UNWRA and the Jews

The news
that the US is no longer funding UNWRA (the UN Works and Relief Agency)
should remove one of the major obstacles to settling  the conflict
between Israel and the Arabs. UNWRA has been perpetuating the delusion
that the Palestinians are in transit to their permanent home in Israel
and that one day they will return. If the ‘refugees’ come under the
umbrella of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the focus
will be on rehabilitation and resettlement in their host countries. Jewish refugees can serve as a model, writes Lyn Julius in The Times of Israel: 

 

Jewish refugees fleeing areas conquered by the Arab Legion in 1948. Some 3,000 Jews fled East Jerusalem. 

 
It is not generally known that UNWRA was established with the aim of helping refugees on both sides of the conflict.

According to Don Peretz (Who is a Refugee?) 
initially UNRWA defined a refugee “as a needy person who, as a result
of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.”
This definition included some 17,000 Jews who had lived in areas of
Palestine taken over by Arab forces during the 1948 war and about 50,000
Arabs living within Israel’s armistice frontiers. Israel took
responsibility for these individuals, and by 1950 they were removed from
the UNRWA rolls leaving only Palestine Arabs and a few hundred non-Arab
Christian Palestinians outside Israel in UNRWA’s refugee category.

At the time there was no internationally recognised definition of
what constituted a refugee. In 1951,  The UN Refugee Convention agreed
the following definition:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted
for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular
social group or political opinion is outside the country of his
nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail
himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a
nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual
residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear,
is unwilling to return to it.”

This definition certainly applies to the 850,000 Jewish refugees
fleeing persecution in Arab countries, synagogue burnings, arrests and
riots. Returning to these countries would have put – and still does
-their lives at risk.

The burden of rehabilitating and resettling the 650,000  Jewish
refugees who arrived in Israel was shouldered by the Jewish Agency and
US Jewish relief organisations, such as the Joint Distribution
Committee. They were shunted into transit camps or ma’abarot. The conditions were appalling.

From an early stage in the conflict, the UN was co-opted by the
powerful Arab-Muslim voting bloc to skew its mandate and defend the
rights of only one refugee population – the Palestinians. The UN
dedicated an agency, UNWRA, to the exclusive care of Palestinian
refugees.There are ten UN agencies solely concerned with Palestinian
refugees. These even define refugee status for the Palestinians
explicitly: one that stipulates that status depends on ‘two years’
residence’ in Palestine.The definition makes no mention of ‘fear of
persecution’ nor of resettlement. Palestinian refugees are the only
refugee population in the world, out of 65 million recognised refugees,
permitted to pass on their refugee status to succeeding generations,
even if they enjoy citizenship in their adoptive countries. It is
estimated that the current population of Palestinian ‘refugees’ is
5,493, million. Instead of resettlement, they demand ‘repatriation’, an
Israeli red line. (This begs the question: why would any Palestinian
wish to return to an evil, ‘apartheid’ Israel?)

In contrast to the $17.7 billion allocated to the Palestinian
refugees, no international aid has been earmarked for Jewish refugees.
The exception was a $30,000 grant in 1957 which the UN, fearing protests
from its Muslim members, did not want publicised. The grant was
eventually converted into a loan and paid back by the American Joint
Distribution Committee, the main agency caring for Jews in distress.

Yet on two occasions the UN did determine that Jews fleeing Egypt and North Africa were bona fide
refugees. In 1957, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, August Lindt,
declared that the Jews of Egypt who were ‘unable or unwilling to avail
themselves of the protection of the government of their nationality’
fell within his remit. In July 1967, the UNHCR recognised Jews fleeing
Libya as refugees under the UNHCR mandate.

Needless to say, no Jew still defines himself as a refugee. Despite
the initial hardships, they are now all full citizens of Israel and the
West. As such, they are a model for the resettlement of Palestinian
refugees in their host countries or in a putative state of Palestine
alongside Israel.

For any peace process to be credible and enduring, the international
community would be expected to address the rights of all Middle East
refugees, including Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries. Two
victim populations arose out of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Arab
leadership bears responsibility for needlessly causing both
Nakbas – the
Jewish and the Arab. As the human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler observes: ‘Put
simply, if the Arab leadership had accepted the UN Partition Resolution of
1947, there would have been no refugees, Arab or Jewish.

Read article in full

2 Comments

  • Hi Davsil
    1. She has written at least two articles on the subject, eg 'Breaking the silence on Jewish property rights'. Her book UPROOTED has four pages on Jewish refugee claims in Palestine.There are 74 articles under the label 'Jewish refugees in Palestine' on this blog.
    2.Both are true. UNWRA was established on 9 December 1949, Israel took over responsibility in 1950, possibly less than a year later, so UNWRA was devoted exclusively to Pal refugees almost from the beginning.

    Reply
  • 1. At least she acknowledged there were PALESTINIAN Jewish refugees. It took her long enough.

    2. Her article is somewhat confusing. In the first paragraph, she writes, "It is not generally known that UNWRA was established with the aim of helping refugees on both sides of the conflict." Then in the 5th paragraph, she writes, "The UN dedicated an agency, UNWRA, to the exclusive care of Palestinian refugees." Which statement is correct?

    Reply

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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