“The refugees feel as if they have been forgotten by the world,” the Boston Globe‘s Jill Carroll says of Palestinian exiles fleeing Iraq (“Palestinian refugees struggle in Jordan,” July 20). In fact, Palestinian refugees, by the international yardstick of the United Nations, hardly constitute a “forgotten” people. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the only permanent U.N. agency dedicated to refugees of any kind, is a reminder of the singular focus and resources given Palestinian refugees. Likewise, Nov. 29 is the day set aside each year by the U.N. as “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.”
What is true is that Palestinian refugees have been sorely mistreated–mostly by Arab states that have refused (with the exception of Jordan) to resettle them. Twenty-one Arab countries, with 50 times as many people and 800 times as much land area as Israel, have done little for their Palestinian brothers. Until 1967, under Egyptian rule, the entire Gaza refugee population lived in prison-like conditions: nightly curfews, restricted travel outside the Strip, and even a law forbidding them to mingle with the local Gaza population. In the 1970s, the PLO threatened and killed refugees who tried to leave the camps. UNRWA school textbooks fed refugee children racist anti-Jewish and anti-Israel venom.
When Israel has tried to improve living conditions for refugees, as it attempted repeatedly in Gaza, those efforts have been blocked by UNRWA and other U.N. bodies. U.N. General Assembly Resolution 34/52, for example, “calls once more upon Israel to desist from removal and resettlement of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip” (emphasis added).
Arab governments have ensured the success of U.N. efforts to keep the Palestinians unresettled. Palestinian refugees have actually been a political tool of these governments, serving both as a reproach against the Jewish state, and a distraction from the corruption of their own regimes.
Jill Carroll is right to highlight the issue of Palestinian exiles. But the critical context of long-standing Arab exploitation of their plight is missing. As democracy unlocks freedom for Iraqis, the Arab world once again closes its doors to Palestinian refugees.