Palestinians and their supporters like to express their concern for Palestinian refugees and yet are silent when it comes to the treatment of refugees living in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. They even ignore the welfare of refugees who are confined to camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Have you seen any articles or statements questioning why refugee camps exist in the PA?
How many people are even aware of the refugee camps in the disputed territories or the fact that Israel has nothing to do with them?
Today, the Gaza Strip has eight refugee camps with a population of more than 592,160. Another 19 camps in the West Bank house nearly 166,468 refugees. That is a total of nearly 760,00 “refugees,” which, based on CIA population figures, would be more than 15% of the Palestinian population in the disputed territories. The word refugees is in quotation marks because the UN reported that in September 1948 only 360,000 Palestinians had become refugees and yet that number has ballooned to more than 5.7 million using UNRWA’s definition of who qualifies as a refugee and the organization’s notoriously inaccurate counting methods (James G. Lindsay, “Fixing UNRWA Repairing the UN’s Troubled System of Aid to Palestinian Refugees,” Washington Institute, January 2009).
This raises two questions: why does the PA keep these camps intact and why don’t any of the organizations that profess their concern for the Palestinians care?
Today, the Palestinians have total control over these camps and yet they have done nothing since the formation of the PA to dismantle them, move their inhabitants into permanent housing, or take steps to improve their welfare. The PA has received billions of dollars in international aid and yet no effort has been made to demolish the camps. In 1998, journalist Netty Gross visited Gaza and asked an official why the camps there hadn’t been dismantled. She was told the Palestinian Authority had made a “political decision” not to do anything for the nearly 500,000 Palestinians living in the camps at that time until the final-status talks with Israel took place (Jerusalem Report, July 6, 1998).
During the years that Israel controlled the Gaza Strip, a consistent effort was made to get the Palestinians into permanent housing; however, the Arab states routinely pushed for the adoption of UN resolutions demanding that Israel desist from the removal of Palestinian refugees from camps in Gaza and the West Bank. They preferred to keep the Palestinians as symbols of Israeli “oppression” (Mitchell Bard, “Homeless in Gaza,” Policy Review, January 1989).
The Palestinians oppose the idea of demolishing the camps because they serve two important purposes. The first is the camps provide a breeding ground for terrorists where frustrated and angry refugees are convinced to blame Israel for their plight. The second is that the camps remind the world that Palestinians remain refugees, deserve sympathy because of the squalid conditions they live in, and should be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel. The international community and supporters of the Palestinians buy the propaganda and blame Israel for the refugees’ plight and make no effort to pressure Hamas and the PA to demolish the camps and build permanent housing. Continued funding for UNRWA helps further perpetuate their homelessness. After so many decades, isn’t it time to insist that aid to the PA be spent on housing for refugees?