Why Rima Hassan is not an “exile”, by Omar Youssef Souleimane – L’Express

Why Rima Hassan is not an exile by Omar Youssef

Being forbidden to visit your childhood home, to see your friends; living under the threat of a fascist regime that controls his home country; suffer from the difficulty of assimilating into a new society, of adapting to new traditions; be deprived of a passport; spend your time waiting for your return, one day, perhaps. This is what it means to be exiled. We also use the words “refugee” or “migrant”. But whatever term we adopt, none of them suits Rima Hassan (LFI) who has just entered the European Parliament. However, the activist continued to present herself as a Palestinian refugee.

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For twelve years, I have not seen my mother, nor anyone else in my family. They are all in Syria. As time passes, the distance between us grows. During my first years in France, I did not have a passport, I could not travel outside the European Union. Finally, I obtained French citizenship in 2022. It was a great joy, but in the absence of my mother, it remained incomplete. Naturalization allowed me to travel anywhere in the world, except my home country. Opponents who returned to Syria after fleeing Bashar al-Assad’s hell ended up being assassinated, despite the regime’s numerous promises. Mazen al-Hamada is an example: having been tortured in the Baath Party’s slaughterhouses, he testified in the media after managing to escape from Syria. Since his return to Damascus in 2020, he has disappeared. Moral: never trust a dictator. This forces me to be careful every time I contact a member of my family: never telephone, the intelligence services are monitoring them. My father died four years ago. I received the news by text message, without even being able to speak with anyone in my family. I was forced to grieve alone. This is the daily life of an exile. An incomprehensible suffering for anyone who has not experienced it. We exiles know that if we return one day, we will no longer recognize our native country, because it will have changed so much, just like the people who live there. From this point of view, exile is a life sentence.

“Right to return”

Born in Neirab, in the suburbs of Aleppo, in 1992, Rima Hassan experienced none of that. Neirab is one of the smallest “camps” for Palestinians in Syria. In truth, they are neighborhoods or villages, like any other. At the age of 9, Rima Hassan came to France to join her mother. She obtained French nationality at the age of 18, while retaining “the right to return” to Palestine, the land of some of her ancestors. This right is one of the central issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It was consecrated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. In Syria, Palestinians do not obtain Syrian nationality in order to retain this “right” as a form of resistance to the very existence of Israel. Palestinians in Europe can be naturalized while retaining their refugee status, which is not the case for any other people fleeing their territory during a war. Otherwise, the descendants of Vietnamese refugees living for example in France would have the right to return to settle in Vietnam like Vietnamese. The same goes for the descendants of Armenian or Algerian exiles.

But among Palestinians, this “right” is transmitted from one generation to the next, fueling the “refugee” status put forward by Rima Hassan. However, not only did she live in France longer than in the Middle East, but she also never visited this fantasized Palestine. The only link that binds her to this territory is that of her paternal grandparents, who left their village following the Nakba in 1948, settling in Syria. This Palestine is only a utopia in which the LFI MEP invests: “In the name of what could I not return to the village of my grandparents?” she asked herself on the C show this evening. In reality, Hassan can return and travel there thanks to his European passport, as many Palestinians have done.

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In March, Hassan made a high-profile return to Neirab to be “close to her people”, as she said on Al-Jazeera Arabic. The candidate confirmed that she left France because she no longer felt safe after receiving death threats for her support for the Palestinian cause. But was she safer in the neighborhood of her birth controlled with an iron fist by Assad’s intelligence services? How was she able to return to Syria without being bothered by the police, when she is the founder and president of the Observatory of Refugee Camps in France? This is perhaps because she has never condemned the abuses of the Syrian government against the Palestinians living on its territory. Between 2011 and 2022, no less than 3,075 Palestinian opponents of the regime were arrested, 98 coming from Neirab. Until today, we do not know what became of them. This question does not seem to bother Rima Hassan.

Counterproductive victim discourse

Shortly after returning to Syria, she also traveled safely to Jordan. Then the Pro-Palestinian activist returned to France to join LFI as a French candidate in the European elections. In her last interview with Al-Jazeera, on June 4, she insisted that Palestine is “a European cause because of the Sykes-Picot agreements which committed Britain and France to the colonial mandate. This which led to the division of the region and the creation of Israel.” These are the same words repeated by totalitarian regimes in the Middle East, who stay in power by fueling this thesis of a supposed conspiracy against their people. Rima Hassan does not want a two-state solution, although adopted by the United Nations, but which was refused by the Arab states in 1948, when Israel was created. Without this original conflict, today we would undoubtedly experience another Middle East, more peaceful and prosperous.

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Saying that Europe is guilty of the war between Israel and Hamas is like saying that the United Kingdom is responsible for the civil war in Iraq, because it occupied that country at the beginning of the 20th century. If we follow this logic, the civil war in Syria is France’s fault, and the clan battles in Libya are Italy’s. This victim discourse turns out to be completely counterproductive.

In the Middle East, focusing on the future is a real necessity to move forward. Living in the past in order to constitute a state “from the river to the sea”, as Rima Hassan says, and resettling Palestinian “refugees” who have never known Palestine, only provokes even more blood and of disasters in a region already troubled enough.

* Writer and poet born in Damascus, Omar Youssef Souleimane participated in demonstrations against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but, hunted by the secret services, had to flee Syria in 2012. Refugee in France, he published with Flammarion The Little Terrorist, The Last Syrian, A room in exile, and recently Being French.