From ancient times until today, some rulers – usually, but not always, demagogues and despots – have scapegoated an “other” to explain away the misery of the masses over whom they rule. Pointing to a scapegoat, they perpetuate a sense of injustice, thus tethering their people even tighter to manipulation and false nostrums. They stoke fires of anger and shame, thus enfeebling their people even more. In short, these rulers eternalize their people’s affliction, even as they try to eternalize their own grip on power.
Since medieval times in Europe, and more recently in the Middle East as well, Jews (read Israel) have been the favourite scapegoat of oppressive and scheming rulers.
The treatment of former Palestinians living in Syria fleeing the slaughter there offers up merely the latest example of the use of this particularly despicable but reliable tactic.
Last week, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told the world that his country will no longer allow Palestinian refugees to find sanctuary in his country.
This was an abrupt change of policy for the Hashemite Kingdom, for, since the Syrian civil war erupted some 22 months ago, Jordan had indeed taken in Palestinians among the more than 125,000 men, women and children who have fled Syria for Jordan. The Palestinians, however, most from the Yarmuk refugee camp south of Damascus, have been segregated in a separate refugee camp.
According to the Times of Israel, they are banned from entering Jordanian cities.
Now, however, the Jordanian government is turning them away.
The reason is obvious.
More than half of the people who live in Jordan are former Palestinians. The government fears adding to their numbers, especially ahead of the emotion and foment of general elections that are scheduled for Jan. 23.
In addition, of course, it is expensive to receive, shelter, protect and provide sustenance to thousands of individuals. The harsh, raw weather last week has made the task even more difficult. But, rather than speak the truth, Ensour scapegoated the Jews as the reason his government shut the door on the Palestinians.
“There are those who want to absolve Israel once again of its responsibility for banishing Palestinians from their homes,” Ensour told the London-based Arab daily al-Hayat. “Jordan is not the place to solve Israel’s problems. Jordan has taken a sovereign and explicit decision not to allow Palestinians carrying Syrian [travel] documents to enter Jordan. Receiving these brethren is a red line for us, because it will be a prelude for another wave of deportation, which is what the Israeli government wants.”
In pointing his accusing finger at the State of Israel, Ensour dismissively contradicted and covered over the more truthful tracks of a Jordanian government spokesperson, Samih Maaytah, who had offered a different explanation merely one day earlier for his government’s policy.
“Jordan is not obligated to pay a political price for the Syrian crisis,” Maaytah told Al-Jazeera. “Jordan does not prevent the return of its citizens… but the transfer of Palestinian refugees from Syria to Jordan is a matter of tens of thousands, something Jordan cannot bear.”
Ensour’s polemical prevarication harkened back to a recent, equally objectionable example by Jordanian authorities of pointing at the Jewish “other” to explain the victimization of the Palestinians.
Last autumn, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) floated a trial balloon that it was considering adding some teaching segments about the Holocaust in an upgraded curriculum on conflict resolution for Palestinian children in its schools in refugee camps.
The executive committee of UNRWA teachers in Jordan reacted with revulsion. “We condemn this decision, which equates the butcher and the victim,” the committee wrote in a statement.
In quickly rejecting the possibility last fall, the teachers echoed a similarly worded rejection by their colleagues a year earlier.
“Teaching UNRWA students about the so-called ‘Holocaust’ as part of human rights harms the Palestinian cause… and changes the students’ views regarding their main enemy, namely the Israeli occupation.”
Ensour and these teachers scapegoated Israel. The Palestinians’ predicament is the fault of the Jews, they say. Many Palestinians believe them. And many others do, too.
Thus, shackled so entirely and so debilitatingly to the destructive forces of hatred and vengefulness by longstanding falsehoods about the Jews, the Palestinians are unable to break through and build their own country. –MBD