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A Revised Take on Palestinian Refugees

Essay enhances indictment of post-’48 Arab governments

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A fascinating scholarly essay crossed my transom, and I’d like to recommend it as a weekend read. It concerns the famous quotation, “Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.” As the right-of-return continues to be a central Palestinian demand, the issue remains resonant. The line is commonly attributed to one Ralph Galloway, a British U.N. official who tried to tackle the post-1948 Palestinian refugee crisis.

Except there was no Ralph Galloway. As authors Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky show, the statement was made by Lt. General Sir Alexander Galloway, a Scotsman who spent significant time in pre-Israel Palestine and, what’s more, had extensive experience dealing in refugee issues in post-World War II central Europe—where he served as nothing less than the commander-in-chief of British forces in Austria, where there were an estimated 138,000 refugees. In 1952, he was removed from his post at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency at Jordan’s request because he had so vocally agitated for Arab governments to assume a level of responsibility for Palestinian refugees commensurate with postwar European governments and displaced Germans, including Jews.

The authors conclude:

Misunderstanding the identity of Galloway blunts the importance of his 1952 statement. Galloway was no mere international civil servant or bureaucrat. His experience as a leader of complex organizations and administrator in highly political situations was second to none. Galloway was familiar with refugee crises far larger and more dire than the Palestinians, as well as related exigencies of conventional warfare and insurgencies. He had also contended with complex politics in colonies, occupied territories and between superpowers. What he had not encountered was a situation where nominally supportive states maintained refugees in that condition and where refugees themselves demanded to remain homeless pending an ever-receding chance for repatriation. …

The European experience Galloway brought to UNRWA, which must have seemed so fitting in prospect, developed in a wholly different context. When seen from the perspective of a British administrator like Galloway, who had helped facilitate the repatriation and resettlement of hundreds of thousands of refugees [in] the context of escalating political tensions, the Arab states’ response to the Palestinians and UNRWA was simply intolerable.

A Tale of Two Galloways [Middle Eastern Studies]

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I am confused.

How does the linked-to article revise anything?

The article reaffirms the idea that Galloway indeed said that Arab governments used the Palestinians for the governments’ own purposes and Galloway said it based on his own direct experience as a high-ranking administrator.

Where’s the revision?

This is news? The Arab governments have never cared about the Palestinians and still don’t. Look at black september, the driving out of Palestinians from Kuwait, the fact that they cant get citizenship in Lebanon or the fact that Jordan, a Palestinian majority country, is ruled by the foreign Hashemite dictators. Israel, on the other hand accepted hundreds of thousand of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Dani Levi says:

Thanks for the link. Great piece, what is important is the historical context and hopefully the genuine sources. Considering the author is an ex IDF officer.

This is a very interesting article and it is good to track historical errors and their sources. However, I object to the use of the terms “palestinian” and “palestinians” for the 1940s and 1950s. In those days, the refugees were called “Arab refugees” or “Palestinian Arab refugees.” So use of the term “palestinians” is anachronistic until the early 1960s when the term came to be used gradually more and more until after the Six Day War it became the common term. The PLO was only founded in 1964. George Habash who later became a stalwart mass murderer of the PLO, was leader of an outfit called “the Arab Nationalist Movement” before the 6 Day War. He founded the “Popular front for the liberation of palestine” after the 6 Day War.

It would have been helpful to add to the article that the UNRWA was originally called the UNRRWA. It was the United Nations Relief, Rehabilitation and Works Agency and operated in Europe. When it was operating among the Arab refugees, the Arab leadership insisted that they did not want “rehabilitation”, which meant rehabilitation in place. They only wanted return, they said. So in order to accommodate the Arabs, the major powers dominating the UN changed the name to UNRWA, eliminating “rehabilitation” from the name.

Mark,
This was a great post. I hope it gets very wide circulation

Not only do Arab governments not care about Palestinian refugees, they and the PLO positively want to keep the status quo. It is only in this way they can keep the minds of their people away from their own bad governance and corruption. As for the PLO leadership, they’ve always done just enough to get quasi “head-of-state” status and hundreds of millions of dollars of aid money which they’ve distributed among their cronies. Had they really cared about their people, they would have made a real peace with Israel decades ago and worked towards building a democratic and prosperous nation.

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A Revised Take on Palestinian Refugees

Essay enhances indictment of post-’48 Arab governments

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