from Jordan for pre-1967 refugees), in accordance with an Arab League decree which claims a desire to preserve Palestinian culture and identity. While that makes sense at one level, especially for the millions of Palestinians who have the legitimate right to return to their homeland one day, they could be given special status which would put them on a par with every other citizen with access to job opportunities, education, housing, medical care and marriage.

Just about every Palestinian I meet has stories of unpleasant encounters at border crossings in the Arab world and some countries will not recognise their travel documents. Most Palestinians cannot vote or run for office in national elections because they are not allowed citizenship in the countries where they live in the Middle East. In Jordan there are at least 165,000 Palestinians from Gaza who fled there after the Six Day War who still cannot access government services because they have no official Jordanian status.

There are administrative black holes which prevent some of the Palestinian refugees from entitlement to basic rights. I saw this in Lebanon where large numbers of Palestinians do not fall within the country's tick-box bureaucracy. There are said to be 73 jobs that Palestinians are banned from doing by the Lebanese government, giving limited hope and aspirations to children in the refugee camps. What is the point of even thinking about becoming a doctor, lawyer or journalist if you are then banned from working in that field beyond the boundaries of the camps?

Indeed, being banned from living outside the refugee camps scattered across Lebanon means that these areas have become a living hell for the Palestinians, who exist in unbelievably cramped conditions. Camps built originally for 20,000 or fewer refugees are now holding in excess of 100,000.

The government in Egypt keeps the Rafah Border Crossing closed and many bright young students with scholarships to Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and other top universities are unable to leave the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian leadership in the enclave has more doctorates than any other government in the Middle East because the value placed upon education is so high, but this sort of academic excellence and achievement is frowned upon and not encouraged elsewhere in the Arab world.

In war-torn Syria, Palestinian refugees have literally starved to death unable to get food because of the fighting and sieges enforced by the brutal Assad regime. Those who flee, and I did meet some in Lebanon, have uncertain futures in the refugee camps where they feel as though their needs are not prioritised. Most of these who are Palestinians have never known a life outside the refugee camps.

Egypt refuses to allow Syrian-Palestinian refugees to register with UNHCR, meaning that any who manage to make it to the country cannot get any services or residency permits. Other Arab countries — including Libya, Kuwait and Iraq — have, over the years, expelled Palestinians for no other reason than their nationality. Palestinians are harassed, persecuted and treated like second class citizens across the Arab world.

The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of those in power, because the love of ordinary citizens for the Palestinians and Palestine is indisputable. I have witnessed with my own eyes the depth of feeling Arab people have for the land of Al-Aqsa while watching the crocodile tears of Arab leaders flow as the latest atrocity in the occupied land hits the news.

All these leaders have to do is click their fingers and the West will do their bidding. If, collectively, the Arab leadership from Riyadh to Dubai and Cairo to Amman demanded a solution for the Palestinians one would be found in double-quick time.

On top of all of this, the ultimate act of treachery by some of these leaders has seen them cosying up to Tel Aviv while betraying the Palestinian people. The truth is, though, that if a free Palestine guaranteed their thrones and power, it would have been delivered by now. Sadly, it does not and will not.

The arrival of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt through the ballot box presented the biggest threat to the Arab leadership seen in decades. Hence, the flame of democracy was extinguished quickly and mercilessly by a military coup aided and abetted by treacherous and dishonourable Arab leaders. The sad truth is that while these self-serving individuals remain in power, Palestine will never be free. Israel is most definitely bad, but the Arab leadership is much, much worse.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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