The saga of the Stateless Arabs from Palestine (SAPs) which have cast their lot with UNRWA for generations may finally be coming to an end.
Since 1949, the United Nations has promised Arabs who used to live and work in what became Israel, that they would be entitled to move back to their old houses. It didn’t matter if they had just moved those homes a few months before, 70 years ago. It didn’t matter if they were just renters and didn’t actually own any property. It didn’t matter that they rejected the very existence of Israel and wanted to see it destroyed. It didn’t even matter if they are the grandchild of someone who was just renting a house for a few months in what became Israel, and both they and their grandparents seek the end of the Jewish State. UNRWA crafted a special designation of “refugees” from Palestine:
“’persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.’ The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration.”
These “UNRWA Refugees” were given much more than free housing, education and healthcare from the United Nations. They were promised that, with the help of the UN, they would get to move to the thriving country of Israel.
With such benefits and promise, these SAPs opted to register themselves with UNRWA, despite being denied the ability to gain well-paying jobs by their host countries in Syria and Lebanon. While they had relatives who moved on with their lives and became citizens of various countries ranging from Chile to the United Kingdom, the UNRWA Refugees opted to remain stateless and to live on handouts.
But those days may be coming to an end.
The ongoing war in Syria has been devastating, not just on Syrian civilians but on the UNRWA Refugees living in Syria. The unrest in Lebanon has not been much better. Meanwhile, the UNRWA Refugees watch actual refugees from Syria and Lebanon who are treated by the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) getting much better aid and a pathway out of the humanitarian disaster. Not surprisingly, the UNRWA Refugees are looking for a better deal.
On November 11, 2019, the acting officer in charge of UNRWA (as the prior head was fired for improper activities), Christian Saunders, addressed the UN about the current activities in the region. He noted at the end of his remarks:
“Emphasizing that the community of Palestine refugees from Syria inside Lebanon live in extremely difficult conditions, he said they are actively exploring ways to leave, with some demanding deregistration from UNRWA in the belief that it would offer access to resettlement opportunities available to other refugees from Syria.”
UNRWA Refugees are demanding de-registration from UNRWA to become regular refugees under the UNHCR which cares for every other refugee in the world.
The disgrace of UNRWA has been apparent for years, with corruption at the top, over-staffing, hiring of militants, warehousing of weapons to be used against Israel, textbooks which vilify the basic notion of coexistence and more. But it has taken a full 70 years since the establishment of UNRWA on December 8, 1949, for the organization to begin to devolve from within, from the very wards it was meant to assist declaring that they have had enough.
UNRWA was established to be a temporary agency in which “constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief,” as noted in Article 5 in its founding declaration. World sympathy (with perhaps not an insignificant amount of anti-Israel animus) prevented those ‘constructive measures’ from being enacted and billions of dollars in aid were spent on the descendants of the Palestinian Arabs who had started the war to destroy Israel. But lifetimes of long-term promises may finally yield to the dreams of immediate normalcy.
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