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July 23, 2018 12:14 pm

Will a US Report Expose the Lie About the Number of Palestinian Refugees?

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Palestinian students raise their hands in a school run by UNRWA. Photo: UN / Shareef Sarhan.

JNS.orgMembers of the US Congress are demanding that the State Department make public a key report that includes precise figures on the number of Arabs who became refugees in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

The existence of the State Department assessment, compiled and classified under the Obama administration, was first disclosed by the Free Beacon six months ago.

Lawmakers say that the report could impact how the United States views the refugee issue, because the actual number of refugees is expected to be significantly smaller than the number of refugees documented by the United Nations.

The US was once the largest donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. In January, however, the United States cut $65 million of a planned $125 million in aid to the agency.

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The agency, which asserts that there are 5.1 million Palestinian refugees worldwide, focuses on providing health care, education, and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. All other refugees — everywhere else in the world — fall under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, told the Free Beacon that access to the report was necessary for Congress to provide oversight for American taxpayers.

“UNRWA lashes out against America and engages in anti-Semitic incitement. Hamas terrorists use UNRWA facilities to target Israeli civilians,” Cruz was reported as saying. “The American people deserve to see this reported State Department assessment, so Congress and the administration can have a transparent and productive debate about America’s role in the organization.”

Sources who have seen the report say that the State Department’s assessment documents that only 20,000 of the 700,000 Arab refugees who fled Palestine during the War of Independence are still alive and displaced from their homes.

Refugees are generally defined as people who fled a permanent home, while in the Palestinians’ case, someone who lived in Palestine for as little as two years prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948 could be considered a refugee. In addition, unlike all other refugees, Palestinians refugees pass their status on to their descendants. As a result, Palestinian refugees are said to number in the millions.

While researching material for her 1984 book From Time Immemorial, American journalist Joan Peters learned that the United Nations made the conscious decision to differentiate Palestinian refugees from all other refugees.

Israel has begun to raise the issue in the international arena. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that UN funds should be transferred to Palestinians through the UN’s normal refugee agency and UNRWA should be abolished. Doing so, however, would require the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution in favor of the move, which is unlikely given the international forum’s anti-Israel bias.

Ariel Kahana is the diplomatic correspondent for Makor Rishon.

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