The ‘Five Million Palestinian Refugees'

A profitable hoax that keeps on growing.

Mitchell Bard has provided a detailed look at the data surrounding the claims of refugee status for five million “Palestinian refugees” here: “The Palestinian refugee hoax,” by Mitchell Bard, Israel Hayom, January 31, 2021:

The negotiation affairs department of the PLO tweeted on May 15, 2020, “Every nakba commemoration day, we mark the catastrophe that befell our people in 1948, when 957,000 Palestinians became refugees.” The truth is that number was concocted, as is the current figure of 5.7 million used by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The actual number is more likely less than 30,000.

Palestinians typically claim that 800,000 to 1,000,000 Palestinians became refugees between 1947 and 1949. The last census was taken in 1945. It found only 756,000 permanent Arab residents in Israel. On Nov. 30, 1947, the date the United Nations voted for partition, the total was 809,100. A 1949 Government of Israel census counted 160,000 Arabs living in the country after the war, which meant no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. A report by the UN Mediator on Palestine (as of September 1948) arrived at an even lower figure: 360,000. The CIA estimate was 330,000. In 2011, historian Efraim Karsh analyzed the number of refugees by city and came up with an estimate of 583,000 to 609,000.

When the United Nations created UNRWA to assist the Palestinians, a refugee was defined as “a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.”

The Palestinians claim there were several hundred thousand more Arabs who left Mandatory Palestine/Israel than in fact existed in that entire territory before the war. How could between 800,000 and one million Arabs have become refugees, when the total Arab population of that area was—according to the Arabs but not according to anyone else — 810,000, and after the refugees left, there were 160,0000 Arabs still living in the country? That would mean – as a maximum – there might have been 650,000 refugees. But Bard notes that others came up with far lower numbers: the office of the UN Mediator on Palestine (hardly a hotbed of Zionism) reported there were only 360,000 Arab “refugees.” The CIA’s estimate was lower still: 330,000. It would be interesting to know how both the UN Mediator and the CIA came so close in their own estimates, and so very far from what the Arabs claimed. Note that these estimates were made soon after the 1949 war had ended, and before the ranks of the refugees were swollen by large numbers of other Arabs from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and even Arab states farther afield, who wanted to pass themselves off as refugees from “Palestine” so as to receive the generous benefits that were being distributed by UNRWA. We still have no idea as to how many of those “Palestinian Arab refugees” were simply Arabs from other countries. Bard doesn’t mention this phenomenon, but it buttresses his general argument.

The scholar Ephraim Karsh came up with an absolute maximum of 609,000 Arab refugees (he didn’t supply his estimated minimum). So let’s keep those estimates firmly in mind when we are assured by Palestinian propagandists that there were 800,000 to one million “refugees.”

And let’s also keep in mind that in 1948 the accepted definition around the world of a “refugee” was someone who “as a result of war or other conflict, had lost his home and means of livelihood.” Any children that refugee had abroad were not considered refugees themselves. A Russian refugee who fled the Revolution and moved to Europe, where he had a child, remained a “Russian refugee,” but his child was never thought of as a refugee. A Jewish refugee from Germany – e.g., Henry Kissinger – remained a German Jewish refugee, but his child born in the U.S. was not.

And that same definition has been applied to all the hundreds of millions of refugees who have been created since World War II: “A refugee is someone who as a result of war or other conflict has himself lost his home and means of livelihood.” With one exception. Only the Arab refugees from the 1947-1949 period have had a unique rule applied to them and to no others. The condition of being a “Palestinian refugee” has, since UNRWA ‘s very beginning, been treated as an inheritable trait. A Palestinian refugee’s son, grandson, great-grandson are all treated as, and receive benefits from being considered,“Palestinian refugees.” Thus there are more “Palestinian refugees” born every day, and there is no way, as long as the current bizarre definition of “Palestinian refugee” prevails, to put an end to those ever-increasing rolls.

Initially, UNRWA had a list of 950,000 names, but the agency knew that this number was inaccurate. UNRWA accepted most claims while acknowledging that, for example, many Palestinians did not report deaths in their families so they could continue to collect rations for the deceased. The agency admitted that many fraudulent cases were discovered but was unable to remove undeserving individuals from the relief rolls. It also knew that it would not get any cooperation from the refugees themselves. UNRWA was petrified, however, of criticism for failing to address the humanitarian problem:

From its very beginning, UNRWA was the victim of several kinds of fraud. And since most of those staffing UNRWA were themselves Palestinian Arab refugees, they had no desire to root out that fraud but, instead, turned a blind eye to it. Of course the list of 950,000 names was preposterous, but UNRWA refused to reject that figure. Among the frauds was multiple counting. The more children in a refugee’s family, the greater the benefits that family would receive for housing, food, and general maintenance. Those children might then be “lent” to another refugee family, most often relatives, and then that second family could claim those same children as their own, and see their benefits increase accordingly. Even when the fraud was detected – as when the same staff member went to both families and recognized the children, UNRWA found it almost impossible to remove those engaged in fraud from the rolls; it would have roiled the agency’s Arab staff. Besides, why not let a few hundred thousand more impoverished Arabs be supported by the rich Western donors to UNRWA?

Another kind of fraud involved the dead: Palestinian Arab refugees who died were seldom removed from the rolls, but kept on for as long as possible, so that their families would continue to receive benefits—especially ration coupons –that the deceased had received when alive.

UNRWA accepted from its very inception an inflated initial list of 950,000 names. That number of “refugees” was larger, by at least 150,000, than the total number of Arabs that had been living in Mandatory Palestine/Israel. Indeed, if we are to believe the CIA, there were only 330,000 Arab refugees – about one-third the number UNRWA declared. A considerable number of those who managed to get onto UNRWA’s rolls from its earliest days were not Palestinian Arabs at all but, rather, Arabs from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and even farther afield, who were eager to pass themselves off as “Palestinian Arab refugees” and receive all the benefits available to such refugees from UNRWA. The swelling of UNRWA’s rolls, through fraudulent practices deliberately overlooked by UNRWA staffers who were themselves either Palestinian Arab refugees or other Arabs sympathetic to the Palestinians, continues to this day: multiple-counting of children, ascribed to more than one family; failure to remove the dead from the rolls, so that posthumously they continue to receive benefits; and finally, the failure to weed out those non-Palestinian Arabs who early on passed themselves off as refugees deserving of, and consequently receiving, generous UNRWA benefits.

Conferring refugee status on non-refugees in the first instance has created a situation that cannot be ignored but removing it exposes the Agency to unwarranted and unfair criticism from the misinformed public as well as fanatical opposition on the part of the undeserving recipient and his friends and supporters.

Mitchell Bard’s view is that the unique definition of a “Palestinian refugee” as applying to all those descended, however many generations have passed, from an original “Palestinian refugee” who did indeed leave Mandatory Palestine/Israel, will be difficult to undo but, at the very least, ought to be attempted. Were UNRWA forced to impose the universal definition of a refugee in the case of the Palestinians, that misinformed public Bard mentions might indeed heap “unwarranted and unfair criticism” on the agency. But UNRWA should not shirk its duty to end this state of affairs; it deserves plenty of criticism – not for now wishing to end the special status –, but for having allowed it in the first place, and having let it continue, unchallenged, for 70 years. Besides, why should we care if UNRWA is subject to criticism; it is solely responsible for the current absurdly inflated rolls of recipients of benefits, by not having firmly opposed that unique definition of who can claim to be a “Palestinian refugee” in the first place.

Photo: AFP

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