Friday, July 16, 2010


Silke in the comments points to a UNRWA document showing the increase in Palestinian "refugees" since 1950. Here it is (transposed to make it easier to read):

YearJordanLebanonSyriaWest BanGazaTotal

If you prefer charts:

A couple of things struck me when looking at this.

First of all, there is a missing column in the table. There is one other country that had people defined as Palestinian refugees in 1950 not listed here - and that country is Israel.

According to UNRWA, Israel had 48,000 Palestinian refugees:  31,000 Arabs and 17,000 Jews. Israel managed to integrate the refugees, Arabs and Jews alike, into its society and they disappeared from the refugee rolls within a couple of years.

If Arab countries had worked at treating their Palestinians as well as Israel did (reducing the population by 25,000 refugees a year,) they would have eliminated the refugee problem within 20 years rather than let it fester for thrice that time.

Not only that, but the percentage of refugees compared to total population was about 8% in Lebanon, 2% in Syria, and 4% in Israel. So there is no excuse that the other countries were overwhelmed and couldn't handle the refugees - Israel not only absorbed these refugees but took hundreds of thousands of additional refugees from Arab countries at the exact same time - all without help from any UN agencies. (In Jordan, the percentage of refugees was about 40% of the population, but keep in mind that Jordan also gained a lot of land in the 1948 war that many of the refugees were already living on.)

Isn't it interesting, though, that UNRWA doesn't acknowledge the Palestine refugees in Israel in their statistics? It's almost as if they are embarrassed that the single success story for Palestinian Arab refugees came in the country that they have a seething hatred for.

Another very important fact that we glean from these statistics: Nearly all of the "refugees" that live in Jordan are Jordanian citizens! Not only is UNRWA's definition of a "refugee" skewed by including the descendants of refugees, but they also include a huge population that is not stateless at all!

UNRWA actually admits this, with tendentious logic. This past February, Michael Kingsley-Nyinah, Director of the Executive Office of UNRWA, gave a speech in Malta about how UNRWA looks at Jordanians of Palestinian origin, and his words are amazing:
Refugees residing in Jordan and Syria enjoy a wide range of rights and freedoms that have helped to mitigate the hardships of displacement. Many are granted economic rights and access to the employment market, and the stability of these countries means they are spared the trauma of armed conflict. Among the relatively less disadvantaged are the refugees in Jordan who enjoy the privileges of special categories of Jordanian nationality.

The advantages of residing in Jordan and Syria are welcome and beneficial. Yet they do not obscure the vulnerability inherent in the refugee label. Neither do they detract from the distinctness of the refugee identity.

The refugees and host communities share an implicit understanding that the sojourn of Palestine refugees is temporary – and that this transient state is unchanged by the lengthy duration of their exile. As a corollary, “refugee consciousness” is strong among Palestinians, including the younger generation. The passing years have left intact a sense of injustice, a demand for acknowledgement and a desire for their travail to be justly resolved. Across the Middle East, Palestine refugees define themselves (and are defined by others) by reference to the historical experience of exile.
For any other group of refugees, the UN (meaning the UNHCR) bends over backwards to remove the "refugee label," but UNRWA applies it even in situations when it shouldn't exist. Arab nations refused to treat the early refugees like human beings, and UNRWA eventually not only went along with this evil plan, but institutionalized it.

A person who was born and raised as a citizen of another country cannot be called a "refugee" by any sane definition. Yet the UNRWA does exactly that. With a stroke of a pen, they could have reduced the number of "refugees" by 40% - and they instead kept the label.

One result is that even Jordanians are discriminating against Palestinian Jordanians, sixty years after their ancestors became citizens. UNRWA has made their "otherness" official and has justified it by using the words of those who hate them most by claiming that their status is temporary. By defining Palestinian Jordanians as somehow only temporary Jordanians, UNRWA is justifying their discrimination.

There is another implication of using the word "temporary" to define the "sojourn" of the PalArabs. If their status is only temporary, then surely Israel's status is temporary as well, and will end with their "return."

As I've mentioned before, on two occasions when Lebanon allowed a limited number of so-called "refugees" to become citizens of that country, the Palestinian Arabs jumped at the opportunity. Many more would happily trade in their "refugee" status for the opportunity to be normal, functioning citizens of their host countries, or of other Arab countries. They are not being given that choice, and a good part of that is because UNRWA is doing everything they can to perpetuate and expand the purported number of "refugees" for decades after they no longer should have that label.