On Tuesday, the UN body responsible for overseeing Palestinian “refugees” announced the halting of reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip.
“[We have] exhausted all funding to support repairs and rental subsidies,” the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said in a statement, adding that “$5.4 billion was pledged at the Cairo conference last October, and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable.”
Specifically, UNRWA has thus far disbursed some $77 million towards the rebuilding process, or less than 1.5 percent of the funds the global community promised.
A priori, it makes sense that a refugee agency would be responsible for rebuilding Gaza only if one also accepts that, of the Strip’s 1.5 million residents, some 1.2 million were legitimately classified as such. In fact, it is absurd that more than three-quarters of Palestinians living in territory which has been entirely vacated by Israel and which they claim as their own are so characterized.
More profoundly, the issue of “refugee” status in this scenario exposes a deeper truth: The world does not care about Palestinians unless they can be used as fodder in the two-pronged fight against Israel.
While Gaza will always pose a physical threat to the Jewish state, as evidenced by three wars against Hamas in seven years – including, most recently, last summer’s 50-day conflict – the situation there is exploited equally by anti-Israel proponents as their diplomatic weapon of choice.
The incredible vitriol leveled against Jerusalem during Operation Protective Edge came from both state and non-state actors alike. The rhetoric emanating from Iran and Turkey, as well as from less obvious suspects such as Brazil, bordered on incitement to genocide. But as UNRWA’s pronouncements reveal, these supposedly staunch Palestinian allies patently refuse to put their money where their mouths are, evincing a major disconnect between their professed sentiments and their inaction.
This disjunction has been standard international practice for decades. The Arab-Islamic world in particular has perpetuated the so-called refugee crisis, to the detriment of generations of Palestinians, in order to use their predicament as leverage against Israel. Millions of Palestinians who should otherwise have been integrated into their host nations remain in squatters’ squalor throughout the Middle East. They are discriminated against in ways that make Israel, by comparison, look benevolent.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, an estimated 500,000 Palestinians are not allowed to hold or even apply for citizenship. Likewise in Jordan where Palestinians, who make up some 70% of the population, are virtually barred from holding office and regularly have their rights arbitrarily revoked. The circumstances in Lebanon are so bad that Amnesty International has reported that the treatment of Palestinians is in violation of (a) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; (b) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (c) the Convention on the Rights of the Child; (d) the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and (e) the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, nearly 500,000 mostly Sunni Palestinians have been targeted by President Bashar Assad’s Alawite (a Shi’ite derivative) regime – most notably in the Yarmouk camp – with an estimated 2,500 civilians killed, or nearly twice the total number of civilian deaths in Gaza last summer. Moreover, neighboring countries have done their utmost to prevent any influx of Palestinians, even as hundreds of thousands of other asylum-seekers have otherwise been absorbed.
Nor is this a historical aberration. In 1991, Kuwait expelled some 450,000 Palestinians in response to PLO chief Yasser Arafat’s alliance with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who had earlier occupied the Gulf state. In Iraq, dozens of attacks were carried out against Palestinians following the US invasion in 2003, causing their numbers to dwindle from an estimated 35,000 at the start of the war to a few thousand today.
Despite the Arab world’s grand declarations of support for the Palestinian people, the evidence tells an altogether different story. The Palestinians’ plight is used only to attack Israel, while the unwanted “refugees” are left to fend for themselves in a universally hostile Arab milieu.
Nor has the media coverage of any of this remotely paralleled the anti-Israel tirades spewed forth by a global fifth estate during Operation Protective Edge.
The “reporting” on the conflict was so skewed in favor of the Palestinians as to constitute mass journalistic rallies on a near-daily basis for the so-called besieged Gazans.
Yet there are no more articles filling the front pages of major publications or activist marches in world capitals. The Palestinians have been forgotten, having exhausted – for the moment – their sensationalist value.
This reality is, to a large degree, a natural extension of the creation of a Palestinian nationalism, not for the benefit of local Arabs but rather by external anti-Israel forces.
After the Arab world failed to destroy Israel militarily for a fourth time, it shifted its focus to guerrilla warfare and concurrently to the diplomatic battlefield. The PLO, in its original incarnation, filled this twotiered role. Furthermore, by the early 1970s, it was being funded and trained largely by the Soviet Union, giving the USSR another foothold in the region to counter American influence during the Cold War.
The PLO charter never envisioned the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian entity, explicitly renouncing any claims to the West Bank and Gaza while these territories were under Jordanian and Egyptian control, respectively. To this day, the Palestinians still view themselves as an indivisible part of the greater Arab world.
The sad truth is that the Palestinian national movement was conceived primarily as a weapon. That is why its leadership will never make peace with Israel, despite numerous generous offers of statehood; it is why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on record as stating there are no differences between himself and Hamas leaders; it is why Palestinians continue to be indoctrinated with a rabid hatred of all things Jewish and Israeli.
And it is why millions of Palestinian “refugees” continue to suffer under inhumane conditions, as pawns in the anti-Israel game.
The message to be learned by Jerusalem, and which should inform Israeli policy vis-à-vis Gaza and the Palestinians in general, is that the rantings of Arab leaders, along with the entire “pro-Palestinian” crusade, exist first and foremost to harm Israel and not to enhance the lives of the Palestinians. This is especially true when it comes to the so-called demand for the “Right of Return.”
More broadly, it relates to Israel’s ongoing efforts to fight Palestinian terrorism and its continued willingness to abrogate Jewish rights and make other concessions in the pursuit of a negotiated settlement with a sworn enemy. Overall, it raises serious questions about the wisdom and effectiveness of implementing dubious and sometimes dangerous policies to placate international opinion or in response to public outcry.
Instead, the government should, in most instances, act in accordance with its best interests – as any fallout is often short-term and can thus be contained.
This is the lesson of the tired old story of Gaza; a cause célèbre only months ago, it remains in ruins because – anti-Israel invective aside – it seems nobody ever cared much about the people there to begin with. The writer is a correspondent for i24news.