February 18, 2022 — New York
In “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Isn’t About Race” (Review, Feb. 12), Benny Morris states, “there are now some six million [Palestinian refugees] on the U.N. rolls.” The United Nations Relief and Works Administration (Unrwa) was set up in 1949 for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, in which five Arab armies attacked Israel at its birth with the aim of destroying it. Unrwa’s mission made no reference to refugee resettlement, and its definition of a Palestinian refugee included future generations without any time limit.
Meanwhile, some 20 million non-Palestinian refugees are under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), whose mandate is limited to actual refugees, whose aim is to resettle as many as possible in countries where they can find safety and opportunity, and whose workforce is smaller than Unrwa’s. This triggers the question of why Unrwa operates on its own, rather than under the UNHCR structure, and how long its open-ended mandate will continue.
Finally, it should be noted that there were also some 850,000 Jewish refugees as a result of persecution and violence in Arab lands, beginning largely in the 1940s. No special U.N. agency was set up for them. They eventually found new homes in Israel, Europe and North and South America, and their trauma has largely been ignored by history.
CEO, American Jewish Committee