This week, the most momentous news to come out of the Middle East in a long time slipped out, virtually unnoticed: Canada's decision to stop funding the Palestinian refugee agency UNWRA. If other western nations follow suit and UNWRA is forced to cease operating, Arab states will be forced to sette the Palestinian refugee problem one way or the other - either by jihad or resettlement. Hopefully it will be the latter, and the Jewish refugee issue will be thrust to the fore as a model of integration. Jonathon Narvey blogs at the National Post:
We learned this week that Canada is the first Western nation to pull the plug on UNRWA, the United Nations-run relief operation for Palestinian refugees of the West Bank and Gaza. The government has been quick to clarify that relief is still on the way. It will now be dedicated to specific projects like food aid; hopefully with enough oversight to prevent mismanagement and inadvertent support to a terrorist organization.
The government’s move is also a not-so-subtle indictment of a broken refugee support program that has arguably only perpetuated Palestinian misery and held up the Middle East peace process. As we look forward, the international community might take a lesson from the other side of the border from the UNRWA camps to Israel, which may fairly take the title of most successful refugee camp in modern history.
When someone uses the phrase, “refugees” in the context of the Middle East, we typically think of the Palestinian refugees who lost their homes during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967. The common narrative also holds that when we talk of Jewish refugees, we’re talking about white, European Jews who escaped the Holocaust to seek some measure of safety not only in the Holy Land, but also in the USA, Canada and elsewhere. But these narratives overlook a movement of nearly one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries during those same years, roughly equivalent in number to the original Palestinian refugees. They were largely persecuted, second-class citizens set upon by their neighbors and governments.
“We call these people the forgotten refugees,” says Regina Waldman, founder of JIMENA, an organization seeking recognition for these people in the context of an overall settlement in the Middle East. Waldman was herself a refugee from Libya in 1967, surviving anti-Jewish riots and other violence that claimed the lives of her friends and neighbors before escaping the country. Waldman wants to see a regional peace deal that puts Palestinians’ claims “on an equal footing with the Middle Eastern and North African Jews”.