The Comprehensive Guide to
The Truth about The Refugees
Unfortunately, every war brings with it misery and human suffering. For instance, following World War II, there were 20 million refugees in Europe, who never returned to their places of origin. In the 1948 War of Independence, when Israel was fighting for its survival and independence, attacked by 5 neighboring Arab countries, 1.5 million people were displaced as a result of the war. One of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the issue of refugees. Who are the refugees, how many are there, and where are they now?
- Who are the refugees?
Following the attack on Israel by 5 Arab countries and Israel’s victory in the 1948 War of Independence and the reestablishment of the state of Israel, approximately 600,000 Arabs who left Israel for neighboring territories. This period ranged from the time between the Declaration of Independence until the 1949 Armistice and cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Arab states which tried to destroy her.
- Why and how did they leave Israel?
Most of them left voluntarily, heeding the Arab leaders’ call upon the Arab residents in Israel to leave, to make the job of destroying Israel easier. Then, according to the Arab plan, the residents could return to Israel and reclaim their own land and property, and the Jews’ land and property as well. Some left because they were engaged in violence and acts of terror against their Jewish neighbors, while others fled the advancing Israeli troops. For instance, when the Arabs in Haifa were asked by the Jewish authorities to stay, a sizeable number of them chose to leave anyway. Since Israel was not destroyed, those who left were stuck in the neighboring Arab countries to which they ran, where they remained concentrated in refugee camps, enduring subhuman conditions. It is important to emphasize, that the approximately 160,000 Arabs that chose not to run away, were welcomed as equal citizens, and today they number nearly 1.5 million Israel citizens, who fully enjoy Israeli democracy, including full rights and economic opportunities. By all objective measures, the Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the best human rights in the entire Middle East.
- You only mentioned 600,000 Arab refugees? What about the other 900,000?
In contrast to the Arabs who left Israel due to the war, and at the same time, nearly 900,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries, their only sin being that they were Jewish and that a Jewish state had dared to reestablish itself in the land of its fathers. They were stripped of their citizenship and had their property confiscated. Unlike the Arabs, who moved to neighboring countries, Jewish refugees often had to cross over 2-3 countries, each one of them hostile, in order to make it safely to Israel.
- Why have we never heard of the Jewish refugees from Arab counties?
Look around the Middle East. Where are the refugee camps? There are Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, as well as in Gaza and areas under Palestinian control in Judea and Samaria. But no matter how hard you look, you won’t find any Jewish refugee camps, and this is how Israel made the Jewish refugees disappear: Unlike the surrounding Arab countries, Israel welcomed the Jewish refugees and absorbed them, even though the economic and security realities in Israel at the time made this extremely difficult. 66 years after Israel was refounded, they are part and parcel of Israeli society, and you won’t find even a single Jewish refugee.
- So why weren’t the Palestinian refugees absorbed by the Arab countries?
Although the Arab refugees shared the same culture, language and religion as the Arab societies they settled in, they were singled out as refugees with no rights, in order to use them as pawns against Israel with the demand that they become Israeli citizens. It suits the Arab interest to keep the Palestinians as refugees. Sir Alexander Galloway, former UNRWA director in Jordan stated: “The Arab nations to not want to solve the Arab refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore… as a weapon against Israel.” Gamel Abdal Nasser explained that the Arab refugees were intended to overrun Israel demographically: “If the refugees return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.
In order to achieve this goal, draconian measures were taken against the Arab refugees, who were discriminated against in their host countries, including laws against receiving citizenship, working in many professions, restrictions on owning land and movement, and denial of education and health services.
- How did they grow from 600,000 to 5.4 million refugees, as the Palestinians claim now?
The answer to this lies in the agency that treats the Palestinian refugees. There are two UN agencies for treating refugees. All refugees in the world are handled by the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, except for the Palestinians, who have their own agency: UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
- But how did having two different agencies cause the number to increase by nearly 5 million?
The UNHCR helps refugees resettle in their host nations, while UNRWA perpetrates the refugee problem. Refugees treated by UNHCR cannot maintain status upon receiving citizenship from another country, and refugee status is not transferred down from generation to generation. In the case of the Palestinians, refugee status is both passed down through the generations, but is also still held even after receiving citizenship from another country. This is how you can have a 16 year old Palestinian refugee who was born in the United States and lives in Detroit.
- That doesn’t make sense! Why wouldn’t UNRWA choose to help the refugees?
Unlike the UNHCR, UNRWA avoids policies encouraging refugees to settle and integrate in their host countries. UNRWA receives triple the funding than UNHCR, and has over 30 times the employees. However, while the UNHCR has found durable solutions for tens of millions of refugees, UNRWA has found absolutely zero solutions. Resettlement and integration have helped millions of refugees reclaim their lives, including the nearly 1 million Jewish refugees no one has ever heard of, and the 20 million European refugees that were a result of the fighting in World War II. The Palestinian refugees, however, are trapped between Arab leaders who want to keep the Palestinian refugees downtrodden, and UN agencies who do not apply the same, equal and universal principles to all groups of refugees.
- So what is the solution for the Palestinian refugees?
There is only one historic model which is both humane and practical to solve the problem of the Palestinian refugees, and that is to absorb them in the countries that are currently hosting them. Just as the 900,000 Jewish refugees cannot and will not go back to the places of their birth, nor their descendants, just as German, Latvian, Czech and Russian refugees did not return to the places of their birth and were absorbed by the countries to which they were relocated, so should the Palestinians, especially as there are almost no original refugees left, and their descendants, according to the UNHCR criteria for refugees no longer maintain the status of refugees. The international community has offered, and will offer, economic and financial assistance to all Arab countries who are willing to absorb refugees. Even though it should have been done 7 decades ago, it is better that it be done late, than never done at all.