The temporary United Nations agency tasked with caring for refugees from the Arab-Israeli War of Independence has abused language and brutalized the Arabs.
How Long an Immigrant or Refugee
My father’s grandfather came to the U.S. as an adult fleeing pogroms in Russia, while my mother came as a toddler fleeing the Holocaust in Austria. Each arrived as both refugee and immigrant, and ultimately each became a citizen and raised a family in this amazing country.
I never considered myself to be either an immigrant or a refugee, although I descend from them. I imagine most people who consider themselves natives may have immigrant parents or grandparents who may or may not have also been refugees.
An immigrant is defined as “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country“, and a refugee is defined as “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” Both relate to that specific person and not to offspring.
But the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) uses a distinct definition of refugees. By its own account, it has cared for “four generations of Palestine refugees, defined as “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.“
This transfer of refugee status is just one of UNRWA’s many abuses.
Palestine or Israel? Why Only Arabs?
The timeframe to qualify for UNRWA care was set from “1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948,” – specifically from the day after Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948 to two years prior. The qualifier of the “normal place of residence” in “Palestine” is either the entirety of the Palestine Mandate which included Israel, Gaza and the area commonly called the “West Bank,” or only the area which is now Israel, as one would imagine based on the date range chosen.
If it’s the entirety of the Palestine Mandate, then all Jews who lost their homes when Jordan ethically cleansed the region of Jews should be entitled to receive services from the agency as well. Banning Jews from UNRWA services is blatantly anti-Semitic. Alternatively, if the definition of “Palestine” is not all of historic Palestine but just Israel, than the agency should state that it is handling Israeli Arab refugees, not “Palestine refugees”. It also does not address why the UN did not set up a comparable agency for the Jews who fled eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
This is a mistreatment of Jews and Israel. The abuse of the Palestinian Arabs is far worse.
UNRWA does not only provide free education and health services to descendants of refugees and other poor people in its five fields of operations. It promises these wards that if they stay registered with the agency, they will either get to move out of the third world camps to the wealthy country of Israel or receive compensation from the Jewish State.
While there are 5.7 million people registered as Palestinian refugees with UNRWA as of December 2020, there are roughly the same number of Arabs who lost their homes in Palestine but went on to start new lives in Canada, Chile and other countries around the world. Those five million Arabs who moved around the world have the same definition of “refugee” as everyone else (like the story above) and do not pass on the inherited status that UNRWA uniquely affords.
That is insane.
For those people who point to UN Resolution 194 which stated that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible,” it is obvious that those “refugees” should not be bound to be registered with UNRWA. If an Arab American now living in Michigan lost the family home in Jaffa in 1948, she should be entitled to the same compensation as a man now living in Gaza who lost the home next door in 1948.
UNRWA Wards Trapped in the Fiction
The tension between the various Palestinian refugees – those registered with UNRWA and those that are not – is significant. Billions of dollars are at stake.
Consider the situation where a family is due $1 million for a home lost in Jaffa in 1948. If there are 20 surviving family members registered with UNRWA, each person would get $50,000. However, if 20 other family members not registered with UNRWA also become entitled to compensation, each person would only get $25,000. Effectively, monies would be “transferred” from UNRWA refugees to non-UNRWA refugees. That dynamic makes UNRWA refugees determined to keep those not officially registered with UNRWA out of the “refugee” definition and simultaneously keeps all registered people locked into the ridiculous system, lest they lose the windfall. All this keeps the temporary agency afloat well past its expiry date, as the UN maintains the fiction that it is helping these stateless people.
While the UN established UNRWA in 1949 to temporarily house and care for actual refugees, the agency morphed over the decades into Palestine-in-Waiting, which must be sustained at all costs. In doing so, UNRWA has imprisoned the stateless Arabs of Palestine in a permanent bribe to keep it wedded to the agency, artificially extending its mandate and the misery of Arabs in a gross choreography of munchausen syndrome.