Palestinian Refugees

As can be expected, this people group and its rights and claims are one of the most politically charged issues in today’s refugee situation. Finding unbiased and reliable information (especially for Christians), as I expected, has been a challenging issue indeed! So here is some background information on the issue. Again, the goal is to steer clear of propaganda, which abounds world-wide! (Comment mine)

“Palestinians are scattered around the world. This dispersion has made it difficult to determine exactly how many Palestinians there are worldwide, but the bulk live in the West Bank & Gaza and the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The legal status, social class, and standard of living of Palestinians vary enormously depending on local conditions.”

“The experience of refugee life in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East  (UNRWA) camps has proven pivotal in the emergence of a distinct camp culture and a Palestinian identity. In “the permanence of transience” that defines refugee life, a new value is placed on older ties of family, clan, and village. Although some refugees possess the economic means to establish themselves in their host countries, many remain in the camps. The situation of refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, where refugees are denied basic civil rights, is particularly harsh. Population density and unemployment rates within Palestinian refugee camps are among the highest in the world, resulting in chronic poverty, overcrowding, a low standard of living, and a general sense of powerlessness and despair.” UNRWA website

“The UNRWA was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) on December 8, 1949 to provide relief aid and works programs for Palestinian refugees. The Agency began operations on May 1, 1950. In the absence of a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem by the international community, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate. Today it provides education, health care, social services and emergency aid to 5 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants. The agency provides aid to the refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is the only agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict. It is separate from UNHCR (1950), the UN Refugee Agency, which is the only other UN agency aiding refugees (worldwide – my addition).” Wikipedia

As listed on UNRWA website (figures are somehow outdated – brackets mine):

Gaza Strip

Twenty two percent of all registered Palestinian refugees live in the Gaza Strip. In an area of only 360 square kilometres, three quarters of the current estimated population of 1.2 million people are refugees. Over half of the refugees live in eight camps. Most of the people who fled to the Gaza Strip as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war were from Jaffa, towns and villages south of Jaffa, and from the Beersheva area in the Negev Desert. Under occupation and after the Oslo process alike, camp refugees have suffered tremendously from poverty, a shortage of services, and unemployment. UNRWA has been the prime provider of services, but Israeli authorities have undermined economic and civic development through closures, checkpoints, curfews, and harassment.

West Bank

The West Bank covers 5,500 square kilometres with an estimated population of 1.8 million people. According to UNRWA’s 2002 figures, there are 626,532 registered refugees. While one quarter of West Bank refugees live in nineteen recognized refugee camps, the majority live in towns and villages. Like their Gaza counterparts, camp residents have been hit hard by closures imposed on the West Bank by the Israeli authorities. Subsequently, unemployment has risen and socio-economic conditions in the camps have deteriorated.


Jordan has received the largest number of Palestinian refugees. An estimated 100,000 of all refugees fled across the Jordan River in 1948. A large majority of Palestinians are Jordanian citizens. Since the return of over 300,000 Palestinians from Kuwait in 1991, between 45% and 70% of all Jordanians are Palestinians from the West Bank. Although Palestinians suffer from discrimination and a large number still live in camps, Jordan has granted full citizenship to the Palestinian refugees and their descendants.


According to UNRWA 2002 figures, there are 387,043 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, which constitutes 11% of the total number of Palestinian refugees. Lebanon is the host country that is least hospitable to Palestinian refugees. Unlike the Jordanian government, the Lebanese government prevents Palestinians from being absorbed into the community. Palestinians in Lebanon, who constitute about ten percent of the total population there, have faced unique problems since their arrival in 1948. They do not have social and civil rights, and they have a very limited access to the government’s public health and educational facilities. The majority of Palestinians rely entirely on UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health, relief, and social services. Considered foreigners, Palestinian refugees are prohibited by law from working in more than 70 trades and professions. This has led to a very high rate of unemployment amongst the refugee population. The vast majority of Palestinians in Lebanon are stateless, which means that they have been granted travel documents but not Lebanese citizenship.


There are 626,532 registered refugees with UNRWA in Syria. Most fled to Syria during the 1948 war and were originally from northern Palestine, mainly from Safad and the cities of Haifa and Jaffa. In 1967, over 100,000 people (including Palestinian refugees) fled from the Golan Heights to other parts of Syria when the area was occupied by Israel. Because Palestinians account for less than three percent of Syria’s total population, their visibility is less than in Jordan or Lebanon. Palestinians in Syria are well integrated into the country’s economy, social, and political life. Palestinians have opened shops, established business, and formed companies on their own.

Palestinians Worldwide:

In 1948, thousands of refugees also went to other Arab states such as Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Kuwait, and other Gulf countries. Refugees who fled to other Arab countries, particularly to the Gulf States, played a crucial role in building modern Kuwait. They were widely represented in banking, as technical workers in the oil industry, and as educators. The number of Palestinian refugees in the Gulf region declined drastically after their expulsion from Kuwait in 1991 following the U.S. led Persian Gulf War.

There is surprisingly little solid information available about the Palestinian communities in the West and other countries. Reports on census data are not based on nationality or religion in some countries. For example, Arabs are reported as white or Caucasian in the United States Census.

About 450,000 Palestinians are scattered as far as Australia, Brazil, Denmark, and Canada. However, the largest community outside the Middle East is in the U.S.”

Christian Palestinians

“Today, Christians comprise less than 4% of Palestinians living within the borders of former Mandatory Palestine. They are approximately 8% of the West Bank population, less than 1% in Gaza, and nearly 10% of Israel’s Arab population. According to official British Mandatory estimates, Palestine’s Christian population in 1922 comprised 9.5% of the total population and 7.9% in 1946.[3] The Palestinian Christian Population greatly decreased from 1948 to 1967. Most fled or were expelled during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. A small number left during Jordanian control of the West Bank due to economic reasons. Since 1967, the Palestinian Christian population has increased despite continued emigration.

There are nearly one million Palestinian Christians in the world, inclusive of the Palestinian diaspora, making up over 10% of the world’s total Palestinian population. Palestinian Christians live primarily in Arab states surrounding historic Palestine and in the diaspora, particularly in South America, Europe and North America.” Wikipedia


“Daniel Juster, the director of Tikkun International, an umbrella organization for Messianic Jews, a term taken by Jews who accept Jesus as messiah while continuing to uphold their Jewish identity. Juster spoke about the pain of Palestinians suffering under Israeli rule, and the pain of Jews who experienced pogroms and the Holocaust.

“How this can be solved with two people experiencing such levels of pain together in this land?” he asked. “Only Jesus and the power of His cross can overcome this. There is no other way.”

Messianic Jews, he said, need both “to acknowledge the injustices suffered by the innocent under Israeli rule and the injustices suffered under the rule of the P. A. and Hamas, the corruption, the stealing of foreign aid, and so much more.”

“If we do not acknowledge the Israeli injustices, however,” Juster said, “we will not get a hearing for the bigger issues of Israel’s election and the orientation of the Muslims to destroy Israel.”

Evangelical support for Palestinians was new but noticeable – whether as teachers in local Christian schools or volunteers in the annual Palestinian olive harvest.”

By Daniella Cheslow, The Jewish Daily Forward, Published March 16, 2014.

Some scholarly views on Israel/Palestinian Conflict:

“…scholars have failed to reach a consensus on the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.”

“…those who view the conflict in a nationalistic framework typically view the end as a partition into two nation-states.” And “It was essentially in the context of this national conflict that both the Jewish and Arab sides assumed their modern identities. It transformed the Jewish immigrants into Israelis, and the inchoate Zionism of Eastern Europe into the concrete practices of Israeli state and nation formation. The Arab residents of Palestine developed their own distinct nationalism and became Palestinians in the same context.”

“…a one-state solution would put up much more resistance than a two-state solution, requiring these two highly developed oppositional nationalisms to transform into a joint national identity. Given the history of the conflict, such a transformation is highly unlikely.”

“…the increasingly religious dimension of the conflict, reflected in the growing strength of Islamism among the Palestinians and the rising influence of Jewish fundamentalism in Israeli politics…”

Journal of International Relations, What is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict? Establishing a Determinative Link Between the Nature of the Conflict and its Resolution, Leanne Gale, April 19, 2013

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in essence, a conflict over identity because its origin and the cause of its continuation are rooted in denial of the nationality of the other side and that side’s right to establish a state in the territories of Israel/Palestine. Throughout more than 100 years of conflict, the Palestinian side, backed by Arab countries, refused to recognize the right of the Jewish people to establish a state in part of the land of Israel. The Palestinians, for their part, regard denial of their national identity and their right to establish a state in the territory of Israel/Palestine as justification for continuing acts of violence against the Jewish community and the State of Israel.

At least until 1988, the Palestinians saw their struggle with Israel as geared towards eliminating Israel as a Jewish state, as expressed in the Palestinian Covenant.

On the other side, Israel took steps the essence of which, in practice, was denial of Palestinian rights to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel had captured in 1967. The Israeli- Palestinian conflict was somewhat moderated with the Oslo process, but this process never sufficiently progressed to resolve the conflict. In recent years, Israeli-Jewish willingness to acknowledge the national identity of the Palestinians has increased, while among Palestinians – especially Israeli citizens – the voices denying the national identity of the Jewish people and their right to a nation-state have become clearer and harsher.

The Jewish state is “the outcome of a settlement process initiated by the Zionist-Elite in Europe and the west and realized by Colonial countries contributing to it and by promoting Jewish immigration to Palestine, in light of the results of the Second World War and the Holocaust” (Future Vision, 2006, p. 9) “… Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who composed the documents known as “The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel”…The documents are a challenge of sorts by the Palestinians within Israel to the Palestinian Authority for having, since the signing of the Oslo Accords, ignored them and neglected its duty to advance the national rights of Palestinians, whoever and wherever they are.

The Palestinians see themselves as part of the Arab nation, which some characterize as a shame-based culture shaped by a heightened sensitivity to humiliation and to offense to honor at both the personal and the collective level. The humiliation of the Arab nation by the West – from the Crusader conquests, through Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, and up to the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916 – forms part of a live memory, painful and embarrassing, sparking hopes for revenge against Israel, which is regarded as the ultimate agent of the West in the region (Fattah & Fierke, 2009).

The acute sense of humiliation that the Palestinians experienced twice in 20 years (1948 and 1967) creates a powerful barrier to resolution of the conflict with Israel, which, in their view, bestowed upon them their greatest – and, in particular, their most humiliating – catastrophes.

Palestinian leaders in all their negotiations with Israel, regard all the lands of the British Mandate, including the territory of the State of Israel preceding 1967, as occupied Palestinian territories.”

National Narratives in a Conflict of Identity by Yehudith Auerbach



The two long-term solutions to the refugee problem that have been debated for the last half-century are Repatriation and Compensation. 

Right to Return

The right of return derives from UN General Assembly Resolution 194 passed in December of 1948. The part of the resolution concerning Palestinian refugees was one of fifteen paragraphs dealing with various aspects of the conflict. The contents of Resolution 194 were adopted from the recommendations of the UN Conciliation Committee (CCP) progress report created in September 1948 by Count Folke Beradotte, the UN mediator in Palestine. According to Paragraph 11 of the resolution, recognition of the Palestinians’ right to return to their homes is stated as follows: “refugees who wish to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to, property which under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.” The UN has reaffirmed this resolution nearly every year since its adoption. (xv)


The idea of compensating Palestinians for their property left in Israel is also derived from the recommendations of UN mediator Count Beradotte and UN Resolution 194 (III). The resolution called for two types of compensation to refugees “choosing not to return to their homes, and for loss of or damage of property, which under principles of international law or equity should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible.” The issue of compensation has been debated since the beginning of the conflict and little progress has been made to resolve it.



“Since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the early 1990s, the Palestinian leadership has demanded that Israel both accept responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem and accept the refugees’ “right of return”, as embodied in UN general assembly resolution 194 of December 1948. From June to August 1948, the Israeli cabinet endorsed a policy of barring a return, arguing that a mass return of those who had fought and tried to destroy the Jewish state would mortally threaten the state’s existence.

This argument is as valid today as it was in 1948. Israel today has five million Jews and more than a million Arabs. Were 3.5 to 4 million Palestinian refugees – the number listed in UN rolls – empowered to return immediately to Israeli territory, the upshot would be widespread anarchy and violence. Even if the return were spread over a number of years or even decades, the ultimate result, given the Arabs’ far higher birth rates, would be the same: gradually, it would lead to the conversion of the country into an Arab-majority state, from which the (remaining) Jews would steadily emigrate. Would Jews really wish to live as second-class citizens in an authoritarian Muslim-dominated, Arab-ruled state? This also applies to the idea of replacing Israel and the occupied territories with one, unitary binational state, a solution that some blind or hypocritical western intellectuals have been trumpeting.”

Benny Morris, The Guardian, 14 January 2004

Some reading material regarding reconciliation between Arab and Jewish Christians, listed on the Musalaha website:

Musalaha: A Curriculum of Reconciliation
Musalaha has just published a Revised First Edition of our Curriculum of Reconciliation. We have added entirely new material to one of the chapters, Dealing with Trauma. We have also included two new appendices, one with suggested activities for each chapter, and the second with questionnaires for each chapter. The questionnaires help determine how well the material was taught, how much the students learned, and whether or not there was any change in attitude as a result of the teaching. We are excited to use this updated material in our own work as it gives our leaders more effective tools to use when working with their groups.

Through My Enemy’s Eyes by Salim J. Munayer and Lisa Loden (2013)
This book addresses the universal theological dimension of reconciliation in the context of the Israeli Messianic Jewish and Palestinian Christian divide. The struggle for reconciliation is painful and often extremely difficult for all of us. This unique work seeks to show a way forward.

The Land Cries Out by Salim J. Munayer and Lisa Loden (2011)
The chapters presented in this book form a unique collection of voices speaking from different perspectives on the issue of theology of the land. These voices include Messianic Jewish and Palestinian Christian theologians and scholars who live in the Holy Land, as well as others from around the world. The various chapters reflect a wide spectrum of opinion and reveal how much disagreement still exists among followers of Christ. However, the dialogue generated by having these opposing voices side by side, speaking to each other rather past each other, is encouraging. This book is both challenging and inspirational, and contributes to this important discussion.

Journey Through the Storm by Salim J. Munayer (2011)
This collection of articles offers a unique perspective on Musalaha. This volume is presented with devotionals, interviews, reports and articles that Israelis and Palestinians have written about the journey of reconciliation. This book is available in our offices and we hope to make it available via in the near future.

You Have Heard it Said: Events of Reconciliation by Jonathan McRay (2011)
This collection of stories is an excellent introduction to some of the issues faced by Israeli and Palestinian followers of the Messiah, and chronicles the journey toward reconciliation they have chosen to take. The road to reconciliation is long and difficult, and the struggle is vividly portrayed in these narratives. Reading these stories and the reflections that follow them leave the reader with a picture of real human interaction which goes beyond the stereotypes and caricatures. These stories offer an authentic glimpse into the lives of Israeli and Palestinian believers, the challenges they face, their fears and their hopes. The stories in this book can be difficult to read as they show how much distance still needs to be covered. At the same time, they also inspire hope and show the brave examples of those few who are working toward reconciliation. They prove that coexistence is possible, and can serve as a model for the future.

Musalaha Songbook
Compiled by Israeli and Palestinian Worship Leaders (2004)
This is a collection of 96 Hebrew, Arabic and mixed worship songs, including musical notation, guitar chords, translations, and transliteration. To order, please email us.

In the Footsteps of our Father AbrahamEdited by Salim J. Munayer (2002)
A revised version of Musalaha’s first volume, this book includes articles written in the early years of Musalaha’s ministry and contains an additional section of articles written in the past year. Contributors to the text include Palestinian Christians, Israeli Messianic Jews, and international Christians. It is a unique mix of perspectives and experiences from our twelve years of activity in reconciliation.

The Bible and the Land: An EncounterEdited by Lisa Loden, Peter Walker, and Michael Wood (2000)
A collection of articles on Theology of the Land from Messianic Jewish, Palestinian Christian, and international Christian perspectives. (Sold out. We are currently in the process of reprinting.)

Seeking and Pursuing Peace,(1988)
A compilation of articles on the Biblical foundations of peace, and practical experiences on reconciliation between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews. Contributors are local and international believers. (Sold out. We are currently in the process of reprinting.

Some support services for Palestinians: (for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank)


Compiled by Pia Horan, 26 June 2014

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