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Mr. Trump, you cannot erase the Palestinian refugees

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First, the Trump Administration “took Jerusalem off the table.” Now, in an especially dangerous display of recklessness, they have announced their intention to do the same for the Palestinian “right of return.”

The first indication that this was in the works came with the administration’s announcement that they would be suspending all US assistance to UNWRA, the UN agency created to address the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians who were forced to flee from their homes in 1948 and again in 1967. More recently, the administration supported by some Republican members of Congress launched an effort to limit “refugee” status to only those Palestinians who were victims of the 1948 expulsions. [In a future article I will address the devastating humanitarian and political consequences that will result from crippling the work of UNWRA.]

Because Israel has always rejected its culpability for the Palestinian refugee crisis and has consistently refused to acknowledge that those who fled in 1948 had any rights to repatriation, the US intent to take the refugee issue “off the table” was described by one Israeli writer as a “dream come true.” And a minister in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government celebrated the US move as “finally speaking the truth to the Arab lie that has been marketed all over the world for decades…There is no reason for [Palestinians] to dream of returning.”

Israel claims that they have no responsibility for Palestinian refugees. As is their practice, the Israelis have attempted to exonerate themselves by creating “alternate facts”—that Palestinians voluntarily left their homes or that they were ordered to leave by advancing Arab armies. However, an examination of the historical record establishes that the Zionist political leadership executed a deliberate plan to “cleanse” entire areas of their Arab inhabitants in order to create a state that would be larger than what was provided by the UN partition, with fewer Arabs.

They are indicted by their own words:

Yigal Allon (leader of the Palmach – the official Zionist military):

“We saw the need to clean the upper Galilee and to create…Jewish continuity in the entire area of the upper Galilee…We, therefore, tried a tactic…which worked miraculously well. I gathered all of the Jewish Mukhtars, who have contact with the Arabs in  the different villages, and asked them to whisper in the ears of the Arabs that a large Jewish reinforcement has arrived in Galilee and that it is going to burn all the villages in the Huleh. They should suggest to these Arabs, as their friends, to escape while they had time to flee. The flight numbered in the myriads. The tactic reached its goal completely.”

David Ben Gurion (speaking of “Plan D,” the operation designed to expand the size of the “Jewish State” and to reduce the number of Arabs within it):

“These operations can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages (by setting them on fire, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their rubble), and especially those population centers that are difficult to control permanently; or by mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the villages, conducting a search inside of them. In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the border of the state.”

Yigal Allon:

“There is a need for strong and brutal reaction. We need to be accurate about timing, place, and those we hit. If we accuse a family – we need to harm them without mercy, women and children included. Otherwise, this is not an effective operation. During the operation there is no need to distinguish between the guilty and the not guilty.”

Menachem Begin (leader of the Irgun):

“Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of ‘Irgun butchery’, were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for their lives. The mass flight soon developed into a maddened uncontrolled stampede. Of the almost 800,000 who lived in the present territory of the State of Israel, only 165,000 remain. The political and economic significance of this development can hardly be overestimated.”

In the aftermath of the war, during which thousands of Palestinians were murdered and another 700,000 were forced into exile, Ben Gurion celebrated what he termed “a double miracle”—an Israel with more land and less Arabs.

After its establishment, Israel compounded its crimes against the Palestinians by passing a series of Orwellian laws which enabled the new state to seize Arab-owned land (over 2 million acres were taken—including businesses, homes, orchards, and farmland) and demolish 385 Arab villages—all done in the effort to physically erase any evidence of the prior Palestinian presence.

I spent time in Palestinian camps in 1971 collecting the nightmarish personal stories of those who were expelled, perusing their family photo albums of the homes they had left behind, and being shown the keys they still carried -which had become a sacred symbol representing what they had lost and hoped to regain. One said to me “the Jews said they remembered for 2,000 years. For me, it has only been 23 years, how can I forget?”

In the face of this, the actions of the Trump Administration are not only dangerous and reckless, they are cruel and insensitive, and violations of international law and covenants.

While some conservatives love to cherry pick the celebrated 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights—citing their favorite, Article 18, which guarantees freedom of religion and belief—they willfully ignore other relevant articles:

Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

Article 13/2: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

Article 17/2: “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

In addition, there is the 1948 UN resolution declaring “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes”—a  resolution which has been regularly and overwhelmingly passed by the UN General Assembly.

When in the face of this incontrovertible history of Israeli “ethnic cleansing” and international conventions on the rights of refugees, I cringe when I hear of the Trump Administration’s intention to take the refugee issue “off the table.” What they are, in fact, taking off the table is so much more. At stake is: the lives and fortunes of innocent Palestinians and their families; the rule of law; simple human justice; and the possibility of peace. The more than 5 million Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria cannot be erased and in their attempt to do so, it is not only the Israelis who are guilty of the war crime of ethnic cleansing. The Trump Administration is making itself complicit in this crime.

This piece was also posted today at the Arab American Institute site. The article draws on research that Zogby did for his book Palestinians: The Invisible Victims, now available in a partnership with this website. –Ed.

James Zogby

James Zogby tweets at @jjz1600 and is the author of Arab Voices and the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.–based organization which serves as a political and policy research arm of the Arab-American community.

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18 Responses

  1. zaid on September 1, 2018, 4:18 pm

    Now after the Embassy relocation and cutting the funding of the Palestinian authority, the funding of the UNRWA is the last card the US have against the Palestinians.I believe that losing this card is good for the Palestinians .

    The deficit of the UNRWA budget will definitely be cleared by the Europeans and the Muslim nations so no worries on the humanitarian conditions.

    Win Win for Palestine.

    Nothing to Bully us with anymore.

  2. JLewisDickerson on September 1, 2018, 7:03 pm

    RE: “The first indication that this was in the works came with the administration’s announcement that they would be suspending all US assistance to UNWRA . . . “ ~ Zogby

    Statement by the [European Union] Spokesperson on UNRWA
    Bruxelles, 01/09/2018

    (EXCERPT) . . . This is why the EU will continue its assistance to the Palestinians, including its support to UNRWA’s activities, while we will also continue our efforts to reach a two-state solution – a solution that will include the issue of refugees, which is a final status issue that only the two parties can resolve through negotiations, with the support of the international community.

    UNRWA has recently expanded its donor base and taken internal management measures to increase efficiencies and reduce costs. UNRWA should pursue these reforms and further engage in a transformative process. The EU is committed to continue discussing these matters with UNRWA so as to secure the continuation and sustainability of the agency’s work which is vital for stability and security in the region.

    The regrettable decision of the US to no longer be part of this international and multilateral effort leaves a substantial gap and we hope that the US can reconsider their decision. . .


    “Germany to Boost Funds to UNRWA Amid Reports of Cuts by U.S.”
    DPA and Haaretz | Aug 31, 2018

    (EXCERT) Germany is preparing a “substantial” increase in its contributions to the cash-strapped UN agency for Palestinian refugees amid reports that the United States plans to withhold a large share of its funding, according to a letter seen by dpa. . .


  3. Citizen on September 2, 2018, 9:41 am

    Why not cut off that leftover 4 hours of electricity per day too?

    The family descendants of Nakba refugees deserve nothing? Imagine if such logic was applied to reduce German reparations.

  4. eljay on September 2, 2018, 7:58 pm

    Mr. Trump, you cannot erase the Palestinian refugees

    He may not be able to, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying.

    After all, he did say this:

    I am a great friend of Israel. I was the Grand Marshal of the Israeli Day Parade… I have so many friends. In fact one of them, one of my great friends — where is Jared, my son-in-law? Where is he? My son-in-law is Jewish, and he’s fantastic … So, there is nobody closer — and Bibi Netanyahu asked me to do a commercial for him, for his campaign. I did a commercial for him.

    And this:

    I’m very pro-Israel. In fact, I was the head of the Israeli Day Parade a number of years ago, I did a commercial for Netanyahu when he was getting elected … People are born with hatred, they’re taught hatred. And I have to say, it’s mostly on the one side, not on the other side. But they’re taught hatred.

    And this:

    It serves no purpose to say that you have a good guy and a bad guy. … it doesn’t help if I start saying– I’m very pro-Israel. Very. More than anybody on the stage. But it doesn’t do any good to start demeaning the neighbors … As a negotiator, I cannot [negotiate peace] as well if I’m taking big, big sides. With that being said, I am totally pro-Israel.

  5. Ossinev on September 3, 2018, 9:08 am

    “It serves no purpose to say that you have a good guy and a bad guy. … it doesn’t help if I start saying– I’m very pro-Israel. Very. More than anybody on the stage. But it doesn’t do any good to start demeaning the neighbors … As a negotiator, I cannot [negotiate peace] as well if I’m taking big, big sides. With that being said, I am totally pro-Israel”

    Trump is a third rate clown. He does have a way with words though – not English words mind you. It is some sort of garbled version of English and I believe is related to a medical condition known as STFWS or saying the first word that comes comes into your mind syndrome. I mean that. Very Very Big Big.

    • catalan on September 3, 2018, 10:01 am

      “Trump is a third rate clown. “ ossinev
      He doesn’t support unilimited immigration and high taxes so he has my vote. Also very pro-Israel. His personal life or vocabulary is of no concern to me. Hopefully the liberals split again between “corporatists” and progressives. They both want more of the money of the people who work (me) to give to the people who don’t (you).

      • annie on September 3, 2018, 10:22 am

        “doesn’t support unilimited [sp?] immigration” is a coverup description of the racist muslim ban and the extremes of ICE.

      • catalan on September 3, 2018, 10:39 am

        “ the extremes of ICE.” Annie
        The extremes of ICE are nothing compared to how Mexico treats its own illegal immigrants (including those from Central America and incidentally, the US). Their camps are brutal, immigration laws are harsh and there is no birthright citizenship. I would support the US having Mexican immigration laws and enforcement.

      • Maghlawatan on September 3, 2018, 10:54 am


        Trumps tax cuts were for the plutocrats, not you. The Fed is currently raising rates. At some point this will trigger a crisis like in 2008. The Fed won’t be able to cut rates and the US government won’t be able to bail out Wall st cos taxes are too low. All hell will break loose. Low taxes now are suicidal.

      • Misterioso on September 3, 2018, 11:34 am

        The general consensus among leading economists is that during the next two years, the US will enter a full scale recession possibly followed by a depression. DEBT, DEBT, EVER ESCALATING MASSIVE DEBT AND INCREASING INTEREST RATES. Anyone who cannot see through Trump and comprehend his utter incompetence and corruption is a fool.

        Also, “Israel” will rue the day that Netanyahu, et al, jumped in bed with Trump. Remember the old adage, “lie down with dogs….?” Well, it’s applicable to both Netanyahu and Trump.

      • Mooser on September 3, 2018, 12:51 pm

        “He doesn’t support unilimited immigration”“catalan”

        Well, look who is talking. Don’t you wish immigration enforcement had been more prompt and decisive in your case?

        Or was the US badly in need of Bulgarian culture?

      • Mooser on September 3, 2018, 12:55 pm

        “I would support the US having Mexican immigration laws and enforcement.”

        And how would those laws have worked out for the little kid from Sofia?

      • catalan on September 3, 2018, 1:01 pm

        “The general consensus among leading economists is that during the next two years, the US will enter a full scale recession possibly followed by a depression” Misterioso
        Thanks – I usually invest precisely the opposite of what the “general consensus” of economists is. I figure, if they knew the future better than anyone else, they would be sipping Pina Coladas in their mansions rather than write economic papers.

      • catalan on September 3, 2018, 3:52 pm

        “And how would those laws have worked out for the little kid from Sofia?” Mooser
        He is no more. Life got to him. You become something odd as an immigrant, especially when your whole life is work. Some kind of rootless being. I don’t have a national identity, in the sense commonly thought. Broken Bulgarian and accented English. “Are you German” is what they usually ask me. The sweet irony.

      • Mooser on September 3, 2018, 6:02 pm

        “He is no more. Life got to him.”

        ICE didn’t, tho.

    • eljay on September 3, 2018, 2:01 pm

      || Osslinev: @Ejay …

      Trump is a third rate clown. … ||

      I disagree. I think he’s a first-rate clown.  :-)

  6. Elizabeth Block on September 3, 2018, 12:16 pm

    I wear a button that says “Jews Against the Occupation.” People ask me about it. One was a woman who wanted to know what it was all about. After a brief explanation, she said, “Why can’t they just get along?” I said, “Because the Israeli Jews want all the land with none of the people – and they see no reason why they can’t have it.”

    Then there was the woman from ICAHD – Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions – who said she doesn’t use the word “genocide” to describe what was happening now [March 2016], she was waiting for when it actually starts.
    First you deny that people exist. Then you are free to make them not exist.
    But don’t you figure the Israelis should be afraid of what Palestinians might do if they are deprived of the necessities of life?

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