The Palestinian Refugees Really Are Special
Today begins the three weeks between Nakba Day, in which the Palestinians mourn the founding of Israel, when hundreds of thousands of them fled their homes and became refugees, and Naksa Day, in which they mourn Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War.
While Abbas and friends use these three weeks to curry international support by advertising the plight of the Palestinian Refugees, many Israelis choose to ignore their suffering and claim it’s exaggerated. They believe that since tens of millions of people were displaced in the twentieth century, including hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen, it’s unfair that the Palestinians get all the attention.
Well, that claim is nonsense. The Palestinian Refugees are unique.
True, more Jews than Arabs lost their homes when five Arab armies tried to destroy Israel in 1948, but, well, the Jewish refugees aren’t nearly as interesting. Like fifty million other refugees since World War Two, they were expelled, then resettled, and that was the end of it.
The story of the Palestinian Refugees, on the other hand, is unparalleled in modern history. While all other refugees eventually resettled and assimilated in their new surroundings, the Palestinian Refugees refuse to do so. They cling to their heritage. And that’s even more remarkable than it may seem.
Yes, other refugees maintained their national identity despite being exiled from their homeland. But in all those cases, that identity had matured over centuries. Not so in the case of the Palestinian Refugees. Their connection to their homeland is so powerful, their identity so strong, that they cling to them even without a tradition as a nation.
As late as 1919, the Arabs in Palestine didn’t know they were Palestinians. They foolishly thought that the Palestinian nation never existed. They considered themselves to be Syrians. At the General Palestine Congress of 1920, Yusuf al-‘Isa pointed out that Palestine is a part of Syria, just as Alsace-Lorraine belongs to France.
Even though the UN formed a special agency to resettle the Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), and poured more money into UNRWA than it spent on all the tens of millions of other refugees since World War Two combined, the Palestinian Refugees prefer to remain in camps rather than cooperate with UNRWA, resettle, and give up their national identity.
Another remarkable thing about the Palestinian Refugees: In every other refugee group, the number of refugees has dropped over the years, whereas the number of Palestinian Refugees has downright flourished. According to the self-proclaimed Palestinian government, which is busily oppressing the Palestinians unlucky enough not to be refugees, the number of Palestinian Refugees has grown almost tenfold since 1949, to an astounding five-and-a-half million.
While that is partly due to their high birthrate, a major cause of the unprecedented growth of the Palestinian Refugees is that their love of Palestine is so infectious. That’s why hundreds of thousands of Arabs, whose families never lived in Palestine, have decided to sign up as Palestinian Refugees. As UNRWA admitted in 1960, the Palestinian Refugees receiving food rations in Jordan alone “are believed to include 150,000 ineligibles.”
In sum, the mounting international interest in the Palestinian Refugees has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It’s just plain common sense.