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Palestinian Refugees: Part 1 of 8.

By Gil Butler (VOA News)

More than three million Palestinians are officially designated by the United Nations as refugees. There are perhaps 40,000 Palestinians in Kuwait, one-tenth of the number in the country before the Gulf War. Lebanon will not give citizenship to the 400,000 refugees there, nor are they allowed to work in some 70 job categories. More than 300,000 Palestinian refugees are in Syria, under firm Syrian government control.

The largest number of Palestinian refugees, about two

million, is in Jordan, where they make up more than one-half the population. There are 10 official United Nations Palestinian camps in Jordan and they have been here a long time, some since 1948.

The simplest definition of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is that two opposing forces claim the same pieces of property. That simple fact becomes clear whether you talk to Israelis or Palestinians.

Seven-year-old Mahmoud, whose parents were born in a refugee camp in Lebanon and whose grandparents were only infants when the family left what is now northern Israel, insists he is a Palestinian who wants to go to live there.

A Palestinian who lives in Jordan and works for the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, says Israel's Ben Gurion airport is built where his family lived before 1948. But he still favors what Palestinians call the "right of return." He wants a choice, even if he chooses to stay in Jordan.

The military commander at Ein el Helweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon says if the Knesset in Jerusalem is built on Palestinian land, even it must be removed. He says the Palestinian struggle will continue into the next generation.

An angry Palestinian aid worker in Beirut says the Polish, Russian, and American Jews who immigrated to Israel should be sent back to their original homes.

Whether - and in what number - Palestinian refugees would be allowed the choice of moving back to what is now Israel is perhaps as intractable an issue as sovereignty over the Jerusalem holy site called Haram al Sharif by Arabs and the Temple Mount by Jews.

Privately, some Palestinians living in Arab countries say even if they were granted the right of return, they would think long and hard before returning to a Palestinian state. Meanwhile, many cheer on the Palestinian Intifada that has resulted in hundreds deaths and thousands of injuries since September.

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Publication:Israel Faxx
Date:Feb 9, 2001
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