With the world media focusing on the crisis in Syria, it has been forgotten that Syria is home to some 400,000 Palestinian refugees. This includes 14,000 Palestinians who inhabit a refugee camp in the bombarded city of Homs, and who rely on UNRWA, the UN Agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees, for their daily needs.
Hamas’s recent condemnation of the Assad regime is unlikely to endear it to the Syrian government, but in fact over the years Syria has treated the Palestinians relatively well, if one compares the way Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt have treated their Palestinian refugee communities. Moreover, unlike Israel, Syria has never threatened the UN Agency or plotted its demise, a move that could precipitate a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.
The most recent Israeli threats against UNRWA include an attack by Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, that blamed the Agency for perpetuating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In conjunction with a PR firm and the right-wing, US-based StandWithUs organization, Ayalon has created a series of videos on YouTube that attempt to promote Israel’s image and spin the history of the conflict. His most recent video is on Palestinian refugees. Ayalon proposes that UNRWA be dismantled and blames it for prolonging the refugee issue and the conflict. Instead, he proposes that Palestinian refugees be placed under the UNHCR’s mandate. In fact, however, the primary reason why UNRWA still exists is due to Israel’s consistent rejection of UN General Assembly resolution 194 (III) calling for the right of refugees to return and compensation.