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Resistance against another uprooting from the land of Palestine

April 6, 2024 at 3:00 pm

Palestinians, carrying their belongings as they flee from intense Israeli attacks, migrate towards Rafah and Deir Al Balah from Khan Yunis on January 22, 2024 in Deir Al Balah, Gaza. [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

Forced to relocate due to the relentless impact of aggressive shelling, widespread destruction and military directives issued by Zionist Israelis instructing them to move southward, nearly 1.7 million residents of Gaza find themselves confined within an area spanning less than 65 kilometres. Having endured the dire consequences of these circumstances in the midst of winter, they now grapple with severe hunger and inclement weather, establishing makeshift camps for shelter. This recurring cycle of displacement is not a novel experience for the inhabitants of Gaza, having been subjected to the brutalities perpetrated by Zionist Israelis since 1948. Over 60 per cent of Gaza’s inhabitants are 1948 refugees from south Palestine.

In 1948, Palestinians were made to flee their homes and livelihoods, fearing the atrocious execution of Plan Dalet, which was the “master plan” by the Zionist military aiming to dispossess historical Palestine, then a British Mandate, in preparation for the establishment of an Israeli state. This plan, epitomising Zionist ideology, consisted of a series of military methods by which Jewish forces could ensure the expulsion of the Palestinians. It entailed the destruction of the bulk of the Palestine Arabs in order to achieve the fait accompli upon which the state of Israel was founded. The Zionist policy of “transfer” erased villages, killed civilians and obliged people to leave their homes and towns through psychological warfare and massacres. The transferist policy included cutting water and food supplies and undermining the economic infrastructure.

Palestinians were obliged to seek safety in neighbouring countries. The geographic proximity and the social relations mattered in their chosen destination; the majority sought to be in what has become the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The rest left to close countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, which, in 1951, hosted the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), providing relief for hardship cases and managing basic education through its schools and comprehensive healthcare.

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A trickle of 13,000 Palestinians sought to travel to Egypt, where they had relatives or professional ties. They were quarantined at first in two temporary camps in northwest Sinai (Azarita and Qantara Sharq) as the politics did not welcome refugees on its territories. A camp was established in Abbasieh, Cairo, eventually dismantled in the 1980s, and its inhabitants moved to other urban districts in Cairo, principally Ain Shams and Madinet El Salam. After the 1952 Gamal Abdul Nasser revolution and his Pan-Arab support, Palestinians were given fundamental rights along with Egyptian travel documents for Palestinians. This permitted them to settle in Egypt with prospects of enrolling in higher education and being recruited for public sector jobs. This “golden era” was formalised by an order issued in 1962 to consider Palestinians as an exception to the general rules regarding foreigners and to permit them access to public sector services on par with Egyptians.

Besieged Gaza is the open-air prison resisting Israel’s colonisation of Palestine - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Besieged Gaza is the open-air prison resisting Israel’s colonisation of Palestine – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

However, in 1978, Palestinians went from having the privileges of citizens to those of foreigners due to the killing of the minister of culture by a Palestinian terrorist mercenary, Abu Nidal Al-Banna. This marked a political turning point in Palestinian–Egyptian relations as the status of Palestinians was undermined when their rights and privileges were taken away and never restored. Laws were changed, and Palestinians were classified as “foreigners”. As a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, Egypt refused to apply the revised Article 1 D of 2002. This article entailed that refugees who do not fall under the protection or assistance of any UN organisations are ipso facto entitled to be protected and assisted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Palestinians found themselves excluded from the domestic rights they once enjoyed and were marginalised from accessing rights under the international refugee law, despite the fact that they did not receive the assistance and/or protection of any UN body. This left them in limbo with limited rights as residents and no rights as refugees.

At least three generations today in Egypt, especially those of Palestinian parents, have missed out on their chance to climb the ladder and compete at the professional level. The change in treatment of Palestinian students prevented many from continuing their education. A ministerial decision in 1978 required Palestinian students to transfer from public to private schools, where school and university education became expensive and difficult to access due to high fees. Without a solid education, Palestinians have been unable to compete for professional jobs where they are required to obtain work permits, and the regulations restrict the number of “foreigners” in any company to ten per cent.

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Approximately 200,000 Palestinians are estimated to reside in Egypt, spread across various governorates in the centre and north of Egypt. They engage socially, professionally and culturally with Egyptians, forming connections as Arabs, Muslims, neighbours and, notably, as Palestinians, with ties to the history and sacred sites of Palestine. Over the years, intermarriage has blurred distinctions based on appearance and dialect, making it challenging to distinguish between Palestinians and Egyptians. Various factors have influenced the shaping of Palestinian identity in Egypt. Interviews I conducted in my research between 2001-2003 did not unveil a consistent identity pattern; some Palestinians opt for social assimilation, with limited rights and stronger bonds with Egyptians, while others, despite successful social integration, express a deep-rooted sense of Palestinian identity and affiliation.

Due to their close proximity and social connections, Palestinians in Gaza are well aware of the challenging circumstances faced by their counterparts in Egypt. Many individuals interviewed for the book I compiled between 2001 and 2003 mentioned receiving financial assistance from relatives in Gaza and not the opposite. Palestinians in Gaza, who have suffered displacement at least twice in their lives, strongly resist the prospect of yet another uprooting, particularly not towards Egypt. The brutal actions of Zionist-American forces against civilians in Gaza mirror the exact scenario of Plan Dalet of 1948: instil fear through atrocities and genocide, forcibly dispossess them from their belongings and properties, raze the land to prevent return and cut essential services like clean water and electricity, compelling them to seek refuge elsewhere. Despite these hardships, the Palestinians’ unwavering determination to resist being uprooted from their land underscores their refusal to accept a life with limited rights and dignity outside their Palestinian homeland.

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