Austrian Truck Tragedy echoes Palestinian Story, reminding us of 7 mn still stateless

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The gruesome discovery of an abandoned truck in eastern Austria with 71 dead refugees in it, 4 of them children, has horrified the world. But few will realize that the plot of this story was laid out in the 1960s by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, in his 1962 novel, Men in the Sun (Amazon link here.)

Of the 1.2 million Palestinians living in the British Mandate of Palestine, Zionist settlers allowed in by the British attacked and expelled over half of them in 1948, about 720,000, from their homes. To this day, of the 11 million Palestinians, 7.1 million are still refugees or displaced. Many of them are stateless, lacking the basic rights bestowed by citizenship in a state.

Kanafani’s novel treats 3 Palestinian workers who cannot work in Lebanon, who decided to try to get to Kuwait, being smuggled in the back of a tanker truck. When the driver finally makes it to Kuwait, he looks inside the empty tank, only to find them dead.

Kanafani was murdered by a covert Israeli hit squad in 1972.

The dead in the real truck in Austria appear to have been mainly Syrian. Of today’s 22 million Syrians, 11 million are displaced or refugees (including many internally displaced).

But often the great refugee crises, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, end by the refugees returning home when peace descends.

The Palestinians don’t have that prospect. Their home has been stolen from them by the Israelis and they were unceremoniously dumped on the neighbors or in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip. They are stateless. They are the original truck people.


Related video:

Euronews: “As many as 50 dead refugees found in truck in Austria”

7 Responses

  1. such an appropriate piece about the haunting similarity between a 50 year-old Palestinian story and today’s Syrian refugee crisis. thank you

  2. absolutely right. thanks for reminding us. Sadly, the numerous Palestinians still living in refugee camps in Syria are also on the run again right now, probably the poorest of the poorest.

  3. And why couldn’t these fictional workers get work in Lebanon? Because it was illegal for Palestinians to work in Lebanon. Even Palestinians born in Lebanon are to this day denied the right to work. Perhaps some day you will write a post about discrimination against Palestinians in Lebanon.

    Kanafani, BTW, was one of the plotters of the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre. He was one of the people who came up with the clever idea to recruit the Japanese Red Army to carry out the attack because the Israelis would not be on their guard against Japanese. He was targeted and killed because he was a terrorist, not because he wrote stories.

    • Israel expelled the Palestinians, not Lebanon. Why should Lebanese workers suffer from competition from refugees? Why hasn’t Israel paid reparations (it would be in the trillions)? 60 or 70% of the Palestinians in Gaza are refugee families expelled by Israel. They are now Occupied by the Israelis, who control their sea, air and land crossings. Not only can’t they work in Israel, they can’t even find jobs in Gaza because the Israelis have blockaded the civilian population. At one point they were rationing their calories. Lebanon’s policies toward the Palestinian refugees could be better; they are a million times better than Israeli policies toward those in Gaza.

      As for Kanafani, people executed without due process are typically referred to as having been murdered.

      • > Why should Lebanese workers suffer from competition from refugees?

        Curious what you think of US borders. Should they be open as Ezra Klein believes, or closed so that California, Arizona, Texas workers do not have to compete with illegal immigrants?

  4. Prof. Cole,

    You have previously, and rightly, observed that being stateless leaves people “without the right to have rights,” (or words to that effect). Your statement made me realize the importance of something that I take for granted. It sensitized me to this idea, such that I was struck by a passage in a book that I found recently, “Creating Capabilities,” by Martha C. Nussbaum.

    “The nation is not just a convenient starting place: it has moral importance. Nations–reasonably democratic ones, at any rate–are systems of principles and laws that have their ultimate source in the people. They are thus important expressions of people’s autonomy; that is, their entitlement to live under laws of their own choosing.” [page 113]

    Prof. Nussbaum does not mention Palestinians, at least not in the portion of the book that I have read thus far, but I couldn’t avoid thinking of them. It was tragic that European Jews decided to seek this entitlement for themselves at the expense of Palestinians. It continues to be a tragedy in part because the United States abets and enables its continuation.

    Thanks for the reminder of something too often ignored in our news media.

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