Following the 1948 war and the massive numbers of Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed from the former state of Palestine, Israel was keen to conceal not only the recent war crimes it had committed but, even more importantly, the continuing one it commits to this day in not allowing the refugees to return to their homes.
In this task, it was helped by the international community and its newly emerging institutions such as the UN. The Palestinian refugees should have fallen under the responsibility of the International Refugee Organisation (later to become the UNHCR). But Israel was opposed for two reasons. First, it did not want any comparison being made between the Palestinian refugees from Palestine and the Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe. That parallel, though obvious, was too uncomfortable. And second, Israel was concerned that the IRO’s mandate was to return all its refugees to their former homes. That was the last thing Israel wanted.
Israel, of course, got its way. So the UN agreed to set up a unique agency just for the Palestinians called UNRWA. And Israel hoped the world would forget the Palestinians. (It also managed to persuade the UN not to count many Palestinian refugees, such as those internally displaced who are today living in Israel – but that’s another story.)
Sixty odd years later the Guardian falls straight into the trap set for it and other media by Israel. It cites global refugee figures by UNHCR, omitting UNRWA data, and as a result reaches the following patently ridiculous conclusion:
Afghanistan remains the largest source of refugees, a position it has held for 32 years. One in four refugees worldwide is Afghan, with 95% located in Pakistan or Iran. Somalia, another war-ravaged country, was the second-largest source of refugees in 2012.
Afghans are not the biggest refugee population in the world. By quite some margin, Palestinians are.
When a reader points this out, the Guardian at first resists, or as readers’ (sic) editor Chris Elliott says:
The heart of the problem – which we should have realised sooner (my emphasis) – lies in the fact that the 4.9 million Palestinian refugees do indeed fall under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), not the UNHCR.
Elliott then implies that the complaining reader is some kind of conspiracy nut. I doubt he or she is. They just understand that the role of UNRWA is too keep the Palestinians out of sight. And the job of good journalism is not to allow the powerful to get away with these kinds of deceptions and manipulations. And in this case, as in too many others, the Guardian failed woefully.
The reader editors’ piece is here:
And the two refugee stories are here: