Another Naqba Day, commemorating the catastrophic displacement of Palestinians from their homes in the 1948 war launched by Arab states to annihilate Israel, has passed. Like so much of the Palestinian narrative, it relies upon Jewish and Zionist history for its power to rally support for the Palestinian “right of return” – to the Land of Israel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ludicrous claim that “we have been in this land since before Abraham” – indeed, “since the beginning of civilization” – and that his Palestinian “forefathers . . . built Jerusalem before Abraham was even here,” plagiarizes the biblical narrative while erasing Jewish history in its own homeland. How ironic that Abbas, defending these absurdities, should claim: “History cannot change and cannot be falsified.”
At the core of Palestinian national history, which began under the British Mandate following World War I, is the Naqba of 1948-49 when many hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes in what became the State of Israel by cruel conquering Zionists. Embedded in that tragic narrative, embraced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to justify its own continued existence and lavish funding, is blatant deception reinforced by seven decades of international gullibility and acquiescence.
There is, to begin with, the question of numbers: how many Palestinian refugees were there in 1948-49? According to The New York Times, whose originally inflated number constantly grew over time: from 800,000 to 850,000 to 870,000 to 900,000 to “almost one million” (according to correspondent Cyrus Sulzberger, the publisher’s nephew).
In reality, according to the thorough research of Efraim Karsh, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University and author of the carefully documented Palestine Betrayed (2010), between 536,000-566,800 Palestinians fled from their homes during the Arab war to exterminate Israel. Yet the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which exists for the sole purpose of assisting Palestinian refugees, now provides financial support for 5,000,000 – yes, five million – of them.
The only refugees in the world with their own UN support agency, Palestinians also are the only refugees who can defy mortality rates to increase in number over time. This “unparalleled indulgence,” Karsh writes, “has kept them on the U.N.’s dole for decades under false humanitarian pretense.” Consequently, Palestinians – despite their woeful tale of refugee displacement and enduring sorrow – have become “the most privileged refugee group ever.”
What, then, does history – not Palestinian fake “history” that continues to feed relentless criticism of Israel – reveal? As Karsh notes in “The Privileged Palestinian ‘Refugees’” (Middle East Forum, May 14, 2018), 80% of the Palestinians who fled from their homes remained within “the country of their nationality at the outbreak of hostilities, namely mandatory Palestine.” How so? Because they relocated to the West Bank and Gaza, within Palestinian boundaries ever since the League of Nations Mandate defined Palestine in 1921. Nonetheless they were supported by UNRWA as if they had left Palestine behind.
The biggest UNRWA scam, however, is its definition of “refugee,” which includes children, grandchildren and their descendants as yet unborn. Instead of an ever diminishing number over time, as death inevitably claims the 30,000 genuine Palestinian refugees still living, theirs is an ever increasing number with every future generation. Indeed, there now are as many UNRWA employees as there are genuine refugees – and the UN charade continues, unimpeded by reality.
Karsh notes that the majority of Palestinians who fled from within the borders of Mandatory Palestine – to the Gaza Strip (under Eqyptian rule) and the West Bank (annexed by Jordan in 1950) – could not return to their former homes in what became Israel. Blame is shared: for their own reasons, Egypt, Jordan and Israel would not permit it. Nonetheless, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were still living within the borders of Mandatory Palestine. And West Bank Palestinians (numbering 280,000), in addition to those who had crossed the Jordan River, became Jordanian citizens. By definition, they no longer were refugees – yet they still remain beneficiaries of UNRWA largesse enjoyed by no other refugees.
There is an obvious humanitarian solution: Israel should grant the right of return to any Palestinian who can document his or her departure from Palestine in 1947-48. By definition, this would exclude anyone younger than age 70. But what Karsh identifies as the Palestinians’ “misguided sense of victimized entitlement,” abetted by UNRWA, the Palestinian Authority and Arab states, shows no sign of abating. The Palestinian slogan – in victimization lies victory – dooms future generations of its own people. That is the real Palestinian tragedy.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016, to be published this summer by Academic Studies Press.