Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
The total number of Palestinian refugees is estimated at around five million. These refugees include those displaced from their ancestral lands in 1948 and their descendants. The number of Palestinian refugees is shockingly high. These poor people have been braving all sorts of problems for the past 70 years with no end to their plight in sight. Have we — the Arabs and the international community — forgotten these people? If the answer is in the negative then why on earth are they still living as refugees? Truth be told, the Palestinian refugees were forgotten the day they left their lands decades ago with a promise that their lands would be liberated in a few months. As it turned out, the number of Palestinians had increased dramatically over the years due to wars after the creation of the state of Israel and the high birth rate among the Palestinians. During the past few decades, these poor people are not only bearing the scourge of being refugees but they are increasingly becoming victims of conflicts they are not party to. In the ongoing violent conflicts across the Arab world, these refugees are caught in the cross-fire. Unfortunately, it is not only us, their Arab brothers, who have betrayed them but even their so-called leaders appear to be concerned about their selfish interests only. Finding solutions to the problems of Palestinian refugees appear to be nowhere on the agenda of their leaders. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for these Palestinians. Merely issuing statements expressing solidarity with these refugees are not likely to end their miseries. Ironically, countries that had assured Palestinians in 1948 that they would soon return to their lands are also currently faced with the refugee problems. Internal conflicts in many of those countries have rendered their own people refugees in their own and other countries. Sometimes I wonder what if the Arab world had taken the less than a million Palestinians in 1948 and issued them citizenships of the country in which they had taken refuge. They would have become part of those countries and the current problems would have been reduced. It is an open secret that the issue of the Palestinian refugees is a major obstacle to achieving a peace deal. Five million refugees is no laughing matter. The Palestinian leaders have seldom highlighted this issue effectively. Palestinian leaders very rarely raise the issue of these refugees or discuss their plight. They are seldom seen visiting the refugee camps, which are largely managed by international agencies such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Management of these camps is not an easy task. The camps were already facing a paucity of funds and now a deluge of refugees from countries — that had promised Palestinians fleeing their lands in 1948 that they would ensure their safe return soon — is also adding to the problems at these camps. Around seven million people have been displaced from Syria and Iraq and seeking refuge across the region. The number of those fleeing bloody conflicts in Libya and Yemen is unknown. The number of these new refugees far exceeds the number of Palestinian refugees. The problem of Palestinian refugees would only aggravate over time. Ironically, in the many rounds of peace talks held so far no viable option has been discussed to tackle this issue. As mentioned earlier, the funds allocated for these refugees are already insufficient due to which many different ideas are being proposed to handle this issue. One of those proposals calls for changing and modifying the definition of a Palestinian refugee. Many in the United Nations are of the view that refugee status should be given to only those Palestinians who fled the Zionist onslaught in 1948. If approved this decision will have catastrophic consequences. There is a great need to resolve this refugee problem before going ahead with further peace talks. It is undoubtedly a sad tale. Had these people been assimilated into the local populations of their host countries, they could have contributed greatly toward the progress of those countries. Unfortunately, for decades they just remained confined to their camps leading lives of uncertainty. Just a few decades ago, these refugees were brimming with hope but slowly and gradually that hope is fading. The Palestinian refugees are in a very desperate situation and with the start of the so-called Arab Spring many in the Arab world are busy with their own to think about this desperate lot. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Palestinian Refugees Slipping Into Oblivion reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.