The Palestinian Bicycle Refugees of Norway

I just finished a 10-day speaking tour in Holland, Sweden, and Norway. Everywhere I went the street was abuzz with talk of the “refugee” crisis as hordes of Syrians and Afghanis are flooding into European countries. International media is reporting how the refugees are fleeing for their lives from the civil war in Syria and the carnage of the so-called Islamic State or ISIS. Many are also fleeing from the Taliban in Afghanistan. At least that’s the official story.

I had some free time in Norway and asked my hosts to take me to the see the “refugees.” Norwegian news media reported that they are being housed in a local 3-star hotel called the “First Hotel Alstor” in Stavanger. We headed over to the hotel and spoke to the refugees who we found smoking cigarettes in the parking lot. At one point it was cold so we tried to continue talking in the lobby, but we were kicked out by a large burly Norseman from hotel security.

Nehemia Gordon Interviewing Palestinian bicycle refugees in Stavanger, Norway.
Nehemia Gordon interviewing bicycle refugees in Stavanger, Norway. These Palestinians were born as third-generation refugees in Lebanon near Sidon. Their daughter will be born a Norwegian. (David Malachi)

All of the refugees I spoke to crossed the border from Russia on bicycles. A peculiar Russian law only allows people to cross the frozen border into Norway by vehicle, which includes bikes. The refugees purchase the bicycles at the border and cross over into Norway where they are given all the benefits of someone fleeing from war.

The official narrative is that these refugees fled to Norway because of war and persecution. However, the “refugees” themselves were eager to tell me that they left their countries of origin because of unemployment and crime. They were very clear about this. Some described local mafias and criminal gangs as the reason for seeking a better life in Norway. In fact, none of these so-called “refugees” came to Norway itself to escape war. They all came across the border from Russia after spending time in Moscow where the authorities were less than welcoming. Some told me that the Russian police interrogated them at length. They eventually chose to bike into Norway where the Norwegian nanny-state provides them with a generous assistance package including a free hotel room, clothing, food, and even a monthly cash stipend. In fact, the government of Norway gives them $145/ adult (1260 NKR) and $102/ child (890 NKR). That’s $494 per month for a family of four, free and clear, after living expenses!

Many of the refugees at the hotel were “Palestinians” whose grandparents left Israel during the War of Independence in 1948. The people I spoke to were born in Lebanon, but never granted Lebanese citizenship. You see the Palestinians have a unique status under International Law. When fighting ends in a war, the refugees who can’t return to their country of origin must be given citizenship in the country where they first sought refuge or in a third country. However, when the Israeli War of Independence ended, the “Palestinian” refugees were kept in a permanent state of refugee-hood. In fact, the descendants of many Palestinian refugees today live under Palestinian rule in Gaza and the West Bank, but they are still classified by the United Nations as “refugees.” In other words, they live in Palestine, under Palestinian rule, but are classified as Palestinian refugees by the United Nations!

Now let’s compare the case of the 7 million Indian Muslims who fled to Pakistan during the 1947 War between India and Pakistan. These Muslims and their ancestors had lived in what became India from time immemorial, probably for thousands of years. However, when they arrived in Pakistan as refugees they were quickly integrated into their new country and granted full rights as citizens. In contrast, with the partial exception of Jordan, the Arab nations who received their Palestinian Arab brothers as refugees in 1948 refused to grant them citizenship. Their children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren are still considered refugees today.

Treating the descendants of refugees as refugees is actually against international law. However, the United Nations, in league with the Arab states, has subjected the Palestinians to a special exemption from international law so that their descendants for the rest of time will be considered refugees. This is unprecedented anywhere in the world. There have been dozens of conflicts in the last 70 years and only the Palestinians and their descendants are kept in a permanent state of refugee-hood.

Just to be clear, this is not a privilege granted to the Palestinians. Quite the opposite. The second and third generation of Palestinians are refugees in the countries in which they were born, which means living an entire lifetime as second-class citizens. Refugees can’t vote. They don’t have the same rights as citizens. Worst of all, refugees in Lebanon were not allowed to work until 2010, forcing them to survive off United Nations aid or work illegally, often in local crime syndicates. Even today, they are not allowed to own land in Lebanon or work in many industries.

As the descendant of a Jewish refugee from Lithuania who was born in the United States, I have great empathy for the Palestinian refugees. I can only imagine what it would be like to be legally classified as a “refugee” in the country where I was born. Denied the right to vote. Denied the right to work a normal job. Forced to live off of UN handouts. What kind of life is that? No wonder they came to Norway looking for a better life!

While the world sees the refugees flooding into Europe as a crisis, I see it as an opportunity to finally provide some dignity for those “Palestinians” who have been kept as second-class citizens in Arab nations for 68 years. By international law and convention, these people, who were born in Lebanon, should have been granted Lebanese citizenship. Instead they were held hostage to a murderous antisemitic agenda bent on destroying Israel. Now after all these years, there will finally be resolution for the descendants of those Arabs who left Israel in 1948.

As I was standing there in the cold Norwegian parking lot, I was overcome with joy when a 22-year old Palestinian woman told me she was pregnant. I was excited that after three generations of refugee status, her unborn daughter would finally be treated like a human being and given citizenship in the country where she was born. I asked the expectant mother, “Will [your daughter] be Lebanese, will she be Palestinian, will she be Norwegian?” Without hesitation the mother responded with a broad smile, “She will be Norwegian!” Her 26-year old husband eagerly agreed, “Norwegian!” I sincerely wish these Palestinian Lebanese Arabs peace and prosperity in their new homeland. The Oslo Accords have finally come home to roost!

My full interview with the Palestinian (and other) bicycle refugees of Norway is published in my Hebrew Voices podcast.

About the Author
Nehemia Gordon holds a Masters Degree in Biblical Studies and a Bachelors in Archaeology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has worked as a translator on the Dead Sea Scrolls and as a researcher deciphering ancient Hebrew manuscripts. A prominent figure in the Karaite Jewish community, Gordon has written five books on the ancient Hebrew origins of Judaism and Christianity and spoken at synagogues and churches around the world.