U.N. Official Presents Report on Arab Refugees; Israel Takes Strong Issue
Menu JTA Search

U.N. Official Presents Report on Arab Refugees; Israel Takes Strong Issue

Download PDF for this date

Strong issue was taken here today by the Israeli delegation at the United Nations against a report on the Arab refugees submitted to the UN General Assembly by Dr. John W. Davis, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The report was seen by some as a political document far overstepping the jurisdiction of the Agency.

Dr. Davis said in his report that “the basic feelings” of the Arab people, non-refugees as well as refugees, “demand the right of choice” between repatriation of the refugees to Israel or compensation by Israel. This was taken to mean that Dr. Davis is dismissing the alternative of resettling the Arab refugees in Arab lands.

The UNRWA head, reporting on the operation of the Agency for the year ending last June 30, declared that repatriation or compensation are “rights” provided for the Palestine Arab refugees under a 1948 resolution by the UN General Assembly, and emphasized that these rights have “never been implemented.” However, the resolution to which he referred also indicated clearly the other alternative of resettling the refugees in Arab lands, which Dr. Davis omitted to mention in his report.

Dr. Davis absolved from responsibility the Arab “host governments” where the refugees live–Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon from responsibility for the fate of the Arab refugees. He declared: “When account is taken of the entire array of complicated problems confronting the host Governments, not only with respect to refugees but encompassing the whole struggle for development and progress, it seems clearly unrealistic to assume that the major responsibility for solving the refugee problem should now rest with the host governments.”


The report presented today by Dr. Davis, together with another report on the Arab refugees which will be submitted to the General Assembly by the Palestine Conciliation Commission not later than October 15, will furnish the basis for this year’s Assembly debate on the Arab refugee problem.

UNRWA is now operating under a three-year mandate which will expire June 30, 1963. The United Nations, therefore, must make plans not later than the Assembly of 1962 for a program of care for the Arab refugees and of possible solution of that problem. However, Dr. Davis was seen as extremely pessimistic about any ultimate “solution” of the refugee problem that does not take into account the “rights” of repatriation or compensation.

Emphasizing that general “political forces” in the Middle East “have played a significant role in perpetuating the problem of the Palestine refugees,” Dr. Davis stated: “In large measure, the political attitudes and activities in question have simply reflected and underlined the basic feelings of the Arab people. For 13 years, the lot of the Palestine refugees has been one of frustration, uncertainty, disappointment and hardship.”

“It is hardly a matter of surprise,” he continued, “if the refugees show embitterment and resentment over the loss of their homes and homeland, if they constantly clamor to return to them, or if these attitudes are reflected in political circles.”

In reporting about UNRWA’s relationships with the “host governments,” Dr. Davis said those relationships “have been good” in the last year. “In general,” he declared, “the host countries and their governments show deep understanding of the refugees and sympathy for their needs.”


Dr. Davis reported, however, that UNRWA’s relief roll “contains inaccuracies,” but failed to point out how the “host governments” have helped wipe out those “inaccuracies.” In the statistical tables which were part of the report, Dr. Davis showed that, since July 1950, the UNRWA itself has detected at least 52,418 “false registrations and duplications” in its relief rolls.

He reported that Jordan where it has been charged, many thousands of dead refugees are still listed on the relief rolls, has now begun to work with UNRWA on a “pilot project” for “rectification” of the relief rolls.

According to the report, there are 1,151,024 persons on the UNRWA registration of refugees “entitled” to relief of one type or another, with 1,039,996 of the total receiving food rations. However, in a footnote to this statistical table, Dr. Davis noted that the figures “do not necessarily reflect the actual refugee population, owing to the factors such as the high rate of unreported deaths and undetected false registration.”

Dr. Davis asked the Assembly to approve a budget for 1962 operations of UNRWA, calling for a total of $39,204,000. Between January 1950 and June of this year, he reported, UNRWA has received contributions totaling $356,624,334 from governments, and other funds from UN specialized agencies or “sundry donors,” bringing its aggregate contributions to last June 30 to $368,776,096.

Of the governmental contributions, the United States has contributed to date a total of $250,579,393, while Britain was next with a total of $66,224,004. Neither the Soviet Union nor any of the Communist satellites has ever contributed anything to UNRWA.


Taking issue with some of the assertions made by Dr. Davis in his report, the spokesman for the Israeli delegation pointed out, in answer to questions, that there are good possibilities of absorption of the Arab refugees in Arab lands–a fact which Dr. Davis avoided mentioning in his report. The development of the land, water and capital resources there would provide ample opportunities for such absorption, he stressed.

“It is unfortunate that, owing to the political attitude of the Arab governments towards the refugee problem, there has not been significant progress toward self-support and reintegration,” the Israeli spokesman said. “If the Arab governments had supported resettlement programs, the bulk of the problem might no longer exist.”

The spokesman recalled that 1959 report made by the late Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, which stressed the prospect “of final absorption of the refugees through economic growth in the region.” He pointed out forcefully here that Dr. Davis mentioned not a word of reference to the 1959 Hammarskjold report which offered a comprehensive plan for the economic integration of the entire Middle East as a program that could have solved the refugee problem as well as the general underdeveloped state of the Middle East’s economy.

In regard to the number of refugees on the UNRWA relief rolls–which, Dr. Davis admitted, include unreported deaths and false registrations–the Israeli spokesman hit at Dr. Davis himself by saying: “It is to be regretted that the director has still not been enabled to establish reliable figures for the number of persons actually eligible for assistance.”


The heaviest attack against Dr. Davis came from the Israeli spokesman in regard to the UNRWA chief’s insistence that non-implementation of a 1948 resolution adopted by the General Assembly “is an obstacle to the solution of the refugee problem.”

Referring to the part of the report in which Dr. Davis stressed heavily the Arab disillusionment with the failure to implement the “right” of repatriation and compensation of the Arab refugees allegedly contained in that 1948 resolution, the Israeli spokesman said:

“This view ignores the fact that the terms of that resolution did not accord the refugees any ‘right’ of repatriation. The resolution in fact called for a negotiated settlement of all questions outstanding between the Arab states and Israel, and this applies also to the refugee problem. The refusal of the Arab governments to comply with that resolution by negotiating with Israel has been the main obstacle to agreement on the solution of the refugee problem as well. It should be noted that the United Nations resolutions on the Arab refugees speak of resettlement and rehabilitation as well as repatriation and compensation.”

The Israeli spokesman then reiterated his government’s frequently expressed hope of direct negotiations between the Arab states and Israel, and virtually advised Dr. Davis to stick to his own Job of relief and works rather than to enter the political arena. The spokesman said:

“It is hoped that the United Nations will lend its support to the concept of direct negotiations between the Arab states and Israel on all outstanding problems–and that UNRWA will find it possible to direct its major activities in future years to programs of self-support, works and reintegration.”

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund