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Israeli expert: There are no Palestinian refugees

Thursday, February 11, 2010 Israel Today Staff

Professor Nitza Nachmias of Haifa University, an expert on Jewish-Arab relations in the Middle East, told Arutz 7 radio this week that the reality is there are no Palestinian refugees, though they are wielded to great effect to extract concessions from Israel.

Nachmias, who also teaches at the University of Maryland, explained that the word "refugee" is being applied to Palestinian Arabs to illicit international sympathy, though few realize they do not fit the common perception of what a refugee is.

"If people would stop calling the places in which they live 'refugee camps,' then they would see that these places are just like villages and towns anywhere else, and the inhabitants are totally rehabilitated," said Nachmias. "Real refugee camps are like the...camps now in Haiti – not the villages with streets and stone houses in what is known as Palestinian refugee camps of today."

She also noted that most of those Palestinians living abroad who claim to be refugees have been fully integrated into their host countries, meaning they are technically no longer refugees.

Nachmias also took issue with the unique rules applied to the Palestinians that allow the descendants of those who may have really been refugees to continue claiming refugee status.

"According to international law, a refugee is an individual or family that was forced to run away – but this definition does not extend to children, a community or a group. The only exception to this rule is the Palestinians, for whom the international laws are apparently different."

Nachmias continued by calling out UNRWA*, the UN agency tasked with aiding the so-called Palestinian refugees. She noted that UNRWA, using the tax dollars and donations of UN member states, is today no longer a welfare agency, but one of the largest employers in the Palestinian-controlled territories, with some 30,000 Palestinian employees.

Nachmias said she even "discovered documents of pension funds of over a billion dollars a year, managed by brokers in Switzerland. All this for what is defined as a ‘welfare agency’ whose mandate is renewed every three years."

Nachmias concluded by urging Israel to shift tactics in combatting the Palestinian demand for a "right of return" for these so-called refugees, which is one of the major sticking points in negotiations between the two sides. Up until now, Israel has argued that it cannot meet that demand because it would demographically destroy the Jewish character of the state.

But Nachmias noted that no one but Israel really cares about its Jewish character, and that if Israel legitimizes the claim that these Palestinians do have a right to return, then Israel loses.

The correct approach according to Nachmias: "Israel should take a pro-active approach, basing itself on international law and precedents, and declare that the Palestinian refugee issue no longer exists. They are no longer refugees!"


*UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) provides assistance, protection and advocacy for some 4.7 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a solution to their plight.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.