Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Marquadt-Bigman - A Palestinian refugee story: myths vs. facts

Petra Marquadt-Bigman..
The Warped Mirror..
29 February '12..

Linah Alsaafin is a young British-born Palestinian, who is blogging at various anti-Israeli sites, including Mondoweiss and the Electronic Intifada.

According to her biographical note on Mondoweiss, she “was born in Cardiff, Wales, and was raised in England, the United States, and Palestine.” This of course also means that she has British citizenship, and interestingly, this fact is acknowledged on one of the blogs she contributes to: “Life on Bir Zeit Campus” is described as “A Regular Ode to the Hardships and Joy of Living as expatriates of our Countries of Citizenship in the Holy Land…as Falastiniyyas!”

By coincidence, I came across a tweet of hers, where she announced the passing of her grandfather:

I thought that given the circumstances, it wouldn’t be appropriate to respond and point out that while it was certainly sad that her grandfather spent most of his life as a refugee in the Khan Younis camp in Gaza, this was actually a choice made by Palestinians and Arabs – after all, neither the Egyptians who ruled Gaza until 1967, nor the PA and Hamas that have control of Gaza since Israel’s withdrawal in 2005, have done anything to integrate the refugees.

However, since Linah Alsaafin has now published a related post that exploits her grandfather’s story for political purposes, I think there is no reason to be more respectful of the occasion than she herself is.

It is a long post that mixes very personal memories with political propaganda that is very typical for Palestinian myth-making activism.

To quote some of Alsaafin’s most misleading claims:

My grandfather, 84 year old Ibrahim Hasan Alsaafin, was older than the Zionist state of Israel when he died on Monday in the Khan Younis refugee camp, still yearning to return to his village of al-Fallujah 64 years on, a mere 15 miles away.

On my way to Hebron last Friday for the third annual global Open Shuhada Street protest, the taxi I was in passed by a sign pointing right with the black letters of “Qiryat Gat” emblazoned on it. My heart caught in my mouth, and I craned my neck to hold that sign in my vision long after the taxi turned left.

Qiryat Gat is the Judaized name for my village of al-Fallujah. My village became a Jewish-only settlement for Russian immigrants in the 1950s, and the site for one of Intel Corporation’s biggest manufacturing plants.

Al-Fallujah was completely ethnically cleansed on March 1st, 1949 — a year after Israel’s so-called independence. Sido Ibrahim was a young man then, 19 or 20 years old, and fought with Egyptian paratroops against the terrorist Zionist guerrillas, who attacked the village with jet fighters and long range canons for six months. Most of the villagers fled, taking with them only their children, some even leaving the doors of their houses open. Sido, along with my great-grandmother Nabeeha, joined the scores of villagers in providing food and supplies to the Egyptian and local volunteers who were defending the village. […]

After six months of shelling and raids, the international community decided that al-Fallujah must be evacuated and remain under international control. Sido and my great-grandmother Nabeeha exchanged hugs and tears with the Egyptian fighters who dropped them off along with other civilians in Gaza in their trucks before returning back to Egypt. Sido did not forget to bring the land deeds with him, which we still keep, and my great-grandmother took the key with her, which we also still keep.

First, it is noteworthy that a young man who moved just some 15 miles from one Arab-Muslim community to another Arab-Muslim community was classified as a “refugee” for the rest of his life. Moreover, Alsaafin’s grandfather was brought to Gaza by Egyptian troops, whose war against the fledgling Jewish state he had actively supported – and of course, Mr. Alsaafin would continue to live as a “refugee” under Egyptian rule for almost two decades.

A related correction is warranted in view of Linah Alsaafin’s claims about “Zionist” “jet fighters,” because in reality, the fledgling Israeli Air Force had a very hard time procuring suitable aircraft which were urgently needed to fight off the Egyptian bombing of Tel Aviv.

No less misleading and mistaken are Alsaafin’s remarks about what she calls “my village of al-Fallujah,” now known under its “Judaized name” Qiryat Gat.

As far as the fighting for Faluja is concerned, anyone interested in the facts can check out this timeline of Israel’s War of Independence (scroll down to the map for: Israel War of Independence October 1948 battles, entry for IDF operation Yoav, Oct. 15-22, Nov. 9, Dec. 28-29). The armistice agreement between Egypt and Israel of February 24, 1949, provided for the withdrawal of Egyptian forces from the Faluja pocket.

But Alsaafin’s most telling misrepresentation is perhaps her fact-free claim that “her” village “became a Jewish-only settlement for Russian immigrants in the 1950s.”

In reality – as Alsaafin could have easily found out just by consulting Wikipedia – Qiryat Gat (or Kiryat Gat) served for decades as a new home for the Jews that had to abandon their ancient communities in North Africa’s Arab countries due to the discrimination, dispossession and persecution they suffered as “retribution” for Israel’s establishment.

The town’s demography is reflected in Wikipedia’s list of Qiryat Gat’s “notable residents”: the far-left activist Tali Fahima (who has converted to Islam and fancies herself now a “Palestinian,” but comes from a Moroccan-Jewish family); the celebrated photographer Adi Ness (from an Iranian-Kurdish family); Likud politician and former IDF spokeswoman Miri Regev (from a Moroccan family); and singer and actress Ninet Tayeb (from a Tunisian family; her website is here).

Linah Alsaafin’s fact-free myth-making is quite typical for the propaganda provided by countless “pro-Palestinian” bloggers and activists. Unsurprisingly, she also blames Israel for the fact that for several years, she has not been able to visit her grandfather in Gaza. But while a negotiated peace agreement would obviously be the most straightforward solution to this problem, it seems that Alsaafin is adamantly opposed to negotiations. In one of her recent blog posts, she promotes protests and a twitter campaign devoted to saying #No2Negotiations; in another recent post, she rails against the “outdated so-called representatives [who] negotiate our rights away with the same side that is continuously oppressing us. It is simply ludicrous, shameful, and outright embarrassing that these negotiations still occupy a space in the Palestinian political spectrum. Only free men and women negotiate, and for all their money, expensive cars and villas, and security coordinated travel permits, the Palestinian leadership is still at the end of the day occupied by Israel and its caprices.”

Obviously, Linah Alsaafin can afford this kind of activism – she is, after all, a British expatriate who has chosen to study in the West Bank, but has always the option to return to the country she was born.

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