The Palestinian Refugee Scam
by Jerold Auerbach
Another Nakba Day, the annual commemoration of the catastrophic displacement of Palestinians from their homes in the 1948 war launched by Arab states to annihilate Israel, has passed. Like so much of the Palestinian narrative, it relies upon Jewish and Zionist history to rally support for the Palestinian “right of return” — to the Land of Israel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has ludicrously claimed that “we have been in this land since before Abraham” — indeed, “since the beginning of civilization” — and that his Palestinian forefathers “built Jerusalem before Abraham was even here.” How ironic that Abbas, while defending these absurdities and plagiarizing the biblical narrative, should also claim: “History cannot change and cannot be falsified.”
The Nakba is at the core of the Palestinian nationalist narrative, which began under the British Mandate following World War I. This narrative holds that during the Nakba hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes in what became the State of Israel by cruel conquering Zionists. Embedded in that tragic chronicle, embraced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to justify its own continued existence and lavish funding, is blatant deception reinforced by seven decades of international acquiescence to a brazen scam.
There is, to begin with, the question of numbers: how many Palestinian refugees were there in 1948-49? According to the meticulous research of Efraim Karsh, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, between 536,000-566,800 Palestinians fled their homes during the Arab war to exterminate Israel. Yet UNRWA, which exists for the sole purpose of assisting Palestinian refugees, now provides financial support to five million of them.
The only refugees in the world with their own UN support agency, Palestinians also are the only refugees who defy mortality rates to increase in number over time. This “unparalleled indulgence,” Karsh writes, “has kept them on the UN’s dole for decades under false humanitarian pretense.” Ironically, Palestinians — despite their woeful tale of refugee displacement and enduring sorrow — have become “the most privileged refugee group ever.”
What does history — not fake Palestinian “history” — actually reveal? Karsh notes that 80% of the Palestinians who fled their homes remained within “the country of their nationality at the outbreak of hostilities, namely mandatory Palestine.” How so? Because they relocated to the West Bank and Gaza, within Palestinian boundaries ever since the League of Nations Mandate defined Palestine after World War I. Nonetheless, they were supported by UNRWA as though they had left Palestine behind.
The biggest UNRWA scam, however, is its definition of “refugee,” which includes children, grandchildren, and their descendants yet unborn. Instead of an ever-diminishing number over time as death inevitably claims the 30,000 genuine Palestinian refugees still alive, theirs is an ever-increasing number with every generation. Indeed, there are now as many UNRWA employees as there are genuine refugees, but the UN charade continues, unimpeded by reality.
To be sure, the majority of Palestinians who fled from within the borders of Mandatory Palestine to the Gaza Strip (under Egyptian rule) and the West Bank (annexed by Jordan in 1950) could not return to their former homes in what became Israel. Blame, Karsh notes, is shared: for their own reasons, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel would not permit their return. But West Bank Palestinians (numbering 280,000), in addition to those who crossed the Jordan River, became Jordanian citizens. By definition, they no longer were refugees, yet they have remained beneficiaries of UNRWA largess.
There is an obvious humanitarian solution: Israel should grant the right of return to any Palestinian who can document his or her departure from Palestine in 1947-48. By definition, this would exclude anyone younger than age 70. But it is unlikely that Palestinians would relinquish their hallowed identity as victims, which makes them uniquely privileged beneficiaries. The Palestinian slogan — in victimization lies victory — dooms future generations of its own people. That is the real Palestinian tragedy.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016.