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March 14, 2022 10:30 am

Stop Using Ukraine to Repeat Lies About the Number of Palestinian ‘Refugees’

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


Palestinians pass by the gate of an UNRWA-run school in Nablus in the West Bank. Photo: Reuters/Abed Omar Qusini.

Using the plight of Ukrainian refugees who have been forced to flee their besieged homeland as a narrative hook, CBS News published an article about the growing numbers of displaced people worldwide. The news outlet’s list included a claim that there are 5.7 million displaced Palestinians in the world today.

However, in January of last year, the US State Department unambiguously refuted that number.

The March 8 CBS piece titled, “Ukrainian refugees add to millions displaced around the world,” describes how at least two million people have been displaced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) described as “the fastest exodus of people in Europe since World War II.”

Referencing the available UN data, the article’s author, Li Cohen, lists the numbers of global refugees who have been uprooted as a result of conflicts around the world, including in Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan.

Among those who Cohen says have been displaced are 5.7 million Palestinians:

Many regions struggle with large populations of displaced people, even if they don’t meet the U.N. definition of refugees.

Palestinians are not considered refugees under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But more than 5.7 million Palestinians are listed under the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, which operates in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

Cohen is quite right in noting that Palestinians do not meet the UN definition of refugees. However, except for hyperlinks that take readers to the UNHCR’s website, she neglects to mention why.

According to the agency, which is tasked with caring for every other refugee in the world besides the Palestinians, a refugee is “someone who is forced to flee their home country to escape persecution or a serious threat to their life, physical integrity or freedom.”

Uniquely, however, the Palestinians come under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which was created just for them. The agency subsequently reimagined the very definition of what it means to be a refugee, so as to encompass the descendants of displaced individuals.

Such rewriting means that the number of Palestinian “refugees” has risen year after year. As a result, we have arrived at today’s 5.7 million figure; the majority of which are descendants of the approximately 750,000 Palestinians who were displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

It should also be noted that UNRWA uses a rather dubious methodology when counting refugee Palestinians. Specifically, the agency classifies as “refugees” a significant number of people who live under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, in addition to many living in the Palestinian Authority (PA)-administered West Bank.

Moreover, even some individuals of Palestinian heritage who have citizenship in other countries fall under UNRWA’s wide definition.

The Palestinian leadership has incessantly promoted this artificially inflated number, as it plays into their desired “Right of Return” to Israel, which would effectively bring an end to Jewish self-determination if ever implemented. Rather than be settled, or accept new homes in other countries (where many already live), they demand that every single descendant of someone who was displaced by the 1948 war be considered a refugee.

The 5.7 million figure is also used by Palestinian leaders as a wedge issue. Since no Israeli government would realistically agree to the long-standing demand, Ramallah has used the “Right of Return” to avoid reaching a comprehensive and lasting peace agreement with Jerusalem that would require the Palestinian Authority to drop its maximalist positions and rejectionism.

Curiously absent from CBS News’ list of displaced and refugee peoples are the nearly 1,000,000 Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab and Islamic lands following the violent rejection of the 1947 UN Partition Plan that would have seen an equal Palestinian state created alongside Israel.

It is undoubtedly newsworthy to report on the ongoing predicament of millions around the world who have been expelled from their homelands or forced to escape wars and bloodshed. However, by including UNRWA’s discredited figure of displaced Palestinians, CBS News feeds into a culture that normalizes PA rejectionism and strips Palestinians of their agency; eternally dooming them to a future as dependents of the agency’s cradle-to-grave welfare system.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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