Origin of the Palestinian Claim of a “Right of Return” – Richard Schifter
(Daily Alert, Feb. 28, 2014)
In 1948, following the establishment of the State of Israel and the war launched immediately thereafter by the Arab states, many Arabs fled from the territory of Israel, quite a number of them encouraged by radio messages from the Arab states, urging them to get out of the way of the invading Arab armies. While Arabs were fleeing from Israel, Jews, whose ancestors had lived in Arab states for centuries and in some instances for millennia, fled or were forced out of their homes in the years since 1948.
Following World War II, approximately 12 million Germans fled or were expelled from the former German areas. In 1947, the creation of India and Pakistan involved 14 million refugees. The millions that engaged in forced migration in the late 1940s were all resettled long ago, except for one group. In 1949, the UN created the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), whose only mandate is to “provide direct relief and works programs” for these refugees. No provision was made for their resettlement.
A year later, when the position of UN High Commissioner for Refugees was established, UNRWA was not merged with it. As resettlement of refugees is high on the list of responsibilities of the High Commissioner, Palestinian refugees are the only refugees worldwide for whose resettlement the UN has made no arrangements. It was the Arab states that opposed the resettlement of Palestinian refugees. They had not accepted the existence of the State of Israel and wanted the refugees from Israel to stay nearby and, when called upon to do so, help liquidate the Jewish state.
The number of survivors of the refugees of 1948 is today down to less than 50,000. But the number of persons on the UNRWA assistance rolls is now about 5 million, all of whom are claiming the “right of return.” Former Ambassador Richard Schifter is chairman of the board of the American Jewish International Relations Institute. (Washington Jewish Week)
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