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by Mary La Rosa
Friday, Mar. 26, 2004 at 8:12 PM
Lombrum Detention Center in Papua New Guinea, 2004: Predestined to refugee
status by the political circumstances of his birth in Kuwait to a
Palestinian father and an Egyptian mother, 25 year old Aladdin Sisalem now
sits in solitary confinement on an island that costs the Australian
government almost as much in bad public relations as it does in money.
Suffering persecution and hatred most of his young life, Aladdin fled Kuwait and tried unsuccessfully to enter Egypt. Because he was the son of a Palestinian refugee, he held an Egyptian travel document but it did not allow him entry into Egypt. Aladdin then began a perilous journey in search of a country that would find him acceptable. He traveled throughout Indonesia, West Papua and Papua New Guinea, where he was deemed routinely unacceptable as a Palestinian national.
Aladdin got as far as the Torres Straight islands where he was seized by the Australian police and taken to Thursday Island. When he asked Australian authorities for asylum he was removed and taken to a detention center set up by the Australian government on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. After seeing the last of all the other detainees leave in July 2002, Aladdin has remained a solitary refugee lost in a system that continues to punish him for what, according to a December 2003 hearing, is a technicality of the "proper" form.
While protecting its borders from terrorists and smugglers, Australia has invoked criticism from many human rights organizations for its million+ attempt and failure to divert its responsibility for non-Western asylum seeking refugees to economically challenged countries such as Nauru. The figures supplied by Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs set the cost of one man's solitary confinement at the detention center at Papua New Guinea at 6,666 per month. If this sounds comparable to the price of an exclusive South Sea island resort, please don't forget to feature in the barbed wire. All accommodations are paid for by the taxpayers of Australia who are beginning to wonder why they can pay so much money but still not be able to afford to keep Aladdin.
Recently appearing at a commemorative lecture honoring International Women’s Day, Former Justice Mary Gaudron of the High Court in Australia, was quoted in The Age, March 5 2004 saying:
"By means of legal fiction that Australia is less than the sum of its parts, Australia denies to persons who would assert a right to asylum under international law, access to tribunals and courts which might otherwise rule upon their claims."
She further asserted that more distressing than the fiction of an Australian “migration zone” was the United States detention of 200 people without charges in Guantanamo Bay, "a legal no man's land in which there was no rule of law only military victory"
Since then, Prime Minister John Howard has taken it all a bit further and is considering a plan to change the definition of “mainland” and thereby limiting only asylum seekers who step onto Australian soil the possibility of applying for refugee status.
Meanwhile, Aladdin Sisalem, further “sentenced” for his ethnicity, has been left behind while all other refugees have been rerouted away from harsh and prolonged detention. Aladdin is another poignant reminder about the ongoing question of Palestinian refugees.
Meet Aladdin Sisalem, your reality based Average Joe Palestinian:
Even if he wanted to return, Kuwait will not take Aladdin back after his period of absence.
Egypt does not want him. Israel does not consider his "right of return" as a Palestinian.
Where DOES Aladdin have a right to exist to his fullest and happiest potential?
The plight of the Palestinian refugees and demands for right of return/compensation has been central to the Palestinian struggle since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and is still paramount to the continuous conflict in the Middle East. While there is no quick solution for redirecting the approximately 3.5 registered (with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) Palestinian refugees, improving conditions in camps and detentions centers needs an immediate start. Reconciling words like “dispossessed” and “displaced” and facilitating all the legal options of Palestinian refugees might finally bring some meaning to a word like "roadmap” and hopeful also include all the "unregistered" as well.
Palestinians do not require a road map to their homes; they are entitled to clear passage.
Since 1948, various UN resolutions have upheld the Palestinian Right of Return. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) of 1948 states, "Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date."
No peace progress is being made while under Occupation. Apartheid walls and fences that are constructed on top former olive groves and sites of demolished homes bring neither peace nor honor nor real security to the state of Israel; only more refugees .
And while Israel has no problem demolishing homes of Palestinians, it does not seem capable of disassembling the illegal settlements. The present Israeli leadership, a master behind the mind of Zionist dispossession, suddenly freezes and seems to hesitate to expose Jewish Diasporas and radical settler responses Ariel Sharon, fully comprehends the threats of organized settler attacks because he himself rose from the ranks of such organizations.
Neither poised nor frozen, the current IDF maneuvers like Stern Gang-busters with very offensive crimes against civilians: routine crop dusting in Bedouin fields, shooting internationals, shooting non-violent protestors, shooting school children. These are the uniformed saboteurs of peace, furthering racism and violent causes by their own "mekhabellian" style.
The IDF originally evolved in theory to conduct themselves very differently and to represent the highest ideals of nationalism, Israeli spirit and values:
Defense of the State, its Citizens and its Residents -- The IDF's goal is to defend the existence of the State of Israel, its independence and the security of the citizens and residents of the state.
Love of the Homeland and Loyalty to the Country - At the core of service in the IDF stand the love of the homeland and the commitment and devotion to the State of Israel-a democratic state that serves as a national home for the Jewish People-its citizens and residents.
Human Dignity - The IDF and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position.
The above "values" do not exclude Palestinians. They exclude hatred and racism. Only in practice can an oath to "Human Dignity" hope to stop the cyclic violence and bring about a lasting peace. There will never be a safer Israel than a freer Palestine.
Children of Palestinian refugees and young adults like Aladdin Sisalem are an intrinsic part of our future as a civilized society. In order for them to succeed they require participation in a different and better agenda than what refugees previously experience. Ongoing ethnic cleansing inflicted by a government struggling internally with corrupt politicians made bolder by organized crime only serves to further violent causes in a racist society.
Does Xenophobia make the Australian government start thinking in Likud about the asylum seekers? Knowing that he is not a criminal but is being kept like one, what IS the Australian government really expressing when it allows Aladdin to suffer even another day of Aussie administrative detention?
Aladdin remains lonely, depressed and frightened. He is a prisoner who is now made further fearful of being entirely abandoned by Australia if and when Australia leaves Manus island. He is a young man still without a country. But he has not been entirely forgotten by those in Australia and around the world concerned with his human rights' issues:
Hope Caravan evolved originally from Hunter Organization for Peace and Equity into H.O.P.E., a Human Organism for Peace and Equity. This Australian based activist group whose theme and general purpose is "the denial of rights to anyone is the denial of humanity to all" is one of the grass roots movements struggling on behalf of social justice for all refugees and detainees, including those women and children still left at Nauru. H.O.P.E. Caravan "moves on faith of its higher hopes for humanity" and by working together in the dynamic of good spirit and camaraderie has made a presence each previous year in Woomeera and Baxter on behalf of asylum seekers kept in gulag style detention camps by the Australian government.
Hope Caravan's theme this year is a dramatically different kind of convergence that will take place at sea, sailing for awareness and support of H.O.P.E. for those people still abandoned by decent and humane practice behind the barbed wire.
The Flotilla is using a diversity of tactics to press forward on behalf of all of the human rights issues at stake in Australia's off shore detention centers. Concern for Aladdin continues as the big and little boats gather from around the world. Everyone is invited to make the voyage in his or her own way and to bring to this convergence his or her unique contribution.
Aladdin Sisalem still does not yet have a country that wants him, but he has been given H.O.P.E. along with dignity, respect and friendship.
The Real Survivor is all alone and waits to be voted off the island.
Mary La Rosa is a librarian/artist living 20 miles from NYC. References
Amnesty International - Australia: www.amnesty.org.au/refugees/
Amnesty International - Palestinian refugees
Amnesty International - Guantanamo Bay
Debunking the Myths About Asylum Seekers
Palestinian Refugee ResearchNet: Refugee Facts and Resources
Uri Avery: "The Scared Cannon Ben Gurion and the Stern Gang"
1998 Letter to Secretary General UN re: Jerusalem Excavations
Aladdin Sisalem petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/sisalem/petition.html
Those interested in participating in any way with the Flotillas should see:
H.O.P.E. Caravan: www.HopeCaravan.com
PS Aladdin Sisalem is in a very bad way; he feels helpless and just
doesn't know what to do. We have setup a weblog for him
but I think he is unsure how to use it so perhaps we can help him and
encourage him by us posting question and messages of support to the weblog.
If you would like to send him a small messge of hope and friendship please
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