Palestinians Deserve Justice

By Calev Myers

Attorney Calev Myers is an Israeli Human Rights activist for both Jews and Arabs. This article is taken from a fascinating yet critically important speech he recently gave at the University of Helsinki in Helsinki, Finland.

I believe it is possible to support the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t think in order to be a Zionist, or in order to support Israel, you have to be against the rights of Palestinians.

And I don’t think that if you appreciate Palestinian human rights, you have to condemn the State of Israel and Zionism. It is completely possible to support and advocate for human rights on both sides of the track.

In fact, there is really nobody more critical of the Israeli government than Israelis. We have a very, very intense civil debate; newspapers and journalists aggressively criticize our government.

My organization, the Jerusalem Institute for Justice, has invested the past nine years in actually calling the Israeli government to account on issues of human rights, civil rights, freedom of religion, and social justice. We’re calling the Israeli government to stand on the very standards and laws that it created itself.

Our founding fathers determined we would be a Jewish and a democratic State, and that there would be equality for all the citizens within our borders. We challenge the Israeli government on many of these issues.

We have noticed that because Israel has a high standard of democracy, and because we have the rule of law and independent courts that are not ashamed to criticize and make decisions against our government, there is an avenue where our voice will be heard.

Because of that, most advocacy on behalf of Palestinian human rights is directed only against the Israeli government who is there to listen when someone speaks out. And because of that, many of the human rights organizations in the international community that are working in the Middle East have basically given a ‘carte blanche’ to the Palestinian Authority to abuse the human rights of the Palestinian people themselves.

There is very, very little criticism coming towards the behavior of the Palestinian Authority. Why? No one is there to listen.

I think all of us should be interested in having a stable Middle East; that is beyond question. But beyond just wanting stability in the Middle East, we should care about issues affecting the Palestinian Authority, because your tax money is currently funding much of its activities.


The Palestinian Authority receives on average, around €500,000,000 ($650,000,000) per year, from the European Union. That amount is more or less matched by the United States. Also Canada and Japan are generous donors. We’re talking about more than a billion euros per year coming into the coffers of the Palestinian Authority. That is your tax money. You should be concerned how it is being spent.

In fact, over the last nineteen years, from the signing of the Oslo accords in 1994 until today, the Palestinians have received more than 25 times more aid per capita, than the amount of money donated from the United States to Europe under the Marshall plan after World War II.

The Marshall plan paid for the complete reconstruction and rehabilitation of the European economy! Let me put this in simple terms - with the monies donated to the Palestinian Authority over the last 19 years, we could have reconstructed the European economy 25 times!


What has happened to this money? Where has all the money gone? And why are Palestinians still living in abject poverty throughout the Middle East?

I’ll tell you that much of the funds have been siphoned off to the private bank accounts of the Palestinian leaders. Other funds have been used to stockpile weapons, to build the biggest police force per capita of any nation in the world, to support education which diametrically opposes Western principles and values, and supports racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred. This is how your money has been used.

According to Arabic newspaper reports, Mahmoud Abbas, the current President of the Palestinian Authority, receives a salary of €1,000,000 per month!

This is more than 30 times the salary of President Barack Obama, 90 times the salary of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Arabic bloggers, Mahmoud Abbas is estimated to be worth €100,000,000 personally; that’s his personal net worth. He is also relatively young, so probably by the time he reaches the age of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, when he passes away, he might be worth more. In Arafat’s own private bank accounts, accountants found investments of more than €1,300,000,000 ($1,700,000,000) upon his death.

So what we have happening right now in the Palestinian Authority is that all this massive aid coming in from Europe and the United States is going to make a few individual leaders at the top of the system rich, but it is not filtering down to actually build the proper institutions within the Palestinian Authority.


Over the last year the Palestinian Authority has made over 1700 arbitrary arrests that have been reported by international human rights organizations. Arbitrary arrests, degrading treatment, torture, executions without trial. Just three weeks ago, for instance, there was a 21-year-old man named Anas Awwad, who received a one and a half year prison sentence for posting a joke about Mahmoud Abbas on his facebook page.

This is very troubling to me. It is troubling to me because I live and work in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is only a few kilometers from Nablus. I live in the Israeli society where we have freedom of religion, freedom of expression, human rights, civil rights, and a very active media. I can write whatever I want in my blog about the Prime Minister without any fear of repercussion.

This is why I am so passionate about calling upon the international community to get engaged in this issue, to start monitoring the funds going into this government, and demanding human rights reforms. If anyone in the world can demand human rights reforms of the Palestinians, it is the Western democracies that are sending all this money.


I personally believe that the right for the Palestinians to have a State should be based upon their ability to properly govern their own people. It should be based upon their ability to uphold democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and individual freedoms. If their right to a State is only based upon some historical claim to land, creating a state today will only create more problems and actually complicate life and make it worse - not only for the Israelis, but also for the Palestinians.

So this process of starting to review and challenge the human rights abuses in the Palestinian Authority is a very important step to finding a solution to our region. People are more important than the land, and if you put land above the people, you’ll get a graveyard. So it is critical that we use human rights as our compass, in order to reach an equitable solution to the conflict in the Middle East.


In 1948 about 500,000 Arabs left what was then called Palestine, and which we now refer to as Israel. There is legitimate historic debate regarding why they left. The Palestinians say that most of them were forced out and expelled by the Israeli forces. Israelis say that most of them actually left because they were encouraged by the Arab nations surrounding Israel to leave their homes and villages, with the expectation that the Arab nations attacking Israel would win the battle and bring them back. In the meantime they wouldn’t be in the crossfire.

Let’s set aside for a minute the debate regarding why they left exactly and think about their life today - what is happening today with these people and their descendants.

Let me tell you a story about a refugee camp on the northern coast of Lebanon, called Nahar-al-Bared. In 2008 this refugee camp was basically bombed to pieces. An Islamic militant faction fired upon a Lebanese army base, and then fled into this refugee camp. So the Lebanese army started to bomb this camp. The Palestinian refugees living there were caught in the crossfire. Imagine Dresden after World War II. There were just skeletons of buildings left. This is what the camp still looks like today, five years after this event took place.

Today Palestinians still live in this camp, living in steel containers, which are like ovens in the summer and freezers in the winter. We need to ask ourselves, why are Palestinian refugees still refugees?

When these Arabs left in 1948, they went to Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries throughout the Middle East. In 1959 the Arab League made a decision that no Arab State in the Middle East would grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees. This is regardless of the fact that the Palestinians are Arabs who speak the same language and have the same culture as citizens of the Arab League. And regardless of the fact that the vast majority is also Muslim.

These people have been living in these nations for the past 65 years, for three generations, and they are still second-class human beings. In many of the nations they cannot study in the public schools, cannot receive public medical coverage, and cannot own land. In Lebanon they cannot even leave the refugee camps without receiving a special pass from their government.


So the Arab nations around Israel have decided to keep them as a second class of individuals, and are treating them as in apartheid in every sense of the word. Add to that UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) for Palestine refugees in the Near East, an organization that was created by the United Nations to take care of the Palestinian refugee crisis.

We must insert here that there is actually another organization run by the United Nations, called UNHCR (United Nations High Council of Refugees) which takes care of all the other refugees in the world, EXCEPT the Palestinians. The mandate of UNHCR is to help refugees get integrated into the societies where they are living. They invest a lot of resources to do so.

On the other hand, UNRWA’s mandate, which deals only with the Palestinian refugees, is the exact opposite - it perpetuates the refugee status from generation to generation. So Palestinians are the only type of refugees under international law where the refugee status does not expire with the refugee. It is passed to children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, etc.


If, for instance, a Palestinian refugee family left Israel in 1948, and settled in Syria, and maybe the grandson of these refugees got a visa to study at the University of Helsinki. Let’s say that he did well in his studies, and while he was studying, he met a beautiful Finnish girl and married her. After his studies he started a business in Finland, and executed a successful corporate exit. Now we have a multi-millionaire Finnish citizen that has been a success in a society. That person would still be recognized as a Palestinian refugee eligible for UNRWA support under the international law. Does that make sense to you?

So we have the UNHCR, which is trying to integrate refugees into their society, and UNRWA, which is perpetuating the Palestinian refugee status. The Muslim nations surrounding Israel cooperate with this, because most of the money given to UNRWA is used to grant relief to the Palestinians living in the various Arab countries. The Arab host governments themselves have no financial responsibility toward these congested and restricted refugee camps.

By keeping them as permanent refugees, the Arab states use them as pawns, promising them a return to their grandparents’ homeland after cleansing the state of Israel from its Jews. By keeping them in a transitory impoverished state, together with indoctrinating them with propaganda that the Jews stole their land, these hapless Arabs are kept in a perpetual state of turmoil and rage.


Furthermore, UNRWA is the second largest employer of Palestinians in the Middle East - after the Palestinian Authority. Just to give you a comparison - the UNHCR, which takes care of 40 million refugees throughout the world, employs 7,000 employees. The UNRWA, which takes care of five million Palestinian refugees, has 31,000 employees. Some of these employees actually belong to terrorist organizations. Leaders of UNRWA have confessed to the fact that there are Hamas militants working for them and receiving a salary from them.

This should be of concern to you, because UNRWA is supported, among others, by major donations that come from Western democracies - your tax money. What they claim is that Hamas is a political organization, and UNRWA can’t inquire about someone’s political leanings when interviewing him or her for employment. But in truth, they have people on their payrolls who are carrying on dubious terrorist activities supported by this money donated by your governments.


So you have the Arab League on one side that does not want to grant citizenship to the Palestinian refugees. Then you have UNRWA, on the other hand, which is perpetuating the refugee status by keeping these people and their descendants on welfare, and continuing to recognize them as refugees. Mahmoud Abbas is demanding that for a final peace settlement, Israel must recognize the right of return of all [5,000,000] Palestinian refugees.

Now, when Mr. Abbas says “the rights of all Palestinian refugees,” he is not thinking of them returning to the cities in the Palestinian Authority, which are Ramallah, Jericho, Nablus, and so on. He is thinking of their return to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Beersheva, all cities of Israel since 1948. There is no question this idea is absurd - in a word, a non-starter.

In fact, this idea has never been suggested or taken seriously regarding any other group of refugees in the world. After World War II there were population transfers of up to 40 million people, from one country to another - between India and Pakistan there were three million people alone.

We believe the solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis is not the right of return - it is the right of absorption. All of the Arab states surrounding Israel and the Palestinian Authority must grant full citizenship and equal rights to all the Palestinian refugees and their descendants living in their areas - just as Israel has granted full citizenship to the 800,000 plus Jews who fled from the Arab nations. We also are calling upon the international community to begin monitoring the funds coming into UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority, to make sure they are used for the purposes they were intended.


We must expose these issues and talk about them, and also bring them up before our governments, so that we can begin putting pressure on Western societies that are sending all this aid and all this funding, to start advancing human rights of the Palestinians in the Middle East. Again, I want to say that the rights of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza today to be recognized as a state should be based upon their ability to properly govern their people, and to keep a system that upholds democracy, rule of law, human rights, and personal freedoms.

I pray that people like us can come alongside and strengthen them and say that we’re not willing for these people to be used anymore as political pawns in a game whose ultimate intent is to destroy or delegitimize Israel. The people who lose at the end of the day are the Palestinians, because they continue to live in abject poverty.

The Palestinians are not political pawns. They are people - like you and me.

Calev Myers, Adv. is founder of Jerusalem Institute of Justice, an Israeli human rights organization.