By Dan Lieberman
Negotiators have continually debated the Middle East crisis without regarding the elephant in the room – the Palestinian displaced persons. Rather than being portrayed as victims, these dispossessed persons are often perceived as perpetrators, as if they caused their own ordeal and should shoulder the responsibility for their fate. It’s time to pay attention. The solution of the Middle East crisis starts with those who have suffered the most, continue to suffer and should be relieved of their suffering. The solution of the Middle East crisis starts with the Palestinian displaced persons. No matter how far ‘negotiations’ go, the displaced person solution will be the show stopper. Overcoming the problem at the beginning permits the show to continue. Saving it to the euphoric ‘end’ predicts neglect or a severe compromise that will endanger all previous agreements.
Place the refugee situation in its proper context.
Israel did not permit Palestinians who left or were evicted during the 1948 and 1967 conflagrations to return to their homes and lands. Assets, businesses, property and household items were confiscated and the owners were not reimbursed.
Israeli historian Benny Morris summarized the evictions well:
"I feel sympathy for the Palestinian people, which truly underwent a hard tragedy. I feel sympathy for the refugees themselves. But if the desire to establish a Jewish state here is legitimate, there was no other choice. It was impossible to leave a large fifth column in the country. From the moment the Yishuv was attacked by the Palestinians and afterward by the Arab states, there was no choice but to expel the Palestinian population. To uproot it in the course of war."
Benny Morris used the correct phrase: ". if the desire to establish a Jewish state here is legitimate." It was not legitimate. The choice was not between "having a Jewish state and not dispossessing the Palestinians." The choice was between "not having the expanded state that Israel gained" and "dispossessing the Palestinians." Almost all the evicted Palestinians were in the territory granted to the Palestinians. Not since the days of American expansionism has a group of individuals (Israel was not even a declared nation when the confiscations began nor had Arab armies attacked at that time.) invaded another land, seized the territory and cleared the area of the indigenous people. Hasn’t the world learned anything since Biblical times?
The exiled Palestinians are displaced persons and not refugees. The United Nations definition of a refugee is "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 their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country." Most of the Palestinians wanted to return to their homes, but they were denied entry. Some of them walked back to their villages from Ramallah or Bethlehem, after leaving for only two weeks, and found their homes occupied by Iraqis or other foreigners and were forced to leave again. Similar to situations during World Ware II, displaced persons fled the fighting. These were persons "forced from his or her country, esp. as a result of war, and left homeless elsewhere." After the world failed to repatriate the displaced Palestinians, they were identified as refugees, which permitted then to be relocated to any land except their own.
Other misconceptions need correction.
Contrary to the intensive propaganda that describes the Arab nations as failing to assist the Palestinians, almost all Arab states opened their lands to them. Jordan and Syria eventually allowed the massive number of displaced persons to share in the social benefits and engage themselves in the economy. In Jordan, almost all Palestinians became citizens. Syria granted the Palestinians social and economic privileges normal to its citizens. Palestinians trained and worked in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Arab Emirates and Egypt. Only Lebanon, to where Palestinians were forced after a conflict erupted between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Jordan’s King Hussein, denied the Palestinians access to normal public life. All this was done by impoverished Arab nations, who did not have sufficient resources for their own people and were politically unstable.
The nation that has refused to assist the dispossessed Palestinians has been Israel – the principal perpetrator of the refugee’s condition. Israel boasts of assisting Jewish refugees from Arab nations, but fails to mention that Israel’s policies made Arab nations suspicious of their Jewish citizens and Israeli intelligence forces instigated their emigration, which Israel sought. The Mizrahi served to occupy vacated Arab homes, boost the military and swell the Israeli population.
Another bit of propaganda exclaims that Arab nation leaders urged against citizenship for the displaced Palestinians. Naturally. The Arab nations felt the Palestinians would forfeit the Right of Return if granted citizenship and they would relieve Israel of its own obligations to the dispossessed persons.
Resettlement of these ‘refugees is not the only consideration. Most of them are without passports or attachment to any nation. The Right of Return, a right usually available to anyone driven from a land, deserves to be implemented. Displaced persons have severely overpopulated Gaza, making it one of the most densely populated regions in the world and a tinderbox for social and economic upheavals. Gaza’s population needs to be severely reduced for the entire population to live comfortably.
Because the displaced persons are not a constituency and are powerless, their grievances remain at the bottom of the priority list. Some nations refuse to permanently accommodate them, which extends the problem to perpetuity, Due to insufficient space and resources in the West Bank (which has its own displaced persons camps) it will de difficult to relocate all of the displaced persons to a forecasted Palestinian state. Nevertheless, what does the world expect to happen to these long suffering persons; just continue to suffer for millennia and stir up terrorism? Rather than being an afterthought, the refugees should be the primary thought – where they stay, where they go, and how they are they are brought from their deprivation to take a deserved place in the world.
Naturally this will create problems for Israel, but didn’t Israel cause the problem? UN Resolution 194 clearly stated:
"… that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors 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."
Refugees have always been allowed to return to their homes. Here again, the western world shows its bias towards Israel, even when faced with Israel’s contradictory policies.
Israeli courts have ruled that any person can petition the court to claim land, even after 100 years, and, if ruled in the claimants favor, evict the dweller. Jews have won many cases. Although it’s documented that Palestinians owned about 90 per cent of the land before partition, no Arab citizen has been able to exercise that right.
The Zionists promoted an unproven and historically disputable claim that all Jews are refugees from the land of their forefathers and have the ‘Right of Return’ after 2000 years. Why don’t Palestinians, all with historically proven claims, have the same right?
Can the Palestinian displaced persons problem be conveniently resolved?
Start with the number of Palestinian displaced persons.
According to BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights, the displaced Palestinian and their descendents are estimated to number about 7.1 million plus 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territories (OPT). The latter IDP’s were forced from their villages but still live in Israel and the OPT. Figures are debatable but the information below from Badil categorizes the refugees in an approximate and accepted manner.
Lebanon – 460,490 in refugee camps.
Syria – 488, 656 listed refugees.
Jordan – 2,478,424 listed refugee of whom 2,200,000 are Jordanian citizens.
West Bank – 754,000 in refugee camps
Gaza – 1,059,584 in refugee camps
Egypt – 75,706 displaced persons
Saudi Arabia – 341,770 displaced persons
Kuwait – 43,718 displaced persons
Europe – 200,000 displaced persons
Other – 1,200,000 displaced persons
Note: Not all displaced persons are in refugee camps.
In Jordan, most Palestinian citizens are still registered as refugees. In the occupied territories, the populations have an undefined citizenship. In Syria, Palestinian refuges have access to most social services and economic opportunities but cannot obtain citizenship. Other category is not exaggerated. Chile has 300,000 Palestinians and many other Palestinians are unregistered and scattered around the world.
After validating the number and authenticity of the displaced persons, they will be presented with several choices:
1. During a five year period, nations where they reside will permit a portion of the displaced persons to become citizens. Almost all nations where Palestinians presently reside will probably offer citizenship, except for Lebanon, which fears another radicalized minority in its midst. Lebanon might allow a fraction, possibly about 100,000 persons to become citizens. Due to the Palestinians approaching a majority, Jordan might deny 200,000 Palestinians from receiving citizenship. In the other nations, Palestinians have become well established in the societies and contribute economically. Once the issue shows resolution and Israel concedes to meet its obligations, there will be no reason for these nations not to grant citizenship.
2. Over a five year period, western nations will offer to receive 1,500,000 Palestinians as immigrants. This is actually an obligation. Consider that the Partition Plan was doomed to failure and could only lead to what happened; the expulsions of the Palestinians to enable a predominant Jewish population in a Jewish state. The partitioned Jewish state had 495,000 Jews and 325,000 Palestinians and limited arable area for expanding the Jewish community. The immediate seizure of territory and expulsion of Palestinians were predictable, necessary to allow the Mizrahi from North Africa and the Middle East to emigrate and have suitable housing. Iraqi families were immediately placed in homes vacated by Palestinian families. Israel is most responsible for the dispossessions and planned destructions of Palestinian villages, but the nations that voted for partition without care and without thought of the consequences (except for the U.S. State Department who expressed doubts about the success of the partition plan) must share the blame and make amends.
In the United States, the Palestinian communities have proven to be the best citizens, exhibiting exemplary behavior – quiet, diligent, cooperative, moral, studious, educated, and with little attachment to crime or need for welfare. The Palestinians will integrate and contribute well in all nations.
3. Israel will vacate all areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that are in violation of the UN Resolutions. Except for Israelis or their descendants who can prove ownership of property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem before 1948, all other properties, installations, institutions and homes will revert to Palestinians. Being as Palestinian families are large and generally have been able to exist with less square feet of space, the vacated housing should accommodate about 750,000Palestinians. This is the least the state of Israel can do for the illegal seizure of Palestinian lands and the oppressed conditions in which subsequent generations have been forced to live.
4. Israel will admit 300,000 Palestinians who can show prior ownership of seized land. This requirement has several purposes: It provides a token resolution to a great injustice.
It informs the world that ‘human rights’ is not an empty phrase. It makes certain that a precedent no longer exists that allows the more powerful to seize possessions from the weaker. It removes a stain that would forever afflict the Jewish community. It presents the Arab world with a more satisfying perspective of western nations..
How does this work out?
Let’s use the BADIL figure of 7.1 million externally displaced Palestinians and 4.6 million offers to permit them to remain and acquire citizenship. The latter includes the 2.2 million who are already citizens in Jordan, the 456,000 who are quasi citizens in Syria, all other areas where Palestinians have already been integrated, and Lebanon permitting at least 100,000 to remain. Those in the West Bank and Gaza are not included in the offers. Consider that 10%, or 460,000, will refuse the offers and we still have 3.0 million displaced persons to rehabilitate. Certainly out of that figure there will be 1.5 million persons, many from Gaza and the West Bank, willing to immigrate to the western nations and situate among Palestinian communities that already exist in the western world. That leaves 1.5 million DPs. We then have 750,000 in the West Bank and Gaza moving to new home in the West Bank and 300,000 from all DPs moving back to Israel. That leaves only 450,000 displaced persons to find new accommodations in Gaza and the West Bank.
The population in Gaza and the West Bank will shrink by about 500,000, hopefully mostly from Gaza, which is now too overcrowded. Israel’s population within the Green line will increase by about 500,000 settlers and 300,000 repatriated Palestinians for a total of 800,000.
At first glance, this all seems improbable. It isn’t. Examining it carefully, if the displaced persons are granted citizenship in lands where they live, it comes down to only about 300,000 displaced persons from Lebanon and 200,000 from Jordan who are presently in UNWRA run refugee camps and another 460,000 from other nations who might refuse citizenship. The other displaced persons from the West Bank and Gaza warrant consideration, but they are presently on Palestinian territory and can be easily addressed.
The problem is not forecasted to be with the Arab nations. They will cooperate if they definitely know the western nations and Israel will cooperate. The problem is with the western nations and Israel, who have been delinquent in recognizing their participation in the tragedy and the violence that has developed.
Can anyone believe that Israel is not directly responsible for the Palestinian exodus? Did these people voluntarily decide to leave their homes, face starvation, have entire families commit suicide because of their desperation and then be willing to sit quietly in refugee camps? Are these verified reports of forced removals, terrorizing, killings and destruction of more than 400 Palestinian villages only stories? Why were the villages destroyed? Why weren’t the villagers allowed to return? Why were vacant homes instantly occupied? In Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere, the western nations have been firm in demanding prompt return of refugees and have fought to achieve that demand. The Palestinian situation is more insidious. In other situations, refugees had been created, but wanton property and asset seizures were not a rule. In Palestine, Israel seized all properties and assets and allowed newly arrived foreigners to occupy vacant homes. No precedent for these illegal operations exists in the post World War II western civilized world.
If western leaders stop behaving cowardly and do what they must do to resolve an unjust situation that can paralyze the world for perpetuity, the world will breathe more easily. The road to Middle East peace starts with the resolution of the Palestinian involuntary displaced persons and not with what least harms the East European voluntary displaced persons of Avigdor Lieberman and his crowd.
– Dan Lieberman is the editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web based newsletter.
Dan’s many articles on the Middle East conflict have circulated on websites and media throughout the world. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.