Skip to comments.Refugees Forever: UNRWA, Ethnic Cleansing?, Loopholes, Restitution, Resettlement (2nd of 3 parts)
Posted on 02/08/2003 5:54:07 AM PST by SJackson
IV-UNRWA: Caring for Refugees for Years and Still Counting
UNRWA, the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was created in 1949 to help individuals (along with their spouses and dependants) whose homes were in Palestine from June 1, 1946 to May 15, 1948 and who lost both their homes and their livelihoods as a result of the conflict.
According to UNRWA figures, at the time of its inception the refugees numbered some 726,000. Later, those displaced as a result of the Six Day War and their dependants were also declared eligible for UNRWA aid, as were inhabitants of "frontier villages" in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes affected by the war.
In UNRWA camps, refugees seldom die
Because no one wants to lose UNRWA benefits, deaths often go unreported in their camps.
In 1961, UNRWA director, Dr. John H. Davis, admitted that his statisticial report of the number of refugees was inaccurate, due to the many unreported deaths and the growing number of forged cards granting access to UNRWA benefits and services. UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen has recently acknowledged that deaths in the camps may not be reported as assiduously as births. In 1960, US Congressmen visiting Jordan cited official estimates of forged UNRWA cards at over 150,000. Furthermore, the more refugees, the more justification there is for the work of the 22,000 Palestinian UNRWA employees. It is one of the ironies of the problem that as the number of "refugees" has increased through falsehood, their plight has become all the more real.
Just how many refugees are there?
The first serious assessment of the number of refugees based on demographic data was carried out by Dr. Walter Pinner. (How Many Arab Refugees?, London, 1960).
Out of 1,282,000 - the total Arab population of Mandatory Palestine in April 1948, 548,600 were counted as refugees. At UN sessions the Arabs repeatedly inflated the figures. Lebanon spoke of over a million, (UN DOC/ASP/SA). Morocco gave a more "accurate" figure of 1,120,000. Swept up by an Oriental imagination, the Palestinian Emil Houry came up with 2 million.
Palestinian sources, with an obvious interest in increasing the potential benefits of a future settlement and increasing Israel's supposed responsibility for the refugee problem, have consistently inflated their figures.
The highest figure was that quoted in 1998, when Salman Abu Sitta - the most vaunted of Palestinian researchers - attempted to add credence to a grossly exaggerated study by claiming that there were exactly 7,778,186 Palestinians, an amazing 5,325,000 of whom he called refugees.
Figures on this scale are commonly bandied about when discussing the need for a just solution to the Palestinian problem, but they are false: UNRWA - while admitting that its own figures are inflated - recognizes some 3.8 million Palestinians today.
Not far off is the day when the number of refugees claimed will be the same as the number of Palestinians. According to their definition, nearly every Palestinian can be considered a refugee in one way or another. So there will be no escape from the need to negotiate who is a refugee, and who was uprooted from his home, yet still lives in his homeland.
For example, those who fled the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbieh and now live in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis have been counted twice. So, too, have the Palestinians living in Detroit or in the Persian Gulf states.
UNRWA's budget is almost a third of that of the UN High Commission for Refugees, which is the global relief agency. And this is the situation despite the fact that Palestinians constitute only 17% of the world's 24 million refugees.
Somehow, the efforts of UN workers to aid displaced Palestinians have mushroomed into a $330 million-a-year project that actually perpetuates the refugee problem.
UNRWA has provided the Palestinians with benefits exceeding those of all other refugees. These include medical and educational training, community centers for women, youth clubs and other social benefits.
However, the term "camps" is misleading. Palestinian refugees do not live in tents as the term implies, but in houses in neighborhoods where conditions are superior to those of the poor neighborhoods of modern metropoli.
A good idea gone bad
Dependence on benefits that encourage unprecedented population growth, combined with a dearth of jobs, has created a restless and unruly young populace. The camps are infested with gangs, violence and drug trafficking. Even Palestinian police are afraid to enter them, whether Jenin or Ein al-Hilweh in Lebanon.
The New York Times has described the refugee camps as paramilitary training grounds where 25,000 children from 8 to 16 years old are taught to make fire bombs. The camps serve as arms depots, factories for the manufacture of mortars, missiles and bombs, and asylum for fleeing terrorists.
The shocking images of jubilant Palestinians celebrating the disaster on September 11, 2001 in the refugee camps are symptomatic of the violent society that, due to its refugee status, is becoming increasingly more desperate.
Who foots the bill?
Who funds these refugee villages? Most of UNRWA's work is covered by voluntary contributions from donor states. UNRWA's biggest donors are the US, the European Commission, the UK, Sweden and Canada.
Not surprisingly, the contributions of Arab states make up only a tiny percentage of the UNRWA budget.
Although it provides important humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, UNRWA ultimately serves as a fig leaf for an Arab world that has deliberately ignored or exploited the plight of these refugees.
- The Face of Defeat (Quartet Books, London)
Report to the Senate, April 20, 1960
- Alexander Safian, PhD, CAMERA
(The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)
- The New York Times, August 2, 2000
V-Is Israel Guilty of Ethnic Cleansing?
Arab spokesmen, fluent in the use of standard cliches, attribute the refugee problem to a program of 'ethnic cleansing' by the Jewish leadership. This is palpably false.
It was first and foremost at the urging of their leaders that the largest number of Arab refugees fled, with the promise of a swift victory over the weak Zionist enemy and an imminent return to their homes. Rumors of atrocities, highlighted by the tragic Deir Yassin episode, fanned a country-wide panic.
Many Arabs did not heed the warnings to flee and stayed on, a wise decision they never regretted. There is peace between the Arab and Jewish communities in downtown Haifa today because of this choice, as is the case in nearby Acre.
In Jaffa, a considerable number of Arabs remained to live under the joint Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality. Although the Hassan Beq mosque was used as a sniper's nest against Jewish passersby in 1948, it still stands as a Muslim landmark in Tel Aviv.
Many of these Arab villages have developed into thriving townships. This applies even more dramatically to East Jerusalem, where the Arab population had increased from some 50,000 in 1948 to over 230,000 by the year 2000.
It is true that some villages, mainly those who laid siege to Jerusalem, were destroyed and their inhabitants expelled. Their number was grossly inflated to a count of 400, according to Benny Morris, a forerunner of the school of "new historians" of Zionism.
There is substantial evidence to corroborate these facts in the following citations:
Citations from Arab leaders:
"We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down."
- Iraqi prime minister Nuri Said, Sir Am Nakbah (The Secret Behind the Disaster) by Nimr el-Hawari, Nazareth, 1952
"Azzam Pasha assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and of Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade ... and that all the millions the Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean ... "
- Habib Issa, secretary-general of the Arab League (Azzam Pasha's successor), Al Hoda, June 8, 1951
It is of summary importance to point out that while Jordan's British-trained, fully equipped Arab legion was able to pummel Jewish Jerusalem with in excess of 10,000 artillery shells, the Hagana had to make do with scant and often makeshift weapons.
"As early as the first months of 1948, the Arab League issued orders exhorting the people to seek a temporary refuge in neighboring countries, later to return to their abodes ... and obtain their share of abandoned Jewish property."
- Bulletin of The Research Group for European Migration Problems, 1957
"The Arab states succeeded in scattering the Palestinian people and in destroying their unity. They did not recognize them as a unified people until the states of the world did so, and this is regrettable."
- Abu Mazen from the official journal of the PLO, Falastin el-Thawra (What We Have Learned and What We Should Do), Beirut, March 1976
Leading American and British sources confirm the real cause of the flight:
Citations from the international media:
"The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by order of Arab leaders, left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city.... By withdrawing Arab workers their leaders hoped to paralyze Haifa."
- Time Magazine, May 3, 1948, page 25
"[The Arabs of Haifa] fled in spite of the fact that the Jewish authorities guaranteed their safety and rights as citizens of Israel."
- Monsignor George Hakim, Greek Catholic Bishop of Galilee, New York Herald Tribune, June 30, 1949
"Israelis argue that the Arab states encouraged the Palestinians to flee. And, in fact, Arabs still living in Israel recall being urged to evacuate Haifa by Arab military commanders who wanted to bomb the city."
- Newsweek, January 20, 1963
Citations from British military sources:
Highly credible are the comments of the British commander of the Arab Legion, who, having bombarded Jewish Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, cannot be suspected of a pro-Zionist attitude:
"The Arab civilians panicked and fled ignominiously. Villages were frequently abandoned before they were threatened by the progress of war."
- General John Glubb "Pasha," The London Daily Mail, August 12, 1948
"Every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe."
- Haifa District HQ of the British Police, April 26, 1948, (quoted in Battleground by Samuel Katz).
For decades, April 6, 1948 has been commemorated in the Arab world as "Deir Yassin Day," through sermons in mosques and lessons in schools, on stamps and posters, in books and songs. On that day, Deir Yassin, an Arab village at the entrance to Jerusalem, was captured by the Irgun Tzva'i Le'umi (known as the Irgun), defending the besieged Holy City.
Arab leaders spread word that Jewish terrorists had stormed the peaceful village, raping the women and ultimately killing over 500 residents. There was even talk of aerial bombardment and tanks. The effect was double- edged. Actually, it was a standard battle that took a tragic turn.
The village harbored Arab guerrillas who had long exploited their strategic position, attacking Jewish mountain convoys trying to break the three-month siege of Jerusalem.
Iraqi irregulars dressed as women
During the house-to-house fighting women and children were mistakenly killed. Among the Arab fighters were Iraqi irregulars who were dressed as women.
Years later, Palestinian researchers at Bir-Zeit University found that the death toll was 107. Murder and rape have always been an athema to Israel's military.
Israel has never denied its role in the Deir Yassin massacre nor reserved remorse. Nonetheless, the Arab world refused to accept that what happened on April 6, 1948 was the exception, not the rule, and Deir Yassin became a crucial factor in creating, and a tool in fanning, anti- Israeli hatred for generations.
An Arab revenge attack was quick to follow. Four days after Deir Yassin, the Jewish convoy on its way to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus was ambushed.
Seventy-seven people were killed, including doctors, nurses, patients, and the hospital director. Another 23 medical personnel were wounded.
VI-The Loopholes in 194
When Claiming the right of return, the Arabs consistently wave UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of December 1948 as their banner.
The major issues: "Who is a refugee? What are refugees entitled to? Where may they return to and under what conditions?" require clarification before the true meaning of 194 is defined.
Let's hear what international jurists have to say
Ruth Lapidoth is Professor of International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. She was also a fellow at the US Institute of Peace in 1990-1991.
"Certainly many of those who fled their homes during the 1948 war are refugees. But the greater Palestinian refugee problem must be viewed from the perspective of international law.
"The 1951-1967 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees makes no mention of descendants - so the status is not inherited. Moreover, the convention ceases to apply to a person who, inter alia, has acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality."
By this definition, the number of Palestinians who qualify for refugee status would be well below 500,000 - considerably diminishing the dimensions of the issue.
Moreover, the right of return in the 1966 International Covenant "is intended to apply to individuals asserting an individual right. There was no intention here to address the claims of masses of people who have been displaced as a byproduct of war or by political transfers of territory or population..."
One also has to observe that humanitarian law conventions (such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions for the protection of Victims of War) do not recognize the right of return.
First rejected, later reclaimed
It should be noted that at the UN General Assembly of 11 December 1948 - Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen - voted against 194, but later decided to embrace the resolution as recognition of a wholesale inalienable right of repatriation. But there is no recognition of any "right," rather a suggestion that refugees "should" be "permitted" to return.
Moreover, that permission is subject to two conditions: that the refugee wishes to return; and that he/she wishes to live in peace with his neighbors.
The Palestinians have linked their demand for return to a claim for self-determination. A situation where returning Palestinian refugees have the right to external self-determination would mean the end of the very existence of the State of Israel. It should also be noted that the UN General Assembly has suggested resettlement as an alternative to repatriation.
Prof. Efraim Karsh, head of Mediterranean Studies at King's College, University of London, maintains that:
"It was in the late 1960s that the Arabs began to transform it  into the cornerstone of a spurious legal claim to a 'right of return.' But 194 in no way establishes any such right.
Additionally, the very notion of such a 'right' contradicts the essence of international law and behavior."
242, 338, 194: confusing numbers
Since these often-quoted numbers confuse the layman we see fit to briefly dwell on them.
"The foremost document used by the Palestinians to substantiate their call for Israel's complete withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is [UN] Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 (echoed six years later by Resolution 338). This resolution does not demand Israel's complete evacuation of these territories but rather its withdrawal 'from territories occupied in the recent conflict.'
"The absence of the definite article 'the' from the text is anything but accidental. Issued a mere six months after Israel's astounding triumph over the concerted pan- Arab attempt to obliterate it, the resolution reflected the keen international awareness of the existential threat posed by the pre-1967 borders, memorably described by the then-Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban, as 'Auschwitz borders.'
"Nor does the resolution make any mention of the creation of a Palestinian state. To the contrary, since the Palestinians were widely viewed at the time as refugees rather than a cohesive nation deserving its own state, it was assumed that those territories that would be evacuated by Israel would return to their pre-1967 Arab occupiers; Gaza to Egypt, and the West Bank to Jordan. All the resolution had to say about the Palestinians was to affirm the necessity 'for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.'
"All this, of course, is water under the bridge. Egypt and Jordan have long washed their hands of these territories."
These territories are generally termed "occupied" by harsh Israeli rule. They are, in fact, "disputed" territories - the final say and borders of which will be drawn following peaceful negotiations. This unorthodox view has been recently voiced by US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and others.
No right, no return
Major-General (ret.) Shlomo Gazit, former head of IDF Intelligence, and member of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. explains:
"Regardless of the conditions that led Palestinians to uproot or flee their homes in 1948 and 1967, and regardless of the parties who were responsible for the creation of that tragedy, one cannot help but feel deep empathy for their suffering.
"Moreover, there is no choice - the only way to guarantee calm and stability in our region is to resolve the refugee problem and do so as soon as possible. However, that empathy, which most citizens of Israel share, is not enough to warrant the return of the refugees to Israeli territory.
"Israel's position on that matter has to be clear: It does not recognize a 'right,' it does not recognize 'responsibility' and it will not allow the return of refugees into its territory.
"Even more importantly, it does not establish a 'right' at all, let alone an eternal and unconditional one. As opposed to UN Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions have no binding international standing. They are merely recommendations.
"Placing the blame for creating the problem on Israel has no international basis and the mere Palestinian request that Israel recognize such responsibility is Palestinian insolence. The 1948 war was a result of a clear Palestinian initiative to prevent the establishment of a sovereign Jewish state with the goal of annihilating the Jewish community. That thrust was joined in May 1948 by Arab armies who invaded Palestine.
"All the Jewish settlements occupied by Arabs, without exception, were destroyed, and their residents - including women, elderly people, and children - were murdered or taken prisoner. What is Israel requested to take responsibility for - defending itself, winning the battle?"
David Ben-Gurion, who agreed to the 1947 Partition Plan despite the sigificant territorial loss involved, declared "We won't accept the refugees. Not one refugee - just as our men who were killed in the Arab war against us will not rise up from the dead."
What Resolution 194 really means
Resolution 194 was originally destined to be the cornerstone of a peace process. It consists of 15 paragraphs, the first of which calls for the establishment of a reconciliation committee composed of representatives from the US, Britain and Turkey. The Jews accepted it, the Arabs rejected it.
Years later the Arabs drew out paragraph 11 of Resolution 194, the one dealing with the subject of refugees. This was a ploy of diplomacy, picking the cherry from the cake, as it were.
Tragically, even Palestinian infants suckle, together with their mothers's milk, a poisonous hatred against Israel. Thus, the stipulation in 194 that the right of return is confined only to refugees "wishing to live in peace with their neighbors" appears far-fetched when the abyss of hatred and suspicion between the two peoples is widening.
When Sari Nusseiba and other moderates, as a gesture, agree to "relinquish the right of return," while naturally they expect compensation, what needs to be absolutely clear is that in fact they relinquish nothing because there is no right of return.
VII-Restitution vs. Resettlement
The Palestinians have an excellent case for suing for reparations - that is, if they were suing the Arab states whose advancing armies created the vast majority of Palestinian refugees in 1948. Instead, they are claiming exorbitant sums from Israel.
Payment for pain the sky is the limit
McMaster University economics Professor Atif Kubursi, for example, claims that Israel is directly responsible for compensation for Arab losses in real estate, moveable property, lost opportunities, and psychological damage stemming from the 1948 war. In a lengthy study supported by charts he arrives at the astronomic sum of $281 billion. To lend credence to his study Kubursi adds detailed lists of lost Arab livestock and crops.
Should he wish to weigh these small losses against the Palestinian systematic pilfering and plunder of Israeli farmers, Kubursi would soon find his fledgling state well in the red. So, too, if he were to put the 1,284 Palestinian vehicles he claims were lost in 1948 against the 30,000 Israeli vehicles stolen by Palestinians in each of the past several years.
Fellow Arab academics, Yusuf Massad and Rashid Khalidi, use similar tactics in drawing up wildly imaginative figures for Israel's "debt" in terms of today's dollars.
Not only is this preposterous, it is as if Japan were demanding compensation from the US and the countries it had attacked early in WWII.
Massad, assistant professor at Columbia proposes the "German model" of restitution and speaks of $253 billion (at the rate of 1994) to be paid by Israel.
Khalidi maintains "that the refugee issue is so central to the national narrative of the Palestinians that any approach which tries to sweep history under the rug will fail entirely." He calls on the Israeli government to pay reparations rather than compensation - because the former assumes responsibility.
Khalidi's solution covers reparation payments for all those not allowed to return, and compensation for those who lost property in 1948.
These sums, for property losses alone, range from $92 billion to $147 billion at 1948 prices. In addition to the above, he comes up with a reparation figure of $20,000 per person for an arbitrary 2 million refugees, totalling $40 billion. When it comes to Arab claims, the sky appears to be the limit.
These Arab claims are disproportionate when compared with the reparation payments for the devastation of a continent and the toll of milions of lives, levied by the Allies on Germany and its partners in the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Germany had to pay 132 billion gold Deutsch Marks; and sums varying from 125 million pounds sterling to $360 million were imposed on Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy and Romania for being on the side of the aggressor.
Return of the Sheikh?
Certainly there was Palestinian property appropriated, destroyed, lost, or unclaimed. But, in negotiating this thorny issue, both sides will have to face a reality much changed since the events of 1948.
Implementing the "right of return" today would mean dismantling and destroying the elaborate infrastructure built over the past 50 years, which includes housing for millions of Jews - as well as hospitals, universities, and industrial areas that have benefitted Jew and Arab alike. Anyone expecting Israel to undo all that is asking the state to start all over again.
Take, for example, the return to Sheikh Munis, a village within the boundaries of Tel Aviv. The campus of the Tel Aviv University now occupies this site. To raze this institution of higher learning and make the land available to the families of the refugees of that village who demand the "right of return" would be unthinkable today.
That is merely one of innumerable instances throughout Israel.
Most Palestinians recognize that this is not feasible and suggest that Israel swap land for those locations that were abandoned in 1948.
This is obviously an attempt to use demographic pressure to destroy Israel. The essence of the Zionist idea was to establish a Jewish state, in which a clear Jewish majority was guaranteed. The influx of Palestinian refugees, and the high natural growth of that population, would guarantee the loss of Israel's Jewish majority within the space of two generations, at most.
A study by Professor Arnon Soffer of Haifa University estimates that by 2020 the population covering the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will comprise 42% Jews and 58% Moslems and others. Professor Sergio de la Pergula of the Hebrew University forecasts an Arab majority as early as 2010.
Because of the enmity for Israel on which the Palestinians have been raised, their entry into Israel en masse would create an immediate terrorist threat - it would be an act of national suicide.
Some argue that all the refugees do not really mean to realize "the right of return" in practice, they just want the Israeli recognition of it. But the moment Israel recognizes this "right," it will lose control of its borders, because the Palestinian refugee will be the one who decides today or in the future whether to actualize that "right."
Besides the political motive, the economic incentive is enough to inspire Palestinian refugees - or other Arabs claiming to be Palestinian refugees - to flood into Israel. After all, who wouldn't prefer to live in a country where the per capita income is 15 times higher than in the Arab states?
Arab demands - how far and how much
But even such arbitrary use of economic factors and creative assumptions regarding Arab wealth in Palestine before Israel's establishment cannot top the gumption of the Arab states. When, after the breakdown of the Camp David talks in July 2000, US President Bill Clinton floated the idea of establishing a reparations fund to be supported by the US, Europe, and Japan, several Arab states hurried to demand compensation for the years they have "hosted" Palestinian refugees.
Lebanon's claim is said to amount to $7 billion. Jordan's formula is based on an annual payment of $2 billion for "hosting" the largest number of refugees since 1947. Syria is sure to follow suit. These claims are an ugly exercise, nothing short of extortion.
Going from the ridiculous to the grotesque and malicious, Palestinian leaders and academics have used the Holocaust - when not denying it - as a model for the reparations they hope to receive from Israel. To put hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of whom fled from their homes because of the exhortations of their fellow Arabs, on the scale opposite 6 million slaughtered European Jews is downright atrocious.
Who owned the land?
Before the termination of the British Mandate in 1948, 8.6% was owned by Jews and 3.3% by Arabs within the Green Line.
Another 16.9% was owned by those Arabs termed refugees. Plus 71.2% was State-owned land, mostly barren state owned land.
-Kubursi, Yussuf Massad Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return, Plato Press, London, 2001
Arab states hold the key
At the negotiations held in Taba on January 22, 2001, it was stipulated by the Palestinians that Israel is solely to blame for the creation of the refugee problem.
They advocated that the "right of return" be implemented under the supervision of a special international committee including representatives of Arab states. (The Palestinians, mindful of the disproportionate sway of the Arab-Islamic bloc in the UN, have always held to a strategy of internationalizing the Arab-Israeli conflict.)
There is an alternative - settlement and freedom in Arab lands.
Before the Palestinians initiated hostilities in September 2000, they had attained a reasonable standard of living that approached or even exceeded that of many sovereign Arab states, thanks to the Israeli policy of allowing them freedom of movement and the opportunity to work in Israel - rights that most Arab states have withheld from their homeless brethren.
The Palestinians would be best served by absorption into surrounding Arab countries. They share the same language, religion and culture. In fact, seventy percent of Palestinians are third generation offspring of immigration from these countries due to economic considerations.
However, not only do the 22 Arab countries have no interest in aiding the Palestinians, they prefer to wield them as a political weapon against Israel.