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Palestinian Refugees, were denied resettlement opportunities

Palestinian Refugees, unlike other refugees in the world, were denied resettlement opportunties, so that they could be used as political pawns. Over the last thirty-odd years, numerous projects have been proposed, international funds provided, studies undertaken, all indicating the benefits that could be derived by the Arab refugees from their absorption into the brethren cultures of the Arab host countries. Various international bodies and independent Arab voices over the years have clearly challenged as immoral the position of the Arabs in promoting the continued languishing of the Arab emigres who came within their borders; also deplored on occasion is the Arab states' departure from the free world's unvarying precedent: of granting to refugees around the world the dignity of resettlement within a compatible environment where they can become productive citizens. From the beginning, the Arab host governments were offered unprecedentedly broad opportunities based on the refugees' rehabilitation, which could help develop their countries' vast potential under the proposed aid programs.

International experts reported and published undisputed evidence that integration and resettlement of those who were refugees, when implemented by the community of Arab nations, would benefit not only the Arab refugees but also the underpopulated areas within the Arab world, which needed additional labor forces to implement progress. Iraq and Syria were judged by many specialists in the area to be ideal for resettlement of the Arab refugees." Among many such findings was the report by President Truman's International Development Advisory Board. Headed by Nelson Rockefeller, the board asserted that under proper development Iraq alone could absorb an Arab refugee population of 750,000. According to the report,

... Israel [which] in the three years of its existence has absorbed a Jewish refugee population, about equivalent in number to the Arab refugees; ... in flight from Moslem countries in the Middle East and North Africa, cannot reabsorb the Arabs who fled its borders, but it can and indeed has, offered to contribute to a fund for Arab resettlement. The exchange of the Arab population of Palestine with the Jewish population of the Arab countries was favored by the ... League of Nations as an effective way of resolving the Palestine problem. In practical effect, such an exchange has been taking place. The resettlement of the Arab refugees is ... much simpler ... in Arab lands.*1
Another of the authoritative studies reported:
Iraq could contribute most to the solution of the refugee problem. It could absorb agriculturists as well. This would benefit the refugees and the country equally.2
Pointing to Iraq's special availability for resettlement and countering the Arab argument that the Arab refugees were "unemployable"-the same study emphasized that
In the years 1950-51 100,000 Iraqi Jews left the country.... They left a big gap in the life of the city. Many of them were shopkeepers, artisans or white collar workers, while 15,000 belonged to the well-to-do. The gap could be ... filled. ... Again Iraq would also benefit....
The study concluded that "host countries should take over responsibility for the refugees at the earliest possible date," and that "redistribution of the refugees among these countries is a primary requisite."

According to yet another study, by S.G. Thicknesse,3 Iraq's were the "best long-range prospects" for resettlement of the Arabs from Palestine. Herbert Hoover suggested that "this would clear Palestine ... for a large Jewish emigration. . . ."4

El-Balad, an Arab daily paper in the Jordan-held "old city" of Jerusalem, stressed the value to the Arabs of the Jews' flight from Iraq, since "roughly 120,000" Jewish refugees had fled Baghdad for Israel, leaving all of their goods and homes behind them 5  Salah Jabr, former Prime Minister of Iraq and leader of Iraq's National Socialist Party had stated that

the emigration of 120,000 Jews from Iraq to Israel is beneficial to Iraq and to the Palestinian Arabs because it makes possible the entry into Iraq of a similar number of Arab refugees and their occupation of the Jewish houses there.6
A survey by the League of Red Cross Societies determined that thirty-five percent of the Palestine refugees were "townspeople" and could "easily fill the vacuum" left by the Jews.
... Their departure created a large gap in Iraq's economy. In some fields, such as transport, banking and wholesale trades, it reached serious proportions There was also a dearth of white collar workers and professional men.7
Syria was also proposed by many experts as an area with great potential for        absorbing refugees: according to one report, Syria required more than twice as many inhabitants as its then-current population of a little more than two million (after World War II.)8 According to Arab Palestinian writer Fawaz Turki, Syria "could have absorbed its own refugees, and probably those in Lebanon and Jordan."9 The British Chatham House Survey10 estimated that, with Syria's agreement, "Syria might well absorb over 200,000 Palestine refugees within five years in agriculture alone." Chatham House also recommended that about 350,000 refugees could be resettled in Iraq, further noting that the refugees themselves would "not offer serious resistance" if they were encouraged to realize that their lives would become more productive.

In 1949 a newspaper editorial from Damascus stated that

Syria needs not only 100,000 refugees, but 5 million to work the lands and make them fruitful.11
The Damascus paper, earlier recognizing that Arab refugees were not to be "repatriated," suggested that the government place these "100,000 refugees in district[s] ... where they will build small villages with the money appropriated for this purpose." * 12

[* On June 27, 1949, Near East Arab Broadcasting, a British-run station, broadcast (in Arabic): "The Arabs must forget their demand for the return of all refugees since Israel, owing to her policy of crowding new immigrants into the country at such a rate that the territory she holds is already too small for her population, is physically unable to accept more than a small number of Arab refugees. The Arabs must face the facts before it's too late, and must see to the resettlement of the refugees in the Arab states where they can help in the development of their new lands and so become quickly assimilated genuine inhabitants, instead of suffering exiles." "Daily Abstracts of Arabic Broadcasts," Israel Foreign Office. Similar broadcasts were recorded on 10/31/50, 11/11/50, 11/29/50, 12/31/50.]

In 1951, Syria was anxious for additional workers who would settle on the land. An Egyptian paper13 reported,

The Syrian government has officially requested that half a million Egyptian agricultural workers ... be permitted to emigrate to Syria in order to help develop Syrian land which would be transferred to them as their property. The responsible Egyptian authorities have rejected this request on the grounds that Egyptian agriculture is in need of labor.*
[* 200,000 Arab "refugees" were languishing in Gaza, along with "80,000 original residents who barely made a living before the refugees arrived," according to the UNRWA report in 1951-52, yet a project with "hope" to accommodate "10,000 families" in the "Sinai area" was "suspended."]

Near East Arabic Radio14 reported that Syria was offering land rent free to anyone willing to settle there. It even announced a committee to study would-be settlers' applications.

 In fact, Syrian authorities began the experiment by moving 25,000 of the refugees in Syria into areas of potential development in the northern parts of the country, but the overthrow of the ruling regime in August 1949 changed the situation, and the rigid Arab League position against permanent resettlement, despite persistence on the part of isolated leaders, prevailed.15

Notwithstanding the facts, 16 the Arab world has assiduously worked to build the myth that no jobs were available in Arab lands for Arab refugees in 1948 or since, and that the refugees had become surplus farm workers "in an era when the world at large and Arab countries in particular already has too many people in the rural sector."17

At around the same time, the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Muhammad Saleh ed-Din, in.a leading Egyptian daily, demanded the return of the refugees:

Let it therefore be known and appreciated that, in demanding the restoration of the refugees to Palestine, the Arabs intend that they shall return as the masters of the homeland, and not as slaves. More explicitly: they intend to annihilate the state of Israel.18
Thus, while the "refugee" count kept growing, Arab leaders' confusion over "return" or "not return" had been more or less clarified: they proclaimed that the "refugees" must indeed "return," but not before Israel was destroyed.

The Lebanese paper AI-Ziyyad 19 anticipated a current expressed goal of the PLO charter, though it was less candid. In a sophisticated assessment, it suggested the recognition of Israel as a strategy that would accomplish the following results:

The return of all the refugees to their homes would be secured, thereby we should, on the one hand, eliminate the refugee problem, and on the other, create a large Arab majority that would serve as the most effective means of reviving the Arab character of Palestine, while forming a powerful fifth column for the day of revenge and reckoning.
Despite findings of the 1950 United Nations Palestine Conciliation Commission,20 which recommended "concentration on Arab refugees' resettlement in theArab countries21 with both the technical and financial assistance of the United Nations and coupled with compensation for their property," the Arab League22 insisted that
relief projects should not prejudice the right of the refugees to return to their homes or to receive compensation if unwilling to return...23
The Revue du Liban was among many dissenters who challenged the Arab League's position and discouraged Arab refugees from "return":
... it is a fact that many Arabs leave Israel today of their own free will.
The paper pointed out that "in the event of a return of the refugees they will constitute a minority ... in a foreign environment ... unfamiliar together with people who speak a language they do not understand." Also, the paper stated, the refugees would "encounter the economic difficulties of Israel," and
their settlement in Israel will cost much more than their absorption in the countries where they live today. After three years it is not human and not logical to compel them to wait without giving them concrete help. Syria and Iraq can easily absorb additional refugees.... They should form a productive force which might help to improve the economic conditions in the countries where they will be absorbed.24
Despite tacit recognition of the actual "resident"- as opposed to "refugee' - identity of so many of those involved, projects unparalleled for refugees else where continued to offer to facilitate the Arab world's resettlement of all it "refugees."25 Yet the Arabs rebuffed every effort to secure realistic well-being for their kinsmen. At a refugee conference in Homs, Syria, the Arabs declare that
any discussion aimed at a solution of the Palestine problem which will not based on ensuring the refugees' right to annihilate Israel will be regarded as desecration of the Arab people and an act of treason.26
In 1958, former director of UNRWA Ralph Galloway declared angrily while in Jordan that
The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations, and as a weapon agains Israel. Arab leaders do not give a damn whether Arab refugees live or die.27
And King Hussein, the sole Arab leader who, for reasons that later become clearer, directed integration of the Arabs, in 1960 stated,
Since 1948 Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner.... They have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal.28
Eleven years after the Arab leavetaking, the late United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjbld reiterated that there were ample means for absorb ing the Arab refugees into the economy of the Arab region; he asserted furthe that the refugees would be beneficial to their host countries, by adding needed~manpower to assist in the development of those countries. Hammarskjbld detailed the estimated cost of the refugee absorption, which he proposed be financed by oil revenues and outside aid. But again, plans for permanent rehabilitation of the  refugees were rejected by the Arab leaders, because such measures would have terminated the refugees' status as "refugees"; the Arab leaders reasoned that once the refugees accepted their new homes, they would eventually abandon their desire to "return" to former homes, as have other refugees. Such action would have resulted in the Arab world's loss of a weapon against Israel,29 and would have falsely implied acceptance of the Jewish state.

While the vast majority of refugees has now left the camps for greater opportunities among their brethren-many in the oil-rich Gulf states-most have been denied citizenship in the Arab countries to which they had moved. Regardless of their contributions as "law-abiding" citizens de facto, and regardless of their length of time there, they have largely been discriminated against. As one Palestinian Arab in Kuwait told Forbes editor James Cook in 1975,

They owe me citizenship. I've been here for nearly 20 years and I helped create this country's great wealth. I did. I haven't simply earned my citizenship, they owe it to me.30
This Arab refugee, whose plight is representative of so many, according to Cook, was "unlikely to get it," although it is said that some of the Arabs who left Western Palestine for Kuwait have finally obtained Kuwaiti citizenship. In Iraq, Palestinians have been "allowed to live in the country but not to assume Iraqi nationality," despite the fact that the country needs manpower and "is encouraging Arab nationals to work and live there by granting them citizenship, with the exception of Palestinians.31

In this endeavor, the Arab world has received inordinate support from the United Nations, as a candid former United Nations Palestinian Conciliation Commission official admitted in 1966. Dr. Pablo de Azcarate wrote:

...solemn proclamation [of the "right of the refugees to return . . ."] by the [General] Assembly and its incorporation into the text of the resolution of December 14, 1948, have had three results.

In the first place, a platform has been provided, of inestimable value to all those Arab political elements who are more interested in keeping alive the political struggle against the State of Israel than in putting an end, by means of a practical and reasonable compromise formula, to the tragic situation of the refugees. The truth is that since the resolution.... the Arab states, whenever the question arose, have done nothing but attack Israel....

The second result of the proclamation ... has been complementary to the first - to paralyze any possible initiative on the part of those who would have preferred to give priority, not to the struggle against Israel, but to the solution of the refugee problem by means of a reasonable and constructive compromise formula.

[And third,] the proclamation and the propaganda surrounding it have created a state of mind among the refugees based on the vain hope of returning to their homes, which has immobilized their cooperation.... an indispensable condition if a way is to be opened to a solution at once practical and constructive of their distressing problem....

... after years of effort, the sole achievement has been to feed and shelter the refugees in some sort of fashion, without taking a single step along the road to their economic and social rehabilitation.32

Arab propaganda has also managed thus far to direct all attention to one aspect of the Middle East refugee problem as if it were the only aspect of that problem, and thus to mask the overall reality. One crucial truth, among many that have been obscured and deprecated, is that there have been as many Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled from the Arab countries as there are Arab refugees from Israel, and that the Jews left of necessity and in flight from danger.

Palestinians burn effigy of Canadian minister

January 17, 2001

Palestinians burned an effigy of Canadian Foreign Minister John Manley on Thursday in a protest against Canada's offer to accept Palestinian refugees as part of a Middle East peace plan. Hooded gunmen fired into the air during the protest in Balata refugee camp near the West Bank town of Nablus and hundreds of demonstrators shouted slogans demanding the right of return to former homes. "We refuse resettlement of refugees," they shouted.

Manley told the Toronto Star newspaper in an interview published on January 10, "We are prepared to receive refugees. We are prepared to contribute to an international fund to assist with resettlement in support of a peace agreement." Manley said there had been no discussion on the number of refugees to be resettled outside the Middle East. 

Canada heads the multilateral Refugee Working Group, a committee charged with trying to resolve the plight of Palestinian refugees.

Arab League Summit in Beirut

28 March 2002

Following is an official translation of the full text of a Saudi-inspired
peace plan adopted by an Arab summit in Beirut on Thursday...

The Arab Peace Initiative

The Council of Arab States at the Summit Level at its 14th Ordinary Session, reaffirming the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo Extra-Ordinary Arab Summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government...

1. Requests Israel to reconsider its policies...

2. Further calls upon Israel to affirm...

3. Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following...

4. Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries.

5. Calls upon the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept this initiative...

Section 4 effectively continues the policy of forcing the Palestinian refugees to remain camps in Lebanon and elsewhere as political weapons rather than absorbing them.

1. International Development Advisory Board, Report, March 7, 1951.

2. F. T. Witcamp, The Refugee Aroblem in the Middle East (The Hague: Research Group for European Migration Problems, 1959), pp. 39-41.

3. S.G. Thicknesse, Arab Refugees: A Survey of Resettlement Possibilities (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1949), p. 51.

4. Herbert Hoover, reported in the New York World Telegram, November 19, 1945.

5. EI-Balad, September 13, 19, 1951, cited in Joseph Schechtman, The Arab Refugee Problem (New York: Philosophical Library, 1952), p. 91.

6. Dewey Anderson et al., "Arab Refugee Problem and How It Can Be Solved," p. 39, citing EI-Balad (Jerusalem), September 18, 1951.

7. Schechtman, Apab Refugee Problem, p. 91; p. 94, n. 41.

8. Anderson et al., "Arab Refugee Problem and How It Can Be Solved," citing a report by Alexander Gibbs Co., "The Economic Development of Syria" (London, 1949).

9. Fawaz Turki, The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1972), p. 37.

10. Anderson et al., "Arab Refugee Problem," p. 50, citing a report by a study group composed of members and associates of Chatham House and members of the Royal Asian Society under the chairmanship of Sir Harold MacMichael on Arab refugee settlement possibilities. Arnold Toynbee was also a participant.

11. Editorial in al-Qubs (The Torch), Damascus, January 1949. Quoted on March 28, 1949, in az-Sameer, an Arabic paper published in New York. Cited in Schechtman, Arab Refugee Problem, p. 80.

12. al-Quk quoted in az-Sameer, March 28, 1949, cited in Anderson et al., "Arab Refugee Problem," p. 52.

13. Musamaret El Geib (Cairo), June 3, 1951, cited in Anderson et al., "Arab Refugee Problem," p. 50. See Chapter 18 for interview with Syrian official who expressed similar needs in 1977.

14. Near East Arabic radio, May 12, 1949, cited in Anderson et al., p. 51.

15. W. de St. Aubin, "Peace and Refugees in the Middle East," Middle East Journal, Washington, July 1949, pp. 359-60. According to Schechtman, Arab Refugee Problem, P. 81, "In March 1951, premier Khaled el-Azarn stated in connection with the visit to Damascus of UN Secretary General Trygve Lie, Syria would be willing to accept refugees provided they were paid compensation for their property in Israel." (Emphasis added.)

16. From 1949 until 1951 Egyptians were receptive to resettlement proposals. In September 1949, Egypt was planning to hire the refugees to dig wells in Gaza, conditional upon Israel's cooperation with irrigation methods, New York Times, October 1, 1949; in 1951, Egypt and UNRWA negotiated to resettle 50,000 refugees in the Sinai at one point, New York Times, August 18, 23, 1950, and March 23, 195 1; an additional 20,000 refugees were agreed upon for resettling in the same period, New York Times, December 26, 1950, Times, London, January 23, 1951.

17. John Davis, "Why Are There Still Arab Refugees?", Arab World, December 1969- January 1970. Also see data on Syria and on Libya, etc., in UNRWA Annual Report of the Director, July 1952 to June 1953, General Assembly, 8th Session, Supp. No. 12 (A/2470), pp. 10-11; in UN Resolution 513 (VI) the General Assembly adopted the Authorization to '~ransfer" UNRWA funds "allocated for relief' into funds for "reintegration, " dated January 26, 1952, item no. 10. An American representative in Lebanon, Ambassador Ira Hirschmann, submitted a comprehensive report to the Assistant Secretary of State re: "Arab Refugee Situation," April 6,1968, Hirschmann to William B. Macomber, Jr.

18. Dewey Anderson et al., "Arab Refugee Problem and How It Can Be Solved," p. 77, citing AbMisr4 October 11, 1949.

19. Ibid., citing Al-Ziyyad, April 6, 1950.

20. "General Progress Report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine," covering the period from December It, 1949, to October 23, 1950 (pamphlet), General Assembly Official Records, 5th Session, Supp. No. 18 (A/1367/Rev. 1).

21. See UN Ad Hoc Committee Sessions, November 11, 29, 30, December 1, 1950, for positions of Denmark, Canada, Britain, Australia, Bolivia, Belgium, and Holland. Although giving perfunctory acknowledgment to the Arab position, a substantial bloc among the UN Ad Hoc Committee concluded that "the Arab refugees would have a happier and more stable future if the bulk of them were resettled in Arab countries."

22. League Resolution No. 389, October 10, 1951.

23. Mohammad lqbal Ansari, The Arab League 1945-1955 (Aligarh: Aligarh Muslim University, 1968), pp. 71-74.

24. Revue du Liban (French), May 12, 1951, cited by Anderson et al., "Arab Refugee Problem," p. 38.

25. For additional support of resettlement see Thicknesse, Arab Refugees~ pp. 38-58; Vahe Sevian, "Economic Utilization and Development of the Water Resources of the Euphrates and Tigris," E/Conf. 7/Sec/W.397, August 1, 1949, p. 16; Doreen Warriner, Land and Poverty in the Middle East (London and New York: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1948), pp. 26-33, 75-80, 95.

26. Berlut al Massa (Lebanese daily), July 11-12, 1957, 'cited by Terence Prittie and Bernard Dineen, The Double Exodus. A Study of Arab and Jewish Refugees in the Middle East (pamphlet), (London: Goodhart Press, n.d.), p. 13.

27. Prittie, "Middle East Refugees," in Michael Curtis et al., eds., The Palestinians: People, History, Politics (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1975), p. 71.

28. Ibid., citing Associated Press interview, January 1960.

29. See Robert MacDonald, The League ofArab States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965); also see Mohammad Khalil, The Arab States and the Arab League: A Documentary Record (Beirut: Khayat's, 1962), vol. 2, pp. 517-22, 9351f.

30. "Biggest Little Superpower in the World," Forbes, August 1, 1975; author's interview with Jim Cook, January 5, 1979.

31. Abbas Kelidar, "Iraq: The Search for Stability," Conflict Studies, No. 59, The Institute for the Study of Conffict, London, July 1975, p. 21.

32. Pablo de Azcarate, Mission in Palestine 1948-1952 (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1966), p. 191. Resolution 194 (111) of the United Nations General Assernbly, which de Azcarate dates December 14, 1948, is generally recorded as December 11, 1948. The UN "proclamation" referred to by de Azearate includes the following: "Resolves that the refugees willing 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 inequity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible; "Instructs the Conciliation Committee to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations."

This page was produced by Joseph E. Katz
Middle Eastern Political and Religious History Analyst 
Brooklyn, New York 
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Source: "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters, 1984
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