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Myth and Fact: Arab States and the Palestinians
Mitchell G. Bard


"The Arab states have always welcomed the Palestinians and done their best to resettle them."


Jordan was the only Arab country to welcome the Palestinians and grant them citizenship (to this day Jordan is the only Arab country where Palestinians as a group can become citizens). King Abdullah considered the Palestinian Arabs and Jordanians one people. By 1950, he annexed the West Bank and forbade the use of the term Palestine in official documents (Speech to Parliament, April 24, 1950, King Abdallah, My Memoirs Completed, London: Longman Group, Ltd., 1978, p. 13; Aaron Miller, The Arab States and the Palestine Question, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1986, p. 29).

Although demographic figures indicated ample room for settlement existed in Syria, Damascus refused to consider accepting any refugees, except those who might refuse repatriation. Syria also declined to resettle 85,000 refugees in 1952-54, though it had been offered international funds to pay for the project. Iraq was also expected to accept a large number of refugees, but proved unwilling. Lebanon insisted it had no room for the Palestinians. In 1950, the UN tried to resettle 150,000 refugees from Gaza in Libya, but was rebuffed by Egypt.

After the 1948 war, Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip and its more than 200,000 inhabitants, but refused to allow the Palestinians into Egypt or permit them to move elsewhere. Egypt's handling of Palestinians in Gaza was so bad Saudi Arabian radio compared Nasser' regime in Gaza to Hitler's rule in occupied Europe in World War II (Isi Liebler, The Case For Israel, Australia: The Globe Press, 1972, p. 43).

In 1952, the UNWRA set up a fund of $200 million to provide homes and jobs for the refugees, but it went untouched.

Little has changed in succeeding years. Arab governments have frequently offered jobs, housing, land and other benefits to Arabs and non-Arabs, excluding Palestinians. For example, Saudi Arabia chose not to use unemployed Palestinian refugees to alleviate its labor shortage in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Instead, thousands of South Koreans and other Asians were recruited to fill jobs.

The situation grew even worse in the wake of the Gulf War. Kuwait, which employed large numbers of Palestinians but denied them citizenship, expelled more than 300,000 of them. "If people pose a security threat, as a sovereign country we have the right to exclude anyone we don't want," said Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United States, Saud Nasir Al-Sabah (Jerusalem Report, June 27, 1991).

Today, Palestine refugees in Lebanon do not have social and civil rights, and have very limited access to public health or educational facilities. The majority relies entirely on UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health and relief and social services. Considered foreigners, Palestine refugees are prohibited by law from working in more than 70 trades and professions.

The Palestinian refugees held the UN responsible for ameliorating their condition; nevertheless, many Palestinians were unhappy with the treatment they were receiving from their Arab brethren. Some, like Palestinian nationalist leader Musa Alami were incredulous: "It is shameful that the Arab governments should prevent the Arab refugees from working in their countries and shut the doors in their faces and imprison them in camps" (Musa Alami, "The Lesson of Palestine," Middle East Journal, October 1949, p. 386). Most refugees, however, focused their discontentment on "the Zionists," whom they blamed for their predicament rather than the vanquished Arab armies.