Photo Credit: flickr
Squalid Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon administered by UNRWA.

As the world’s attention is focused on the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, including South Africa’s false “genocide” charges against Israel at the International Court of Justice, in Syria Palestinians are worried about a new government law that considers them “foreigners.”

By labeling the Palestinians as “foreigners,” the Syrian government is seeking to deprive them of the ability to purchase real estate. Like the majority of the Syrians, most of the Palestinians are Arab Muslims.


The latest move came after Syria, on December 20, 2023, presented a Law on Foreign Ownership of Real Estate, which imposes severe restrictions on non-Syrian nationals that make it essentially impossible for them to purchase real estate in Syria. The restrictions include the need to obtain prior permission from the Ministry of Interior. An owner would not be able to sell a property without the approval of the ministry. If a “foreigner” wants to purchase an apartment, its size must be no larger than 140 square meters, or roughly 1,500 square feet.

Syria is not the only Arab country that discriminates against Palestinians in almost all walks of life and relates to them as “foreigners.”

In Lebanon, Palestinians are also considered to be foreigners who do not carry documentation from their countries of origin.

According to the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights:

“This foreigner classification has allowed successive Lebanese governments to circumvent their obligations and responsibilities enshrined in a number of international and regional treaties and protocols – and their own legislation…

[T]here is no consideration of the consequences of the protracted status of Palestinian refugees [in Lebanon]. For many years, this unjustifiable policy has been compounding the deterioration in the livelihood conditions of the growing population of refugees…[who] have spent more than seven decades in Lebanon without access to their civil, social, and economic rights.”

Palestinians in Lebanon are “prevented from employment in 39 professions such as medicine, law and engineering,” according to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

“PRS [Palestinian refugees from Syria], like Syrian Refugees, do not benefit from any labour law facilitation… As a result, 93 per cent of employed PRS work in the informal private sector, leaving them vulnerable to abuse… Palestine refugees consistently report experiencing discrimination in hiring practices and opportunities for employment… PRS are socially marginalized, have very limited civil, social, political and economic rights, including restricted access to the Government of Lebanon’s public health, educational and social services and face significant restrictions on their right to work and right to own property…. Since the adoption of Law 296/2001, Palestine refugees are prevented from legally acquiring and transferring immovable property in Lebanon.”

Arab citizens of Israel, by contrast, enjoy more rights than Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon. The Arab Israelis have Israeli citizenship, can own, buy and sell property, can vote and run in national and local elections, have equal access to free public healthcare, education and other services. Neither Syria nor Lebanon grants citizenship to the Palestinians living there – and the Palestinians there are deprived of many basic rights, including access to jobs, education and healthcare.

In Israel, thousands of Arab Israelis have purchased houses in predominately Jewish neighborhoods across the country. Many Arab Israelis serve in senior positions in hospitals, universities and colleges, courts, the civil service, and even in the Israel Police and the Israel Defense Forces.

In Syria, Lebanon and many Arab countries, there are zero Palestinians serving in senior government positions.

In December 2022, furthermore, Israel announced that it will fund a $6.1 million program to train and integrate more than 2,000 Arab Israeli women and men into the local high-tech industry over the next two years. During the same year, more than 10,000 workers from the Arab population were employed in the tech industry.

In December 2023, Israel unveiled a new initiative aimed at bolstering the integration of young Arab Israelis into the job market. The $28 million program is designed to address unemployment and reduce disparities within Arab society.

The plan aims to provide youths from Israel’s Arab society with a comprehensive package covering personal; development, professional and occupational guidance, as well as preparation for academic pursuits. The plan, operated in 11 cities and towns, will encompass four months of general activities, after which, each participant will choose a specific professional track for focused advancement.

In Syria, the Union of Palestinian Jurists in Syria immediately called on the Syrian prime minister to retract the new law, saying it would have negative repercussions on the economic, legal and humanitarian conditions of the Palestinians.

Karim, a lawyer and human rights activist in Damascus who preferred to use only his first name, said the decision does indeed treat the Palestinians in Syria like foreigners regarding the right to property ownership, and sets the same restrictions on them, such as the requirement to obtain, in advance, the approval of the Ministry of the Interior, and to have a family in Syria.

Orwa, a 26-year-old Palestinian accountant from Damascus, told Al-Jazeera TV:

“With this decision, my dream of buying an apartment has evaporated. I was born and lived all my life in Syria. There should be no distinction between us the Palestinians and the Syrians.”

The General Commission for Palestinian Arab Refugees also denounced the Syrian decision, for defining non-Syrians, including Palestinians, as “foreigners” and depriving them of property rights.

The commission said that the decision has raised great concern among Palestinians residing in Syria. It called on the Syrian government to revise the law to exempt Palestinians from it.

It is not as if the conditions of the 450,000 Palestinians living in Syria have been decent until now.

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, 4,214 Palestinians living there have been killed and more than 15,000 wounded, according to the Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS).

More than 90% of Palestinian refugees in Syria live below the poverty line amid Syria’s crushing economic and living crises, a deteriorating security situation, and a decline in all aspects of financial, social, educational, medical, and other aspects of life, according to AGPS.

AGPS revealed in a recent report that 3,076 Palestinians are currently being detained in the prisons of the Syrian security services, while another 333 have gone missing. Among those who disappeared are children, women, the elderly, journalists, political activists, human rights advocates, relief and humanitarian workers, doctors, and nurses.

The report indicated that the Syrian authorities are responsible for about 90% of “enforced disappearances,” while the rest are in the hands of armed opposition factions.

AGPS renewed its call on the Syrian authorities to release and disclose the whereabouts of the Palestinian detainees, stressing that what is happening inside the Syrian detention centers against the Palestinians is “a war crime by all standards.”

Fayez Abu Eid, a spokesperson for AGPS, told the Al-Quds Al-Arabi news website that members of Syrian security services have killed 643 Palestinian refugees under torture in its detention centers, including women, children and the elderly.

Abu Eid said he believes the number of detainees and victims of torture is even higher due to the absence of official statistics issued by the Syrian security forces, as well as the fear of some families to speak out for fear of retribution.

According to the spokesperson, 129 Palestinian women in Syrian prisons are still in a state of “enforced disappearance.” The fate of the female detainees is still unknown. The Syrian security services conceal their names, which makes documenting information about them effectively impossible.

According to testimonies documented by AGPS, Palestinian detainees in Syrian prisons have been subjected to many forms of torture, physical and psychological abuse, as well as sexual assault.

Those who are condemning Israel for defending itself against the savagery and terrorism of Hamas care nothing about the plight of the Palestinians in Syria or any Arab country. So-called pro-Palestinian groups in the US do not speak out against Arab crimes against the Palestinians: they are too busy unjustly demonizing Israel.

By ignoring the profound suffering of the Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon, these self-proclaimed “pro-Palestinian” activists and groups are once again proving that their goal is not to help Palestinians, but only to make Israel into a pariah state.

If these activists and groups want to end the suffering of the Palestinians, they should be demanding that the Arab countries end their discriminatory and repressive measures against their Palestinian brethren. The activists and groups should also be raising the plight of the Palestinians at every available international platform instead of blaming Israel.

The real anti-Palestinians are not the Israelis at all, but the same old racist Jew-haters and antisemites (see here, here, here, here, here and here) who cannot be bothered to learn the truth when it comes to the actual human rights abuse of Palestinians: it is delivered from the hands of Arabs.

{Reposted from Gatestone Institute}


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Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East. This article originally appeared on the Gatestone Institute website (