The Untold Story Of Palestinians In Qatar: Navigating A Fragile Legal Landscape

BU Intl Human Rights
6 min readApr 23, 2024

Palestinians, constituting one of the largest stateless communities globally, endure the profound consequences of marginalization and alienation perpetuated by active state policies of the Israeli occupation. The absence of a legal national identity inflicts deep-seated violence, demanding urgent attention and remedial action. This blog post seeks to delve into the complexities of the support for Palestinians in the Gulf, and in Qatar in particular, questioning how that support is reflected in national laws concerning migration, nationality, and citizenship. The aim of this contribution is to shed light on the precarious situation of Palestinians in Qatar through a brief historical and legal analysis, particularly in light of current conditions, and to advocate for tangible solutions to address Palestinians’ plight.

Pictured: Collages made by a Palestinian artist calling for a free Palestine and for the right to return — February 2024

Historical Context: The Nakba and Palestinian Migration

Following World War I, waves of expropriation and expulsion of Palestinians encouraged by Western powers, in particular the United Kingdom, led to conflict between Zionist Jews and Palestinians, culminating in the adoption of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) on November 29, 1947 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) on November 29, 1947. This resolution, supported by 33 countries, including the former colonizing powers, proposed to partition Palestine into two: an Arab State and a Jewish State. The Arab-Israeli war resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which then controlled 78% of the territory, well beyond what was allocated to the Jewish State in the partition resolution. In 1948, the Nakba — or the catastrophe, as Palestinians called it — resulted in more than 750,000 Palestinians forced from their homes and lands. By 1949, two-thirds of the pre-war Palestinian population had been expelled from their historic homeland. Israel institutionalized the dispossession by preventing Palestinians from reclaiming their properties through a robust legal framework, with key laws including the 1950 Absentee Property Law concerning property transfer and the 1953 Land Acquisition Law 1953 Land Acquisition Law. This legislation retroactively legalized the expropriation of land seized by the Israeli army during the 1947–1949 conflict, and continued to provide legal authorization to confiscate additional Palestinian property since then.

Migration to Gulf Countries: The Quest for Stability

Seeking refuge in neighboring countries, many Palestinians migrated to Gulf countries during the oil boom of the 1950s. Kuwait, in particular, offered promising prospects, attracting highly educated professionals mainly from the West Bank. Despite the allure of high salaries, Palestinians were disproportionately represented among candidates, due to the hardships endured in neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Syria. They fulfilled all the criteria Gulf employers sought: they were Arab, well-educated, and often proficient in English.

The Casablanca Protocol: Promise and Revocation

The Arab States responded to the Palestinian expulsion and dispossession by refusing to become parties to international treaties that might have placed the responsibility on them to absorb Palestinian refugees into their territories, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons. With few international conventions in place to guarantee legal protections to the Palestinians, the legal frameworks that do apply to Palestinians in the Arab States consist primarily of non-binding United Nations Resolutions or League of Arab States (LAS) agreements and resolutions. Among these is an important and mostly forgotten instrument: The LAS Protocol on the Treatment of Palestinian Refugees, known as the Casablanca Protocol of 1965. This regional treaty represented a beacon of hope for Palestinians, promising to Palestinians many fundamental legal protections on par with those guaranteed to citizens in Arab countries. This binding agreement on Arab State Parties requires Arab countries that are parties to it to give Palestinians rights equal to citizens in terms of residency, employment, education and travel. However, 25 years later, this protocol was undermined by the means of a resolution in 1991 (Resolution 5093), leaving Palestinians in a precarious position.

The Ambiguous History: Between Expulsions and Diplomatic Support

The tenuous situation of Palestinians in the Gulf has been exacerbated by multiple expulsions over the years due to armed conflict, instability and other security concerns that have caused Arab States to target Palestinians. For example, in the First Gulf War (1990–1991), the Qatari government expelled many of the most prominent Palestinians residing in Qatar. The Qatari government justified its actions by claiming that following the invasion of Kuwait the Palestinian Authority had aligned itself with the Iraqi regime. The expulsions primarily affected Palestinians in key roles within the oil industry, government, and security sectors. More than 70 families were ordered to leave Qatar. Even the Palestinian Ambassador was expelled, with only a 48- hour notice to leave Qatari territory. Qatar’s measures included deliberate non-renewal of residency permits and termination of employment, effectively forcing Palestinians to depart since their residency status depended on continued employment. This example of how Palestinians have been treated as personae non gratae demonstrates the fragility of their status, leaving them at the mercy of changing political alliances. Conversely, Qatar’s state policy usually highly favors diplomatic relations with Palestine. There are a plethora of examples of such support: Qatar’s recognition of Palestine as a State, with Jerusalem as its capital; the creation of the Qatari Permanent Committee for the Support of Al Quds (QPCSA) ; the adoption of the Doha Declaration in 2012, as well as Qatar’s ongoing role as mediator between Hamas and Israel. The conflicting roles that Qatar has taken highlight Qatar’s nuanced engagement with Palestinian affairs–supportive at the diplomatic level, but restrictive when it comes to citizenship and more substantive rights as residents.

Pictured: Doha Corniche — February 2024

Palestinians Today: Navigating Uncertainty in Qatar

For decades, the Palestinian cause has been sidelined, accumulating dust on the shelves of Arab States’ agendas. Recently, Gulf countries including the United Arab Emirates, have normalized diplomatic relations with Israel as part of the so-called ‘Abrahamic Accords.’ Although Qatar does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel, unofficial ties do exist, mainly through trade and economic relations. However, following October 7th, there has been a resurgence of support for Palestinians. Both the State and the population have expressed unwavering backing for Palestine. In fact, Qatar provided generous donations for Gaza, emergency campaigns and scholarships for Gazan students, and had increased its mediation efforts for a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas. Notably, Doha welcomed with open arms Moataz Azaiza, the Gazan journalist, the symbol of resilience, who was the eyes and voice of Gaza during the first months of the war. However, many ordinary citizens in the Arab world who have been protesting for Palestinian rights are demanding that their governments do more. They are questioning whether donations, support, and even evacuations of Gazans are sufficient to protect Palestinians and find a just solution to the conflict. In Qatar, such questions prompt reflection on the extent of the country’s past efforts. How can Qatar help to ensure lasting stability for Palestinians? How can Qatar do more to ensure Palestinians’ human rights beyond mere aid? These questions highlight the disparity between Qatar’s historic view of Palestinians as temporary migrants and the reality that Palestinians are and have been long-term residents, who may face expulsion to nowhere when political circumstances change. Hence, Qatar’s expressions of support have yet to translate into meaningful momentum toward securing additional rights for Palestinians residents. Instead, they are often perceived simply as economic migrants, their residency sustained primarily through their economic contributions to the country.

Conclusion: Bridging the Gap Between Rhetoric and Reality

The plight of Palestinians in Qatar underscores the urgent need to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality. Tangible actions are imperative to uphold the rights of Palestinians, ensuring they are not mere pawns in geopolitical agendas but recipients of genuine support and justice. Through concerted efforts, Qataris can join other concerned people in the Arab world to work towards a future where Palestinians in Qatar and beyond are afforded the dignity and rights they deserve.


Nour Ouardani is an L.L.M Candidate in American Law at Boston University School of Law. Prior to pursuing her exchange in the United States, she obtained a Masters degree in Human Rights and International Criminal Justice from the University Paris Panthéon Assas. Passionate about human rights, Nour contributes to the French NGO “L’Observatoire des Camps de Réfugiés”.



BU Intl Human Rights

Boston University School of Law's International Human Rights Clinic.