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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 – 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.

Your Turn

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!

11 Replies to “May22-Pals-IntlOrgs”

  1. After, I watched the video on refugees from Palestine; I understood their pain. Palestine’s refugees had been removed from their land by Israel. However, the responsibility for this serious conflict is the UK. In the past, the UK had authorized the majority of jews refugees to own the Palestine’s land. Palestine was a colony of the UK. However, the native people from Palestine was removed from their beloved land by Israel. The issue at work is religion and land. Israel had imposed that nobody who is not jews can live in Palestine. Palestine’s people became refugees evicted by Israel. It is impossible to believe that the owners of the land live in two places only. Gaza and the West Bank are the two reservations that Palestine’s refugees live in. Palestine’s situation is similar to what happened to the natives in North America. The American natives were removed from their land and placed in the reservations by European colonies. Today, they still live there in poverty and removed from their lands. Israel has not right to force their religion on the people of Palestina. The issue is that Palestina is located in the Arabic World and many countries like Jordan, Iran, Iraq and Syria had taken these refugees. However, there are quantities refusing to leave their beloved land.

    I am not a political major but I fight for social injustice and this conflict is about social injustice. Israel is very arrogant in its demand to the United State. The president of Israel Yatanahoo came to the United State to demand support for the killing of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza and complain that former president Obama was ignoring him. It was a disrespect to came to the United State and bypass the president and talk to congress. However, after seeing the video and the history of the two countries, I understand a little more the situation but not the behavior of president Yatanahoo.
    Finally, I understand the refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to look for European countries and America to request refuge. Jordan is one of the countries who had taken most of the refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. King Abdullah of Jordan had close his borders because he can not afford more refugees. I hope that the United State remove her band to refugees of the middle east especially the children and women and let them come to have a healthier life.

    1. Delmy and all:

      The comparison here to the removal of American Indians is definitely an interesting one. The story of the creation of a Jewish homeland is a long and complicated one. After WWII, there is a quote something like, “Finding a home for the Jewish refugees created a whole new group of refugees.” This is all complicated by the religious importance of the region to Muslims, Jews, and for that matter Christians. Palestinian refugees after WWII were something like 10-20% Christian, now it is like 1-2%.

      What most people do is decide when to start the clock: Jewish people and others lived in the area thousands of years ago; Christians tried to wrest it from Muslims 1,000 years ago; Jews displaced Palestinians 70 years ago; Muslim/Arab nations attacked Israel 40-50 years ago; Israel settlements and Palestinian intifadas have of the last 25 years; and so on.

  2. This past semester at CUA I took a politics course on Israel and world politics (10/10, I strongly recommend it). It was basically an Israeli foreign policy class focused heavily on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and international response.

    There was one major factor which I learned about in terms of peace negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… which is that Palestinian efforts backed by the UN are not likely to be well received by Israeli efforts backed by the U.S for one major reason. I believe the Palestinian leadership either doesn’t understand or chooses not to understand the true purpose behind Israel’s actions. It is true Israel has an obsession with security, it is the fundamental question which drives their policy making. This video, as mentioned in the assignment, does lean heavily in favor of Palestine. What this video fails to mention fairly enough is the daily terror attacks Israeli’s endure from Palestinian supported terror groups like Hamas which are now a rising political party inside Palestinian government. Hamas and groups like it deny the existence of the Holocaust and vow to “wipe Israel off the map”. Which is why I can very much understand Israel holding on to the occupied land for security purposes.

    The refugee situation in the West Bank, Gaza, and on the Jordanian border are unlikely to be resolved through a peaceful agreement until the issue of security is first resolved for Israel. With Palestinian government growing increasingly violent with the rise of groups like Hamas, Israel is unlikely to compromise on any aspect of the refugee situation because it is simply a measure of security… which is and has been Israel’s number 1 priority since their establishment. As the situation stands with Palestinian refugees, Israel holds the leverage because they still occupy the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the international community seems powerless to prevent Israeli settlements. This will only perpetuate the Palestinian refugee situation further and I believe there will not be any resolution for the Palestinian refugees until Hamas and groups like it lose power in the Palestinian government.

    1. This is a very interesting side of the issue in which I did not consider. It is understandable the precautions that are taken by the Israeli government to ensure that their people are not being eradicated again. While watching the video, I also noticed the biases that leaned towards Palestine, but with good reason to ensure that people are aware of this issue in the viewpoints of the Palestinians. I would like to read and see other points of view regarding this issue, specifically on the Israeli side of this issue.

    2. Sounds like a great class, Sean.

      You’re right to id security as a key Israeli foreign policy interest. Most countries in the world, you don’t have to ask whether they will exist tomorrow. Russia will exist tomorrow. Bulgaria, Paraguay, China, Egypt – all these countries will exist tomorrow. For Israel, there’s no guarantee. On the other hand, the country of Palestine doesn’t really exist at all today. It is almost impossible to be fully sympathetic to both sides. The political, geographic, regional, and global politics are huge and complex. Add religion, and the question risks being perceived as unsolvable – or no?

  3. This issue that disregards Palestine as a state, and continuously refers to the Palestinian people as stateless by the Zionists and Israeli government is contradictory. Prior to and during WWII, when the Jewish population of Europe were put into Jewish ghettos, concentration camps, and forced to renounce their European (mainly German) citizenship; they were seen as second class citizens to Nazi Germany, the people who were trying to eradicate Jews from Europe, and the world. After the tragedy that was the Holocaust, the UN decided to give the remaining Jewish population of Europe a place of refuge to call their home, their own state, despite the fact that within historic Palestine, where Palestinians have been settled there for the better part of two to three thousand years or more. It is unsettling to read that for sixty years, the Israeli government has been terrorising Palestinians, manipulating their supply of fresh water to cities and villages, displacing their people, and taking over their agricultural land. It is shocking to read that Palestinians are referred to as second class citizens in their own land, or that many have to live off of two US dollars per day. As quoted from Letters from Jerash, Jordan: A Visit to the Gaza Refugee Camp, that “we are not considered people by the world, so maybe it is best that we just keep our heads down and work in different ways to earn our humanity.” They were forced out of their own land, and despite the UN General Assembly of the Palestinian Right to Return, and Resolution 3236, they are unable to return to their normal lives without being oppressed by Zionists and the Israeli government.

    It is hypocritical, from an outsiders perspective of course, that the Israeli government could condone such behaviour towards the Palestinian people, treating them as second class citizens, when it was less than one hundred years ago that the Jewish people had to experience a reign of terror over their population in Europe. There needs to be some humility towards the Palestinians, understanding, and integration towards the displaced and refugee people of Palestine.

  4. Thanks, Emily. Like we talked about in the comments above, it’s very tempting to see the problem from one side (especially when I spoiled the lake with the Palestine-favored video). We would probably be better served to pair that video with one from WWII Jewish refugees? And folks on either side might argue legitimate points. But in this class, we’re going to focus on the Palestinians as refugees – and their case is really strong if we approach it like that.

  5. The information that surprised me the most from this week’s readings came from the article detailing the treatment of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. It was surprising to see that Arab people, living in an Arab nation, are being treated as second class citizens. Oftentimes, we seem to incorrectly think that a strong sense of Arab nationalism prevents something like this from happening. However, this Arab nationalism (or Pan-Arabism as it is often referred to) obviously has its limits. Historically, Pan-Arabism was relatively popular in the region; much of the rhetoric from Nasser in Egypt during the Free Officers movement and the seizing of the Suez Canal was rich with language espousing the idea of one, unified Arab people. However, after the crushing defeat of united Arab forces during the Six-Day War in 1967, the unifying effect collapsed. As the article from The Middle East Monitor explains, any sentiments of Pan-Arabism that may have lasted through the defeat in 1967 had clearly been exhausted by 1982. The vicious slaughter at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in West Beirut clearly illustrated that an Arab nationalism stretching across borders was no longer viable, at least not in terms of defending and protecting ones fellow Arabs. (For any of my classmates who may be interested, the Lebanese Civil War can serve as a fascinating case study of international conflict and of the internal displacement of refugees)

    I also strongly agree with the words of your former student, Jackie. Her assertion that there is no substitution for firsthand experience is correct. Unfortunately, as she wisely points out, it is hard for typical American students to get real, hands on experience with these subject matters. The closest many of us can come to this is from hearing the words of someone who has lived through these events. In listening to the words of Akmad, we are able to picture what it is like to be treated as a second-class citizen, or as an enemy in one’s own homeland.

  6. I think that Seam, Emily, and Thomas have made points to the situation of Israel and Palestina. One point that I would like to bring to your attention; It is the fact that the Zionist is a paramilitary group that it had brutalized the Palestina refugees and defend for years Israel. It is the reason that terrorist groups like Hamas had taking advantage of the Palestina refugees helping to retaliate and defend their land. The same case is similar in Afghanistan with the Taliban, Al Quaeda, and the Mohadis. These are terrorist groups who pray on the people or the Middle East in the name of Islam. Thomas mentions the way that Palestine’s are treated in Lebanon and Arabic country. They have no choice to become anything they want to be. They can not own a land or house. In others, words they are slaves. Security is an issue for Israel because they could disappear from the globe. Emily mentioned that Israel had suffered under the Nazis in the past and I ask why if they were treated as a second class human being why they inflicted the same pain to the Palestine refugees. Finally, Dr. Quirk made the point the video is inclined to Palestine refugees. I had become fascinated with the refugees in general and the class. I think every time why there is so much oppression for the refugees from Palestina? and the Arabic countries are terrified that the same thing happen to them.

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