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Palestinian Bassem Eid: Vast Majority of Palestinian Refugees and their Descendants would Take Citizenship in Middle Eastern Countries and Compensation In Lieu of Right of Return

by Rhonda Spivak, March 8, 2024


Palestinian journalist, and political analyst Bassam Eid told the Winnipeg Jewish Review while in Winnipeg recently that he tells his fellow Palestinians that they can forget about any return to Israel. There are almost 6 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in UNRWA refugee camps in Arab countries and elsewhere in the Palestinian diaspora, and Palestinian leadership claims they are entitled to return to 1948 Israel. "I tell them to forget it. It's not applicable," Eid says, noting that the villages the Palestinian refugees wish to return to no longer exist and they will not be allowed to return en masse to over- run Israel. If there was a future Palestinian state one day in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian refugees would be able to return to that state, but not to Israel, according to Eid. 


Eid has first  hand experience visiting Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria,  and Egypt and notes that none of these countries have allowed descendants of Palestinian refugees to become citizens of these respective countries.  "The Palestinians who have been born in Lebanon should be offered citizenship by Lebanon," says Eid, adding that if they were offered citizenship they would accept this citizenship and would accept  monetary compensation, (in place of a right of return), and would stay in Lebanon.


"The Unites States gives Lebanon a lot of economic aid. They need to say no aid until you  recognize Palestinian refugees born in Lebanon as Lebanese citizens. Then Palestinians would accept Lebanese citizenship and would get compensation in place of the right of return. This would end the problem." Eid continued once these Palestinians in Lebanon received  citizenship and compensation they would not need to live in any UNRWA run refugee camp, but could live in "normal neighborhoods", and "there would be no need for UNWRA." Eid explains that Palestinian refugees and their descendants who lived in Syrian refugee camps have virtually all fled to UNRWA refugee camp in Lebanon, and they also ought to be offered citizenship in Lebanon with compensation, which he believes they would accept.


According to Eid, in Jordan, even though they have been offered citizenship, Palestinians and their descendants still live in UNRWA refugee camps. Eid believes they ought to receive compensation and these refugee camps ought to be dismantled.


Eid refers to a poll done some 20 years ago by Palestinian Pollster Khalil Shikaki who surveyed 4,500 refugees and  found most refugees scattered across the Middle East would be prepared to accept compensation and a new life in a Palestinian state and did not expect to return to their former homes. According to Ha'aretz, "Shikaki found ‘the vast majority’ of refugees were willing to accept monetary compensation in lieu of a return to homes and land they abandoned or were forced to flee when Israel was established in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war." Only 10% wanted to return to Israel and become Israeli citizens. (At the time, according to Ha'aretz, dozens of angry Palestinian refugees wrecked Shikaki's office to stop him releasing the survey, pelting him with eggs, overturning tables and smashing windows.) There were approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, while there was a similar number of Jewish refugees from  Arab lands who were forced to flee their home and came to Israel after the foudning of the State of Israel.


As Eid indicates, "There are 12 refugee camps in the West Bank. Instead of funding  UNRWA, donors to UNWRA should start building new neighborhoods for these Palestinians." This would give Palestinians the ability to live with dignity in nice neighborhoods. "Palestinians now living in refugee camps in Ramallah, near Bethlehem and Jericho (where Eid now lives), will not be able to return to return to homes that no longer exist in 1948 Israel."

"The conflict will never ever be able to be solved while Palestinians are living in refugee camps. You can't talk about peace, when 60% of Palestinians are living in refugee camps," Eid emphasizes.

"Most Palestinians who live in Toronto, for example, don't want to be going back to live [in Gaza or the West Bank]," he notes.

Eid says the problem is that donor countries have been giving  UNWRA "a blank cheque."   UNWRA treats these donor countries as "an ATM machine," with no accountability, and "Why should an UNRWA spokesperson live in Tel Aviv and get $15,000 a month," he says.

Eid, who was born in Jerusalem's Old City, and has  a degree in journalism from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was in Winnipeg as part of a cross Canada tour.

Eid came from a very poor family with 10 siblings and the Jordanian government made them move from their home in the Old City to the Shuafat refugee camp. His father worked as a cleaner at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. "There was a Jewish professor at the hospital who took an interest in my father and paid for him to take a six month course in Tel Aviv to sterilize utensils,' which was a far better paid position. Eid recalls when "I was nine years old and I saw my father for the first time wearing a suit and tie to go to work." The professor's kindness made an impression on the young man, and he grew up not hating Jews. This incident of kindness led him on a path to examining the conflict in a different way.   

Eid says that the "tragedy" the Palestinians have endured is as a result of the poor leadership, beginning with the extremist and uncompromizing Mufti of Jerusalem. Poor leadership has resulted in resulted in Palestinians not accepting Israel's peace offers (i.e. such as that of  then Prime Minister of Ehud Barak in 2000 which would have given the Palestinians over 91% of the West Bank, including the Arab and Christian quarters in the Old City).  Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are failed leadership, according to Eid. "The PA should go back to Tunisia," Eid says. 

Eid began his career working as a journalist and then was contacted by the human rights organization  B'tselem to be a field officer in the West Bank and Gaza and following the Oslo Accords, he founded a human rights organization to monitor  human rights under the Palestinian Authority. Eid was arrested and imprisoned in 1996 by then PA President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah near the Muqata'ah. "I was released since  Human Rights Watch in the U.S .knew who I was and Warren Christopher on behalf of  U.S. President Bill Clinton interceded on my behalf and made Arafat release me," Eid noted. "It was the best thing that happened to me," he jests, saying it helped his career.




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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.