In its latest report about its figures, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) mentioned that there are 5,629,829 registered Palestinian refugees as of 31 December 2019.
Palestinians, that are now considered statistics, data, and numbers for NGOs, became refugees as a result of accumulated historical events and incidents. In our educational systems, we are briefly taught that Palestine was occupied due to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, when Arthur Balfour, British Secretary of State ensured Britain’s support for “a Jewish national home in Palestine.” However, if we dig deeper into history and examine historical documents, we would conclude that the process is much more complicated.
As observed in the timeline, according to Al Jazeera, it was Napoleon Bonaparte, French military leader who first urged Jews to move to Palestine in order to fight the Ottomans. Not much attention was given to Napoleon’s plan back then. However, European aristocrats and figures, such as Theodor Herzl, indeed played a financial role later on in establishing many Jewish settlements and companies over Palestinian land to encourage increasing Jewish immigration to Palestine and to force Palestinians to leave, agreed Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian political analyst, and Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian. Several clashes happened between Jews and Palestinians who protested the increasing immigration and the early expelling of Palestinians from their homeland.
According to the Electronic Intifiada website, Few Jews used to live in Palestine, while the majority of the population was Palestinian. Nonetheless, the Jewish population increased due to several immigration waves that were backed up by British support. But the turning point of all was WWI and Sykes-Picot agreement. France and Britain agreed to divide the land that was under the Ottoman occupation when Palestine fell into the hands of the allies. This incident paved the way to the Balfour declaration and later on the 1948 Nakba or catastrophe that ripped the Palestinians.
Although Arabs called the ethnic cleansing that happened a Nakba, the earlier events that consisted of expelling Palestinian villagers and farmers from their lands, international ignorance, and passing through the Balfour Declaration can be considered the early Nakba prior to 1948.
The aftermath of the Declaration and what Zionists called the “War of Independence” was the death of more than 13,000 Palestinians, the destruction of more than 400 villages, and the expelling of more than 700,000 people from Palestine. Expelled Palestinians, known as refugees, are now distributed in different regions around the world. Those registered in the UNRWA are in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip and live in 58 refugee camps.
103 years after the Balfour Declaration that doomed Palestinians, these indigenous people are still scattered around the world, not able to return back to their motherland. The international community remains eye-blinded towards human rights violations by Israel.