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December 24, 2000
USA must stand up for Palestinian-Americans
By Ahmed Amr.

This is America. It is a land that is the home of immigrants and refugees from virtually every patch of earth on the planet. Most of us landed on these shores with some kind of baggage. Aside from the bounty and beauty of the land, many of us were deeply attracted to the idea that every American is entitled to certain inalienable rights. They are rights that no government is entitled to breach, regardless of national origins, race, age or sex.

This is America. In this great republic of ours, we have just one class of citizen. When it comes to citizenship, every American gets to live in a first class world.

Palestinian-Americans are a tiny fraction of the population in these United States of America. But they are equal citizens in the eye of the law. Equality before the law is something no American government should be allowed to tamper with or to bargain away.

The Clinton administration, with the able assistance of its pals in the "national media", is apparently willing to toy with the notion that some citizens are less equal than others. As I write, there are frenzied appeals in the mass media and in the halls of the federal government, to dilute the citizenship rights of those Americans who came to our shores as exiled refugees from what was Mandate Palestine. If you want to get a small taste of this poison, just read the Washington Post editorial dated 12/23/2000.

Let us not mince words here, any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians cannot justify the creation or a second-class of American citizen. Dennis Ross and Albright and Clinton should be careful not to set a legal precedent that would jeopardize the rights of every American.

Allow us to revisit some vital historic lessons. It was not until 1924 that Native Americans were given full citizenship rights. Two decades later, Japanese-Americans were herded into internment camps because they were considered 'aliens'. And there can be no forgetting the long and troubling journey that America took before achieving full civil liberties for African-Americans.

We now have an administration that will not defend the "right of return" of Palestinian-Americans. It is unlikely that many Palestinian-American would be tempted to "return" to an Israel that could only offer them what is undeniably a miserable "back of the bus" Israeli-Arab citizenship. No matter. That right cannot be denied by any American government. Further, there is the matter of personal property rights. These are the rights of individual Palestinian-American citizens. If they choose not to exercise these rights, that is entirely up to them. Having said that, the Federal government should have no mandate to restrict those rights.

We already have a state department that has seen fit to define two classes of Palestinian-Americans, those who immigrated to America before 1948 and those who came later as Palestinian exiles. Secretary of State Albright has correctly taken steps to intervene on behalf of non-American Jewish Holocaust survivors with Switzerland and other European countries. Yet she refuses to stand up for the individual rights of Palestinian-Americans. A Palestinian needs to exhaust every possible judicial remedy in Israel, before the state department will intervene on their behalf. Good Luck. You will get more justice in a Geneva court any day of the week.

American officials at the negotiating tables only have a moral obligation to stand up for Palestinian refugees living in other lands. When it comes to Palestinian-Americans, they have a constitutional obligation to stand up against any foreign power that would dare to infringe on their basic rights, including the "right of return". This goes for both the Palestinian authority and Israel. This is an administration that has seen fit to take a "neutral" stand on the vicious repression of Palestinians living under Israeli military control. Like previous administrations, they ignore the "second-class" citizenship status of the one million Palestinians who are classified as Israeli-Arabs. They cannot be allowed to bargain away the rights of Palestinian-American citizens.

Every single minority group in America should be alarmed at the prospect of an official second-class designation. Bad enough what we see in practice, let us not enshrine it into law.

Let there be no doubt of the urgent need for a permanent peace settlement. In the absence of peace, no party suffers more than the Palestinians. The Palestinians have been made to pay in cold blood for the right to establish an independent state. The Oslo agreement deadline for a final settlement is behind us and the Israelis have seen fit to intensify the brutality of the occupation. Yet, the Palestinians are willing to negotiate a peace agreement even while the IDF uses tanks to confront young rebels armed only with stones. Peace cannot come soon enough for these people who have long suffered under the Israeli gun.

Still, we must dare to ask that the United States take this opportune moment to stand up for its Palestinian-Americans citizens. Because this is America.


  January 3, 2001