To the Editors:
Arlene Kushner’s important article misses one vital fact: UNRWA was established not to direct relief and works programs for “the Palestinian Arab refugees.” Actually, in the December 1949 General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV), which established UNRWA, and from which Kushner quotes, the object of that agency’s assistance is an entity referred to as “Palestine refugees” and not “Palestinian refugees.” Indeed, a visit to the UNRWA website will confirm this nuance. In other words, Jews, Christians, and Muslims could have applied for aid. The definition was not one predicated on a religious or ethnic identity but was geographically based. Since the original intent of the definition was geographical, a Jew expelled from his home during the War of Independence and who lost his livelihood should have been qualified for assistance.
Indeed, for several years, Israeli citizens were considered candidates for UNRWA care. These were the Jews who became refugees after Arab forces overran Jerusalem’s Old City and smaller agricultural communities such as Atarot, Neveh Yaakov, Bet Ha’arava, and the four Gush Etzion kibbutzim. In a communication dated October 6, 2003, B. Scott Custer Jr., chief of the international law division of UNRWA (Gaza), informed me that in 1950, 17,000 “internally displaced Jews coming from original mandate Palestine” (as he defined them) who resided in Israel were provided support from the agency. In July 1952, Israel assumed responsibility for 19,000 “refugees,” which included 3,000 Jews, and UNRWA ceased its operations inside Israel.
Arlene Kushner responds:
I thank Yisrael Medad for his enlightening information. If anything, it adds strength to arguments that Muslim Arab nations should have properly tended to the resettlement of Muslim Arab Palestinians (who constituted the vast majority of those who lost their homes during the war), just as Israel tended to the resettlement of Jewish persons displaced by the war.
In any event, as there has been no UNRWA activity on behalf of any but Arab Palestinians for 54 years, and because UNRWA is devoted exclusively to this population, the import of my essay stands, as I am sure Medad would agree.
(I am fairly sure I had written about the fact that according to the mandate of UNRWA, Jewish "refugees" from Gush Etzion, Atarot, Kalya, etc. could have, after 1967, demanded that UNRWA financially aid them in building new homes in the areas they had been forced to leave as a result of the 1947-49 hostilities and Arab agression. I'll check and if so, will add it as an Update).
August 2, 2006
I finally located my copy of the original letter.
Here's the final paragraph that the editors of AZURE, for some unfathomable reason, decided to censor. Maybe it was "too political" an observation?
In an historical sidebar, had Israel not taken that 1952 initiative, former residents of the Gush Etzion Bloc, for example, could logically have demanded UN assistance in rebuilding their lives in the territories which have become