Martin Kramer has ridiculed in "The Expulsion That Never Was," the December 2002 letter, signed by over 1,000 academics, predicting and warning against Israel's possible "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians in the "fog of war." In fact, those academics should have worried about the expulsion of Palestinians in the fog of a different war: according to the BBC, "About 1,000 Palestinians have already been driven from their homes in the Iraqi capital" by Iraqi landlords forced in the Saddam Hussein era to charge them very low rents but now evicting their Palestinian tenants to increase their incomes. The BBC quotes one of them: "A group of Iraqis attacked us. They said 'You're Palestinian.' They beat me and my father up. And we were about to leave our house because we had been given notice that we were evicted." (May 9, 2003)
June 24, 2003 update: According to Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, landlords in Baghdad have ordered some 800 families - or about 4,000 people - from their homes since May. Two hundred more families have been given notice to leave their apartments when their children finish their high school exams later this month.
Dec. 30, 2005 update: Two and a half years later, it is clear that the Western media ignoring this problem does not mean it went away. Doug Struck provides an update in the Washington Post.
"From the first week of Jafari's government, everything started to go bad for us," Mohammed Abdulah, a 36-year-old Palestinian, said of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, a Shiite who took office last spring. Their fears were sparked by the arrest in May of four Palestinians by the Interior Ministry, which critics accuse of being infiltrated by militiamen loyal to Shiite factions and of torturing prisoners. The four men were plucked from the warren of Palestinian housing in eastern Baghdad in a hail of gunshots, then paraded on national television as terrorists. …
Iraqi authorities say the men, who are awaiting trial, are connected to a mid-morning bombing at an east Baghdad market in which more than 15 people were killed and scores were injured. They deny that Palestinians are being targeted. "There is no mistreatment of Palestinians here," Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said recently. "We divide them into two categories, as we do with all Iraqis. The majority are safe, secure people who have lived here and want to live in this country. A small minority are taking part in terrorist operations."
"I have, in the Ministry of the Interior, only about 30 names of Palestinians who are watched or surveilled. It's a small number," he said.
But the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently expressed renewed concern for the Palestinians—partly because of rising public anger at all non-Iraqi Arabs, who are suspected of coming here to join the insurgency. "They have been victims of night raids, arbitrary arrests and torture carried out by Iraqi security forces," according to Astrid Van Genderen Stort, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Geneva. Palestinians in Baghdad offer up stories of daily insults and of being spat upon and beaten by Iraqis who learn of their nationality. "The problem is, they consider us former regime henchmen," said Ahmed Mussa, 30, a lawyer who wears three-piece suits. After Mussa began representing the four men arrested in May, he started receiving death threats in the mail.
After the fall of Hussein in 2003, several thousand Palestinians left for Jordan and were stuck in a no-man's land at the border. Most eventually went to a refugee camp just inside Jordan. With the new threats, another group of 19 Palestinians left the capital in October for Syria and spent more than a month camped in the no-man's land before they were finally let into a refugee camp in northeastern Syria, according to Stort.
But the majority of Palestinians here are hunkering down in Baghdad. Most live in a neighborhood of shabby concrete buildings where they have been housed, at government expense, for decades. Iraq's Palestinian population largely grew from the nearly 4,000 who fled to Iraq when Jewish forces took control of Haifa during the creation of Israel in 1948. The UNHCR says there are now about 23,000 Palestinians here. But others say the true number of Palestinians, including those who have managed to blend into Iraqi society, is several times that.
Successive Iraqi governments nurtured them, and Hussein used them to bolster his claim as an Arab nationalist leader. They were frequently lauded in the government-controlled media. Hussein made world headlines by promising a house and $25,000 to each Palestinian family in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that had a member killed while attacking Israel. Palestinians were not allowed to become Iraqi citizens under Hussein's rule and were discouraged from purchasing property, but they were given housing and free utilities and were exempt from military service. They were also favored for government positions and allowed to travel more freely than Iraqi citizens.
Shiites, who were massacred and tortured by the thousands, resented how Hussein's government championed the Palestinians' plight. Some Iraqis sneeringly called them saddamiyoon—Saddam's people.
Jan. 21, 2007 update: As Shi'i anger seems to grow, Palestinian circumstances continue to get worse over time. Aqeel Hussein and Gethin Chamberlain of London's Sunday Telegraph write in "Shias order Palestinians to leave Iraq or 'prepare to die'," that
Palestinians living in Iraq have been warned that they will be killed by Shia militias unless they leave the country immediately. Iraqi police say the immigrants, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, are the target of a backlash by hardline Shias, including members of the Mehdi Army led by the Shia preacher Moqtada al-Sadr. More than 600 Palestinians are believed to have died at the hands of Shia militias since the war began in 2003, including at least 300 from the Baladiat area of Baghdad. Many were tortured with electric drills before they died.
Now the Shia militias are stepping up their campaign to drive out Iraq's 20,000 remaining Palestinians – half the estimated 40,000 living in the country at the start of the war. … Sheik Mahmoud El Hassani, a spokesman for the Mehdi Army, said the Palestinians had brought their suffering on themselves. He said Shias believed they were in league with Sunni extremists and al-Qaeda. "We are sure that all the Palestinians in Iraq are involved in killing the Shia people and they have to pay the price now," he said. "They lived off our blood under Saddam. We were hungry with no food and they were comfortable with full bellies. They should leave now, or they will have to pay."
July 7, 2009 update: Well here is one way to solve the ethnic stifle in Iraq – export 1,350 Palestinians from Iraq to the United States. Patrik Jonsson writes in the Christian Science Monitor that "The State Department confirmed today that as many as 1,350 Iraqi Palestinians – once the well-treated guests of Saddam Hussein and now at outs with much of Iraqi society – will be resettled in the US, mostly in southern California, starting this fall. It will be the largest-ever resettlement of Palestinian refugees into the US."
In contrast, the U.S. government accepted 7 Palestinians in 2007 and 9 in 2008. The total U.S. refugee intake will be about 80,000 in 2009, of which about 17,000 from Iraq.
The new policy has its advocates. Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch says, "Really for the first time, the United States is recognizing a Palestinian refugee population that could be admitted to the US as part of a resettlement program." Alon Ben-Meir, professor of international relations at New York University, finds it to be "an important gesture for the United States to demonstrate that we're not heartless.".
Others are critical, noting that Palestinians' ties to Saddam Hussein. "This is politically a real hot potato," says Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, who sees the United States having become "a dumping ground for the State Department's problems – they're tossing their problems over their head into Harrisburg, Pa., or Omaha, Neb." The United States should be the last refuge for those fleeing persecution, says Krikorian.
Comment: Count me a critic. This population of pro-Saddam Palestinians needs to be vetted extremely carefully before any of them are let into the United States.
July 30, 2009 update: Claudia Rosett blasts the resettling of the Iraqi Palestinians at "Your Tired, Your Poor, Guests Of Saddam."