Post-Watch: Syrian Palestinian Refugees – The Endless Sequel

They’re called blinders for a reason. Attached to horses’ bridles, they block peripheral vision to prevent the animals from being startled.  


The Washington Post’s Palestinian blinders were firmly in place for “No respite for Palestinian refugees; Families that settled in Syria after creation of Israel are now fleeing to squalid camps in Lebanon”. The June 22 print edition featured the article as lead “The World” pages item. An accompanying four-column by six-inch color photograph dominated the page. Its cutline read: “Electricity lines and water pipes hang over an alley in the Burj al Barajinah camp near Beirut, where Palestinians fleeing Syria’s civil war have found refuge”.


Blinders narrow their wearer’s field of vision to the point of distortion. Distortion is what “No respite for Palestinian refugees” gave Post readers.


“Among the half-million refugees who have poured across the border from Syria into Lebanon is a group of people who find themselves doubly displaced,” the article began. “To date, an estimated 55,000 Palestinians have sought sanctuary in Lebanon from the war in Syria … most of them descendants of families displaced by the creation of Israel [emphases added] in 1948.”


No Arab refugees were displaced by the creation of Israel.


Between November, 1947 and May, 1948 they were displaced by attacks Arab “irregulars”—many of them Palestinian Arabs—launched in response to the U.N.’s plan to partition British Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The flight of many from the upper class and traditional leadership incited other Arabs to follow. After Israel declared its independence at the end of the mandate in May, 1948 armies from five Arab countries invaded, and more Arabs fled.


It was not the creation of Israel but the Arabs’ attempt to destroy it that led to Palestinian Arab displacement or, in most cases, self-displacement.


As for “doubly displaced,” most counted as “Palestinian refugees” today did not flee the war of 1948-1949, or the 1967 Six-Day War, for that matter.


Irrational numbers


How do Palestinian Arabs, predominately Sunni Muslims, spend the 65 years since 1948 in Syria, a predominately Sunni Muslim country, and remain displaceable refugees? Unless a reader already knows the Middle East and Arab-Israeli conflict in some detail, “No respite for Palestinian refugees” by Caroline Anning of The Post’s foreign desk only hints at the answers.


The newspaper mentions both “the region’s four million Palestinian refugees” and says “most of them [are] descendants of families displaced” in 1948. Of the approximately 420,000 to 650,000 Arabs who fled what became Israel (the former estimate made by U.N. officials at the time, the later figure the difference between Arab residents in the last British Mandatory and first Israeli censuses), only several tens of thousands are probably now alive.


For its “four million” figure, The Post apparently relies on the United Nations, specifically UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). “… [T]he U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the main relief agency responsible for Syrian refugees, does not have a mandate to help Palestinians.” But UNRWA, “which does, has not received new funding to deal with the influx.”


Facts without context do not constitute reporting. The UNHCR exists to assist all international refugee groups—except the Palestinian Arabs. No other refugee group—not the descendants of millions of Polish Germans expelled from Poland after World War II, not the descendants of millions of fleeing Muslims who became Pakistanis after India’s partition—bequeathed, by U.N. definition, refugee status and food, housing, health and educational subsidies to ever-increasing subsequent generations.


The descendants of the 800,000-plus Jewish refugees who fled Arab lands in the 1940s and ’50s, nearly 600,000 of them settling in Israel, were neither allowed nor forced to retain permanent refugee status.  


Only Palestinian Arabs, through UNRWA, both perpetuate their “displaced” status and provide “brother” Arab states, including Syria and Lebanon, a hot button pretext to avoid assimilating them. Assimilation, as suggested in U.N. General Assembly resolutions in the late ’40s and early ’50s, would have meant acknowledgement that no Palestinian “right-of-return” existed.


It also would have meant the end of UNRWA, established as a temporary relief operation but which, rather than rehabilitate and integrate the descendants of refugees, helps maintain itself by perpetuating refugee status. UNRWA-administered camps like Burj al Barajinah, as described by The Post, sometimes are permanent slums.


But not always. A Palestinian man who fled from Syria to Lebanon told The Post “‘it’s not like Syria here. I had a nice four-bedroom house in Syria, and there the camps all have services, not like this,’ [Ahmed] Abu Arab said, gesturing to electricity wires haphazardly nailed to the wall of the spartan apartment.” He, and the rest of the estimated half-million Palestinian Arabs in Syria just weren’t allowed citizenship. 


‘Nakba’—when catastrophe meets chutzpah


And assimilation would deflate talk of the “nakba.” This Arabic word means “catastrophe,” “which,” The Post explains, “Palestinian have adopted to refer to the 1948 exodus.”


Palestinian Arabs actually use “nakba” to refer to Israel’s creation; their subsequent wartime flight was a consequence, as noted above, of Arab failure to abort the new Jewish state. Left unsaid is that before “nakba” applied to Israel’s founding, Arabs used it to describe the League of Nations’ approval of British Mandatory Palestine as a territory separate from “greater Syria.”


UNRWA long has functioned as a Palestinian jobs bureaucracy and U.N.-funded anti-Israel propaganda program. But it’s not solely to blame. The Post notes than Lebanon is “a country whose own history of conflict with the Palestinians means they are far from welcome. … Most of them are Sunnis, and memories are fresh in Lebanon of the role played by Palestinians in triggering the Lebanese civil war in 1975.”


Missing is paragraph explaining just what the role of the Palestine Liberation Organization, under Yasser Arafat, was. Expelled in “Black September” from Jordan after failing to overthrow King Hussein and then denied refuge in Syria, the PLO descended on Lebanon, played Christian, Muslim, and Druze against each other and bloodily destabilized the fragile Lebanese state. Hence those “scars of battles fought during Lebanon’s own civil war” still seen in Burj al Barajinah.


Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon “are already the worst off in terms of poverty, infrastructure and basic services than anywhere else in the region, worse even than Gaza” one aid official tells The Post. Unsaid is that Lebanese laws hinder Palestinian improvement, restricting where they can live, what jobs they can hold and denying them citizenship.  


The Post’s blinders are not impenetrable. It reports that “overall, more than 1.5 million Syrians have fled the country, and more than 6.5 million have been displaced internally.” In addition, “according to U.N. estimates, up to 65 percent of the 500,000 Palestinians living in Syria have been displaced by the violence, most of them seeking shelter elsewhere inside the country.” And, of course, U.N. figures now put the number of dead in Syria’s civil war at around 100,000.


That being so, why such prominence for a dispatch about 55,000 Palestinian Arabs who have fled to Lebanon? Blinders, apparently. 

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