Friday, February 22, 2013

Not all refugees are created equal

In no time, the Arab propaganda machine hijacked the evocative image, falsely hyping it as that of a pint-sized Palestinian refugee crying her heart out. She became an instant poster child among self-professed humanitarians. Nobody cared that she was, in fact, a Jewish refugee crying her heart out. The corrected caption put the picture out of mind.

Sarah Honig..
Another Tack..
22 February '13

Not all refugees are created equal. This is an incontestable fact – regardless of prevalent propaganda fronting as humanitarian indignation. Some refugees are the world’s darlings and have unremittingly been tugging hard at its heartstrings for decades. Others got a passing glance at most, accompanied – for a fleeting moment – by quasi-compassionate handwringing.

Selected unpopular refugees were altogether treated as perennial pariahs, whose agony plainly disturbs global peace. It’s not the objective distress and misery which count but the identity of the refugees in question – to say nothing of the identity of their alleged persecutors. When given factors converge, given refugees are considered more deserving of support from the dysfunctional family of nations.

Occasionally, news headlines serve up unpleasant reminders of the hypocrisy, not that most news consumers are inclined to pay attention and focus on the double standards. Take the plight of the refugees from Syria. Some 285,000 of them wallow in Lebanese tent cities. Another 250,000 crowd under rudimentary conditions in Jordan. Turkey has allowed about 180,000 into a narrow border security zone. Even troubled Iraq plays unwilling host to about 85,000. Beyond that there are countless uprooted Syrians still within the borders of their own country, though homeless and on the move. In all, it’s conservatively estimated that well over a million-and-half Syrians have been dislodged. They aren’t of one mold. Some were victimized by Bashar Assad and his Hezbollah collaborators. Others are Alawite and Christian – predisposed to side with Assad – who are terrorized by the largely Sunni rebels, among whom are fanatical al-Qaeda cohorts. When the Alawites or Christians flee to a neighboring territory that’s largely Sunni, they aren’t well-treated (to resort to understatement). When Sunnis find themselves across the border among Shiites, they too are ill-treated. It’s a complex ugly mosaic that confoundedly defies shallow 20-second media clips.

These refugees make piteous TV fare and offer talking heads the opportunity to pontificate pompously. But so what? These refugees’ destitution isn’t unavoidable. Their Arab brethren are the wealthiest on earth and wouldn’t feel the pinch if they loosened their purse strings a tiny tad and helped out. But this isn’t happening. It’s not that Saudi and Gulf States potentates don’t care. If anything, they are far from apathetic about the Syrian upheaval. They avidly bankroll it. They unstintingly pour in oil revenue to finance ostensible grassroots uprisings. However, they’re notoriously miserly when it comes to aiding the victims of the fight they finance.

Why does the international community – especially in the presumably freethinking Western democracies – fail to register this anomaly and fail to decry it? No surprise here. It’s a set pattern. While Syrian refugees make good tearjerker visuals, no true notice is taken of the ongoing indifference to their plight by their affluent Arab kinfolk. That would perhaps be to egregiously cross the bounds of political correctness. That same political correctness, dictated by what has been cemented as axiomatic throughout the world, produces quite contradictory responses to other refugee sagas.

The much-lamented Palestinian refugees, for example, had mind-blowingly topped the agenda of world opinion since 1948. Even by the Arab world’s most inflated arithmetic, the numbers of Palestinian refugees are way lower than those of the Syrians today. But somehow the outcry about the Syrians is outstandingly less vociferous and less shrill. They aren’t the emotive nationalist and jihadist cause célèbre that the Palestinians still are – generations post-1948. Mind you, Arab oil moguls never went out of their way to help out the Palestinians either, but they did go remarkably out of their way to use them.

Piercing protests from all corners of the Arab/Muslim realm impelled the UN to set the Palestinians apart from all other refugees, designate them for exceptional treatment and assure that their cause, such as it is, would never be allowed to fade away. In 1949 the UN established a special agency for those deemed to be Palestinian refugees – as distinct from all of the world’s bona fide refugees. All other refugees, regardless of objective hardship, are looked after by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), while the privileged Palestinian category is singularly aided by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA’s own records consistently divulge that the Arab countries – their inflammatory rhetoric notwithstanding – are the most tightfisted of UNRWA donors, despite their own extraordinary opulence and heartrending depictions of the benefits-recipients as their oppressed and needy brethren. Indeed Arab contributions decline consistently.

There’s something inordinately wrong with this reality even by the skewed standards of realpolitik expediency. Those who do least for the refugees are the very nations responsible for creating their problem to begin with (by attacking newborn Israel and exhorting local Arabs to flee, by keeping the “refugees” displaced, by spurring them to pursue irredentist goals and by whipping up lust for revenge). But this is more than only a matter of deplorable miserliness and disgraceful hypocrisy on part of the UN’s most moneyed members. These very same parsimonious regimes keep Palestinian refugees from being resettled. For over six decades they unconscionably exploit them as pawns in an artificially prolonged conflict with Israel. These luxury-loving Arabs, so niggardly in their handouts to UNRWA, utilize that very agency to calculatingly prevent refugee-offspring from losing their refugee status, thereby creating the greatest obstacle to the peace they ostensibly seek. They deliberately keep alive and fan the ambition to inundate Israel with millions of so-called refugees, while paying lip-service to a two-state solution. Had these same stingy states counseled refugee-descendents to drop their “right-of-return” demands, they would make a colossal contribution both to refugee welfare and to peace. By unnaturally perpetuating a problem for generations, they give the lie to their own claims to promote a peaceful two-state solution.

The same goes for UNRWA itself, an organization whose raison d’être is fraudulent and whose self-preservation hinges on making sure the problem entrusted to it would never be solved. This becomes self-evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” according to UNHCR and UNRWA. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted… is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition the refugee’s descendents aren’t refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless. The only exceptions are the Palestinians. UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.” Not only did numerous itinerant foreign Arab laborers claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the right extends to “descendents of persons who became refugees in 1948.” Indeed one refugee-parent suffices for inheriting the distinction – even when not “outside the country of one’s nationality.” By UNHCR’s yardsticks over 97 percent of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort. Layers upon layers of unabashed duplicity overlap under UNRWA’s auspices and contribute cynically to the perpetuation of wretchedness instead of assisting the cause of peace and prosperity.

It’s safe to predict that nothing of the sort will happen in the case of the far larger numbers of Syrian refugees, even though they had suffered indisputably more than Palestinians. Not a hair on a Palestinian head would have been touched had Palestinians not set out on a mission of unconcealed genocide against their Jewish neighbors. Why are Syrians different from Palestinians? Why the inequity? What makes Syrians less deserving? It’s the Jewish connection. All scales are scandalously tipped when Jews are involved. The Syrian mayhem cannot convincingly be connected to Israel, much as all of Syria’s warring sides try to outdo each other in painting Israel as the bête noir culpable for any malevolence. Therefore, it’s a surefire bet that the Syrians won’t get their own custom-made UNRWA.

But the Palestinians have always postured as the Jewish state’s victims, even if it was they who had attacked Israel. They were rendered refugees in a conflict of their own instigation, launched with the boastfully broadcast intention to “throw all the Jews into the sea” – i.e. perpetrate genocide and ethnic cleansing. Nonetheless, a mere four years after the Holocaust (which the Arabs collaborated in and cheered) the UN could pass up no opportunity to single out the Jewish state for blame.

Given this mindset, no special succor was dispensed to Jewish refugees. The Brits chased them on the open seas to prevent their rickety “illegal” boats from reaching the Jewish homeland. Those caught were incarcerated in forbidding camps, under shocking conditions, after having just emerged from the Nazi nightmare. Things were no better in Europe’s Displaced Persons camps, where Jews resided “legally.” Bombastic American Gen. George Patton regarded exiled and traumatized Holocaust survivors as sinister scum. He confined the Jews in DP camps under his command, within barbed-wire enclosures, in stark contrast to his treatment of German civilians – admiration for whom he never bothered to hide. Jewish refugees from the Middle East – who outnumbered the Palestinian refugees, who had resided in the various currently Arab countries long before the first Arab appeared on their soil, who didn’t launch wars against anyone, who left behind far greater property than Palestinians ever had, who were terrorized and robbed in full view of the uncaring international community – were never even counted as refugees.

To this day world opinion adamantly refuses to concede that an exchange of populations had taken place here. Facts will never be allowed to interfere with popular prejudice – not so long as any refugee episode can be linked to some Jewish aspect or another. There’s no end to the shameless perversion of truth. Soon after Israel’s independence, the young, embattled country was covered with tent cities full of refugees, many of them from Arab countries. In early 1950, legendary photographer Robert Capa captured the image of a tiny weeping girl in Haifa’s Sha’ar Ha’aliya transit camp. In no time, the Arab propaganda machine hijacked the evocative image, falsely hyping it as that of a pint-sized Palestinian refugee crying her heart out. She became an instant poster child among self-professed humanitarians. Nobody cared that she was, in fact, a Jewish refugee crying her heart out. The corrected caption put the picture out of mind. As we said – not all refugees are created equal.


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