Why are the Palestinian refugees so special? What makes them any different than any other refugee? Why do they have their own United Nations organization dedicated to their well being when no other refugee group does?
This past Tuesday, Wayne State University had Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) as a guest speaker. Hansen spoke about what his agency does and does not do as well as fielded questions from those who came to hear him. One of the problems that I had with his presentation was his idea that resettlement of the Palestinians into the surrounding countries was not a “natural solution”. Mr. Hansen went on to say that the Lebanese did not want the Palestinians, and the Jordanians did not want these refugees either. Hansen did not go further into the subject of Arab countries refusing to help. Yet, this is the crux of the problem.
Past UNRWA directors have made clear what the problems are with resettling the Palestinian refugees, some of whom are refugees by their own accord. In August 1958, Ralph Garroway said, “The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.” Dr. Elfan Rees who worked with refugee resettlement, assumed in 1959 that the Arab refugee problem should have been easy to solve considering the economic development of several Arab countries of the Middle East at the time. But he found that “the organized intransigence of the refugees and the calculated indifference of the Arab states concerned have brought all its [UNRWA’s] plans to nought.” We can see the truth of these statements since we still see no action on the part of the wealthy kings of the Middle East to resettle their brothers in their own countries.
When Mr. Hansen said that it was not a “natural solution” for people to be resettled in another country to continue their lives, has he taken into account the 900,000 Jews that were thrown out of their homes after living 2000 years in Arab countries? Between 1946-1962 these Jews had billions of dollars in property confiscated and were then made refugees. Israel took them in no questions asked.
The world has forgotten that most refugees are resettled outside of their original homes and do not return to the homes which they left. No one remembers the 3 million North Koreans who ran to South Korea. No one remembers the 1.6 million Vietnamese who have been integrated into the different countries that let them establish new lives. No one remembers the 12 million Germans that were expelled after World War II from the different European countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, who saw them as a threat to the country’s security. No one remembers that even today, 12,000 African refugees are being integrated into American society each year, possibly never returning to Africa.
No one remembers the population exchanges between countries that ended up promoting peace. Under the Turko-Bulgarian Convention of 1913, two and a half million people were forced to change countries. Muslim Bulgarians were resettled in Turkey and Christian Turks were transferred to Christian Bulgaria. In 1923, Christian Greece and Muslim Turkey signed the Treaty of Lausanne agreeing to exchange the 150,000 Christian Greeks living in Turkey, and the 388,000 Muslim Turks living in Greece. They did this in order not to go to war again and there has been no bloodshed since. In the 1940s, there was an enormous population exchange with the creation of Pakistan. 8,500,000 Hindus left Pakistan for India, while 6,500,000 Muslims left India for Pakistan. While there is still conflict in that region, imagine the amount of violence that would be occurring today if the population exchange had not been carried through.
While resettlement is not a “natural solution” for Mr. Hansen, it may be one to be considered to end this conflict. Israel has accepted the 900,000 Jews thrown out of the Arab countries. It is time for the Arab countries to accept their brothers as well.