By David Bedein, Friday, November 3, 2000
Also see update below, Canada stokes UN conflict: journalist
In late September, 2000, AFTER the Israeli government had declared that it was ready to relinquish sovereignty over almost all of the West bank, Gaza and even over the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, a rebellion broke out in the Palestinian Arab refugee camps that are administered by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Work Agency, led by armed units of the Palestinian Liberation Army that are based in these camps.
To the outside observer, one would wonder why this rebellion began, considering the fact that 97% of the Palestinian Arab population already lived under Palestinian Arab rule as of September 2000.
Instead of encouraging the Palestinian Arabs to realize that their future lies in a Palestinian Arab entity that would be based in the west bank and Gaza, areas that are already in Palestinian hands, UNRWA fuels this rebellion, by mandating that Palestinian Arab refugees must return to the rest of Palestine, to the 531 Arab villages that existed before 1948 which have been replaced by Israeli cities and collective farms.
UNRWA educates the Palestinian refugee population that they have an absolute and "inalienable right of return" to any and all of the areas that they left in 1948, despite the fact that their towns and villages no longer exist. Yet UNRWA, far from being an Arab or PLO entity, is administered entirely by the donor countries who contribute $400 million per annum to the UNRWA operation. It is the western officials who administer UNRWA and the consular officials who visit UNRWA camps who encourage and reinforce the illusion of the "right of return". It was therefore no coincidence that I received the PLO's multicolored "right of return" brochure from the officials at the Canadian liaison office in the west bank city of El Bira. The Canadian officials there who gave me that brochure, Tim Martin and John Laine, chimed in that "You cannot expect the Palestinians to give up on the 'right of return', can you?"
The Canadian workers in the UNRWA camps join with other UNRWA officials in organizing daily lessons on the "right of return" that include the new textbooks that are funded in part by the Canadian government that inculcate a new generation of Palestinian Arabs to return to Jaffa, Haifa, Lod, Ramle, Tzfat and more [all within pre-'67 Israel]. UNRWA officials do not leave it at that, UNRWA now rents buses for UNRWA children to visit the neighborhoods that were abandoned by the Arabs in 1948.
UNRWA officials do not leave it at that. On August 3, 2000, the New York Times published a front page story in which it documented how UNRWA allowed 25,000 Palestinian Arab youngsters to use their schools during the summer as military training camps where children, from ages 8 to 16, would be trained in the art of preparing molotov cocktails, roadside bombs and throwing stones during military confrontations with IDF troops. UNRWA officials do not leave it even at that. UNRWA legal advisors, whose salaries are paid for by the UNRWA donor countries, encourage UNRWA camp residents to make claims for their properties from before 1948. It should be noted that UNRWA mandates that Arab refugees in the UNRWA camps dwell in sections according to the precise neighborhoods and villages in which they lived in 1948.
UNRWA officials justify their support for all this under their mandate to support UN resolution #194, which defines Palestinian human rights as the "inalienable right of return" to their homes from 1948, together with compensation. In support of this premise, the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv sent a brochure to my news agency in support of the "right of return", authored by Canadian PLO lobbyist Rex Brynan.
THE ISSUE THAT WAS DELAYED
The 1993 declaration of principles that was agreed upon by Yitzhak Rabin, then the prime minister of Israel, and Yassir Arafat, the leader of the PLO, and witnessed by Jorgen Hoist, then the Foreign Minister of Norway, left the issue of the Arab refugees who have wallowed in United Nations refugee camps since 1948, to be resolved after seven years that were set aside for a dynamic and complex negotiating process.
Over the past seven years, the PLO and its administrative entity, the Palestinian Authority have pursued the "right of return" as a primary issue, infusing the Palestinian Arab people with the idea that all Palestinian Arabs would have the opportunity to return to the homes and villages that they left in 1948.
Just two weeks before the explosion of violence prior to Rosh Hashanah, I attended a meeting at the PLO's Orient House in Jerusalem, at which the strategy of the PA with regard to the right of return and the compensation claim were clarified. I met with Khalil Tafakji, the Director of the Arab Studies Society. Mr. Tafakji is director of a project to computerize the land records of Jerusalem and its environs, cross-referencing the property records with the ownership claims of the refugees. At that time, he projected that the report would be completed within three months and will show the present owner or user of each parcel in Jerusalem and the Arab owner of each parcel prior to 1948. Tafakji notes that this is the first step in preparing a legal claim for return of the properties or claims for damages for the value of the properties. Similar projects are being planned for other parts of Israel, he stated, regarding properties to which Arab refugees will make claims.
The theory of the PA is that their claims are similar to that of the Jewish claims against Germany, Austria and countries to which Jewish assets were sold or transferred by the Germans and their allies. It is also similar, they believe, to the claims against Switzerland and other countries that benefitted from Jewish property owners whose assets were confiscated after their deaths at the hands of the Nazis.
The implications of the PA strategy are clear. It is entirely possible that a court, such as the World Court in The Hague, will give these claims a sympathetic hearing and order properties returned to their pre-1948 owners. Alternatively, the Court could order that the previous owners be paid fair value for their property, together with interest from the time the properties were seized. Israel will have to show that the properties were voluntarily abandoned, which may be an impossible task. The result could be hundreds of billions of dollars in damages, or, even worse, an order to evict the present owners and return the property to the claimants. Given the respect that Israeli jurisprudence gives to international law, the possibility exists that Israeli courts would give full faith and credit to an order of the World Court.
The Palestinian Authority's determination to push the "right of return" issue was confirmed by Israel Member of Knesset, MK Dan Meridor, who serves as the security-sensitive chairman of Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. Meridor, who served as the cabinet secretary when Prime Minister Menachem Begin negotiated the Camp David agreement with Egypt in 1978, also played a key role in Prime Minister Ehud Barak's delegation at the Camp David summit. He participated in meetings on all core issues addressed at the summit, especially the subcommittee that dealt with the "Right of Return" and that of compensation demands for the returnees.
Meridor told me that the consistent position of the PA throughout the summit, a position that has not changed, remains that 3.6 million Palestinians have the absolute right to exercise their right to return to their homes and villages in Israel. Meridor specifically mentioned the PA assertion that these individuals have the same rights as Holocaust survivors and the refugees who were displaced in Serbia and Kosovo to be repatriated to their homes and recover their property, even after a period of 52 years. The PA asserts that these refugees may, at their option, return to their homes, or receive compensation for the loss of their property and their suffering.
As Meridor related it, the Israeli delegation at Camp David had assumed that the PA's position was only an opening negotiation gambit, even though the PA has emphasized this position throughout the seven years of the Oslo process. After 40 hours of negotiations, Meridor reported, the Israelis were now convinced that the Palestinians position is no mere negotiation strategy. It is likely that negotiations will sooner or later revolve around this issue. As the media focuses on violence and terrorism, someone should pay attention to the people who fight with lethal computers as well.
Why are there Arab Refugee Camps?
During the 1948 war of Independence, when the new state of Israel was invaded by seven Arab armies, between 350,000 and 650,000 Arabs left their homes in Palestine, (depending upon which United Nations report you read), while an undetermined number of Jews fled from their homes in the Old City of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem suburbs of Neveh Yaakov, Atarot, and the Etzion Bloc.
The "Inalienable Right of Return" resolution #194 that was adopted by United Nations resolution #194 on December 11, 1948, during the height of that war of independence, legislated that all Jewish and Arab refugees from the 1948 war possessed the absolute and "inalienable" right to return to the homes and villages that they left during the war. That resolution also determined that all of these refugees would be entitled to financial compensation.
To implement this resolution, the UN established UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, whose purpose was to confine Palestinian Arab refugees to "temporary" transit camps, under the premise and promise of the "right of return." Israel also established temporary refugee camps to receive the Jewish refugees from 1948, along with more than two million Jews who streamed to Israel in the first decade of the state's turbulent history.
While no Jewish refugee camp still exists, the UN and the Arab nations have continued to confine what are now 3.6 million Palestinian Arab refugees in refugee camps, forbidding them to move. Even the Palestinian Authority forbids the Palestinian Arab refugees from moving into permanent homes in the areas under PA control. Why? Because moving would jeopardize their right to return to the 531 Arab villages that have been replaced by Israeli cities, collective farms and woodlands, all of which lie within Israel's pre-1967 cease fire lines.
David Bedein, originally trained as a community social worker with expertise in conflict resolution, has been the bureau chief of the Israel Resource News Agency at the Beit Agron International Press Center in Jerusalem since its inception in 1987.
Canada stokes UN conflict: journalist
By Paul Lungen, Canadian Jewish News, June 20, 2002
For more than 50 years, Canada has been complicit in helping stoke Palestinian refugees' aspirations to return to areas that are now part of Israel, creating a “festering problem” and igniting a passionate conflict with Israel, says Israeli researcher and journalist David Bedein.
Through its financial subsidies to refugee camps operated by UNRWA, a UN agency, Canada has helped inflame the Arab-Israeli conflict, Bedein said.
Bedein, who serves as bureau chief for Israel Resource News Agency in Jerusalem, was in Toronto recently where he outlined his views of the Mideast conflict and urged Canadian Jews to question their government's involvement in the UN camps.
UNRWA is funded by 38 countries, including Canada, which contributes $20 million (US) each year. The camps, including “the UNRWA camp in Jenin,” are administered by the UN agency and serve as hotbeds of terrorism.
While UNRWA operates schools, medical clinics and distributes food supplements, “it is supposed to administer the camps from A to Z” and should prevent terrorist activities there. When he confronted UNRWA officials about the presence of terrorist cells, “they said, 'they have to sleep somewhere,'” Bedein related.
Bedein has researched the educational curriculum taught in the camps' schools and viewed the local maps presented to Palestinian children. They all instill a desire to return to Arab villages that are now part of Israel, he said.
Since Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993, “they were told that in [the year] 2000 they will go back to their homes.”
Bedein rejected suggestions that the current conflict is focused on Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria or Gaza. In 1958, he said, Israeli diplomat Abba Eban wrote a seminal article arguing the UNRWA camps were a dagger in the heart of Israel. In 1964, U.S. Jews protested a mural at the Jordanian pavilion at the New York World's Fair which demanded the right of return. The PLO, which was founded in 1964, three years before Israel seized the territories, was based on the idea of the right of return, he said.
Bedein said his agency has interviewed four UNRWA commissioners and they each “acknowledged they support the right of return, as that's their mandate.”
When he met with Canadian diplomatic officials in Ramallah, “they looked me straight in the punim (face) and when I asked about the right of return, they gave me a one-sentence answer: 'You can't expect them to forfeit their right of return.'”
Bedein noted the “right of return” is based on UN resolution 194, a General Assembly resolution that does not confer legal rights. Nevertheless, “you have an agency (UNRWA) that is based on that mandate. The issue is not legality, it's appropriateness. My view is that everyone should be questioning this issue.
“When the Canadian government is being asked for money, in light of everything that's happened to date, when Israel discovers that the terror network operating versus Israel is from UNRWA refugee camps, I ask a very simple question: Isn't logical for donor nations to ask UNRWA to disarm the camps?”
Bedein said one of the reasons for his visit to Toronto, as well as to several U.S. destinations, was to raise funds for a film on the UN camps, which he hopes to market to major television networks.