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Jewish-Arab Center Prof: No Such Thing as Palestinian Refugees

Prof. Nitza Nachmias says if it wasn’t for UNRWA & its half-billion dollar budget, the Palestinian refugee problem would have been solved long ago.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 2/8/2010, 12:41 PM / Last Update: 2/8/2010, 1:03 PM

Prof. Nitza Nachmias of the Jewish-Arab Center in Haifa University says that if it wasn’t for UNRWA and its half-billion dollar annual budget, the Palestinian refugee problem would have been solved long ago.

“In essence,” she told Arutz Sheva’s Shimon Cohen on Sunday, “there’s no such thing as Palestinian refugees. If people would stop calling the places in which they live ‘refugee camps,’ then they would see that these places are just like villages and towns anywhere else, and the inhabitants are totally rehabilitated… Refugee camps are like the maabarot [in which Israel housed its hundreds of thousands of new immigrants from North Africa and elsewhere] in the 1950’s or the camps now in Haiti – not the villages with streets and stone houses in what is known as Palestinian refugee camps of today.”

“They are rehabilitated better than refugees who are not supported by UNRWA,” Nachmias said. “Practically, factually and legally, there is no such thing as ‘Palestinian refugees.’ … Refugee camps are a fiction, and most of those who claim to be refugees have already been integrated into other countries."

Prof. Nachmias, a senior researcher at the Jewish-Arab Center who also teaches in Asheklon College and the University of Maryland, feels that Israel has taken the wrong approach in dealing with this issue: “We can’t simply push it off to the ‘final status talks’ and say, ‘We don’t accept the demand for the right-of-return because it will destroy the Jewish character of our state;’ what do they care about our Jewish character? If they deserve to be here, then it’s tough luck on us! Rather, Israel should take a pro-active approach, basing itself on international law and precedents, and declare that the Palestinian refugee issue no longer exists. They are no longer refugees!”

Rules for Palestinians are Different?
“According to international law,” Nachmias explains, “a refugee is an individual or family that was forced to run away – but this definition does not extend to children [of the original refugees], a community or a group. The only exception to this rule is the Palestinians, for whom the international laws are apparently different.”

If it wasn’t for UNRWA, Nachmias indicates, the issue of Palestinian refugees would have gone away a long time ago: “UNRWA is [no longer] a welfare agency, but rather an international employment agency for the Palestinians. UNRWA has 30,000 Palestinian employees, with 100 international experts at the helm. It is the biggest employer of Palestinians, and has an annual budget of a half-billion dollars. I discovered documents of pension funds of over a billion dollars a year, managed by brokers in Switzerland. All this for what is defined as a ‘welfare agency’ whose mandate is renewed every three years.”

'Send UNRWA Out'
“Israel must nullify the status of Palestinian refugee camps; there is no other place where the UN controls territory. We must send the UNRWA out and transfer the control of these places to the Palestinian Authority, and then when the status of each individual resident there is reviewed, we will see that none of them match the legal definition of a refugee, and they are established citizens.”

“Only in Lebanon are there refugees who are not allowed to work in certain professions; they are a small fraction of the total.”

Despite the UNRWA’s power and well-oiled financial network, “the world will support Israel in this case because it will also remove the onus of the refugees, and also because Israel can show, if it makes the effort, that it is rooted in international law.”