In addition to the topics discussed in our first two videos (The Truth About Palestine and The Truth About the West Bank) the subject of refugees is one of the core issues for understanding the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Who are the refugees?
Why more than 60 years later is this still an issue? Let’s look at the facts. So how did it all begin? In May 1948 the local area population was joined by seven Arab countries in a collective attempt to destroy the newly re-established Jewish state. Encouraged by Arab leaders who promised they would return as victors, and later on, as a result of their failed war efforts, an estimated 500,000 Arabs fled to neighboring Arab territories, but is this the full picture?
I'd like you to take a look at the refugees in these photos. Many people assume they are Arab refugees fleeing Israel, but in fact they are innocent Jewish refugees forced out of Arab countries. This map tells the full story. There were far more Jewish refugees than Arab refugees. Over 850,000 Jews from ancient Jewish communities, predating Islam and the Arab occupation of the Middle East, were forced out of their homes. Jews were stripped of their citizenship in many countries and their property was confiscated.
In contrast 160,000 Arabs accepted Israel's offered to remain and today there are more than 1 million Israeli Arab citizens with full equal rights living in Israel. Now here is a question, have you heard of any Jewish refugee camps? I didn't think so. The Jewish refugees were immediately welcomed and absorbed by Israel or by other nations. Then why, after more than 60 years, are the Arab Palestinian refugees still not welcomed and absorbed among their own brethren? And how could their numbers have grown from 500,000 to 4.7 million?
The sad reality is that the Arab refugees never had a chance. Attempts at resettlement were blocked by a variety of discriminatory laws enacted in Arab countries, such as a ban on receiving citizenship with the exception of Jordan, blocking them from entering many professions, restrictions on owning land, restrictions on movement, and a denial of education and health services. Sir Alexander Galloway, a former director of the UN refugee agency in Jordan, gave the reason for this discrimination. “The Arab nations do not want to solve the Arab refugee problem; they want to keep it as an open sore as a weapon against Israel.”
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser explained the effect of this weapon aimed at overwhelming Israel demographically with generations of refugees cultivated to hate. “If the refugees return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.”
And what role did the United Nations play? Sadly they were less than helpful. While all refugees in the world are assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, a separate agency UNRWA was established specifically for the Palestinians. Why can't the Palestinian refugees share an agency with the refugees of Bosnia, Congo, or Darfur to name a few? The answer is because while the United Nations central refugee agency Health helps resettle the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency helps perpetuate their status by applying unique criteria. For example, refugees lose their status after receiving citizenship from a recognized country. Palestinian refugees do not. Refugees cannot transmit their status from generation to generation, but Palestinian refugees can. Refugees are encouraged to resettle in other countries or integrate in their host countries. UNRWA avoids such policies.
The United Nations spends on a single Palestinian refugee almost three times more than on a non-Palestinian refugee and employs over 30 times the staff. The bottom line is throughout the 20th century the UN found durable solutions for tens of millions of refugees, while the Palestinian refugee agency has found, well, none. Some people may suggest this is hypocrisy. Let me share something personal. My father's family was forced out of Algeria. They, and another 600,000 Jews from Arab States, resettled in Israel. History has proven that resettlement and integration helped tens of millions of refugees during the 20th century reclaim their lives. However, the Palestinian refugees are trapped between Arab leaders, unwilling to accept their brothers, and UN agencies who do not apply equal and universal principles to all refugees. Is this just?