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Why do Palestinians in Gaza Still Live in Refugee Camps?

By Alex Safian, Associate Director, CAMERA

Palestinians still live in refugee camps, even when the camps are in Palestinian Authority controlled areas, because the PLO opposes and prevents refugee resettlement. As the PLO slogan goes, A Palestinian refugee never moves out of his camp except to return home (i.e., to Israel). 

While the PLO has done its best to keep Palestinians in refugee camps, Israel has done its best to move Palestinians out of the camps and into new homes. Israel even started a heavily subsidized "build-your-own-home" program for Palestinian refugees. According to an early description of the program: Nine new residential schemes have been built so far, housing some ten thousand families that have chosen to vacate the camps. Each family was given a plot of land with full infrastructure... 

The new neighborhoods were built on state land within municipal areas near the camps, and each had an electricity network, water and a sanitation system ... a road system, paved sidewalks and developed surroundings. Public buildings were constructed in each neighborhood such as modern schools, health clinics and shopping centers, and land was allocated for mosques. 

As soon as his house is built, the refugee becomes the full property owner, and in due course his property is registered in the Land Register. The vacated homes in the refugee camps were taken down with the goal of eventually creating enough open space so that the camps themselves could be rebuilt as further new neighborhoods for the refugees. 

It's not surprising that the PLO vehemently opposed this program - after all, former residents of a refugee camp, now living in a nice home in a new neighborhood, would have a stake in supporting peace and opposing violence, exactly the opposite of the PLO's strategy. 

What is perhaps surprising is that the United Nations also opposed the program, and passed harsh resolutions demanding that Israel remove the Palestinians from their new homes and return them to the squalid camps. For example, UN General Assembly Resolution 31/15 of Nov. 23, 1976 calls once more upon Israel:
  1. To take effective steps immediately for the return of the refugees concerned to the camps from which they were removed in the Gaza Strip and to provide adequate shelters for their accommodation; 
  2. To desist from further removal of refuges and destruction of their shelters.
Similarly, UNGA Resolution 34/52 of November 23, 1979 declared that measures to resettle Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip away from their homes and property from which they were displaced constitute a violation of their inalienable right to return, and calls once more upon Israel to desist from removal and resettlement of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and from destruction of their shelters.

Perhaps thanks to this support from the UN, the PLO began threatening to kill any refugee who would move out of the camps. After a few such attacks, the build-your-own-home program died, and that is why there are still Palestinians refugee camps in Gaza. 

Feel free to use the above information to write letters to the media and to your representatives in the House and Senate, and to call into talk-shows, etc., pointing out that it is the PLO and the UN which, to this day, force Palestinian refugees to live in their squalid camps. And this is despite billions in aid which could have, had it not been squandered and stolen, made Gaza, including the camps, into a showcase of urban renewal.