May 22 – Palestinians, and International Organizations
This week we cover two partially related subjects: Palestine, and international organizations.
The first is some very difficult ground – literally and figuratively. Everyone knows, at least roughly, “Palestinian” – one of the group of three generations of refugees and IDPs in and around Israel. You might know the Jewish nationalist movement pre-dates World War II, and certainly everyone knows what it meant to be Jewish during World War II. The Holocaust, of course, but also Jewish refugees rejected by the United States and others.
In other courses I have detailed some of this important Jewish and Israeli history. In this course, instead, we will look at some things from Palestinian perspectives. Most of the sources are from the Palestinian perspective, and as you might suspect therefore some of them are anti-Israel. Obviously but worth specifying: none of this is to support or promote anti-Israel or anti-Semitic sentiment – and none of that language will be welcome in our essay posts and replies. We are using the important story of Palestinian refugees – in the same way that next week we look at Bosnians and we might otherwise have considered Cambodians, Afghans, Sudanese, or others.
You might also note that while we usually think of this as a Jewish-Muslim conflict, a large percentage of Palestinians in 1947 were Christian, maybe 10-20%. Efforts to protect the remaining Palestinian Christians (now maybe 1-2%) are part of the work of certain NGOs.
Our second topic this week is international organizations. We’ll introduce some of the international law related to refugees, and some of the work that the United Nations undertakes.
You should know by now, I hope, to click on each of the links below. At the bottom of this page, we’ll have some suggested prompts for essays posts for the week.
Palestinians as Refugees
We talked last week about “stateless” people and peoples – and Palestinians are perhaps the largest stateless group. The Kurds do not have a state of their own, and are spread across Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria, but at least they have historically been considered citizens of those countries. Many Palestinians have not had that benefit.
To get a sense of the background, and to get a sense of the pro-Palestinian perspective, this short video (6 min) is instructive. It starts with some fair-minded background – “One group of refugees [European Jews] found a much-needed home, but in the process a new group of refugees was created.” It then shifts to criticisms of Israel while omitting some important historical context, especially its legitimate security concerns. We repeat here: no anti-Semitic language is appropriate from us; but understanding the perspectives of others in their own voice can be useful. (In the same way that Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats might be especially unflattering of each other – we can choose to approach it seeking understanding and at the same time absolutely not endorse it.)
With a sense of the tone of this topic, we can look at some “quick facts” offered by IMEU. IMEU is a Palestinian-American organization, outlining some of the history and current issues, with links to elaborations. A longer (14-page) doc you should review outlines the history, background, development, and current status of the “Nakba” – the “catastrophe” of 1947-1949. It’s important to note that this Nakba is considered to be ongoing, not limited to events 70 years ago. A final resource from IMEU is a short introduction to “the right to return – along with control of Jerusalem, perhaps the trickiest part of any eventual “two-state solution”described briefly here and more seriously and with historical context here – look at the first, at least skim the second.
Palestinian refugees live in a number of countries, not just land controlled by Israel. We start with a look at the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian refugees as part of long-predicted environmental challenges – drought and water crises. (We see versions of this elsewhere, too, including in the U.S. southwest, over the Nile River, and over the Aral Sea.)
Nearly half a million Palestinians live among fellow Arabs in Lebanon, but this article describes how they are in so many ways stateless. We’ll see in a couple of weeks how the Syrian refugees have complicated Lebanon’s population of 4 to 5 million people. Perhaps 2 million Lebanese have emigrated since 1975, and more than a million Syrian refugees have arrived in the last five years.
We also need to look at a snapshot from Jordan. Jordan has a population of 9 to 10 million people, with 2 million Palestinian refugees, many for decades, and more than a million Syrian refugees in the last five years.
We end our tour in the West Bank, the largest region of any future Palestinian state. In this look at the vulnerability of the economy and society to the whims of tourists who cancel trips whenever there is violence – and there was a surge at the end of last year.
We end on a hopeful note. Based on the “contact hypothesis” that prejudices break down when people are exposed to groups that fear or dislike, many organizations work across the Israel-Palestine lines to bring together kids for sports, music, or other bridge-building. This isn’t easy, but groups on both sides continue to try. Can these make a difference? Consider a couple of examples, here, here, here, here, and here.
We supplement these readings with two first-person interviews posted on our facebook page. One is a young American woman who first went to Palestine on an environmental project and became fascinated with the people and their story. The second is a lawyer and artist born and raised in a camp in the West Bank. Each offers a compelling narrative and a window into life in Palestine. I’ll put the links to these interviews on our fb group page, instead of here. You will need to be logged in to our fb group to see these.
Looking for more? A treasure trove here on a wide range of topics at the Institute for Palestinian Studies.
Refugees and International Organizations
A quick note on language, in case you are not a politics major: by international organization, we mean “international governmental organizations” – organizations whose members are typically states (that is, countries) or the governments of states: the UN or World Bank or OPEC or NAFTA, for example. Doctors Without Borders and Exxon and Amnesty International are international organizations in a “plain language” kind of way, but not in a political-science-y kind of way.
We can start with some of the modern foundation of refugees law: the 1951 Refugee Convention. Signed by 144 countries, a key idea was “non-refoulment” – refugees should not be returned to their home country if they would face threats to their life or freedom there. The 1951 convention grew out of the massive refugee crises during and after World War I and World War II. The 1967 Protocol eliminated the limits of time (pre-1951) and space (Europe) to which the original convention applied. A good summary of the 1951 and 1967 agreements is here. If you are interested, you can get a thorough introduction to the international law on forced migration and refugees at the lecture below (and with supporting documents):
You might have noticed that the links about were from unhcr.org – the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. This is the UN agency that covers a wide range of geographic and functional concerns. It deals with urgent crises now including the Central African Republic and South Sudan, among others.Its wide range of tasks include shelter, coordination of assistance, statelessness, public health, and more. It works with a large number of states, NGOs/development organizations, donors, and other partners, including other UN agencies, like the World Food Program and the World Healrh Organization.
UNHCR also works with regional UN agencies. With respect to Palestine, for example, there is UNISPAL and UNRWA, a “relief and development organization” for Palestinian refugees. (Despite these noble goals, UNRWA also has its critics.) Other UN organizations sometimes involved with refugees include UNMIK for Kosovo since 1999, UNIFIL in Lebanon since 1978, MINUSCA in the Central African Republic since 2014, and UMOGIP in Kashmir since 1949.
The UN is not the only international organization dealing with refugees. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has roots in postwar Europe. It is now a major global actor partnering with the UN and states on a wide range of issues. You can play around with its interactive Where Are They Now map, click to how many migrants in Country X from Country Y. IOM hosts a useful dictionary too. IOM is especially interesting to Americans, although few know it: IOM does the initial interviews of Syrians and Iraqis who are refugee applicants to the U.S.
OSCE – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – is nominally a “UN for democracies” but in fact many of its members fall short of that characterization. OSCE has important programs in democratization and human rights, including human trafficking and minority rights. It raised a number of issues for its member states last month on World Refugee Day.
Facebook – By Tuesday night of each week, please post a story with your own 10-25 word commentary, probably but not necessarily related to refugees, on our fb page. (In this case, by Tuesday, May 23.) By Thursday night of each week, comment on at least one or two stories posted by a classmate.
*Be sure to see the notes on the syllabus that offer guidance on what constitutes a good post. Thanks!
Essay Prompt – just below here, please write in the “What do you think?” box. This week’s prompt is wide open: You might choose to write about one or more aspects of Palestinians as refugees. You might choose to write about one or more international organizations that deal with refugees (or both Palestinians and international organizations). Answer this: What really struck you as interesting, important, surprising, etc.? As appropriate, draw from any of the materials assigned above and/or your own background and experiences. You want to be in the 300-350-word neighborhood, by Wednesday night (In this case, by Wednesday, May 24.). By Saturday night, you want to reply to at least two of your classmates’ essays – all just below in the “What do you think” box at the bottom of this page.
*Be sure to see the notes on the syllabus that offer guidance on what constitutes a good post. Thanks!