Palestinian refugee children, now counted separately
from those "personally displaced" in 1948. (Photo: Zehra Hirji)
Today the U.S. government approved a resolution to differentiate between Palestinians "personally displaced" in 1948 and their millions of descendants. The count will be conducted by the State Department and will only include refugees who receive United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services. Known as the "Kirk amendment" after the drafter, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL). The bill reads:
United Nations Relief and Works Agency.- Not later than one year after the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing the number of people currently receiving United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) services 1) whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and who were personally displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict ('such persons'); 2) who are children of such persons; 3) who are grandchildren of such persons; 4) who are descendants of such persons and not otherwise counted by criteria (2) and (3); 5) who are residents of the West Bank or Gaza; 6) who do not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and are citizens of other countries; and 7) whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who were personally displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, who currently do not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who are not currently citizens of any other state.
Originally, the text of this morning's resolution called to re-define Palestinian refugees as those who were expelled during 1948 and not their decedents. However, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) amended the text in committee. The previous draft read:
It shall be the policy of the United States with regard to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that a Palestinian refugee is defined as a person whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who was personally displaced as a result of the 1948 or 1967 Arab-Israeli conflicts, who currently does not reside in the West Bank or Gaza and who is not a citizen of any other state.
Under the Kirk amendment's category system of Palestinian refugees, the number of "displaced" persons would be reduced to a mere 30,000, and the remaining 4,700,000 listed as heirs.
The U.S. is UNRWA's largest single donor, contributing $250 million per year. Foreign Policy's blog the Cable suggests the goal of the amendment is to cut UNRWA’s U.S. funding and to trim down the number of Palestinians with a legal rights of return enshrined by international law.
Yet Kirk's office says the law is about accounting, not cuts. "The amendment simply demands basic transparency with regard to who receives U.S. taxpayer assistance," says Kate Dickens, a spokesperson for Kirk. "A vote against this amendment is a vote to deny taxpayers basic information about an agency they are funding."
Palestinians constitute the world's largest refugee population. There are over seven million Palestinian refugees worldwide and over five million are registered with the United Nations.