.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fisking Leila Hilal in The Atlantic (David G)

This was part of David G.'s  daily Middle East Media Sampler:



The Atlantic once was a highly thought of publication. Now seemingly anyone can write for it with no requirement of being truthful. Leila Hilal wrote Israeli Leader Wrongly Blames UN and Arab States for Palestinian Refugees and claims:
Ayalon is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and currently a Knesset member representing Yisrael Beitenieu, an ultra-nationalist party that advocates the transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel as part of a political settlement. An avid user of social media -- recognized by Foreign Policy in their who's who of 100 Tweeters in 2011 -- he maintains a personal website in Hebrew and English, including links to his widely viewed and frequently reposted Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts. The refugee video alone garnered 37,000 hits within the first two weeks of its release, and currently has over 140,000 views. Ayalon reportedly plans to promote the clips, available in eight languages, globally for use in regular school curricula. The deputy foreign minister has particularly strong appeal among some Christian evangelicals and conservative members of U.S. Congress, with whom he and his party have long cultivated ties and to whom much of his communications appears geared. In short, his effort to influence the narrative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can have consequences.
To call Yisrael Beiteinu an ultra-nationalist party "that advocates transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel," is deceptive. In its own website, the party describes its policy like this:
The responsibility for primarily Arab areas such as Umm Al-Fahm and the “triangle” will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. In parallel, Israel will officially annex Jewish areas in Judea and Samaria. Israel is our home; Palestine is theirs.  
That is unclear, however the Jewish Virtual Library explains further  
Yisrael Beiteinu is in favor of a peace settlement with the Palestinians but advocates replacing the land-for-peace approach with a mutual exchange of territories and populations under the principle of peace for peace, land for land. The party's manifesto states that "The end result [of a peace settlement with the Palestinians] must not be a state and a half for Palestinians and half a state for the Jews… It would be unjustifiable to create a Palestinian state that would exclude Jews while Israel became a bi-national state with an Arab minority of more than 20 percent of its citizens." The party states that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.
In other words, both Jews and Arabs who find themselves on the wrong side of the border will be transferred. Only half of that equation is objectionable to Hilal. Of course as we saw at Yamit and Gaza, Israel has transferred Jews in the name of peace.  

I suppose there's a little truth in this argument:
In criticizing UNRWA, Ayalon ignores the fact that the agency is not mandated to find solutions for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA's authority, given to it by the UN General Assembly, is limited to providing humanitarian and development assistance. It is true that UNRWA has delivered this assistance for multiple decades, but it is precisely because of UNRWA's role that the refugees have been able to achieve varied degrees of normalization pending a political resolution of their rights. It is for this reason that the Israeli government annually supports the renewal of the agency's mandate at the UN and has opposed the cutting of aid to its general fund.
In the video, Ayalon implicitly portrays UNRWA as a resource drain compared to UNHCR -- again ignoring their differences. As a direct service provider for millions of beneficiaries, UNRWA needs staff and money to fulfill its internationally mandated role. UNHCR, on the other hand, typically contracts out service provision for refugees or negotiates socio-economic access with hosting governments. (Frequently unsuccessful in this endeavor, many refugees under UNHCR's authority face extremely dire circumstances, exacerbating protracted conflicts.) 
No UNRWA is not mandated to find solutions for Palestinian refugees, it is, however, designed to perpetuate them. As Asaf Romirowsky and Jonathan Spyer observed in 2007:
Instead, UNRWA finds a hundred and one ways to perpetuate Palestinian dependency. The interests of the refugees and UNRWA are fatally intertwined; UNRWA is staffed mainly by local Palestinians — more than 23,000 of them — with only about 100 international United Nations professionals. Tellingly, while the U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) avoid employing locals who are also recipients of agency services, UNRWA does not make this distinction. Terrorism does not exclude one from being a part of UNRWA. In fact, quite the opposite is true: UNRWA-overseen hospitals and clinics routinely employ members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Employing Palestinians for decade after decade and providing them with subsistence-level food aid and rudimentary education are a far cry from giving them usable skills and a positive attitude about creating their own independent economy and viable civic institutions. 
 More recently, Daniel Pipes added 
These changes had dramatic results. In contrast to all other refugee populations, which diminish in number as people settle down or die, the Palestine refugee population has grown over time. UNRWA acknowledges this bizarre phenomenon: "When the Agency started working in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services." Further, according to James G. Lindsay, a former UNRWA general counsel, under UNRWA's definition, that 5 million figure represents only half of those potentially eligible for Palestine refugee status.
In other words, rather than diminish 5-fold over six decades, UNRWA has the population of refugees increase almost 7-fold. That number could grow faster yet due to the growing sentiment that female refugees should also pass on their refugee status. Even when, in about 40 years, the last actual refugee from mandatory Palestine dies, pseudo-refugees will continue to proliferate. Thus is the "Palestine refugee" status set to swell indefinitely. Put differently, as Steven J. Rosen of the Middle East Forum notes, "given UNRWA's standards, eventually all humans will be Palestine refugees."
Hilal also writes:
Ayalon's claim that Arab states deny refugees basic rights as demographic warfare against the Jewish state is also out of context. All Arab refugee-hosting countries endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative (API) in 2002 and again in 2007. The API contains an implicit compromise proposal to implement the right of return in a manner sensitive to Israel's demographic interests following Israeli recognition of international principles. As political landscapes shift in the Middle East, so may Arab foreign policies. Ayalon, however, relies on archaic public statements from former pan-Arabist Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser and long-passed UNRWA commissioners. Rather than quoting Arab leaders in 1969 or UN officials from the 1950s, Israeli officials should be honest about where the political conflict on the refugee question lies today. 
Hilal apparently realizes the weakness of her argument when she writes that the Arab Peace Initiative contains "an implicit compromise" with Israel. There is nothing explicit about the API except for Israel's obligations. In short it is a recipe for the Arab League to keep changing its demands of Israel in return for ill defined promises. Furthermore, anyone who reads MEMRI knows that the official anti-Israel vitriol of the Arab world is not a thing of the past.

Finally we get to the most offensive part of Hilal's argument:
This leads to the other major assertion advanced in the clip equating Jewish and Palestinian refugees. In 2008, American historian Michael Fischbach published a ground-breaking study on Jewish Property Claims against Arab Governments. Fischbach mined American, Israeli, and British archives to understand the circumstances surrounding the movement of 800,000 Jews from Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa over a 20-year period following Israel's establishment. His research revealed that Jews left Arab countries for a variety of reasons, with many leaving behind valuable assets that in some cases were seized by Arab governments. Ayalon reminds us of these claims but wrongly suggests that they fit within the rubric of Palestinian-Israeli relations. Jewish property claims should be resolved as a matter of priority, but bi-laterally with responsible Arab governments and according to the same universal norms applicable to Palestinians.  

Funny, earlier, when it suited her, Hilal acknowledged the "archaic public statements" of Arab leaders, but she ignores it in this case:

On May 16, 1948, a New York Times Headline read “Jews in Grave Danger in all Muslim Lands: Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia face wrath of their foes.“ The story reported of a law drafted by the Arab League Political Committee “which was intended to govern the legal status of Jewish residents of Arab League countries. Their bank accounts would be frozen and used to finance resistance to 'Zionist ambitions in Palestine.' Jews believed to be active Zionists would be interned and their assets confiscated.“ Pogroms and persecutions, and grave fears for their future, regularly preceded the mass expulsions and exoduses of the Jews, whose ancestors had inhabited these regions from time immemorial. Beginning in 1948, more than 650,000 Jews left their homes in the Arab world to become refugees, and were eventually integrated into Israel, even as the country was being threatened with annihilation by neighboring Arab League states. Since their belongings were confiscated as the price of leaving from their repressive homelands, they arrived in Israel penniless, but they were welcomed and quickly absorbed into Israeli society. Approximately 300,000 more Jews found refuge, and a new homeland, in Europe and the Americas.
 

In a sense, then, Hilal ignores the Nakba. The Jewish one. If her misstatements and misdirections were not enough, she leaves us with one last one:   
Ayalon argues in his video that the Palestinian refugees were encouraged to flee by Arab countries, who refused to accept the Jewish state. Though this view is still advanced by Israeli officials, it conflicts with mainstream Israeli understandings. According to a new study from Hebrew University profiled by Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar, "virtually all newspaper articles and research studies from the end of the 1980s to 2004", as well as all history textbooks authorized by the Israel's Ministry of Education since 2000, acknowledge that Palestinian refugees were subject to forcible expulsion. As Eldar noted, "It's a rejection of the [...] narrative that 'there was no expulsion in 1948.'" 
This is not a mainstream view. It is the fashionable view of the anti-Israel left.

In order to set the record straight, Efraim Karsh wrote Palestine Betrayed, reviewed here  
Karsh sets the record straight by drawing on Western, United Nations, Israeli, and Soviet documents declassified over the last decade, providing the correct context often missing in the selective focus of the "new historians" and altogether absent in the Palestinian narrative. His detailed examination of the historical records reveals that Israel's establishment was not the main cause of the Palestinian refugee problem and the hardships that the population has faced thereafter. Instead, it was the result of actions taken by the Palestinian Arabs and their leaders.
Anger instigated by Arab leaders is the foremost recurring theme in Palestine Betrayed, and Karsh holds the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Husseini, responsible for the deterioration of neighborly relations between the Arabs and Jews during the Mandate period, and for the eventual "collapse and dispersion of Palestinian Arab society."
Hajj Amin, known for his pan-Arab ambitions, "viewed the Palestinians not as a distinct people deserving statehood but as an integral part of a single Arab nation"—with himself as leader, and clean of Jews. To this end, Hajj Amin, an admirer and supporter of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, launched a campaign to demolish the Jewish national revival by enraging his constituents with all the anti-Jewish rhetoric he could find, from verses in the Quran to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Given the sloppiness of Hilal's article, one wonders what the standards of the Atlantic are now. Or if it has any.



I would add that UNRWA did in fact work towards resettling refugees, not just giving them aid. The W or UNRWA stands for "Works" and UNRWA's mandate was to create works programs so that refugees could support themselves and (implicitly) eventually integrate into their host countries. While it was not explicit in its mandate, the words "resettlement" were used often in early UN resolutions and documents regarding the refugees. 


For example, UNGA Resolution 393 from 1950, entitled "Assistance to Palestine Refugees":


The General Assembly,
Recalling its resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949,
Having examined the report 2of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and the report 3of the Secretary-General concerning United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees,

4. Considers that, without prejudice to the provisions of paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, the reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or resettlement, is essential in preparation for the time when international assistance is no longer available, and for the realization of conditions of peace and stability in the area;
5. Instructs the Agency to establish a reintegration fund which shall be utilized for projects requested by any government in the Near East and approved by the Agency for the permanent re-establishment of refugees and their removal from relief;

All this was obvious in early UN documents. Only at the end of the 1950s did UNRWA give up on the idea of re-integration and turn itself into a wholly anti-Israel organization. UNRWA teachers taught generations of Palestinian Arabs that "return" was the only acceptable option. This was documented in a monograph that noted that in Lebanon in the late 1950s:
Children in the physical education classes at the UNRWA schools exercised to the chant of a-w-d-a (return)
A UNRWA principal in 1961 described his school's curriculum to journalist Martha Gellhorn:
In our school, we teach the children from their first year about their country and how it was stolen from them. I tell my son of seven. You will see: one day a man of eighty and a child so high, all, all will go home with arms in their hands and take back their country by force.

The difference between UNRWA in 1950 and in 1960 is astonishing, and deserves its own study. But what was once a well-meaning refugee agency that did try to solve the refugee problem - including through resettlement - turned in only a few years into a hateful, inciting and bloated bureaucracy whose only purpose was to perpetuate and increase the refugee problem in perpetuity.