Justice for Palestinian refugees

The “Palestine refugee” story is one of heartless exploitation of Arabs by Arabs.

Palestinian pupils attend an UNRWA school in Gaza 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian pupils attend an UNRWA school in Gaza 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At around the time the State of Israel came into being, over half of the non-Jewish population of what used to be called “Palestine” – some 750,000 people – left their homes. Deemed officially as “refugees,” they and their families have been shamefully treated ever since.
A highly relevant factor in their unhappy history is that the UN body established to assist them (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – UNRWA) began its work in May 1950, seven months ahead of the establishment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  As a result, Palestine refugees have been treated quite differently from − and often much worse than − all other refugees in the world over, ever since.
Voluntary repatriation, local integration and the resettlement of millions who have left their homes—willingly or unwillingly—over the years have been UNHCR’s three key goals. However, UNRWA’s humanitarian activities include maintaining the refugee status millions of people decade after decade, and also expanding the numbers with each successive generation. The number of Palestinians registered by UNRWA as refugees has mushroomed from 750,000 in 1950 to 5 million today, since it was UNRWA that bestowed refugee status upon "descendants of Palestine refugees," regardless of how much time had elapsed.  It’s been estimated that by 2050 the number of UNRWA’s “Palestine refugees” will reach just short of 15 million. 
Consider the unfortunate Arab refugees who made their way to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, where today, according to UNRWA, three million of them are living as “registered refugees” with about half still occupying some 58 refugee camps.  From the moment that the State of Israel came into being, Arab leaders were determined to use the Palestine refugees as a pawn in their deadly game of eradicating the Jewish State from the map of the Middle East. To resettle and absorb these people into their new places of residence would remove a formidable bargaining chip from the table.  For its part, UNRWA went along with this policy, washing its hands of any involvement in “final status” considerations.
The result? Jordan today contains nearly two million Palestine refugees, of whom 338,000 are still living in camps. In Lebanon, a study conducted by Amnesty International described registered Palestine refugees as living in "appalling social and economic conditions."  Following Lebanon’s civil war in 1990, the 400,000 Palestine refugees living there were systematically deprived of basic human rights.  They were barred from professions such as medicine, law and engineering and were not allowed to own property. A very partial relaxation of these harsh conditions was granted In June 2005, when the government removed some work restrictions for a few Lebanese-born Palestinians, enabling them to apply for work permits and work in the private sector.
Nearly half a million Palestinian refugees live in the benighted country of Syria today, and have become totally embroiled in the civil war. Many have been on the run for nearly a year and a half. While there is no question that Syrian refugees are enduring a truly horrific experience, the fate of Palestinian refugees is markedly worse. Palestinians are without the basic rights of passport-holding Syrian citizens – they are stateless and in legal and political limbo. "Stuck," "stranded" and "imprisoned" are just some of the terms used to describe the condition of Palestinian refugees who are mistreated and subjugated by their "Arab brethren."
As for the hundreds of Palestinian refugees who have fled Syria to Jordan, they have been crammed into a poorly equipped facility known as Cyber City, about 90 kilometres north of the capital, Amman. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have condemned the maltreatment of refugees there, which includes reports jail-like treatment and forced deportations back to Syria.
All in all, the “Palestine refugee” story is one of heartless exploitation of Arabs by Arabs – the callous manipulation of powerless victims for political ends, without any regard to their welfare or human rights. It is time that this inhumanity is brought to light, and that the UNRWA farce of “refugee status” designated to third and fourth generation refugees end, with steps taken to allow families who have lived in a country for up to fifty years to finally become full citizens. 
The writer is the author of One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com)