Review: Bedein, UNRWA Goes to War

Posted: October 29, 2014 by Rex Brynen in factcheck, UNRWA

Israeli-American political activist David Bedein—who has long been on a personal jihad against UNRWA—has released his latest video criticizing the Agency. The Agency need not worry, however. UNRWA Goes to War is so filled with transparent lies and distortions that no one in the donor community is likely to take it seriously. See for yourself:

  • At 2:32, it talks about rockets found in closed UN schools. The rockets shown, however, are those seized by the Israeli navy in March 2014—the original picture of which has been carefully cropped by Bedein in the video to make it appear otherwise. The video fails to note that it was UNRWA that found the rockets, complained, and arranged as best it could for their disposal.
  • At 2:42 it talks about a booby-trapped building with an UNRWA clinic sign. The video fails to note that the IDF later confirmed that the building was NOT an UNRWA building, and that the soldiers involved had misidentified it as such.
  • At 2:53, the video shows alleged “UNRWA supplies” used to construct Hamas tunnels. In fact, no such supplies were used–what is shown is simply a discarded food bag that has been used to carry dirt. Israel has NOT alleged any use of UNRWA supplies in tunnel construction.
  • The video raises the frequently disproved allegations of violent anti-Israel bias in the textbooks used by UNRWA, an allegation that has been found to be baseless in investigations by US and other governments.
  • The video makes frequent use of images taken from non-UNRWA facilities in such a way as to imply they are actual UN locations. T
  • The teacher interviewed at 8:48 is not an UNRWA teacher, and the school itself is not an UNRWA school but a PA school in Jenin. Several of the kids (perhaps most or all) shown in the video are clearly not UNRWA students, since the school uniforms are wrong.
  • The video discovers that Palestinian refugee kids—who variously live under occupation or are subject to periodic IDF attacks, and whose families were forced from their original homes within Israel in 1948—don’t particularly like Israel. This will come as a surprise to precisely no one. Interviews are conducted with such kids in front of UN facilities in an attempt to link the UN to their views. One could interview Bedein in front of a mosque or fast food restaurant too, but that would hardly mean that Islam or McDonald’s endorses his views.

Strangely, there is no mention whatsoever of UNRWA’s human rights curriculum (introduced despite objections from Hamas), which stresses peaceful conflict resolution and universal respect for human rights. Nor does it mention Israel’s repeated statements of support for the Agency’s humanitarian activities and its requests to donors that they increase their funding of the Agency. Indeed, the UN more broadly (and UNRWA in particular) is now playing a key role in the importation of cement into Gaza for reconstruction–something israel would hardly have agreed to if it thought the Agency had been taken over by Hamas as Bedein suggests.

121005-right-return

The Refugee Studies Centre of the Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford will be holding a two day course on “Palestine Refugees and International Law” at the The British Institute, in Amman, Jordan on 6-7 March 2015 and at the Asfari Institute, American University of Beirut, Lebanon on 13-14 March 2015:

About the course

This two day short course places the Palestinian refugee case study within the broader context of the international human rights regime. It examines, within a human rights framework, the policies and practices of Middle Eastern states as they impinge upon Palestinian refugees. Through a mix of lectures, working group exercises and interactive sessions, participants engage actively and critically with the contemporary debates in international law and analyse the specific context of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel).

The short course commences with the background of the Palestinian refugee crisis, with special attention to the socio- political historical context and legal status of Palestinian refugees in the region. This is followed by a careful examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights including its philosophical underpinnings and ensuing human rights instruments in international law. The key themes, which have taken centre stage in the debate on the Palestinian refugee crisis, are statelessness, right of return, repatriation, self-determination, restitution compensation and protection. These themes are critically examined along with current discussions about the respective roles of UNRWA, UNHCR and the UNCCP in the Palestinian refugee case.

This course is suitable for: experienced practitioners; graduate researchers; parliamentarians and staff; members of the legal profession; government officials; and personnel of inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations.

This programme qualifies for Continuing Professional Development with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (CPD SRA) in the United Kingdom.

Instructors

Dawn Chatty, Professor of Anthropology and Forced Migration, Refugee Studies Centre

Professor Dawn Chatty is a social anthropologist and has conducted extensive research among Palestinian and other forced migrants in the Middle East. Some of her recent works include Children of Palestine: Experiencing Forced Migration in the Middle East (ed. with Gillian Lewando-Hundt), Berghahn Press, 2005, and Dispossession and Displacement in the Modern Middle East, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Susan M Akram, Clincal Professor, Boston University School of Law

Professor Susan M Akram teaches immigration law, comparative refugee law, and international human rights law at Boston University. She is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC (JD), and the Institut International des Droits de l’Homme, Strasbourg (Diploma in international human rights). She is a past Fulbright Senior Scholar in Palestine, teaching at Al-Quds University/Palestine School of Law in East Jerusalem.

Apply

Fee: £350. The fee includes tuition, lunch and all course materials. Participants will need to meet their own travel and accommodation costs and arrange any country entry requirements.

Instructions for payment of course fee will be sent with your offer of place. Your place will be confirmed once payment has been received. Offers are made on a first-come-first-served basis to suitably qualified and experienced applicants.

Maximum twenty-five spaces

The Palestine Refugees and International Law short course is also an optional module within the International Summer School in Forced Migration. Candidates may wish to apply to attend the Summer School.

Click here to complete the online application form.

For all enquiries, please contact:

Heidi El-Megrisi

Refugee Studies Centre

Oxford Department of International Development University of Oxford

3 Mansfield Road

Oxford OX1 3TB, UK

Email: rsc-outreach@qeh.ox.ac.uk

Tel: +44 (0)1865 281728

Crisis_Group_poster_cmyk [ConveThe International Crisis Group has just released an excellent report on the Palestinian refugee issue. It is must-read stuff for anyone interested in the issue, or the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace more generally.

I’ve posted the executive summary below. The full report can be found at the link above.

Bringing Back the Palestinian Refugee Question

Middle East Report N°1569 Oct 2014

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The Palestinian refugee question, like the refugees themselves, has been politically marginalised and demoted on the diplomatic agenda. Yet, whenever the diplomatic process comes out of its current hiatus, the Palestinian leadership will be able to negotiate and sell a deal only if it wins the support or at least acquiescence of refugees – because if it does not, it will not bring along the rest of the Palestinian population. Refugees currently feel alienated from the Palestinian Authority (PA), which they regard with suspicion; doubt the intentions of Palestinian negotiators, whom they do not believe represent their interests; and, as one of the more impoverished Palestinian groups, resent the class structure that the PA and its economic policies have produced. As a result of their isolation, refugees in the West Bank and Gaza are making demands for services and representation that are reinforcing emerging divisions within Palestinian society and politics. There arguably are ways to address refugee needs, both diplomatic and practical, that are not mutually exclusive with core Israeli interests. This report examines what could be done on the Palestinian side to mitigate the risk that the Palestinian refugee question derails a future negotiation.

The Palestinian refugee question, since its emergence in the late 1940s, has first and foremost been a national question. Because the establishment of Israel – in what Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe) – transformed the vast majority of Palestinians into refugees, the contemporary Palestinian national movement is largely a product of their desire to reverse their dispossession. The issue retained its salience after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) formally endorsed two states in 1988 as well as after the Oslo agreements starting in 1993, because its fair resolution was considered crucial to legitimate any two-state settlement. Today, the reduced international visibility of refugee affairs notwithstanding, the issue retains its place in Palestinian national consciousness. For Palestinian leaders to do anything that smacks of abandoning refugees, and especially of renouncing their claims, is to cross a redline that touches at the core of national identity.

Though Palestinians disagree on whether the refugee question can be resolved within a two-state framework, the failure of negotiations has rendered this debate largely theoretical. For a time after the beginning of the Oslo process, it seemed to Palestinian elites that a basic trade was in the making: in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including from settlements and Arab East Jerusalem, Palestinians would sacrifice unrestricted return to their former homes – the traditional Palestinian conception of the right to return; instead, it seemed, they would accept a compromise, “just solution” based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194, permitting the return to Israel of only a small portion of the overall refugee population.

Twenty years later, this formula has unravelled, and with it, in the eyes of many Palestinians, the premise of the two-state framework. In the 1990s, the refugee question was a lightning rod in Israel largely because it was thought to threaten the Jewish majority; today, Israel’s final status positions have hardened, its objections to refugee return as much principled as statistical. When coupled with the Israeli demand for recognition as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Palestinians believe that, instead of being offered a just solution, they are being asked to renounce what they see as an inalienable right in exchange for less than their irreducible minimum on other final status issues. When compared to the deal the PLO originally foresaw in 1993, they are being asked to concede more on refugees in exchange for less on everything else.

Many factors lie behind this shift. The second intifada, inter alia, shifted mainstream Israeli political thinking toward the right, which puts greater emphasis on the Jewish narrative. On the Palestinian side, the national movement’s centre of gravity moved, after Oslo, from the diaspora to the Occupied Territories, and more recently has been circumscribed to the West Bank. While refugees continued to be well represented in the power structure – indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself is one – refugee affairs are less prominent. With the Palestinian people increasingly fragmented, both politically and geographically, each of its constituent groupings has become relatively isolated and ever more consumed by its own problems.

For the Palestinian leadership, the main priority must be to reclaim representation of the majority of refugees, for without their acquiescence it will be exceedingly difficult to implement any comprehensive agreement with Israel; this therefore should be a concern of all who seek one. The growing chasm between the political elites and the refugees also portends greater instability, particularly should refugees or their advocates, despairing of the diplomatic process, seize the political initiative. But stability in and of itself is no answer: the marginalisation of refugees within their host societies has left them with little choice other than to fantasise about returning to their former homes in Israel.

This will be a significant challenge, especially since an ever-dwindling number of Palestinians – refugees or not – support the leadership’s political agenda. Nevertheless, much can and should be done:

  • Calcified refugee camp leadership committees ought to be renewed, whether by election or selection. While their predicament is largely a reflection of the dysfunction of the overall political system, the relative isolation of the camps could facilitate a more representative local leadership. Particularly given the limited resources of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the PLO/PA, credible local leadership is needed. While some, particularly in Israel and among entrenched Palestinian elites, might see empowered local leadership as a threat, the risks of instability absent such structures are far greater.
  • Donors should continue to fund UNRWA. Its support cannot solve the refugee predicament, but the precipitous decline of services could exacerbate it and provoke regional instability.
  • The Palestinian political elites could undertake measures to improve daily life for refugees and ensure that ongoing economic reforms in the Occupied Territories benefit rather than further marginalise them. Development done properly, in consultation and coordination with camp leaders, can overcome suspicions among refugees that its purpose is, as often charged, the “liquidation of the refugee question”.
  • Palestinian elites, in the camps and beyond, and particularly in the West Bank, should combat the notion that refugee political claims can be maintained only through the relative isolation of camps from the broader social fabric. Refugees increasingly have come to realise that socio-economic deprivation is not the only way to maintain identity; reinvigorating the political structures to nurture it and further their aspirations would be more effective and humane.
  • The current suspension of negotiations should be used as an opportunity to reconstruct the Palestinian national movement on a genuinely inclusive and representative basis. Crucial for reaching a two-state agreement, it is particularly important for the refugee question: individual refugees, in any foreseeable reality, will not all be afforded the unrestricted possibility to return to their original homes and villages. But they can be afforded a voice in their movement’s positions on the refugee question. With significant contradictions between the traditional Palestinian approach to the refugee question and the two-state paradigm, this is perhaps the only mechanism for identifying a compromise approach. Given the gap between private PLO negotiating positions and popular opinion, concessions on the refugee question, without bringing the public along, could prove fatal to the leadership’s weakened credibility.

These palliative and preparatory steps focus on the Palestinian side, not Israel, despite the fundamental role that it would play in any resolution of the refugee question. Like the report as a whole, they address what the Palestinian leadership and international community can do now, not only to improve the lives of refugees but also to prepare for eventual final status negotiations. Many of these measures cannot be undertaken without Israeli acquiescence, so Israelis seeking to advance a resolution of the refugee question – some options for which are touched upon in the report, but which of course will require refinement once talks begin – should seriously consider the steps proposed herein.

This report is one in a series by Crisis Group arguing that the peace process requires a fundamental re-conceptualisation, one that would begin with each of the two sides, as well as the mediator, re-evaluating and altering its own approach before resuming talks. Necessary steps include involving and addressing the needs of neglected constituencies; building a more effective Palestinian strategy, in which refugee agendas would play a clear role; and promoting a more diverse and capable mediation architecture. It behoves the three main sets of stakeholders – the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli government and the international community – to understand that their current approach, especially to the refugee question, is a recipe not only for failure and strife, but for undermining the two-state solution.

Jerusalem/Ramallah/Gaza City/Brussels, 9 October 2014

UNRWA’s performance during the 2014 Gaza war

Posted: September 17, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, UNRWA
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15172098332_5867e977cbThe Center for Opinion Polls and Survey Studies at An-Najah National University conducted a poll of Palestinian public opinion (#49) on 11-13 September 2014, in the aftermath of the recent war in Gaza. It contains some interesting findings regarding the performance of UNRWA and others during the conflict:

poll1

 

poll2

Amongst Gazans who actually experienced the conflict, and who may have used UNRWA shelters or received UN assistance, the approval ratings are high (73.8%), although a significant minority has a negative view. They are also higher in Gaza than for any other actor (unfortunately, no question is asked about the the de facto Hamas government, and it isn’t clear if Gazan respondents understood the “unity government” to include Hamas officials there or the technocratic cabinet in Ramallah).

Interestingly, approval ratings for UNRWA in the West Bank are much lower–possibly indicating a lack of familiarity with what the Agency was doing during the crisis, and/or frustration at the UN’s broader political impotence.

The survey also shows:

  • Most Palestinians (76%), including most Gazans (69%), support rocket fire against Israel if it fails to abide by the terms of the recent ceasefire. The poll also shows that Palestinians view Israel as having initiated the conflict, and are relatively optimistic that the ceasefire agreement will result in some relaxation of the restrictions on Gaza.
  • Weak majority support (56%) for a two state solution. By contrast, there is very little support (26%) for a one state solution in which “Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal rights.”
  • Almost 30% of Palestinians (including over 45% of Gazans) would consider emigrating.
  • Politically, Hamas and Fateh seem to be tied in terms of popular support.

You’ll find the full poll results here. The al-Najah University polling unit is fairly reliable, although (in my view) by far the best polling continues to be done by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. The Palestinian Center for Public Opinion also did a survey that included a question on UNRWA’s performance back in late August that showed the Agency enjoyed a 71% approval rating. That being said, I generally don’t find PCPO polling to be very reliable (although in this case their findings accord with those of al-Najah).

hrw logo.svgOn September 11 Human Right Watch issued a detailed report on three incidents of Israeli attacks against UNRWA shelters during the recent Gaza war, at Beit Hanoun, Jabaliya, and Rafah. According to HRW:

Three Israeli attacks that damaged Gaza schools housing displaced people caused numerous civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today. In the first in-depth documentation of the violations, Human Rights Watch investigated the three attacks, which occurred on July 24 and 30, and August 3, 2014, and killed 45 people, including 17 children.

“The Israeli military carried out attacks on or near three well-marked schools where it knew hundreds of people were taking shelter, killing and wounding scores of civilians,” said Fred Abrahams, special adviser at Human Rights Watch. “Israel has offered no convincing explanation for these attacks on schools where people had gone for protection and the resulting carnage.”

Two of the three attacks Human Rights Watch investigated – in Beit Hanoun and Jabalya – did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise unlawfully indiscriminate. The third attack in Rafah was unlawfully disproportionate if not otherwise indiscriminate. Unlawful attacks carried out willfully – that is, deliberately or recklessly – are war crimes.

Asked about the report, US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf was critical of the attacks on the UN schools. According to the Jerusalem Post:

“We were horrified by the strikes that hit UNRWA facilities,” Harf said. She emphasized that UNRWA facilities must not be used for military purposes, as some were by Hamas, and that they should not use civilians to shield fighters.

“But also at the same time,” Harf continued, “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians. Israeli authorities say they’re investigating. We expect these to be investigated thoroughly and promptly, and we’ll continue pushing them to do so.”

Israel has opened an investigation into one of the three attacks, according to the Times of Israel.

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The International Journal of Migration and Border Studies (IJMBS) is pleased to announce a call for papers for its third issue in 2015.

scoverijmbsIJMBS aims to bring together a diverse range of scholars and practitioners to advance knowledge and improve practice and methodologies in a broad range of issued related to migration and borders studies. Broadly speaking, it seeks to provide different perspectives to its readership ranging from exclusion to integration of permanent, temporary and irregular migrants as well as asylum seekers. Articles covering a large spectrum of topics addressing the development of international, transnational and national immigration policies viewed in a broad sense are welcome. What could be the best practices regarding inclusion? Which measures have exclusionary effects? Some examples of themes this journal intends to cover are listed below.

Subject Coverage

Broad themes on which articles are sought include but are not limited to:

  • Innovations in institutional, procedural and social arrangements to deal with border security and immigration policy
  • Personal information databases and exchanges
  • Measures to restrict access to asylum
  • The coherence and coordination between various actors dealing with issues such as health, education, social welfare, employment and law enforcement in the migration context
  • Causes and consequences (economic, social, political, environmental, etc.) of migration and their legal and policy implications
  • Local, regional and international mechanisms and logics that transform political and media discourses norms, policies and practices related to migration and border studies
  • Development of new priorities for immigration programmes
  • The role of gender, age, social status, ability, race and other factors in curtailing border and immigration policies
  • Indigenous rights and claims and border and migration studies

IJMBS is a peer-reviewed journal which offers a forum for disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research concerning conceptual, theoretical, empirical and methodological dimensions related to key concepts that underpin them: borders, immigration and integration policies, humanitarianism, sovereignty, states, citizenship, etc. Such critical analysis contributes to a better understanding of current challenges from different disciplinary perspectives including law, sociology, anthropology, social policy and social welfare, criminology, political economy, political science and public politics.

The journal invites submissions from both emerging and established scholars, including graduate students, post- graduates, professors and practitioners from around the globe, with the objective of ensuring that a plurality of experiences and perspectives is represented.

Notes for Prospective Authors

Submitted papers should not have been previously published nor be currently under consideration for publication elsewhere. (N.B. Conference papers may only be submitted if the paper has been completely re-written and if appropriate written permissions have been obtained from any copyright holders of the original paper).

All papers are refereed through a peer review process.

All papers must be submitted online. Please read our information on preparing and submitting articles.

Important Date

Submission deadline: 31st January, 2015

factsOn Sunday Ashraq al-Awsat ran an article alleging that the United States had pressed both the Mubarak and Morsi regimes to surrender the Sinai so that it could be used to relocate Palestinian refugees and create a Palestinian state.

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Towards the end of his tenure, ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resisted pressures from Washington to cede Egyptian territory in the Sinai Peninsula to help create a Palestinian state, former senior members of Mubarak’s ruling party told Asharq Al-Awsat.

A former official from the National Democratic Party, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that during the previous decade Washington pushed Cairo to allow large numbers of Palestinians to settle in the Sinai.

The official said Mubarak believed the move was the first step in a process designed to get Egypt to cede its own territory to create a Palestinian state. Egypt’s former president resisted the appeals, which he described as being “in the best interest of Israel,” the senior official maintained.

During a meeting chaired by Mubarak in 2007, the official quoted the former Egyptian president as saying: “Our main enemy is Israel, but we are fighting both the US and Israel. There is pressure on us to open the Rafah crossing for the Palestinians and grant them freedom of residence, particularly in Sinai.”

Mubarak claimed that the aim of the plan was to establish refugee camps on Egyptian territory to accommodate as many Palestinians as possible.

“In a year or two, the issue of Palestinian refugee camps in Sinai will be internationalized. Meanwhile, Israel will impose pressures on the West Bank in order to force large numbers of Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt,” the source quoted Mubarak as saying.

Mubarak said that once the Palestinian refugees were on Egyptian soil the UN would have requested “a new Oslo [accord]” in order to establish a Palestinian state stretching from Gaza to Sinai to which Palestinians in diaspora would have been welcome to return.

But the former president opposed the plan, insisting that “Egypt would remain a thorn in the project’s side.”

The same proposal was put forward when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in 2012, almost 18 months after the January 25 revolution that toppled Mubarak, a former security official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Err, no—that  certainly didn’t happen. It is likely that the US pressed Egypt to relax restrictions at Rafah, and possibly even to treat Palestinian refugees better. The rest of it is one large fantasy. The only really interesting question is whether anyone in authority in Egypt ever believed it, or whether it is a more recent conspiracy theory born of the current levels of anti-American paranoia in the country (where many continue to believe that Obama is secretly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood).

IDF retracts claims mortar fired from UNRWA shelter

Posted: August 23, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA

The IDF today initially claimed that a Hamas mortar round that killed an Israeli child was fired from an UNRWA shelter.

UNRWA strongly denied the claim:

…which was later retracted by the IDF.

The Commissioner-General of UNRWA later commented:

Humanitarian conditions in Gaza remain severe, with more than a quarter of a million people unable to return to damaged or destroyed homes. Most of these are crowded into UN schools serving as temporary emergency shelters.

UNRWA has also released a short video highlighting the devastation:

facts

The Jerusalem Post published an editorial yesterday critical of UNRWA for artificially keeping the Palestinian refugee issue alive by inflating the number of “real” refugees:

This becomes evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” to which UNHCR and UNRWA subscribe. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted… is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition, the refugee’s descendants are not refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.

The only exceptions are the Palestinians. UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Not only could any itinerant foreign Arab laborer claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the condition extends to “descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948.” One refugee parent suffices to inherit the distinction – even when the inheritor is not “outside the country of one’s nationality.”

By UNHCR’s yardstick, more than 97 percent of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort. In 1948, there were some 600,000 self-styled Palestine refugees. UNRWA now boasts that it cares for 5,000,000 people.

One again, the editorial repeats the canard that UNHCR would not consider the descendants of (stateless) Palestinian refugees as refugees. This is simply not true: for UNHCR, refugee status ends when refugees are able to avail themselves of the protection of another state, usually through acquiring citizenship. Refugees who are unable to do so maintain their status, and their children are considered to have “derivative status.”

All of this is made amply clear in UNHCR’s  Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination under UNHCR’s Mandate, Section 5.1.1 of which notes:

  • Family members/dependants of a recognized refugee may apply for derivative refugee status in accordance with their right to family unity.
  • Family members/dependants who are determined to fall within the criteria for refugee status in their own right should be granted refugee status rather than derivative refugee status.
  • Individuals who obtain derivative refugee status enjoy the same rights and entitlements as other recognized refugees, and should retain this status notwithstanding the subsequent dissolution of the family through separation, divorce, death, or the fact that a child reaches the age of majority.

UNHCRmandatePalestinians who have acquired citizenship elsewhere (as is the case with most in Jordan) would not be considered UNHCR refugees, but those in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, as well as stateless refugees in Jordan and elsewhere, certainly would.

Having got its fundamental facts wrong, the Jerusalem Post goes one further with its bizarre comment that “Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.” One assumes they mean refugees, not homeless, but the point is that Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are American citizens. The 2 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza are refugees because there is no Palestinian state—in other words, because of Israeli policy. Syria and Lebanon choose not to naturalize the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians resident there—which has nothing to do with UNRWA or its rules. Many of the former, of course, face new displacements as a consequence of civil war.

On a minor technical note, UNRWA’s refugee rules relate to service eligibility, which is somewhat different than UNHCR status determination. Also, UNHCR rules DO apply to Palestinians outside UNRWA’s fields of operation, but that error by the Jerusalem Post is rather secondary to its overall lack of comprehension of the refugee issue. Indeed, it is striking the extent to which this sort of misunderstanding continues, even though UNHCR procedures are easily accessible online. It is an perverse echo chamber effect of sorts, where loud and misinformed ideological positions drive out thoughtful and informed analysis if repeated often enough. Neither Israel nor Palestinian refugees nor the search for peace are well-served by any of this.

Finally, it is important to recognize that salience of the refugee issue in Palestinian political discourse has little relationship to UN rules, but is fundamentally rooted in the shared collective experience of dispossession and forced displacement. Jews maintained a yearning to “return” to their homeland for millennia in the diaspora, without an UNRWA or UNHCR. Why is it surprising that Palestinians do too, a mere 66 years after they too were driven into exile?