Palestinian Myth: “The Right of Return”
By David Bukay
Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 @ 9:34PM
The right of return is the last means of the Palestinians to achieve their objectives of establishing one big Palestinian state on the entire territory of Palestine. That goal retains its unequivocal meaning whatever euphemism one prefers, such as the ‘two-state solution;’ ‘a bi-national state;’ ‘a state for all its citizens;’ ‘a multicultural state,’ and so forth. All of the terms mentioned above, and others, have in fact an equivalent meaning: the destruction of the State of Israel as a Jewish-Zionist state.
The formal issues
Under the title: “The returning issue of Palestine’s refugees,” Saeb Erekat, the PA chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel, has published an article in the British Guardian, on December 10, 2010, in which he elaborated the PA stand on the issue. The right of return of all the refugees, seven million people, to their home is unconditional, non-negotiable and a must for any solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. His main assertions are:
**during the war of 1948, nearly three-quarters of the entire indigenous Palestinian population had been displaced by Israeli forces. The creation of the State of Israel would have been impossible without the mass expulsion of Palestinians.
**the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194, calling for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and the awarding of compensation for their losses.
**Israel’s admission as a member to the UN was contingent on its adherence to the principles of resolution 194.
**Israel has barred Palestinians displaced between 1947 and 1949, and again in 1967, from returning to their homes or receiving restitution for their lost property. Return and restitution en masse to their former places of residence as the remedy of choice has a strong international precedent.
**even if we accept the Israeli narrative that refugees left voluntarily – which has been proven false for the vast majority – there is no doubt about the fact that when refugees attempted to return according to their legal right, they were blocked by newly drafted Israeli legislation and declared infiltrators on their property.
**the Palestinian refugees are the oldest and largest refugee community in the world today. This period of dispossession, known to Palestinians as al-Nakba or “the catastrophe,” is the seminal Palestinian experience and source of collective identity.
**the fact that Israel bears responsibility for the creation of the refugees is beyond argument. Israeli historians had debunked the traditional Zionist mythology and shown how Zionist leaders before 1948 formulated plans to displace the indigenous Palestinian population to create a Jewish majority state.
**the Palestinians constituted a majority in every district of historic Palestine before 1948 and also owned over 90% of the land.
**the Palestinian refugees constitute more than 7 million people worldwide, 70% of the entire Palestinian population.
**Disregarding their legitimate legal rights enshrined in international law, their understandable grievances accrued over prolonged displacement would certainly make any peace signed with Israel completely untenable. The return of refugees has been considered necessary for the stability of peace.
**Israel’s recognition of Palestinian refugee rights and its agreement to provide reparation will not change the reality in the Middle East overnight nor will it lead to an existential crisis for Israel. What it will certainly do is mark the beginning of a new reality that will no longer be rooted in repression, denial of rights, and discrimination. It will lead to a lasting peace.
These views and assertions made by Erekat, cover most Palestinian perspectives and therefore are necessarily deemed to be addressed thoroughly to refute them as twisted, falsified and distorted claims, not to render them mere lies.
The real issues of the right of return
The Palestinians’ right of return was never related to the occupation of 1967 territories, but to the 1948 occupation; and it is not two states’ solution living in peace, based on territorial division of 1967 border (with or without exchanged territories), but the entire territory ‘from the Sea to the River.’ This reality is proved by the demand to fulfill and to accomplish the right of return, which is a pure euphemism to Israel’s destruction as a Jewish-Zionist independent state.
Nowadays it is connected with the term Nakba, which was applied to the events of 1948 by Constantine Zureik, in his 1948 book Ma’na al-Nakbah (The Meaning of the Disaster). The symbol of return is the key carried by the refugees to reaffirm the collective memory of’ the Nakbah that shaped their identity.
However, it is highly worthwhile to examine the origin of the term. It was born not in 1948 but 1920 by the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine as to affirm their Syrian collective affiliation. George Antonius, a Lebanese Greek Orthodox, an admirer of Hitler and a close friend of the Nazi Party member, Amin al-Husseini, reveals in his The Arab Awakening that the term Nakba used by the local Arabs in 1920 bears a totally opposite meaning from that later on used in 1948. In 1920, the term meant the catastrophe of the territorial separation between Palestine under British Mandate and “Syria” under French control. For the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine the territory was known only as Southern Syria (Suria al-Janubīyah), a territory without identical uniqueness, but a sub-territory of the regional territory of Syria (Bilād al-Shām).
Being historically a political, social and economic part of Syria, and bearing no typical identity and nationality, this separation was seen as a real catastrophe to the local Arabs, a reflection of their Syrian identity. That means, in 1948 the Nakbah was not seen as a crisis of a “Palestinian” national identity and lost of independence, but the opposite. It was only from 1998, under Arafat orders that the Palestinians began officially to celebrate the Nakbah, on May 15 each year.
The reality is well elaborated by the following declaration of the PA leadership on the Nakbah day of 2012:
“Israel caused the Palestinian’s historical and national identity to disappear. It established its fascist state upon the ruins of the Palestinian people, which has suffered the greatest and ugliest ethnic cleansing known to modern history. May 15 is the day of expulsion and uprooting of the Palestinian people from its soil, from its homeland, from its towns and its villages, which were destroyed by the Nazi Zionists. This happened against the background of world silence and confusion of the Arab armies, who withdrew before the greatest theft in history and before the most criminal act that humanity has ever seen. We remember you, all of Palestine, until we return to you, oh Haifa, Acre, and Jaffa. All of Palestine belongs solely to us, and we will return to you.”
This is the real issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is the entire territory they call Palestine that the Palestinians demand without any compromise whatsoever. It is the existence of a Jewish state on any territory, and not the 1967 ‘occupation,’ and it is best symbolized by their demand for the right of return (Haqq al-‘Awdah). This has become the main Palestinian slogan; a living symbol of their plight and their sole political tool to eradicate the State of Israel. It has become a sacred right as well as an inalienable and basic human right, whose applicability is protected under international law.
The Nakbah is the biggest national Palestinian narrative, a totalistic conception which depicts the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as the original sin. There is only one just solution for that sin: turning the clock back to 1948. Every year, the legend grows and folklore myths arise as about the crimes committed against the poor Palestinians, and even, God forbids, these equated with the Holocaust. When all the Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants return to their homes, this will entail ending of the “Zionist hegemony” and peace will reign in Palestine.
However, during the 1948 war and until 1967, Western world at large, including the Left syndrome of the academia and the media, expressed hardly any moral complaints about the refugees. This had nothing to do with Western colonialism and not with Israel’s existence or occupation but had much to do with the emergence of the Palestinian national myth, a recent radical distortion of history myth. At the same time, all shared the conventional wisdom that wars inevitably produce refugees. There was no mentioning of Israeli atrocities or crimes against Arabs, and nobody recalled or used the Nakbah slogan. As a political narrative, it entered the Palestinian historical myths only from 1998, by the decision of Arafat.
Even Stone, a harsh anti-Israel left-winger, explains the exodus of the Arabs in 1948, immediately when the Arabs started of the fighting. Arab states were moving in, and the local population was moving out. Stone blames Arab leaders that encouraged the flight of the refugees and specifically the grand mufti for giving explicit orders to abandon Haifa, threatened by them to comply with the demand.
The right of return was defined as the ‘foremost of Palestinian rights’ at the 12th PNC meeting in June 1974, the first component of the PLO’s trinity. The other two are the right of self-determination and the right to establish its independent state on its national land. This was remarked in November 1974, with Arab Petro-dollar pressures, when the UN General Assembly Resolution 3236 declared the right of return to be an ‘inalienable right.’
UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and its meanings
The legal justification of the Palestinian’s demands is the UN General Assembly Resolution 194, from December 11, 1948. However, the resolution that includes 15 paragraphs is concerned in the main with establishing a Conciliation Commission to carry out the specific functions and directives given to it by the General Assembly or by the Security Council to facilitate a truce between the fighting parties in 1948 war.
Of the 15 paragraphs, the first six sections addressed ways to achieve a truce; the next four paragraphs addressed the ways that Jerusalem and surroundings should be demilitarized, and how an international jurisdiction would be created in and around it. The resolution also called on all parties to protect and allow free access to holy places, including religious buildings.
Only in paragraph 11 does it mention “that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors, should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property…” It also “Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation…”
The Resolution’s “refugee clause” is not a stand-alone item, as the Arabs would have us think, nor does it pertain specifically to Palestinian Arab refugees. Contrary to Arab claims, it did not guarantee a Right of Return and certainly did not guarantee an unconditional Right of Return – that is the right of Palestinian Arab refugees to return to Israel. The resolution was aimed at all refugees, both Jewish and Arab. The fact that plural wording is used – “governments or authorities” – suggests that, contrary to Arab claims, the burden of compensation does not fall solely on one side, as Arab armies invaded Israel, Israel was not responsible for creating the refugee problem.
That is all concerning refugees in the document. Not ‘the Palestinian refugees’ and not ‘the Palestinian people;’ even not ‘Arab refugees,’ just ‘refugees.’ This is so typical to the Palestinians to expropriate annex and usurp everything, like the history of the Land of Israel; like that, they are the ancient people on the land, in fact, the ancient people in history; and that Jerusalem belongs wholly and only to them. However, the reason and the essence of UN Resolution 194 was mediation between the fighting parties of the 1948 war. The local Arabs — only years later on called Palestinians — were not involved militarily on the battleground.
The text merely states that refugees ‘should be permitted,’ meaning the other party allows them to return to their homes at the ‘earliest practicable date,’ and this recommendation applies only to those ‘wishing to live at peace with their neighbors.’ Moreover, according to Lapidoth, the refugees cannot seek a ‘right of return,’ as it is an individual and not a collective right. The claims of en masse return are not anchored in international law and have never been practiced.
For a host of reasons, Israel has failed to raise the issue of the injustice done to almost a million Jewish refugees from Arab countries. This was a pure ethnic cleansing by the premeditated state-sponsored persecution that prompted the flight of Jews from their homes, leaving behind all their property. The Arab denial of the issue and the refusal to recognize their responsibility represent a pure attempt to rewrite and falsify history. Even The New York Times reported on May 16, 1948:
“For nearly four months, the United Nations has had before it, an appeal for ‘immediate and urgent’ consideration of the case of the Jewish populations in Arab and Muslim countries stretching from Morocco to India… The very survival of the Jewish communities in certain Arab and Muslim countries is in danger, unless preventive action is taken without delay.”
Part two: the refugees, UNRWA, and the Arab states
The number of the refugees has become a monstrous political issue, as the Arab leaders and contemporary Palestinians inflate the figures into absurdities. The best research that seeks to provide a comprehensive and accurate estimation of the actual number of refugees in 1948 war is Karsh’s. In a thorough and industrious study, Karsh patiently and accurately lists the exact figures of the Arab exodus in 1947-48, according to cities, villages and districts: how many left and how many remained. While listing these, he uses primary sources and evidence that aims at unmasking the distortions and revealing the truth behind Arab legends. The figures are: total Arab refugees: 583,121–609,071; and refugees resettled in Israeli localities: 19,072.
The UN estimated the number of refugees after 1948 war at 711,000, while Ralph Bunche set the number at 472,000 and anticipated the maximum slightly over 500,000. However, United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR) from December 1948, found 962,643 refugees.
The overall percentage of the refugees among Arab population of Mandatory Palestine was estimated between 50 percent and 80 percent. From December 1947 and March 1948, around 100,000 Arabs left, among them many from the higher and middle classes from the cities, who left voluntarily, with their properties, expecting to return when the situation calms down. By May 1948, the number of those who fled mainly from the mixed towns was estimated between 175,000 to 300,000. Karsh lists the number from all cities as 247,403 – 248,403.
After the truce of June, about 100,000 Arabs became refugees. About 35,000 inhabitants of Lydda and Ramle were mostly expelled towards Ramallah. The Israeli offensive in the South and the North generated an exodus of 200,000 to 220,000 Arabs. Almost all of them fled, and a small minority was expelled. After the war, from 1948 to 1950, around 30,000 Arabs were expelled.
The final 1949 UNRWA estimate of the refugee count was 726,000. However, the number of registered refugees was 914,000. This number was inflated by “duplication of ration cards, the addition of persons not displaced are destitute.” UNWRA additionally noted that “all births are eagerly announced, the deaths wherever possible are passed over in silence,” as well as the fact that “the birthrate is high in any case…” Arab delegates in the UN General Assembly in 1949 and 1950 inflated the number of refugees between one million and two million.
In 2002, the number who qualify for UNRWA’s services had grown to over 4 million, one-third of whom live in the West Bank and Gaza; slightly less than one-third in Jordan; 17% in Syria and Lebanon, and around 15% in other Arab and Western countries. Approximately one million refugees have no form of identification other than a UNRWA card. Today, five million Palestinian refugees are eligible for UNRWA services. According to James G. Lindsay, former UNRWA general counsel, under UNRWA’s definition, this figure represents only half of those potentially eligible for Palestine refugee status.
Indeed, the debate over the number of Arab refugees is ridiculous, corrupt and exaggerated to absurdities. With the very close assistance of UNRWA, the Arab and Palestinian distortions and falsification reach to the highest record. The dominant Palestinian narrative is that all of the refugees, seven million according to Erekat, have the un-negotiable right to return, and that means according to UNRWA, the number has skyrocketed from 750,000 in 1950 to five million.
That is why the US Senate Appropriations Committee has approved on October 24, 2012, amendment to a bill that would change the definition of ‘Palestinian refugees’ from the outrageous millions to about thirty thousand (the number of the original refugees that are still alive). This is the right course to stop the corrupting approach of the inherited status of refuge to the end of history. Steven J. Rosen has defined this shameful reality: “Given UNRWA’s standards, eventually all humans will be Palestine refugees.”
The Role of UNRWA
UNRWA was established under UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 and began operations on 1 May 1950. It defines refugees qualifying for its services as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict” and also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948.
On December 14, 1950, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established by the United Nations General Assembly. Now, consider the following depressing facts:
**UNRWA continues to work independently for the Palestinians alone. Though it treats only 14% of world’s refugee population (with its inflated figures), its budget is considerably more than half of that of UNHCR. For 2008 its budget was $541.8 million, with an additional special project of $263.4 million.
**UNRWA treats five million with almost 30,000 workers, while UNHCR has a staff of 6,300 workers to attend to 33 million world refugees. It provides for Palestinian refugees at a level that exceeds UN assistance for all refugees worldwide.
**UNHCR is mandated to ‘promote solutions’ to refugee problems and to complete as fast as possible their rehabilitation, while UNRWA strengthens, continues and inflates the Palestinian refugees, never to allow any solution. That means they continue to live on the charity of the world even though their socio-economic situation is better than hundreds of millions of people around the world.
**UNHCR assists the world’s refugees with basic humanitarian treatment and quickly leaves them alone, while UNRWA gives the Palestinian refugees the entire means of living, from medical, to educational, and to a monthly orderly food supplies. Moreover, it focuses on the right of return of the refugees, which practically means a continuation of parasitic life at the expense of the world to the end of history.
That is why UNRWA, which was conceptualized as a temporary agency when it was founded, has evolved into a monstrous size, and with its huge bureaucracy and major infrastructure, the biggest organization of the UN and also one the biggest employers in the entire region. As the majority of its workers are Palestinians, and as UNRWA acts from the beginning to continue and to conserve the issue, it has become one of the main causes why the refugee problem is unsolvable and why the right of return has become an inalienable political demand.
The U.N. deliberately makes the Palestinian ‘refugee’ problem worse. The activity of UNRWA is counterproductive regarding the intention and possibility of resolving the Palestinian refugee problem. Not only has it relegated the refugees to a state of passivity and dependency, but it plays a great part for the continuation of the situation, even refuses proposals to solve the issue. It is an anti-Israeli body par-excellence that promotes hatred and even anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately, it is reiterated by the Palestinians at large that there will be no resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even no genuine cessation of violence until the refugee issue is realistically resolved. The grotesque reality of the UNRWA camps containing millions of ‘refugees’ stems from a profound rejection of Israel. This deep-rooted hatred so deeply inserted in Arab-Islamic civilization is aggravated by UNRWA activity, in fact, by its existence.
As the major funding of UNRWA comes from the US, Canada and the European Union (Saudi Arabia and the Gulf oil states, these poor short of money states collectively contribute just over 2 percent, while Egypt, Iraq and Syria and other Arab states contribute nothing), it is highly recommended that these nations must exert all needed pressures to totally change the situation. One must abolish UNRWA as a separate corrupt organization that squanders funds and merge it with UNHCR. Not only are the Palestinians not better and superior to the other many millions of refugees around the world, but their situation in every aspect is much higher and better.
Who is to be blamed for the creation of the Arab refugee problem?
First, one must ask: what were the causes of war? Who was the aggressor militarily? Who invaded the lands of a sovereign state, and therefore who is to be blamed for the creation of the refugee issue? The 1948 war was one of the very clear cases that point out who was the aggressor and who defended and fought for its existence. The 1948 refugee crisis was instigated by the invading Arab armies, who aimed at eliminating the Jewish people and demolishing the State of Israel. These aims were reiterated loud and clear by all Arab leaders and shown by the military plans.
The Arab refugee problem was caused by a war of aggression, launched by the Arab states against Israel in 1947 and 1948. If there had been no war against Israel, there would be no problem of Arab refugees today. Once you determine the responsibility for that war, you have determined the responsibility for the refugee problem. Nothing in the history of our generation is clearer or less controversial than the initiative of Arab governments for the conflict out of which the refugee tragedy emerged. The origins of that conflict are defined by the confessions of Arab governments themselves, as “a war of extermination, a momentous massacre to be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.”
Second, not only were the Arab states the aggressors, but the full blame is on the Arab leaders who ordered the local Arab inhabitants to evacuate the battle zone to allow the Arab armies freedom of operation. The Arab flight was caused by the Arab military invasion and their encouragement to leave their homes. On September 9, 1948, Emile Ghoury, the secretary of the Arab Higher Committee said:
“The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the action of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state. The Arab states agreed upon this policy unanimously, and they must share in the solution of the problem.”
In April 1948, when the flight of the refugees was in full swing, the UN Palestine Commission “inscribed its verdict on the tablets of history:”
“Arab opposition to the plan of the Assembly of 29 November 1947 has taken the form of organized efforts to prevent its implementation and to thwart its objectives by threats and acts of violence, including repeated armed incursions into Palestine territory. The Commission has had to report to the Security Council that powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of’ the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.”
The Arab States encouraged the Arabs to leave their homes to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies. For example, the Arab Liberation Army (Jaish al-Inqādh al-`Arabi) embarked on a systematic evacuation of Arabs from their frontier villages to turn them into military strongholds.Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugee’s flight from their homes in Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem and the villages around.
This view is also the new trend in Palestinian politics. Although the backbone of Palestinian media is the myth that Israel expelled the Arabs and created the refugees’ problem, there is an increasing willingness to openly blame the Arab states:
“The Arabs who became refugees in 1948 were not expelled by Israel but left on their own to facilitate the destruction of Israel. This plan to leave Israel was initiated by Arab states, who promised the people they would be able to return to their homes in a few days once Israel was defeated. The Arab support was a big illusion.”
“The leaders and the elites promised that the duration of the exile would not be long. Afterward, the refugees will return to their homes… the promises were lost.”
The case of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the PA Chief, is indicative. Uttering this criticism of Arab responsibility, he admitted in 2009 that his family was not driven out from Tzfat (Safad) in 1948, but rather left to Damascus on its own will. Speaking of al-Filastīnīyya TV, Abbas said that the Arabs left Tzfat for they feared the violent reaction of the Zionists as a revenge of the 1929 massacre. They felt that the balance of power had collapsed and decided to leave.
Even more important, when Abbas talks about his Palestinian roots, and that the Palestinians were in the land ‘from time immemorial,’ it is notable that Damascus was the place where his family had originated 80 years earlier. Joan Peters, while analyzing the origins of the Arab population of Mandatory Palestine, writes that in 1860, “Algerian tribes moved from Damascus en masse to Safed.” The Muslims in the city were mostly descended from Moorish settlers and Kurds.
Taking this evidence, it is clear why Israel is not obligated to allow the Palestinians to return or to compensate them. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_right_of_return – cite_note-AJAC-92 ) The Palestinians flight was mainly voluntary, as a result of Arab nations’ aggressive military invasion to eliminate an independent state and as a response to their leaders’ call. They encouraged, in fact, ordered, the Arabs to evacuate the battle zone to make it easier for the Arab armies to demolish Israel. Therefore, they are responsible for the refugee problem.
Third, legally, the General Assembly resolutions are not binding operatively in international law as they are recommendations only. Of no less importance is that the physical return and compensation are not the usual case in international law and practice. Moreover, Resolution 194 does not specifically apply to Arab refugees, but to refugees due to the results of 1948 war. That includes Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab countries in 1948-9 and their properties confiscated. Their absorption in the State of Israel does not preclude them from getting compensation. Between 1948 and 1956 almost 750,000 Jews were expelled and fled from the Arab states, with property losses in the billions of dollars. This means that the migration of refugees between Israel and the Arabs essentially constituted a population exchange, and that is the best way to handle and solve the issue.
Indeed, during those same years, there was a long series of slaughters, of pogroms, of property confiscation and deportations against Jews in Islamic countries, and this was purely vindictive. The only difference is that the Jews did not turn their Nakbah into a founding ethos; did not define themselves as victims, and did not choose to live at the expense of world’s charity.
This trend is also proven with the UN Security Council 242. It does not mention a right of return of the Palestinians nor a Palestinian people, or any other arrangement as a mandatory solution. It just calls for a ‘just settlement’ to the refugee issue, and this must also to include the issue of Jewish refugees.
Fourth, according to international law, the article guarantees a right of return to ‘one’s own country,’ but the Arabs who were displaced were never citizens or legal residents of any state, bearing no national identity, let alone expelled from the State of Israel. Moreover, international law does not approve any state, group, or person to actively aim at the destruction of a sovereign state. Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with ‘conflicts not of an international character,’ makes no mention of a right of return for displaced persons at the expense of the ‘rights’ and ‘general welfare’ of the other state’s citizens. In fact, Israel’s existence would be mortally endangered if millions of Palestinians who are openly hostile to Israel, indeed its very existence, become a majority in the State of Israel.
There is also much confusion regarding the meaning of ‘repatriation.’ ‘Patria’ is not a mere geographical concept. Resettlement of the Palestinian refugees in Israel would be not repatriation, but alienation from Arab society and culture — if they wish to live in peace in Israel, according to its laws and culture. A true repatriation of an Arab refugee would be a process which brought him into union with people who share his conditions of language and heritage, his national loyalty and cultural identity.
Lastly, like every other nation admitted to the UN, Israel was admitted by Article 4 of the Charter. A scrutiny of the text of Israel’s application for membership and the discussions that took place in the Ad Hoc Political Committee and the plenary session of the General Assembly show that no such commitment was made; nor did the General Assembly’s Resolution on the admission of Israel impose upon her an obligation to implement Resolution 194.
Part Three: Arab perspectives and other resemblances
Although out of generosity and good intention for peace, Israel proposed, during the 1949 Lausanne Conference the return of 100,000 refugees, provided that a peace treaty with all Arab states were signed and the neighboring Arab states absorbed the remaining 550,000 refugees. The Arab states rejected the proposal outright.
Indeed, for the Arab leaders, even the Palestinians, the refugee problem is not a moral or social one but merely political. They do not want to solve the problem ever, but to achieve through it the demise of Israel. Arab and Palestinian leaders not only do not care about the refugees’ situation but deliberately leave it untouched as their best weapon against Israel. It is the political decision of the Arab governments not to grant citizenship to the Palestinians and their descendants, let alone to assimilate them. This is the Arab League policy, so as “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland.” This fact was stated by the former head of UNRWA, Ralph Galloway:
“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 UN, and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders do not give a damn whether Arab refugees live or die.”
The best proof is the years between 1948 and 1967. Internationally and regionally, there was no problem associated with the ‘Palestinian People,’ with the ‘Palestinian refugees,’ or with a place called ‘Palestine.’ There were only ‘Arab refugees’ and the question of Israel’s existence. After 1948, Jordan annexed the West Bank, which was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan, while Egypt retained the mandatory regime in Gaza, with a continued night curfew until 1967. Only after 1967 war, did there emerge a fully evolved and institutionalized the issue of “Palestinian refugees.”
On that score, we should recall the treatment the Palestinians received at the hands of their ‘brother’ (Shaqīqah) Arabs leaders. In Jordan in 1970, came the massacre of ‘Black September,’ and it was Israel that allowed them to enter. In Lebanon, where the Palestinians were “inflicted” by Syria, events culminated in December 1983 ‘Tripoli Massacre’ and the PLO headquarters’ expulsion to Tunis; and the tens of thousands were expelled from the Persian Gulf states after the 1991 war, as a reaction to Arafat’s support for Iraq, without any rights whatsoever. Once again Israel permitted them to return.
The clear answer why to define them as ‘refugees’ and to keep them in camps was given by the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon: if a Palestinian state were to be established in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian refugees “would not become citizens” of it, as ‘they are from all over Palestine.’ A Palestinian state “will never affect the right of return for Palestinian refugees.” In other words: keeping so many “refugees” indefinitely, at U.S. and European expense, is to keep alive not their “right” to “return” but to continue the conflict with Israel till its demise.
About the refugee issues, the following facts should be emphasized:
a) In the twentieth century, there were 130 million refugees in the world, of them 79 million refugees were created during 1933-1945. Compare these figures to the only 600,000 Arabs (less than one-half of one percent), and one gets the real proportion of the situation. Over 90 percent of the refugees in the world have been rehabilitated, residing in the places where they resettled, without any compensation.
No rights of return or compensation were available for the 8.5 million Hindus and Sikhs leaving Pakistan for India and 6.5 million Muslims fleeing India to Pakistan during the partition of India after the British withdrawal in 1947. Similarly, this holds for the 13 million Germans who were expelled from the Sudetenland, Poland, and other East European States after World War II. In both cases, they were forced to leave behind their property and were never compensated or allowed to return.
No compensation was offered to the nine million Koreans who fled to the South after the division of the country. No compensation was offered to the two million refugees involved in a population exchange following the 1919-22 Greco-Turkish War, codified by 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. No compensation was offered to the millions of Germans fleeing from East to West Germany after World War II; to the millions became refugees in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, due to ruthless regimes, following the US withdrawal; to the 700,000 Chinese refugees in Hong Kong; to the 440,000 Finns separated from their homeland by a change of frontier with the Soviet Union; or to the tens of thousands of Turkish refugees from Bulgaria.
This also applies to the exchange of two and a half million people between Poland and the Soviet Union and population transfer of millions that occurred among USSR and Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania; to the millions that moved in Africa because of the European imperialist border delineations. Indeed, international law neither requires nor expects the reversal of population exchanges. Indeed, Israel has been singled out as an extreme exception in the international law, because of the Arab-Muslim states’ aggressive, impudent behavior.
B) Despite the many billions of dollars received by the Palestinians, not even one refugee family has been “rehabilitated” and left the camps. The enormous donations to the Palestinians are unfortunately earmarked mainly for corruption and terrorism. Those who are in need in Asia and Africa receive nothing. The poverty, misery, and wretchedness are really in other places of the world, but mostly the Palestinians get the world’s financial attention. The Palestinians are living off the world’s charity at the expense of those who are truly in need of charity. They received money more than all the above-mentioned many millions of refugees combined, and still, they grumble. There are, according to the UN research data, one billion people around the world, who earn two dollars a day. They are poor and miserable. You will not find even one Palestinian among them. But again, world charity goes to those who need not these contributions, at the expense of the needy
c) Of all the tens of millions of refugees in the world, only the Arab refugees are given automatically special refugee status in the UN. Only in their case does this status transfer from generation to generation until the end of history. In 1965 and 1982, UNRWA made outrageous decisions, unique in history, never applied to any other refugee population in the world, to define the Palestinian refugees’ children and grandchildren as “refugees.” Only the Palestinian “refugees,” of all others in the world, receive a regular monthly basket of food whatever the situation is and circumstances are. If the current situation persists, their number will reach fifteen million by 2050. This unique reality proves how distorted and disgraceful is their claim, and at the same time, it shows the world’s capitulating behavior, not to mention its hypocrisy.
Moreover, every aspect of life, including education, in the UNRWA refugee camps is oriented around the realization of the “right of return” of the refugees, although only about half of one percent of them are real refugees who fit its original definition. Stopping this corrupt policy would mean ceasing to play along with a deception of ever-historic proportions. Refusing to keep nurturing ever-growing millions of Arabs trained not only to live at the charity of the world but also to believe that the only acceptable solution is the elimination of Israel, is a must.
D) The Palestinian refugee problem is absolutely a political one. It is not a problem of refugees since only a small minority of them live in camps; it is not misery and poverty claims, since the socioeconomic and the standards of living clearly show that their situation not only resembles hundreds of millions of Third World countries but are superior; it is not the problem of a people uprooted from its land, since most of them live in the land of Mandatory Palestine; it is not social wretchedness, as it is the same as the other Palestinians around the refugee camps within the neighboring cities. Nor is the Palestinian issue a problem of a society that was dispersed among foreign and antagonistic environments, since almost all Palestinians live and reside in Muslim-majority populations and culture. When we reflect that the kinship of language, religion, social background and national sentiment existing between the refugees and their Arab host countries, it is clear that their integration is a feasible, easy process culturally and socio-politically.
E) Moreover, the political aspect of the Palestinian refugee problem reflects another important issue. There are almost two hundred national-ethnic peoples in the world begging desperately for freedom and statehood, and they do not wish to gain their independence at the cost of ruining other nations. In the Middle East, we find the Kurds, a historical people with a unique and strong national identity. We also find the Berbers in North Africa and the Nubians in Egypt. There are also the Christians, whose origins are in the Middle East, who are scattered all over the region and now are virtually an extinct species.
F) This reality is also proven by the following examples. In April 2004, the UN General Assembly decided that it is impossible to implement the rights of the two hundred thousand Greeks and the fifty thousand Turks to return to their homes in partitioned Cyprus, because ‘the new reality which has been created’ must be taken into consideration. This stand of the UN is also the position of the EU. However, why is Palestine their view totally different?
After World War II, millions of Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Romania and were absorbed in Germany, with no refugee procedure. Few of them are seeking to return to their homes in the Sudetenland, say, from which they were banished. They are not demanding to dissolve the country from which they were deported; they are not demanding to replace it, and they are not demanding monetary compensation. They just want to go back to the lands that belonged to their families for many generations. In August 2004, the German government determined that there is no right of return and even no reparations. The attitude of Germany towards the Palestinian refugee problem is different.
In 1968, the British Government exiled 5,000 of the residents of the Island of Diego Garcia for the purpose of constructing an American air base. In 2003, their demand to return to their homes was rejected by the British High Court of Justice that ruled that the residents have neither the right to return nor to receive compensation. Again, the Palestinian refugee case is much easier, yet the British stand toward the Palestinian refugee problem is unfortunately different.
* David Bukay is a Professor at the School of Political Sciences, the University of Haifa