New Statesman

Sarah Helm misleads on Palestinian “right of return”

Written by Aron White

This month, the New Statesman – a British magazine which describes itself as “liberal” and “skeptical” – published an article by Sarah Helm entitled “How Donald Trump provoked a Palestinian refugee revolt” which is inaccurate on two levels – it makes false assertions and misleading statements about specific details, and presents a very selective version of the overall story.

The article discusses the Palestinian fear that Donald Trump will not recognise the Palestinian refugee’s so-called “right of return”. Helm is outraged by this, and does not mention that this “right” rests on very thin legal grounds, if any.

No other refugee population in the world is considered to have such a right, and, as Dr Elfan Rees notes, “no large scale refugee situation has ever been solved by repatriation”. It also rests on a historical distortion – UN resolution 194 is quoted as being the source for the Palestinian “right of return”; yet the Arab states voted against that resolution! A full exposition of the weakness of the argument for the “right of return” – and Helm’s mischaracterisation of UN resolution 194 – can be found here, but suffice to say the picture presented by Mrs Helm, that this is some universally accepted right now suddenly challenged by Trump, is extraordinarily misleading.

Mrs Helm also distorts the history of the roots of the refugee situation.  Here is her depiction of the history that lead to the situation:

“In 1948, during the Arab-Israeli war that led to the creation of Israel, more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their villages and cities, or fled in terror, and have never been allowed back. Of these refugees, about 200,000 fled to the Gaza area where they have remained ever since, despite repeated UN resolutions asserting their right to return – a right that Israel has always refused. Over 70 years, the number of refugees has swelled to 1.2 million because the descendants of those who fled in 1948 are also defined [by UNRWA] as refugees”.

First, contrary to the claim by Helms, the number of so-called “refugees” (as defined by UNRWA) has swelled to a staggering 5.3 million, not 1.2 million.  Of course, over 99% of these Palestinians are descendants of refugees, and not actual refugees

Moreover, this account is seriously lacking. It ignores the fact that many of the refugees left because of the requests of the Arab leadership, and despite the request of the Jewish leadership that they remain. In Haifa, which had some 60,000 Arabs in late 1947, half the Arabs left before the war even began, and the remainder who fled did so because the Arab leadership encouraged it, and they fled against the wishes of their Jewish neighbours. She also conveniently obscures the fact that the 1948 war was launched by the Arab states; turning Israel’s war of survival into an act of Israeli aggression is propaganda, not journalism.

This is not the first time that Sarah Helm has been guilty of journalistic inaccuracies about Israel. From her mythical “busloads of Ukranian immigrants” to Israel being “whisked” straight to settlements, to her misleading implication that Israel is responsible for the medical crisis in Gaza, to the pure invention of land ownership statistics in Jerusalem, Sarah Helm has consistently been guilty of shoddy journalism about Israel.

But it is important to note not only the specific issues with the article, but the flaw in the overall thrust. The article attacks Trump for his stance on the refugees, and blames Israel for the creation of the refugee issue, but the Palestinians are presented as agency-less and passive victims. The responsibility for the humanitarian situation in Gaza lies first and foremost with Hamas, the terrorist regime ruling there, who choose to funnel money into weapons and tunnels rather than hospital and schools. Why are there Palestinians born in the same refugee camps that their grandparents lived in, when this has not happened to any other refugee groups?

It is certainly not due to a lack of money or political will to help Palestinian refugees on the part of the international community, but because of a cynical exploitation of the refugees to “keep the wound fresh” for decades, and what is starting to approach a century.

But articles like Helm’s absolve the Palestinian leadership of any blame, and lambaste Israel and America for perpetuating the suffering of the Palestinians. This will lead to no re-examination of attitudes from the Palestinians, but will further entrench maximalist positions. If and when the journalists like Helm write articles lambasting Hamas, the elected government of Gaza, for mistreating its people by prioritising war against Israel over the humanitarian needs of its own people, then life might improve in Gaza.

Until that moment, there is nothing to stop Hamas from continuing its current policies, which are causing dire results for Gazans. Israel and America are not to blame for everything, and journalists should ask hard questions not only from those countries, but from the Palestinians themselves.

Aron White has a BSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of London (Lead College: LSE), and is a graduate of the Jewish Statesmanship Center in Jerusalem. His writings have been published at the Jerusalem Post, JNS, The Daily Caller and the Algemeiner.

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22 replies »

  1. We are 70 years into these lies now, and I wonder if 70 years from now there will still be those writing to support the “right to return” of 20 million “Palestinian refugees”?

    From 1961:

    MARTHA GELLHORN, novelist, journalist, and former war correspondent, has recently returned from a journey to the Middle East, where she went to see the “Palestinian Refugee Problem” in terms of real life, real people. Here she reports how the Arab refugees and the Arab Israelis live, and what they say about themselves, their past and their future.

    ACCORDING to Arab politicians and apologists, this is what happened, this is the authentic view, these are the facts. Doubt is treasonous. There can be only one truth, according to Arab politicians and apologists, and it belongs to them:

    In 1948, war took place between five Arab nations of the Middle East and the Jews in Palestine. This war was caused by the United Nations, whose General Assembly resolved to partition Palestine into two states, one for the Palestinian Arabs, the other for the Jews. The Arab nations and the Palestinian Arabs would not accept this monstrous decision. They were obliged to protect themselves against it, with force. The United Nations operated as the tool of the Western Imperialists, notably Great Britain and the United States. The United Nations wanted the Jews to proclaim the upstart state of Israel. Because of the Western Imperialists, who favored Israel, the Arabs lost the war. By massacre, threatening broadcasts, pointed bayonets, and the murderous siege of cities, the Jews drove hundreds of thousands of Arabs out of their homeland. For thirteen years, these Arab refugees have languished in misery around the borders of Israel. The United Nations (Western branch) bears the blame for these events and must repair the damage. The condition of the refugees is a sore on the conscience of honorable men. The Israeli government refuses to welcome back to their homeland the refugees, now swollen to more than a million in number. This refusal demonstrates the brutality and dishonesty of Israel, an abnormal nation of aliens who not only forced innocent people into exile but also stole their property. There is no solution to this injustice, the greatest the world has ever seen, except to repatriate all Palestinian refugees in Palestine. Palestine is an Arab country, now infamously called Israel. Israel has no right to exist, and the Arab nations will not sign peace treaties with it but will, by every means possible, maintain the state of war.

    The unique misfortune of the Palestinian refugees is that they are a weapon in what seems to be a permanent war. Alarming signs, from Egypt, warn us that the Palestinian refugees may develop into more than a justification for cold war against Israel. We ignored Mein Kampf in its day, as the ravings of a lunatic, written for limited home consumption. We ought to have learned never to ignore dictators or their books. Egypt’s Liberation, by Gamal Abdel Nasser, deserves careful notice. It is short, low-keyed, and tells us once again that a nation has been ordained by fate to lead–this time, to lead the Arab nations, all Africa, all Islam. The Palestinian refugees are not mentioned, and today, in the Middle East, you get a repeated sinking sensation about the Palestinian refugees: they are only a beginning, not an end. Their function is to hang around and be constantly useful as a goad. The ultimate aim is not such humane small potatoes as repatriating refugees.

    • The Palestinian cause is a weapon fashioned to defeat Jews, as Mein Kampf was in its day.

      By now the descendents of the Arab people who came to the Holy Land from all over the ME, either to join in the ecconomic revival wrought by the Jews or to fight their existence, make up the first nation of eternal refugees in history, taught to be professionally unhappy and to seek and celebrate the deaths of Jews.

      That there is no suggestion of peace or a solution is no accident. That is not seen as their destiny

  2. Aron, The New Statesman is not liberal , it is another left wing rag like The Groan. I’d call it Social Democratic with a pinch of antisemitism. Don’t forget that Iran and Qatar’s man Mehdi Hasan used to be an editor. The New Statesman was run by an islamist who now shill’s full time for the shiite world order.

    • Just what I was going to write, except it’s not SD – it’s loony far far far left. Remember the cover with the Star of David and dollar sign? Der Stuermer would have been proud of that one.

      • Yes Leah, The New Statesman is not SD but most likely Marxist light. That’s the beauty for these rags, they can always virtue signal since they will never have to see the reality of their words in the UK.

        • Daniel in your post of February 22, 2018 at 9:08 am you describe the New Statesman as “I’d call it Social Democratic with a pinch of antisemitism” Yet, 24 hours later you write ” The New Statesman is not SD but most likely Marxist light.”

          How will you describe it in another 24 hours time?

            • Are you incapable of being consistent or coherent in your views?
              Or are you a weathervane who points whichever way he thinks the wind is blowing. Pathetic

  3. The Palestinian “refugees” are not refugees as defined by international law, even when that law wants to make a negative exception for Israel. They have no citizenship rights inside Israel, and if they demanded citizenship in Israel they would be summarily rejected outside of the very small number of later-called-Palestinians who were alive in 1948. That’s one part of this entire asinine RoR debate that seems based in fantasy, that all countries control their basic immigration policy (outside of collective requirements like the Brexit-causing EU legal agreements, which don’t apply to Israel in any case) but Israel would say “No problem–lets let in millions of people who hate us, become a minority in the land, and either get murdered en masse OR forced out of the country en masse OR live as dhimmis!” It does explain the entire one-state push, where a “binational secular Palestine” would fulfill the goals outlined above (probably the first one, honestly) and leave the RoR moot pointed, but I really do not understand why RoR/one-state advocates think that Israel would allow itself to be destroyed unless they only talk to Naturei Karta/Jewish Voice for Peace types and stay in that utterly deluded bubble.

    • “…outside of collective requirements like the Brexit-causing EU legal agreements…”

      Ben which ‘Brexit-causing EU legal agreements’ are you referring to?

      • Gerald,
        The EU has agreements amongst its member states involving immigration, basically that EU members cannot close their borders without warning and tell other countries to take on the full cost and action for bringing in immigrants (and also that ALL nations in the EU cannot ban immigration because that would trigger the dissolution of the EU in total). In post-Brexit polling the respondents who voted YES on Brexit gave immigration as the main reason they’d voted for the UK to leave the EU. Maybe they were lying, but since they A) won that side and B) didn’t care how their views were perceived by the NO side, I believe them. Part of divorcing from the EU is that the UK will be able to handle immigration as it sees fit. That’s what I meant by “Brexit-causing legal agreements” and I sincerely hope this summary has provided positive clarification.

        • No Ben it does not clarify which EU legal agreements you refer to.
          I am aware of the Schengen Agreement which is the basis for the open borders policy within the EU, but the UK never signed it and has always maintained its opt out from it.
          I don’t believe that a great number of those who voted in favour of Brexit were lying when they gave ‘immigration’ as the main reason for their vote, but they were definitely lied to.
          The Republic of Ireland is also not a party to the Schengen Agreement and if you travel between the UK and Ireland, as I have on more than one occasion, you will notice a marked difference between the two. You will notice that at Holyhead when you get back to the terminal off the ferry not only is there no border check there is not even a ticket barrier between you and the platform at Holyhead Railway Station from where you can get a train directly to Manchester, or Liverpool, or London or South Wales and the South West of England. Nothing to do with the EU just the UK Government underfunding the Border Agency.
          Look at how quickly immigrants are expelled from Ireland compared to the UK.

          The UK has always been able to handle immigration as it sees fit. It has suited them to allow In a number of seasonal and casual workers on low wages and blame the EU.

          No EU legal agreement has caused Brexit, a wave of dangerous populist xenophobia whipped up deliberately helped to persuade people to vote for Brexit, but no legal agreement that actually exists did.

            • Is that the sum total of your intellectual response, ‘screech..screech’?
              Not the sharpest tool in the toolbox are you Leah even for an unhinged right wing fruit cake.

      • Ben,
        you are correct in writing that silly laws and contracts in the UN concerning UNRWA and in the EU concerning the handling of migrants are a casue for concern. The Left has succeeded in undermining refugee and migrant politics to their advantage. This is used as a bludgeon against the modern nation state. One may even argue that UNRWA was the initial spark which lit the fire and inspired, indeed proved to all that you could instrumentalize migrants or “refugee’s” for your own agenda. The Arab’s use the displaced in thair hope to flood Israel with “refugee’s” and in Europe the Left openly say that non European’s make the EU a “better” place and “enrich” a “boring” white society. This is fuel for the hard right fire which they intern exploit.

        • Daniel first of all thank you for writing such an amusing post.
          If you believe, or more likely someone else has told you, that Europe or the EU is in your words a “white society.” Then you are either a) writing for comic effect, or b) completely ignorant about Europe and couldn’t find it on a map. Whichever it is your post is ‘Nonsense on stilts’

          As for your amusing typos are they deliberate?
          “.. a casue for concern.” If I had a casue doubtless I would be concerned.
          “..they intern exploit.” I’m against the exploitation of interns and would hope all decent people are.

          Remember Daniel, when you make a typo the errorists win!

            • Leah when I believe that I need help in comprehending the English language it will not be from someone like you who is obviously of very limited intelligence.

  4. Palestinians have a very difficult choice to make. They can either achieve autonomy by forgoing war with their Jewish neighbors, or they can go to war against their Jewish neighbors and forgo immediate autonomy.

    Tough stuff!

    • You forgot their preferred choice which is going to war with themselves and everybody else. Which they have been doing since 1923.