Graffiti On History's Walls
Even the foreign press, in regular contact with all sides during the conflict of 1948, wrote nothing to suggest that the flight of the Palestinians was not voluntary. Nor did Arab spokesmen, such as the Palestinian representative to the U.N., Jamal Husseini, or the secretary general of the Arab League, blame the Jews contemporaneously with the 1948 war for the flight of Arabs and Palestinians. In fact, those who fled were urged to do so by other Arabs. As then Prime Minister of Iraq Nuri Said put it, "the Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down." One Arab who fled encapsulated this thinking in the Jordanian newspaper Al-Difaa: "The Arab governments told us, `Get out so that we can get in.' So we got out, but they did not get in." And a bad situation, impossibly, was allowed to get worse. Arabs and Palestinians displaced by the 1948 war were resettled in camps administered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the only such agency established for any refugee group since the massive dislocations of World War II. The partition of India occurred at the same time as the conflict in Palestine, and millions of Hindus and Muslims were uprooted, but virtually nothing was done for them. Nothing was done in response to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, where a long-standing religious, social, and political culture was virtually destroyed.
Yet 55 years after they were first established, the Arab refugee camps still exist. With the exception of Jordan, the Arab governments home to these camps have refused to grant citizenship to the refugees and opposed their resettlement. In Lebanon, 400,000 stateless Palestinians are not allowed to attend public school, own property, or even improve their housing stock. Three generations later, they continue to serve as political pawns of the Arab states, still hopeful of reversing the events of 1948. "The return of the refugees," as President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt said years later, "will mean the end of Israel."
The U.N., through its administration of the camps, has made a complicated problem infinitely more so. How? U.N. officials define refugees in the Middle East to include the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948. In other parts of the world, descendants of refugees are not defined as refugees. The result of this unique treatment has been to increase the numbers of Arab refugees from roughly 700,000 to over 4 million, by including children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. As a former prime minister of Syria, Khaled al Azm, wrote in his memoirs, "It is we who demanded the return of the refugees while it is we who made them leave. We brought disaster upon them. [We] exploited them in executing crimes of murder and throwing bombs. All this in the service of political purposes." And so it goes, to this very day. At the time of the founding of the State of Israel, 900,000 Jewish refugees were forced out of neighboring Arab states in a coordinated effort. These refugees were absorbed into the new Israel. Yet the world was, and still is, untroubled by the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.