What if the Palestinian Refugees were …. ?
What do you think would have happened if the Palestinian Arabs languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and even in the Palestinian Authority (yes, the PA keeps their own people in refugee camps within their own territory under their own control) were Jewish rather than Arabs? What if they simply were just not-‘Palestinian’-Arabs?
First of all, let us look at refugees from other countries to see how their treatment differs from that of the Palestinian Arabs.
Most news-media-reading individuals know that the Palestinian Arabs have their very own UN organization that oversees their ‘care’. It is called UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East); all other refugees fall under the auspices of the UNHRC (the UN High Commissioner for Refugees). And, while some Israelis protest this special attention to Palestinian Arab refugees (but the Israeli government seems not to do so), it appears that the rest of the world accepts this as legitimate without even wondering about the ramifications of this bifurcation. On their respective websites we see that:
- UNRWA operates in Gaza, Judea & Samaria (what Jordan called the West Bank and it stuck), Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The UNHCR operates everywhere. There is even the absurd situation in which Syrian refugees in Lebanon in general are handled by UNHCR while Syrian-Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are handled by UNRWA.
- Both UNRWA and UNHCR (for example, their Kenya page) list their responsibilities on their websites. The distinguishing difference is that while UNHCR undertakes refugee status determination and works toward resettlement of the refugees, UNRWA does not have a legally recognized definition of the Palestinian refugee nor do they even consider the possibility of resettlement.
In fact, Jordanian law makes the reason for this latter point clear: they seek to maintain the differentiation between Palestinian-Jordanians and ‘Real’ Jordanians in order not to damage the chances of returning the former to the land now under Israeli sovereign control. The Jordanian attitude is that, in spite of their lack of certain rights and the possibility of suddenly randomly losing their Jordanian citizenship, Palestinians in that country should be grateful to be guests and should not complain. And those in Lebanon, for example, should understand that they are suffering incredible human rights violations for the greater good of taking down the Zionist entity.
In 2016, the Danish Institute of International Studies published a report entltled: “The Neglected: Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon and the Syrian Refugee Crisis“. They clarify the outcome of distinguishing between Palestinian-Arab refugees and all others. They write:
. . . the Palestinian refugee problem is treated as a special and temporary problem by the international community. . . . And while UNHCR works on the basis of the legal definitions of the [1951 UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees], “UNRWA lacks a legally ratified definition of its mandate. The General Assembly has never established a uniform definition of ‘Palestine refugee’. UNRWA’s ‘working definition’ of a Palestine refugee . . . is . . . inherently ill-suited for identifying people with current international protection needs because it is based on past events rather than current threats.” [citation from University of Cairo Senior Fellow Michael Kagan] . . . the UNHCR is on more solid ground than UNRWA is when it seeks to confront host governments that are ignoring or are proving unwilling to carry out their responsibilities towards refugees. . .. “In that regard Palestinian refugees are granted revocable privileges but no rights. As a result, they are less protected under international law than any of their counterparts in the world. This is why in UNRWA zones Palestinian refugees can be forced to live in camp, prohibited from working or cannot benefit from family reunification.” [cites currently unavailable paper by Anicée Van Engeland] In addition, there are restrictions on the right of movement, both in and out of the host country, as well as between camps. [ emphasis added]
First of all, I would have thought that ALL refugee problems are supposed to be temporary. But more significantly, these very human rights violations committed against Palestinian Arab refugees under the auspices of UNRWA are those levelled against Israel as it is accused of ‘brutally oppressing the Palestinians in the Palestinian Authority”. These accusations can be found in any number of Facebook discussion groups or on university BDS committees and more. They are also not true — the situation in the PA is the result of the Oslo Accords, a contract signed by the PLO and Israel, defining delegation of responsibilities in the different areas assigned to Israel and the newly created PA. If anyone is violating their rights in the PA it is the PA government itself.
The only solution anyone seems to be willing to consider is forcing Israel to let in all those Arabs who ‘flew the coop’ in 1948 and their millions of descendants. Nobody seems to care that cynical exploitation is being made of all those languishing in the inhumane conditions of the refugee camps to make a political statement against the Jewish state.
The newly created PA, which is supposedly the voice of the Palestinian Arabs both living in the PA and in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, has done nothing, said nothing, about the human rights violations suffered by their supposed fellow Palestinians and they did not even raise the issue of the atrocities committed against Palestinians caught in the civil war in Syria. The PA calls itself a state and the UN and others regard it as a state. But I thought a state was supposed to take care of its nationals wherever they are on the globe.
Can you imagine the French not doing anything if French nationals outside the country were put into camps and denied their human rights? The British? Australians? Moroccans? Mexicans? The Jews?
And that brings us to the second question:
What if the Palestinian Arab refugees were Jews?
Israel airlifted the 49,000 endangered Jews of Yemen and neighbouring Aden, Djabouti and Saudi Arabia in 1949-1950. And, of course, there was the series of operations that brought Ethiopian Jews to Israel between 1975 and the late 1990s. In the 70s and 80s, Jews around the world rallied and protested in support of freeing Soviet Jews from the oppression under which they lived, the Refusniks, as they were called then. Freshly released Natan Sharansky organized a demonstration that drew 250,000 Jews to Washington in 1987 to press for the release of about 3 million Jews still trapped in the USSR, something that bore fruit two years later.
In view of the way Jews around the world consider themselves members of a huge extended family, the Jewish People, or Members of the Tribe as we referred to ourselves in Canada when I was a student in the 70s, if there were Jews today who found themselves trapped in refugee camps or otherwise living under circumstances that violate their human rights, you can be sure that Israel would mount rescue missions to bring them home to Israel regardless of the burden that would place on Israel’s infrastructure and economy. While the escapees from Arab countries after 1948 (and the Russians and Ethiopians after them) were placed in what may have looked like refugee camps and they suffered from poor conditions, they were gradually integrated within Israeli society.
Apparently, the PA cannot legally open its gates to the Palestinian-Arab refugees located outside the PA. I cannot find a source for this and if a reader has such information, I would appreciate it. However, were there no Israel to which to bring our fellow Jews, we Jews would not be silent in face of human rights abuses toward them any place around the globe. Ineffective as this may have proven to be, Jews would have loudly protested and insisted on righting the wrong either in the country in which they were living under duress or by bringing them out to another country that would be willing to accept them. In contrast, the only outcry against the abuses suffered by Palestinians Arab refugees, whether in the PA or in neighbouring countries are voices raised demonizing Israel as if it is all Israel’s fault.
Well, perhaps it is Israel’s fault — if Israel did not exist, there would be no reason to keep refugees in the ‘concentration camps’ or ‘out-door prisons’ that are the refugee camps from which they are forbidden to leave until the world will have solved the Jewish problem.