In the late 1940s, my parents, both survivors of the Holocaust, left a displaced persons camp in Germany for the United States. They were joined by tens of millions of refugees repatriated in Europe after World War II or settled in the newly formed countries of Israel, India, and Pakistan. In the early 1950s, some 800,000 Sephardic Jews fled to Israel seeking freedom in the Jewish state.
All of these migrants discarded their refugee status and became citizens of their new homelands.
Not so with the Palestinians, 750,000 of whom fled Israel 70 years ago with the establishment of the State of Israel. Fueled by the illusion of “return” reinforced by demagogic Arab and Palestinian leaders, more than five million of these “refugees” and their descendants are wards of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the only UN refugee agency devoted to meeting the social welfare needs of Palestinians two-and-a-half generations removed from their displacement.
Why aren’t Palestinians resettled as citizens in the numerous Arab states in which they have resided for decades, or by their so-called political representatives, the Palestinian Authority (PA)? Because they are political fodder for maintaining the fantasy of the right of return to Israel. And the American taxpayer is the largest funder of this exercise of intergenerational dependence. U.S. taxpayers contributed $368 million to UNRWA’s $1.1 billion budget, by far the largest amount from any country. Where is the push for independence for these millions of people living off the public dole? Maintaining the status quo is infantilizing millions while sowing long-lasting resentment.
And now, in the failed Hamas state of Gaza, tens of thousands attempted to breach the border in order to wreak havoc in Israel; some chanted “return.” Numerous videos have shown the violence fostered by Hamas, while the Israelis have leafletted Gazans to stay away. What kind of parents would allow their children to confront this dangerous border?
Trying to overthrow King Hussein during Black September; backing Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War; leading Kuwait to evict 100,000 Palestinian workers; rejecting plans for a Palestinian State in 1947, 2000, and 2009; and turning Gaza into the wretched wasteland it has become, Palestinian leaders have misled their people for generations. And now with the PA’s anti-Semitism out in the open, why don’t the Western countries hold them accountable for their egregious decisions?
Promoting autonomy and accountability are hallmarks of Western statecraft. Why are Palestinian leaders exempt from this? Instead, the PA receives too much undeserved sympathy from the media and the West. Lowering our standards for judging these leaders reinforces the infantilization of them and their people.
Of course, we grieve the loss of innocents, but we should also lose our innocence about the fantasies foisted on their people by these leaders.
Let’s hope that a future leader will have the vision and realism of an Anwar Sadat. Only then can fantasy be transformed into reality.