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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
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May 16, 2012

Who Are the Palestinian Refugees, Really—and When Will They Be Set Free by the United Nations?

Dear Friend of FLAME:

Of all the outrageous hoaxes perpetuated by the United Nations---and there are many vying for this distinction---surely the most transparently ludicrous is the myth of the Palestinian Arab refugees.

That about 650,000 Arabs fled Israel (in addition to some others who were driven out) during the Jewish state's War of Independence in 1948, there is no doubt. However, the myth that any more than 100,000 of these refugees are still alive---in fact more than five million Palestinian refugees are claimed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)---represents perhaps the most notorious propaganda coup in world history.

How are Palestinian Arabs different from 135 million other 20th-century refugees? No other refugee group has failed to find or create a home for itself following displacement. Not the 800,000 Jews who fled and were driven from Arab lands during the same war. Not three million Germans of Sudetenland after World War II, not 12 million Muslims and Hindus following the partition of Kashmir, not 2.8 million Greeks and Turks following their countries' 1923 peace agreement, not 1.5 million North Africans after the collapse of the French colonies there.

About how and why the Palestinian Arabs were not resettled, much has been written---including this week's excellent FLAME Hotline article by policy analyst Clifford May. Suffice it to say, the main reason has been Arab refusal to accept the ineluctable march of history---especially the formation of the Jewish state---from 1948 all the way to its extraordinary flourishing in the present day.

Descendants of the original Palestinian refugees have been the hapless tool of this denial for six decades. Their suffering seems destined to continue indefinitely, due first to the recalcitrance of nearly every Arab nation and Palestinian leaders themselves . . . and second to pathological enabling of the deception by UNRWA.

Which brings us to the second way the Palestinian refugees are different from all others, ever. You see, UNRWA has decreed for the first time in history that the Palestinians must pass their refugee label and limbo-like fate to succeeding generations endlessly and without exception. Thus the Palestinian refugee population explodes toward infinity, to the point, as commentator Daniel Pipes has observed, when every human being alive will be a Palestinian refugee.

There is no escape for these descendants, unless of course you fantasize, as hundreds of millions of Arabs do, that one day Israel will be destroyed and those children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of refugees will joyfully clamor to their long-lost lands, dancing in streets awash in Jewish blood.

A glimmer of good news: As Mr. May's article explains, some American legislators are saying "no" to continued U.S. subsidy of UNRWA. We are the single largest funder of this organization, having supported its perverse objectives to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars over the decades. Now's the time for an end to UNRWA's bizarre definition of refugee status and preferably to our funding of it (though May does not go that far).

Please take a minute to review this brief, but important commentary. I hope you'll also pass it along to friends and colleagues you believe may benefit from its disturbing message: Just use the "send to a friend" button at the bottom of this email, or use the buttons above to share it via social media.

Thanks for your continued support of FLAME, and thank you for your support of Israel.

Best regards,

Jim Sinkinson
Vice President, FLAME


Have you visited the FLAME archives of past hasbarah pieces, which we've been publishing for some 18 years? You'll find a treasure trove of background materials on a wide variety of issues pertaining to Israel and the Middle East---a perfect resource to solidify your knowledge and fortify your arguments in defense of Israel. For example, check out our piece---"Those 'Palestinian Refugees': Who are they, what is the real story?"---which we published in media reaching more than 10 million people. Its truths are still helpful, even today, several years after it appeared. If you agree that these kinds of outspoken public relations efforts for Israel are essential, I urge you to support us. Remember: FLAME's ability to influence public opinion comes from individuals like you, one by one. I hope you'll consider giving a donation now, as you're able---with $500, $250, $100, or even $18. (Remember, your donation to FLAME is tax deductible.) To donate online, just go to Now more than ever we need your support to ensure that Israel gets the support it needs---from the U.S. Congress, from President Obama, and from the American people.


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The Real Palestinian Refugee Problem
Most aren't refugees. They're pawns.

By Clifford D. May, National Review, May 10, 2012

After World War II, the British left India, which was to be partitioned into two independent nations. One would have a Hindu majority, the other a Muslim majority. More than 7 million Muslims moved to the territory that became Pakistan. A similar number of Hindus and Sikhs moved to India. Today, not one remains a refugee.

After World War II, the British left Palestine, which was to be partitioned into two independent nations. One would have a Jewish majority, the other a Muslim majority. About 750,000 Muslims left the territories that became Israel. A similar number of Jews left Arab/Muslim lands. Today, not one of the Jews remains a refugee. But there are still Palestinians refugees – indeed, their numbers have mushroomed to almost 5 million. How is that possible?

Through two mechanisms: A refugee, by definition, lives on foreign soil but for Palestinians the definition has been changed so that a displaced Palestinian on Palestinian soil also receives refugee status. Second, the international organization responsible for resettling refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was cut out from the start. A new organization was set up exclusively for Palestinians: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). In 1950, UNRWA defined a refugee as someone who had "lost his home and his means of livelihood" during the war launched by Arab/Muslim countries in response to Israel's declaration of independent statehood. Fifteen years later, UNRWA decided -- against objections from the United States -- to include as refugees the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who left Israel. And in 1982, UNRWA further extended eligibility to all subsequent generations of descendants – forever.

Under UNRWA's rules, even if the descendant of a Palestinian refugee has become a citizen of another state, he's still a refugee. For example, of the 2 million refugees registered in Jordan, all but 167,000 hold Jordanian citizenship. (In fact, approximately 80 percent of Jordan's population is Palestinian -- not surprising since Jordan occupies more than three-fourths of the area historically referred to as Palestine.) By adopting such a policy, UNRWA is flagrantly violating the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees which states clearly that a person shall cease to be considered a refugee if he has "acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality."

But UNRWA's plan is to continue growing – rather than shrinking -- the Palestinian refugee population ad infinitum. According to UNHCR projections, by 2030 UNRWA's refugee list will reach 8.5 million. By 2060 there will be twenty five times the number registered by UNRWA in 1950 -- even though not one of those who actually left Israel is likely to still be breathing.

Everyone understands what it would mean if all these refugees were actually to be granted a "right to return" to Israel. "On numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take five million, or indeed one million," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on March 24, 2009. "That would mean the end of Israel."

But, of course, that's the goal: The descendants of those displaced more than 60 years ago -- when the first offer of what we've come to call a "two-state solution" was rejected – are being used as pawns to prevent a two-state solution now or in the future. By increasing the number of refugees, by maintaining that population in poverty, dependence and anger, by understanding that the "right of return" will be demanded by some Palestinian leaders, UNRWA is helping the extremists prevent peace and continue to wage a war of annihilation against Israel. This anti-peace policy is being funded largely by Americans: We've always been the largest donor to UNRWA, contributing about $4.4 billion since 1950.

A few members of Congress have figured out what's going on and plan to do something about it. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is working on an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that, for the first time, would establish as U.S. policy that only a Palestinian refugee can be classified as a Palestinian refugee -- not a son, grandson or great-grandson, and not someone who has resettled and taken citizenship in another country. The Kirk amendment would require the Secretary of State to report to Congress on how many Palestinians serviced by UNRWA fit the traditional definition of a refugee.

Rep. Howard Berman, (D-CA), ranking member on the House of Representative Committee on Foreign Affairs, also is considering legislative options in response to these problems. At the very least, these approaches would assure that descendants of refugees would be listed – with unaccustomed clarity -- as "descendants of refugees."

They might still be eligible to receive UNRWA "services" but as "Palestinian Authority citizens" who could look forward to becoming citizens of a Palestinian state – if and when the Palestinians come to the conclusion that establishing a Palestinian state is worth the cost: giving up the dream of destroying the Jewish state. Too few Palestinians are there yet. If Congress can rein in UNRWA, more may be moved in that direction.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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