The ongoing Palestinian “refugee crisis,” resulting from the war of annihilation waged by seven Arab armies against Israel in 1948, is one that should have been laid to rest over half a century ago. Unfortunately, the Arab world, thanks to the patronage of the International Community, has succeeded in perpetuating the crisis and prolonging the sufferings of the Palestinian people, as letting go would mean the continued existence of Israel.
In this piece, I will examine actions by the Arab world in maintaining this crisis, and the World’s complicity in the associated gross human-rights violations of the Palestinians via UNRWA – the organ that legalizes this behavior.
THE ROLE OF THE ARAB STATES
“Palestinians live in very bad conditions. That official policy is meant to preserve their Palestinian identity. If every Palestinian who sought refuge in a certain country was integrated and accommodated into that country, there won’t be any reason for them to return to Palestine”
– Hisham Youssef, spokesman for the 22-nation Arab League, (“Treatment Frustrates Palestinian Refugees”, LA Times, January 04, 2004)
“The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.”
– Sir Alexander Galloway, former head of UNRWA in Jordan (April, 1952)
“Any discussion aimed at a solution of the Palestine problem which will not be based on ensuring the refugees’ right to annihilate Israel will be regarded as a desecration of the Arab people and an act of treason”
– Language of the resolution passed by Arab nations in 1957, at the Refugee Conference at Homs, Syria
“The appearance of a distinct Palestinian national personality comes as an answer to Israel’s claim that Palestine is Jewish”
– King Hussein of Jordan, at the Arab League meet in Amman, Jordan, November 1987
“It is well-known and understood that the Arabs, in demanding the return of the refugees to Palestine, mean their return as masters of the Homeland and not as slaves. With a greater clarity, they mean the liquidation of the State of Israel.”
– Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah al-Din (Al-Misri, October 11, 1949)
“We are against the settlement of the refugees in any country…..”
– Saeb Erakat, Palestinian Cabinet Member, December 2003
The Casablanca Protocol adopted by the Arab League in 1965, in its annex relating to the Palestinians, particularly, in relation to efforts aimed at safeguarding the recently created “Palestinian” identity, said:
(1) Whilst retaining their Palestinian nationality, Palestinians currently residing in the land of ___________ have the right of employment on part with its citizens.
Six years earlier, in 1959, the Arab League passed, adopted and fully enforced Resolution 1457, which stated:
“The Arab countries will not grant citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their assimilation into the host countries.”
The Arab nations (excluding Jordan) completely followed thru on Arab League Resolution 1457 almost immediately, but, till date, have overwhelmingly disregarded the recommendations of the Casablanca Protocol with regards granting their Palestinian residents equal human-rights, and have brutally persecuted them for over half-a-century, using them as tools to achieve a political end – the demographic destruction of Israel.
The Arab nations, in imposing a brutal form of apartheid on their Palestinian residents, found the perfect mechanism as a measure:
(A) against any natural assimilation that would take place over time, leading to a loss of national identity, and (B) to perpetuate hostility and animosity among the Palestinians towards Israel — whom the Arab leaders propagandize, is responsible for their plight. Thus, keeping alive the false hope of an emphatic return, which if implemented would mean the fulfillment of their cherished aspiration of eliminating Israel.
And to the world’s surprise, Palestinian leaders are fully supportive of this action as they know that it mitigates the loss of collective national identity and breeds anger against Israel.
In the 1970s, in Gaza, Israel began settling refugees in decent and comfortable housing built by Israel’s civil administration, and paid for by the Israeli taxpayer. Quite surprisingly, there was a persistent campaign by the PLO to obstruct this effort. Arafat even misused the UN to achieve his agenda. Thanks to the overwhelming majority obtained by the Arab and Muslim voting blocs, in partnership with the Communist Eastern Bloc, the UN General Assembly condemned Israel every year for such attempts to help settle the refugees. Each condemnation had one requirement, of forcing Israel to abandon such projects and to send the refugees back to the UNRWA camps. Those Palestinians that took the offer were even threatened with violence and death by the PLO. It was crystal clear that the Palestinian leadership had absolutely no interest in any interim solutions.
Even recently, the PA leadership has made it clear that in the case of a two-state solution, the future Palestinian state would not allow refugees to immigrate, leave alone become citizens, as that would be a serious impediment to their anti-Israel agenda. At the cost of inflicting extreme misery and suffering upon their own people, they’ve managed to keep alive their pipe-dream of wiping out the Jewish state.
Furthermore, since Israel is unequivocally hated in the Arab and Islamic world, prolonging the refugee crisis paints Israel as the perennial bogeyman to the masses. Playing on the popular hatred of Israel, the plight of the refugees works as a rallying cry for Arab regimes, fueling nationalism and thereby, uniting people under the banner of their leadership — reinforcing their own clutch on power by deflecting all attention from their domestic failings onto Israel. Seeing as how this crisis (and the existence of Israel in general) is such a blessing to the tyrannical Arab regimes, it’s obvious that they’re content prolonging the sub-human treatment of Palestinians.
After 1948, about 50,000 Arab refugees were allowed back into Israel under the family reunification provisions. Israel even offered to accept a 100,000 more refugees and generously compensate the rest, thereby ending the so-called “refugee crisis” once and for all, but the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership rejected that offer because accepting it would mean recognizing the state of Israel AND ending the suffering of the ghettoized Palestinians living within their borders — neither of which they could afford for reasons mentioned above. A detailed analysis can be read here.
That the Palestinian people have been the perfect pawns for both their leaders and for other Arab nations, in their own selfish and strategic considerations, was something even the late King Hussein of Jordan admitted to when in a 1960 speech he said:
“Since 1948 Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner. They have not looked into the future. They have no plan or approach. They have used the Palestinian people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, criminal.”
Khaled al-Azzem, former Syrian Prime Minister, confirmed this years later, in 1973, when he said:
“Since 1948 it is we who have demanded the return of the refugees while it is we who made them leave. We have rendered them dispossessed. We have accustomed them to begging. We have participated in lowering their moral and social level. Then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson and throwing bombs at men, women and children.”
Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh’s work with the Jerusalem Post and Gatestone Institute is the most insightful for a complete understanding of the persecution of Palestinians in the Arab world. Also, this well-researched and insightful paper by foreign-policy expert Mitchell Bard is a perfect primer on the subject. The conditions of Palestinians in the Arab world are so mortifying that even rabidly anti-Israel writers like Ahmad Moor and Rami Khoury seem to have taken notice of the problem.
Out of the numerous incidents/examples of the cruelty meted out to Palestinians in the Arab world, here are a few:
(1) Palestinian refugees were treated quite well in Kuwait, but all that changed in 1991 because of Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussain’s invasion, and between 300,000 to 400,000 Palestinians were forcefully expelled from the kingdom.
(2) Palestinians in Lebanon live in extreme Apartheid-like conditions, where they’re denied citizenship, health-care, social services, property and land ownership, forced to live in fixed ghettoes, forbidden from entering a long list of professions (Law, Medicine, Engineering etc.) among a long list of things. The PLO’s involvement in the Lebanese civil war in which Palestinian militia slaughtered scores of Lebanese civilians (especially Christians) only worsened the situation. Also, Lebanon being an ethnically diverse nation, didn’t want to upset its delicate domestic demographic balance by naturalizing Palestinian refugees who were overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.
(3) In Jordan, inspite of about 40% of UNRWA-registered refugees receiving citizenship, Palestinians face severe discrimination during entry into private and state-sector jobs and also university admissions, where there’s a fixed ceiling on the number of Palestinians that can be accepted. Anti-terror activity overwhelmingly targets Palestinians, a tradition that began since Black September. They are barred from joining the military for the same reason. For more on the subject, the works of prominent Palestinian-Jordanian activist, Mudar Zahran, with the Jerusalem Post and Gatestone Institute.
(4) In Syria, although they’re not citizens, they had been treated far better than in the rest of the Arab world (which is not saying much.) One Palestinian militant faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), is strongly allied with Assad. Once the civil war began, a minority of Palestinians affiliated with the PFLP while the rest allied with the rebels, leading to numerous massacres by Assad’s forces. The pro-Assad Palestinians have not been spared by the rebels either.
(5) In Egypt, because of the fact that UNRWA has no presence, Palestinians are not registered as refugees, therefore receiving no assistance whatsoever. Also, they’re considered stateless by the Egyptian government even after generations and are ineligible for education, healthcare and other amenities that are offered free of charge to Egyptian citizens. For a brief period under the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Palestinians ONLY with marriage ties to Egyptians were conferred citizenship, but that was completely stopped after the MB’s ouster.
(6) In Iraq, under Saddam Hussain, although deprived citizenship, Palestinians were treated fairly equitably. They were granted residency permits, access to healthcare, work permits, freedom to travel and reside all across the country. Palestinians there became very loyal to Saddam, even though some of their privileges during the period of Western sanctions (from 1990 to 2003) were withdrawn, which fermented extreme resentment against them from the Shia and Kurdish sections of Iraqi society that were brutally persecuted by the Baathist regime. Once the Shias came to power thanks to George W. Bush’s ill-considered and reckless decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam, the Palestinians were seen as remnants of the regime and mass-atrocities against them began. Severe discrimination, revoking of residence permits, numerous terror attacks, arbitrary arrests, interrogations, abductions, tortures by unknown Shiite groups, among many other things, are a regular feature.
• Legalising Fraud and Manipulation
Founded in December 1949 by UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was created to provide humanitarian relief and rehabilitation to refugees caused by the invading Arab armies in the war of 1948. The organisation was created with only a three year mandate as no one expected the refugee problem to persist after the war. John Blandford Jr., the Director of UNRWA, wrote in his report on November 29, 1951, that he expected the Arab governments to assume responsibility for relief by July 1952. He stated: “Sustained relief operations inevitably contain the germ of human deterioration.”
Today, UNRWA, with an annual budget of $1.2 billion (about half the annual budget of all other refugees groups in the entire world), is headquartered in Gaza and Amman, Jordan, with 58 camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza, and has registered about 6 million Palestinian refugees, of which only about 1.6 million actually live in the camps.
Originally, UNRWA was meant to handle ALL refugees, the Jewish refugees expelled from Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem and other Arab nations into Israel, the internally displaced Arab refugees within Israel AND the Arab émigrés from Israel to other Arab nations. Israel took control of the Jewish refugees and internally displaced Arab refugees (rehabilitating them fully and naturalizing them) from UNRWA, rendering its services within Israel proper unnecessary. The Arab nations, the self-proclaimed “defenders of Palestine,” chose not to do what Israel did with its refugees (as International Law demands), and forced them into a segregated apartheid-like existence — forging a permanent dependence on UNRWA.
UNRWA has exceeded its mandate by sixty-one years thanks to the Arabs’ stubbornness. Because of that, while EVERY other refugee group on this planet is handled by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), that works towards naturalizing refugees in their adopted homes, the Palestinians have their own special agency that does precisely the opposite — perpetuates their “victim” status by excusing the Arabs’ gross violations of International Law. And no one dares to question this gross double standard because it bears the UN stamp of legitimacy.
Why the international community didn’t defund UNRWA immediately, which would have automatically voided all refugee statuses, is anyone’s guess. Doing so, would have ensured either the UNHCR’s handling of the situation, leading to more positive steps in the direction of naturalization, or the Arab states being forced to deal with the problem on their own just like Israel chose to. This would have ended the sham that is the “refugee crisis” over half-a-century ago. Today, the Arab nations are in gross violation of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (CRSR) — whose Article 34 on “Naturalization” stipulates that the so-called refugees of today are citizens — and all treatises and statutes of International Law that they are signatories of, with full patronage from the West. On its website, UNRWA excuses Arab and Palestinian immunity to the CRSR by saying that the refugee crisis began in 1948, while the CRSR was adopted three years later in 1951, and Palestinian refugees have therefore been “specifically and intentionally excluded”. They actually admit on there that the Palestinians and Arabs are a special case and have unique privileges. UNRWA doesn’t take into account, among many examples of refugee resettlement pre-1951, that immediately after World War-II, roughly 12 million Germans were forcefully ethnically cleansed (unlike the Palestinians, most of whom left voluntarily in 1948) from German lands annexed to neighbouring countries and who were fully settled inside both East and West Germany. The lack of the CRSR didn’t stop both nations from naturalizing its refugees so why do Arab nations have immunity from what has been the norm since long before the convention’s formal establishment?
According to UNRWA:
The operational definition of a Palestine refugee is any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”
Palestine refugees are persons who fulfill the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.
Previously, I proved that only a tiny minority of the Arabs that left or were expelled during the 1948 war were land owners and conferring refugee status on the other, non-land owning Palestinian residents (legal and illegal) is illogical because they have NO LEGAL CLAIMS to the land.
Onto the next part of that definition: How exactly do the “descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition” become eligible for refugee status?
Are the descendants of the millions of Hindus into India from, what is now, Pakistan during the 1947 partition of the subcontinent still considered refugees? What about the descendants of the twelve million German refugees into Germany post-WW2, after their lands were ethnically cleansed and annexed to neighbouring countries? What about the descendants of the roughly one million Jewish refugees into Israel after their forceful expulsion from the Arab world? What about the descendants of the ten million Bangladeshi Hindu refugees into India after 1971? What about the descendants of the Chinese people that were expelled from Indonesia in 1965?
While every other refugee group has disappeared over time, the Palestinian refugee number has ballooned, from about 750,000 in 1948 to almost 6 million today, and is growing even further. Why are only the Palestinians accorded this privilege?
Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, justifies this by saying : “There is no basis to question the reality that Palestinian refugees have for generations been compelled by circumstances, to retain their refugee status.”
So even he acknowledges that since the Arabs have been consistent in persecuting the Palestinians and using them as agents in fulfilling their destructive agenda, it’s okay to play along with their whims, and allow them to force all future generations of Palestinians to live under brutal apartheid conditions. He implies that no effort or political action needs to be taken against the Arab nations for their responsibility in CAUSING the refugee crisis, and nor does he endorse the idea of pressuring them to abide by the law and naturalize all refugees. UNRWA endorses the notion that the Arabs’ persistence in brutalizing the Palestinians has earned them special privileges like full financial backing to continue persecuting refugees, thereby completely exempting them from the law, while India, Israel, Germany etc., have had to bear the heavy burden associated with fully settling their refugees simply because they chose the humanitarian path.
On a side note, a million-dollar question that no spokesman of UNRWA or pro-Palestinian activist seems to be able to answer is: Of the scores of Palestinians living in the West, who’re complete citizens of their adopted countries and among the few who are citizens in the Arab world, why are they STILL registered as “refugees”? The contradiction seems to be lost on many in pro-Palestinian circles.
Further, he says, “Palestinian refugees continue to be refugees because the issues which caused their exile remain outstanding,” and, “It is wishful, cynical thinking to suppose that Palestinian refugees can be made to “go away” by dispersing them around the globe or by dissolving the Agency established to protect and assist them pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.”
Similarly, in an interview on Israeli television, when questioned about the “hereditary clause”, Gunness says: “All internationally accepted paradigms for ending the refugee crisis, which are accepted by the Israeli government and all else, has the refugee problem resolved within the context of an overall and durable solution. What is perpetuating the refugee crisis according to all internationally accepted paradigms is the lack of a solution. We need a solution, and then UNRWA will go away, once there is no refugee problem”
Has the Israeli-Arab conflict been resolved for good? No! Has the India-Pakistan conflict been resolved? No! But the Jewish refugees into Israel and the Hindu refugees into India did “go away,” simply by the act of the host nations abiding by Article 34 of the CRSR, which all signatories are bound by. In both these cases, “the issues which caused their exile” DO continue to “remain outstanding,” so why are only Palestinians considered refugees? If inspite of a “lack of a solution,” Israel can reject “the Agency established to protect and assist its refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight,“ and treat every last Jewish refugee as a full-fledged citizen in Israel, why are the Arab nations incapable of doing so?
Mr. Gunness feels that a “lack of a solution” to the conflict, and not the Arab nations’ horrendous human rights abuses and non-compliance with the law, is responsible for the perpetuation of the problem.
His responses also reek of complete ignorance of the law. As I explained in my previous piece, ALL statutes, resolutions and legalities with regards the refugee crisis, don’t specify “Arab” refugees, but talk about “refugees”, which obviously includes both Jewish and Arab refugees.
Also, since legally, Israel doesn’t owe the refugees anything, and certainly not a physical right of return, is signing a peace treaty really going to end Arab intransigence overnight? You can be rest assured, that after a two-state solution is implemented, Arab leaders aren’t going to overnight accept Palestinians living among them as equals and forgo their now sixty-six year old aspiration of dumping them onto Israel, so why pretend otherwise and prolong this charade?
Likewise, John Ging, one of the former heads of UNRWA, argued that there is “no basis to say that it is UNRWA’s decision because our mandate is given to us. I agree that it is a political failure, but we don’t set up the mandate, we are only the implementers”. In short, since the Arab nations surrounding Israel have an agenda of using Palestinians as political chess pieces, UNRWA is more than happy to play along.
Also, Gunness says nothing about the fraud, manipulation and over-inflation of refugee numbers committed by Arab countries and Palestinians over the decades. In 1961, UNRWA Agency Director John Davis himself acknowledged that the United Nations refugee counts included “other victims of the conflict of 1948,” who didn’t originate from within the territory of Israel. He said that while it would be wrong to deny them aid merely because they weren’t legally qualified, they should not have been counted among the Arab refugees from Israel. An important point to remember, is that the borders of the “West Bank,” except for the eastern border with Jordan, were never policed, so tens of thousands of poor and starving Lebanese, Syrians and others, regularly crossed into UNRWA territory and also, from the Sinai into Gaza, to claim “refugee status” in order to take advantage of the international largess. There have been countless other reports of fraud and over-counting by UNRWA, but not a peep from Gunness on the subject.
Zochrot (an anarchist, anti-establishment, hard-left organization in Israel that calls for a right of return for Palestinian “refugees”) on the issue of why the German refugee crisis of WW2 is not given the same recognition as the Palestinian “refugee crisis,” says:
“In 1972, however, in an agreement West Germany signed with Poland, it renounced the collective right of return of German refugees to areas from which they had fled or been expelled, so that this issue has been resolved – formally, at least”
If a “formal agreement” — that rescinds the collective refugee status of a people without regard for the opinions of the people involved, as was the case with the agreement that ended German refugee claims — is all that stands in the way of abrogating this legally non-existent, yet persistent, maximalist demand which has always been a roadblock to peace, perhaps the International Community needs to reshape its approach to the Palestinians and the Arab nations. By Zochrot’s definition, if UNRWA was completely defunded and sufficient pressure was put by the International Community on: (A) the Palestinian leaders, to accept (as international law mandates) a peace agreement completely divorced from the right of return, and (B) the Arab nations, to abide by the terms of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and settle its’ Palestinian residents (just like Germany did to its refugees), would the whole issue be put to rest and would Zochrot shut shop for eternity?
In a brilliant op-ed with the Jerusalem Post, Timon Dias lays out the main financial backers of UNRWA. While Canada has withdrawn funding since 2010, the EU and the US still contribute to about 71% of UNRWA’s funding (while no Muslim or Arab nation is even among the top fifteen in the list of the organisation’s backers.) Tragically, American and European tax payer money is being wasted on sponsoring welfare programs in the Arab world and the Palestinian territories, preaching hatred and violence, and to support terrorism against Israel, when many Western nations are themselves on the verge of financial collapse.
A bill introduced by Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) in June last year — that struck at the heart of the problem, questioning why Palestinians are accorded inheritable refugee status – although a symbolic gesture if passed, would have sent a very strong message. Unfortunately, after overwhelming non-cooperation from other Senators like Dennis Leahy (D-VT), a very watered down version of the bill was passed, that only called for a census of all registered refugees, while fortunately demanding a differentiation between descendants and actual refugees. This was a lot less than most people hoped for, but was certainly a step in the right direction towards the United States possibly defunding UNRWA in the future.
• Legalising Hatred and Violence
In Gaza, where UNRWA is headquartered, the operational borders between UNRWA and Hamas are extremely blurry. There are high levels of co-operation between the two groups on everything from brainwashing and indoctrination to recruiting for armed Jihad against Israel. Not to mention, the use of UNRWA schools and other organisational facilities to launch rockets into Israel. Karen Koning Abuzayd, former commissioner of UNRWA, in a 2006 Congressional hearing, responded to these allegations by admitting it was too difficult for UNRWA to run checks against terrorist watch lists because “Arab last names sound so familiar.”
With regards UNRWA’s neutrality, Chris Gunness offers a few standard talking points, but he fails to address the fact that UNRWA has about 30,000 employees, while the UNHRC, whose mandate is 34 million refugees across 126 different countries, has fewer than 6000 employees. Also, almost 99% of them are Palestinian, employed in positions at various levels within the group. It is obvious that an organization comprised overwhelmingly of Palestinians would have such a strong bias against Israel, always yielding to the destructive policies of host governments especially Hamas and Lebanon. David Bedein, of the Center for Near East Policy Research, recently released a very insightful documentary titled Camp Jihad, about UNRWA camps for brainwashing Palestinian children and training them for armed Jihad. The overwhelming amount of evidence, in terms of the constant reports of hate-mongering, brainwashing and terrorist activity in UNRWA’s facilities that surface time and time again, do enough in the way of discrediting Gunness’s claims of neutrality.
In response to such allegations, Gunness says that UNRWA conducts six monthly checks of all employees against UN 1267 Sanctions Committee list of terrorists and terrorist entities. That’s quite unfortunate, because UN 1267 is only a watch-list of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects, and not Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups. And in Gaza, where Hamas has a vice-like grip on everything, it is foolish to think that UNRWA would not have been completely hijacked by Hamas’ cronies. Can you imagine what would happen to the organisation’s employees and infrastructure if they barred entry to Hamas members, or refused to accede to their demands?
A highly damning report by former legal advisor and general counsel of UNRWA, James Lindsay, was published in 2009, in which he castigated the organization for its lack of efforts in naturalizing refugees, for running schools and using textbooks that teach anti-Semitism and displayed all of Israel as foreign-occupied territory, preaching complete rejection of peace and normalization with Israel, and for its complicity in terror attacks (or plots) against the Jewish state.
With regards indoctrination, said John Ging: “As for our schools, we use textbooks of the Palestinian Authority. Are they perfect? No, they’re not. I can’t defend the indefensible.” Ging seems to very casually admit that the scores of reports of UNRWA’s complicity in preaching violence and indoctrination, while true, are mere signs of “imperfection,” nothing more.
The report by James Lindsay and the works of prominent journalists Asaf Romirowsky, Alexander H. Joffe, Ben-Dror Yemeni and Claudia Rosett, speak volumes about the activities of UNRWA and the West’s backing all of this.