Be a 'Good Arab,' Dear Oudeh: Let Us Ignore Yarmouk

The Zionist volcano erupted because of the title of your article, 'You too are responsible for Yarmouk.' Dear colleague, that’s not the way to talk to Jews.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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In this Feb. 4, 2014, file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, residents of the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp wait to leave the camp.
In this Feb. 4, 2014, file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, residents of the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp wait to leave the camp.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

You ignited great anger in the hearts of many Jews when you reminded them that the refugees in the Yarmouk camp in Syria are the descendants of the 1948 refugees. But the Zionist volcano erupted and unloaded its baggage precisely because of the title of your article on the Haaretz website: “You too are responsible for Yarmouk.”

My colleague Oudeh Basharat, that’s not the way to talk to Jews. Especially you. After all, you are an admired writer, writing in Hebrew under Zionist auspices. We even consider you a 'good Arab,' an outstanding example of a refugee who is a success story. Thanks to us of course. Because look what would have happened to you had you fled to Yarmouk.

So why don’t you learn from us? You should know already that in the Jewish country of refugees there’s a hierarchy. Jewish refugees are above Arab refugees. Among the Jewish refugees, European refugees are preferable to refugees from Arab countries, the “Mizrahim.” In the ranking of the “Mizrahi” refugees there’s a big difference between refugees from Iraq and refugees from Morocco. The former brought “culture” with them, studied at the Alliance school in Baghdad and became accountants and bankers. The latter filled the prisons.

Among European refugees there’s a dividing line between new refugees from Russia and veteran refugees from Poland, and between them and refugees from Romania. At the bottom of the list, which should be called the waiting list, are the immigrants from Ethiopia. That’s how it is in the kingdom of refugees.

And suddenly you are threatening to destroy this hierarchy. Suddenly the Yarmouk refugees are becoming the refugee aristocracy. The first in line. Have you already solved the problem of the refugees of Ikrit and Biram? Have you succeeded in returning to the village of your birth, Maalul?

Your problem, Oudeh, is that of all the refugees, only your people want to return to the homeland. Only your people walk around with big keys to your homes, dreaming about distant days when Jews and Arabs lived together in harmony. It’s because of you that there is no peace. Because in our imagination we see “refugees coming en masse in buses.” We want you to promise to forget about this dream, to erase the Nakba from your lexicon, for your history to begin in 1949, and most importantly, for your people to internalize that it’s not we who are to blame for your problems.

And in fact, in your bitter wisdom you make do with little. You don’t suggest that Israel solve the refugee problem; after all, there’s a limit even to hallucinations. You make do with turning to the humane side of the Jewish refugees, emphasizing the brotherhood of refugees, in order to save the Yarmouk refugees.

That’s a mistake. Israeli refugee identity finds nothing in common with Palestinian refugee identity.

Worse, there is a zero-sum game going on between the two refugee populations. Anyone who has compassion for Palestinian refugees subtracts from the quota of his loyalty to Zionism. Anyone who agrees to admit that Israel also has a part in their tragedy cannot be considered a patriot. Look what panic you sowed among the talkback crowd that reacted to your article. A fortified wall of refugees and sons of refugees arose to protect itself from any demonstrations of compassion.

Not because they are bad people. Some of them would certainly be prepared to fly immediately to help the unfortunates who suffered in an earthquake in Chile or Japan. Others may contribute to kindergartens for asylum seekers. But helping Palestinian refugees is not a matter for humaneness or compassion. Because in their eyes and ours there is a direct, short line connecting recognition of Palestinian suffering and recognition of our responsibility. It’s a slippery slope that is liable to cause the collapse of the foundations of the Zionist narrative, the justice of our path and the monopoly on our sense of victimhood.

In the competition over this monopoly you can’t give in, because there’s no room for two victims in the country of the refugees. It’s you or us. So please, Oudeh. As a Christian Palestinian refugee, a minority within a minority within a minority, don’t teach us what compassion is and don’t look for it in our byways. This is talk that befits Palestinians who want to see the extinction of Israel. The refugees in Yarmouk will be taken care of by the United Nations. After all, it’s an international problem. Not Israeli, not Zionist and certainly not Jewish. And after all, they’re to blame.

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