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Arab Refugees

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One of the most hotly contested issues surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict remains that of Arab refugees as a result of the 1948 Arab war against Israel. In 1948, 160,000 Arabs who lived within Israel’s borders accepted Israel’s invitation to choose peace and become Israeli citizens. Between 472,000 and 750,000 Palestinian Arabs (the number is disputed by scholars) left what became Israel for several reasons:
  1. To escape the war.
  2. Because wealthy Arab leaders left, and without leadership the Arab communities fell apart.
  3. Because Arab leaders encouraged the masses to get out of the way of the advancing Arab armies, promising that victory would be quick and they could soon return.
  4. Tales of alleged Israeli atrocities caused panic.
  5. In some cases, Israeli troops forced Arab residents from their homes in sensitive, strategic zones vital to the survival of the Jewish state.

Simultaneously, approximately 850,000 Jews fled the rising persecution or were expelled from Arab and Muslim lands. They became homeless even though some of their communities were over 2,000 years old. Even though Israel was a fledgling country of approximately 650,000 inhabitants, Israel began absorbing not only survivors of the Holocaust but also Jews fleeing from Arab countries.

The tens of millions of refugees from other wartorn areas in the world during this period resettled in other countries, but neighboring Arab states, with the exception of Jordan, would not resettle the Palestinian Arabs despite their shared history, language, and religion. Instead, Arab governments confined them in refugee neighborhood, refused them citizenship, and then used their plight as a propaganda weapon against Israel.

Many Palestinians were displaced in 1948 and have suffered since because of Arab and Palestinian leaders’ policies, not because of Israel.

  • If Palestinian and Arab leaders had accepted the 1947 UN Partition resolution, as Israel did, and had not gone to war to prevent its implementation, there would have been no Palestinian refugees.
  • Israel reached out to Arabs in its section of the partition plan, urging them to become citizens. Over 160,000 accepted and became Israeli citizens with equal rights. Today, they number 1.8 million and form 24% of Israel’s population.
  • Arab and Palestinian leaders caused Palestinian displacement and continued suffering. Arab leaders started the 1947-1949 war, which created the refugee problem. Arab states (except Jordan) then refused to absorb Palestinian refugees and give them citizenship or equal rights, preferring to use them as a weapon against Israel instead.
  • The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem by applying unique criteria to Palestinians. The reason that their numbers are listed in the millions is that, unlike all other people, Palestinians are allowed to pass their refugee status down to their children.
  • Furthermore, Palestinian refugee numbers are grossly inflated and are used by Arab leaders as propaganda to diminish the degree of their neglect for those refugees living in neighboring Arab countries. UN Resolutions 194 and 237 do not give Palestinian refugees the right to move to Israel: Resolution 194 was rejected by Arab states and was not legally binding, and it recommended “repatriation” or “resettlement” of Palestinian refugees; Resolution 237 referred only to the West Bank and Gaza, not Israel. In 1993 Israel and the Palestinians agreed that the admission of persons displaced in 1967 should be negotiated as part of a final peace agreement. Palestinians have refused to negotiate since 2010.

    Israel is not responsible for the living conditions of Palestinian refugees. Through UNRWA, Palestinian refugees receive three times more money per capita than all other refugees. In the past Israel gave more money to UNRWA than most Arab countries. In the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Syria the refugees’ standard of living is roughly equivalent to that of the rest of the population. In Lebanon it is worse because the Lebanese government enforces severe, discriminatory legal restrictions on Palestinians. Lastly, the Palestinian refugee “camps” are actually urban neighborhoods, and their decrepit conditions are commonly exploited by Arab leaders as a propaganda tool to deflect responsibility onto Israel.

    Those Arab citizens who chose to stay in Israel after the 1948 war gained Israeli citizenship and are offered equal rights unequal to anywhere else in the region. Today, 1.8 million Arabs are Israeli citizens, Arabic and Hebrew are Israel’s two official languages, and Israel has enacted affirmative action policies to help its minority citizens achieve full social and economic equality.

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