False Claims of the BDS Movement: Arab Refugees

by M.A. Rosenblit

One of the three main stipulations set out by the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel specifically relates to the “right of Palestinian refugees” to return to their land that was illegally usurped by Israel in the 1948 War of Independence. On their website, the BDS movement specifically spells out this stipulation:

Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.[i]

Before we enter into the crux of the issue, I desire to make it clear that I am in no way belittling or trivializing the hardship and suffering of the millions of Arab people currently living in the squalor and filth of the UNRWA “Refugee camps”. To deny their horrific living conditions and hopeless day-to-day reality would be disingenuous and unfair. These people live in perpetual limbo, without much hope for their future, and we must recognize this tragedy. Instead, my goal is to differentiate between fact and fiction, while uncovering the true origins of the Arab refugee problem in order to expose those actually responsible for their current condition, and to be a voice for the truth. In doing so, perhaps we can foster an understanding of the truth, while not allowing Israel to be wrongly blamed for such suffering. Indeed, the BDS campaign is quickly gaining ground throughout the USA and Europe, but is doing so unjustly and on false pretenses. It is my unapologetic intention to discredit the three main claims upon which the movement is founded, and to educate and equip lovers of the truth to do so as well. We will begin with the Refugee problem and their claim of “Right of Return”.

It is worthwhile to first examine what constitutes a “Palestinian Refugee”, and why this heated issue of their “right of return” is central to the BDS movement’s platform. You will notice that I refer to the refugees as “Arab” as opposed to “Palestinian” because of the political nature of the word, “Palestinian”[ii], which is based in a national identity created by Yasser Arafat in the 1960s to justify an armed conflict against Israel.[iii] It is interesting to note that the UNHCR (U.N. High Commission for Refugees) defines a “Palestinian” refugee differently than any other refugee in the world. While the standard definition of a refugee is defined as “…someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion”, the UNRWA (U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refuges) defines “Palestinian” Refugees as, “…persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June, 1946 to May 15, 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”(Please see www.unrwa.org/who-we-are)

We can see that Arab refugees were given a different status than any other refugee, and only had to be living in then Palestine two years before Israel declared independence. Indeed, if the standard definition of a refugee had been applied to the Arab refugees, there would have been a significantly lower number of refugees, and not the commonly accepted 750,000. Additionally, if the U.N. had treated said refugees in the same way as other refugees, they would not have been kept in camps for decades, as the UNHCR is “charged with finding permanent homes for refugees.” (Dershowitz, 86)[iv]. Instead, those 750,000 refugees from the 1940’s have been kept in refugee camps in parts of the Judea & Samaria region, as well as Jordan and Syria, and have grown in number to almost 5 million today. Should Israel take the blame for this?

And what about the U.N. Resolution 194 as quoted in the BDS Movement’s stipulation? Resolution 194 was passed on December 11, 1948 by the U.N. General Assembly. Point 11 within the Resolution states:

Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.[v] (emphasis mine)

While resolutions passed in the U.N. General Assembly are not binding in international law, and therefore, cannot be prosecuted, Israel did in fact attempt to fulfill the recommendations either through direct negotiations or through proposed peace treaties with the Arabs. However, the Arabs refused to negotiate and rejected any proposal that would mean an Arab returning to property that was within Israeli territory. In fact, the Arab League adopted a resolution in April 1950 forbidding any of its members from having any negotiations with Israel[vi]. (Bard, 179) Only after Israel was victorious in the ensuing wars did the Arabs then demand a full “right of return” in order to outnumber the Jewish Israeli citizens, effectively doing away with a Jewish state.

And indeed “right of return” is itself a misleading term. It implies that these Arab people would desire to live in homes and properties that they abandoned as a minority in the Jewish State of Israel. Is this what they really want? No! In fact, “right of return” really means millions of Arabs returning as a majority, effectively eliminating the Jewish identity of Israel, and turning it into a Muslim state. (Dershowitz, 85) Should Israel be blamed for not absorbing millions of potentially hostile citizens into its population, who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Israel?

At the heart of the issue is an assumption that Israel is responsible for these Arab refugees because the Jews forced them to leave their homes in 1948, and illegally took their homes and properties. But the truth of the matter is that Israel did not create the Arab refugee problem, and is therefore not solely responsible for shouldering the burden of the millions of Arab refugees today. In fact, the refugee problem was created by a war initiated by the Arabs against the tiny Jewish entity, which would become the Modern State of Israel. The roots of this war are in the Arab rejection of the Peel Commission of 1937, which recommended partitioning then British-controlled Palestine into two separate states – one Arab and the other Jewish. Then, in 1947, when the U.N. partition plan came into effect, Arab hostilities against the Jews residing in then Palestine built up to an all-out war once Israel officially declared independence in May 1948. This is when the first wave of Arabs began to flee in anticipation of such a war. (Dershowitz, 79) In fact, had the Arabs accepted the initial partition plan in 1937, not one Arab refugee would have ensued.

Additionally, there is documentation that proves the Jews residing in then Palestine actually encouraged the Arabs to stay! These Arab people were promised full citizenship and rights if they stayed. But very few chose to stay, and instead at the beckoning of the Arab League, fled as they were promised that the “Arab armies would purge the land of Jews.”[vii] (Peters, 12-13) In fact, it is well documented that 68% of Arabs left their homes “without even seeing one Israeli soldier.” (Peters, 13) The truth is that the vast majority of Arab refugees fled and were not expelled against their will. Of course, there were exceptions, and some Arabs were forced to leave. Israel recognized this fact when they offered to repatriate 100,000 Arab refugees at the Palestinian Conciliation Commission (PCC) meeting at Lausanne in 1949. But the Arab League flat out rejected their offer. (Bard, 179)

What conclusion can we draw then? Benny Morris, a well-respected Israeli historian who has been very critical of Israeli policy towards the Arabs, himself states in his book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, that these refugees would “…be utilized during the following years by the Arab states as a powerful political and propaganda pawn against Israel. The memory or vicarious memory of 1948 and the subsequent decades of humiliation and deprivation in the refugee camps would ultimately turn generations of Palestinians into potential or active terrorists and the ‘Palestinian problem’ into one of the world’s most intractable.” [viii] (Morris, 296) And that is the crux of the issue. Not only has Israel been unfairly blamed for the plight of the Arab refugees, but they have also been unjustly determined to solve the problem by granting a “right of return” for them, which would be tantamount to committing national suicide. Israel is expected to solve a problem that it did not create, and even risk its very security in the process! What other nation in the history of humankind has been asked (or even expected) to do such a thing?

It is long overdue for the surrounding Arab nations to take responsibility for their part in creating the Arab refugee problem, as well as the UNRWA, which propagates these refugees’ suffering by entrapping them in their camps for decades, leaving them desperate and hopeless, and without a future. It is unacceptable that these people should exist in such terrible conditions for generations, and that Israel should not only be blamed for it, but also be expected to solve it. It is time to stop rewriting history, and confront this problem head-on in the truth.

[i] https://bdsmovement.net/bdsintro

[ii] It is an historical fact that Arabs did not refer to themselves as Palestinians during the Mandate period, and no Arab institution called itself Palestinian. The collective identity in the pre-1967 era was overwhelmingly Arab; a Palestinian identity did not exist within the general population. A self-defined, Palestinian national identity is a fairly new creation and did not develop until after the Six Day War in 1967. Taken from T. Michelle’s article False Claims of the BDS Movement

[iii] Please see Alan Hart’s authorized biography of Yasser Arafat, Terrorist or Peace Maker. Arafat himself claims that he invented a Palestinian national identity through conflict with Israel.

[iv] Dershowitz, Alan. The Case for Israel (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003)

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_194

[vi] Bard, Mitchell G. Myths and Facts; A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Chevy Chase: AICE, Inc., 2001)

[vii] Peters, Joan. From Time Immemorial; The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine (Chicago: JKAP Publications, 1984)

[viii] Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (The Birth) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)

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