World must step up to assist Palestinian refugees
The Israeli-Arab conflict is perhaps the most widely reported issue in international media.
But one party to this conflict is ignored by the rest of the world. Used and abused for decades, left homeless and abandoned, they spend their miserable lives dreaming an impossible dream.
This is the sad reality of Palestinian refugees. In 1948, between 500,000 and 750,000 Arabs left the British Mandate of Palestine. Some left under the guidance of Arab nations who promised a quick victory against the Jews. Some were expelled by Jewish military forces. And some simply fled the crossfire of war.
Had the Arab leadership accepted the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan proposing two states, one Arab and one Jewish, there would have been no war and no refugees. But they rejected the plan, objecting to any Jewish state whatsoever. When the new state of Israel was created in 1948 per the Partition Plan, seven Arab armies invaded and the rest is history.
As a result of the war, approximately 850,000 Jewish refugees were created across the Arab world. They were not allowed to take their belongings with them, nor were they compensated by Arab governments for the land or property left behind. But all these refugees were resettled, most in Israel, and today there is no Jewish refugee problem.
The dream held onto by the Palestinian refugees is a return to Palestine. After Israeli victories in the 1967 Six Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War, this dream became but a pipedream. Israel would not be driven to the sea, contrary to the wishes of her enemies.
Today, the number of Palestinian refugees has reached 4.7 million. The reason for this continued growth is that descendants of the original refugees are granted equal refugee status. This anomaly is unprecedented and perpetuates the problem. Furthermore, Palestinian refugees cannot shed their refugee status by becoming citizens of other countries.
Palestinian refugees continue to be jailed in overcrowded and impoverished refugee camps across the Middle East. Unlike other refugee groups, which are supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC), Palestinian refugees are under the care of a special group, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Rather than resettle and naturalize Palestinian refugees so that they can start a new life for themselves and their families, UNRWA keeps them trapped in refugee camps with no realistic hope of getting out.
As Palestinian journalist Khaled abu Toameh puts it, the refugees have been lied to for decades. Millions of people are deceived into believing they will be permitted to move into Israel and reclaim land that was inhabited by their ancestors.
Recently, a senior UNRWA official named Andrew Whitley called it a “cruel illusion” to maintain this lie and said that refugees should instead fight to be accepted as equal citizens of the countries in which they currently live. Whitley was reprimanded and it was announced that he would be leaving UNRWA.
As admitted by several Arab leaders such as Egyptian FM Muhammad Salah al-Din in 1949, the Palestinian refugees are used as political pawns in a mission to destroy Israel. Meanwhile, almost nothing has been done by Arab or Palestinian governments to improve their living conditions. Of the top 20 donors to UNRWA in 2008, not one was from the Middle East. The United States was the top donor at around $268 million. Lebanon gave a generous $1,703. Saudi Arabia donated nothing.
As a matter of fact, Arab governments have been the worst perpetrators of injustice towards Palestinians.
The Arab League instructs nations to deny citizenship to Palestinian refugees, including those who have never set foot elsewhere.
Lebanon truly commits a crime comparable to apartheid, legally denying Palestinians entry into 73 job categories, leaving them with only the most undesired and low-paying jobs.
They are also not allowed to enter the health care and school systems or to purchase property and they require a special permit to leave their camps.
Arab nations are responsible for far more Palestinian deaths than Israel. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed in events such as Black September in Jordan and the Civil War in Lebanon, including the War of the Camps and the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.
It’s time the international community realizes the abuse being committed and demands that it stop. If Arab nations do not care to help their Palestinian brothers, then the rest of the world must step up.