April 4, 1966:
“The Arab states will not integrate the Palestine refugees because integration would be a slow process of liquidating the Palestine problem,” Ahmed Shukairy, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, declared in an interview today.
“Consequently,the refugees don’t want to be integrated,” he continued. “If there are no Palestinian people, there is no Palestinian cause. We can’t conceive of a Babylonian cause today because there are no Babylonians. But we start from the premise that we will achieve the liberation of Palestine soon.”
Arab refusal to assimilate the 1.3 million refugees now living in four host countries— Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, controlled by the United Arab Republic—has been the subject of criticism from Israel and from the Western nations that have contributed to supporting the refugees for most of the 18 years since Israel came into existence.
Most of the critics would agree with Mr. Shukairy that the Arabs will not assimilate the refugees because they want to keep tie Palestine issue alive. But few of them would be likely to agree that the refugees do not want to be assimilated, and almost none would accept the premise of “liberation of Palestine soon.”
Indeed, questions about why the refugees persist in their hopes when Israel appears to have consolidated her position bring a different, but fairly standard, Arab retort:
“The Zionists remembered Palestine for 2,000 years. Why should we begin to forget in 18 years?”
When leaders of the Arab nations are asked why they do not assimilate the refugees, they reply that Israel and the West, not the Arabs, were responsible for the refugee exodus in 1948 from the part of British Palestine that became Israel.
These leaders ignore the rebuttal that the Arabs shared largely in the responsibility because their radio stations broadcast propaganda about Israeli atrocities designed to panic the refugees and that the refugees were told to flee.
The basic problem is that integration of the ordinary, uneducated peasant refugee requires land. In Jordan, the only host country that has given refugees the full privileges of citizenship, arable land is not available. The other Arab countries reserve what land they can develop for their own citizens, who want it badly.
Iraq, where there are almost no refugees, has the most favorable land-to-man ratio among the Arab states, but even there any significant assimilation of outsiders would require large scale development of irrigation.
A Western ambassador in one host country said recently:
“The way to solve the problem is to stimulate Arab economic development to the maximum. If the Arab countries begin to need manpower, refugees will automatically be absorbed.”
The psychological and emotional obstacles to integration are great. The refugees and their hosts feel strongly that they got a raw deal in 1948, and their self-esteem demands formal reparation, particularly because of the impression that the Israelis are cleverer, abler and more modern than the Arabs.
The Arab armies that moved against Israel in 1948, after the Arabs rejected the United Nations partition of Palestine, were beaten, and the defeat still Irankles.
One educated refugee said the other day in private conversation that he favored going back to the original partition plan, which would cost Israel 27 per cent of her present territory.
The mystique of the refugees, fed by Arab broadcasts and by nostalgic talk, is based on the conviction that they have been grievously wronged. One commentator, Cecil Hourani, has written: “In the dim twilight of the camps it is what has been lost that still beckons, not what can be done to take its place.”
At a United Nations school in Gaza, a young refugee was learning the trade of an auto mechanic. He was scheduled to I go to Sweden for on-the-job training. He spoke a little English. Asked what he would do if he could get a permanent job in Sweden and if he met a girl, he liked, he said: “I would come back. My country needs me.”
Hamdi Hirzallah, 40 years old, a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was present at the interview. A native of Beersheba, now part of Israel, he said with great intensity: “I will tell you something, and I wish you would quote me. If they try to leave, we will stop them, by force if need be.”