Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Forgotten refugees penetrate mainstream media


This blog post by Daily Telegraph journalist Ed West is certainly worth celebrating. In all the time I've been monitoring the media, it's the first piece I can recall about Jewish refugees to break into the British mainstream. In spite of some minor inaccuracies, Ed West has grasped two important points: that the Israel-Arab conflict, like other wars, created refugees on both sides and an exchange of populations, and that the Arab-Muslim world has not exactly been a hospitable environment if you happened to be neither Arab nor Muslim.

“Could the Arab Spring turn into a Palestinian summer?” asks the BBC. A dozen Palestinians were killed yesterday on Israeli’s border on the anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948 when 725,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homeland.

Almost everyone in Europe knows about the Nakba, which followed the 1948 Arab-Israeli war; although most refugees fled on the advice of invading Arab armies, they have never been allowed back, and this is a running sore. Yet very few people know that 800,000 Jews were in turn forced out of Arab lands during this and subsequent years, on top of another 200,000 Jews from other Muslim countries such as Iran.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict as far as most people know it runs like this: Jews came from Europe, bought up bits of Palestine until they were numerous enough (thanks partly to financial support from Americans) to take on the Arabs. They then beat them in a war and took their land. Yet this is only half the story.

The early to mid-20th century was a period of incredible demographic movement, and most of it was non-voluntary. Across the former Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires the growth in national consciousness and the demands for self-determination led to enormous forced population transfers. In the 1920s the climax of 200 years of Greek-Turkish hatred resulted in the movement of 500,000 Turks and 1,000,000 Greeks. When India was partitioned over seven million Muslims left for Pakistan and a similar number of Hindus and Sikhs moved the other way.

And if one takes the view that Palestine was not a nation before its conflict with the Israelis formed a national consciousness but part of Transjordan, then the transfer of Arabs out of Palestine and Jews in is not unusual for the era. Tragic, yes, but not unusual. Populations were always moved where competing groups vied for sovereignty, and while one can lament the older, more tolerant and more diverse world, from belle époque Vienna to pre-Nasser Egypt to the old Constantinople, one cannot blame groups for wishing independence.

The Jews could have rejected a separatist vision, of course, and taken their chances in Muslim Arab-dominated countries, but the recent history of Middle Eastern Christians suggests that they were wise not to (other minorities, such as the Lebanese Maronites and Iraqi Assyrians, were promised national homelands at various points but nothing came of it, and neither now have especially rosy futures).

The partitions were not always fair, of course: the UN partition plan of 1947 – or even the earlier Peel commission – would have been more just, but the Arab leadership refused both.

Everywhere where these transfers happened there was great suffering and injustice, and the same goes for the Jews forced out of Arab countries. The story of Iraq’s Jews is especially sad even for the standards of the last century; a 2500-year-old community was destroyed in months, with ancient families who had lived among Baghdad’s plushest districts for generations finding themselves homeless and impoverished in an alien land. Just like the Palestinians forced over the border, in fact. The difference is that the Israelis did not keep Arab Jews in camps for 60 years to prove a point, but helped them to integrate. I guess that’s why third-generation Syrian-Israelis aren’t clamouring at the border for their right to return.

Read post in full


Davieboy said...

Ed West & James Delingpole are two fine Telegraph bloggers - shame their views are not promoted in the print edition.

Londoner said...

This is fabulous, although one or two points are not quite accurate (see the bit about Transjordan, for instance), and there is so much more that needs to be said. But it is gratifying that this story has been reported in the MSM.

It is worth noting that it was the arabs who proposed a swap of populations -- Jews from arab lands were to be expelled, and replaced with Arabs from Israel. Well, they expelled a million Jews, virtually overnight, and stripped them of their citizenship and their property -- but then reneged on the deal that they pushed for. These Jews (known as Mizrahis, ie 'Easterners') lived in camps for up to 4 years, until the young State of Israel built up the resources to construct housing for them.

The swap proposal was made by the then PM of Iraq, Nouri al-Said, to the British ambassador in Jordan, Sir Alec Kirkbride. Kirkbride refused to co-operate, because he could foresee what the Arabs actually had in mind. See his memoirs for details:

Sir Alec Kirkbride, From the Wings, Amman Memoirs 1947-1951 (London, 1976), p 115.

Israel has made, and continues to make, some incomprehensible errors on this issue:
She has neglected to mention the population swap which the Arabs pushed for.

She allows the Arabs to repeat a fabrication unchallenged, claiming that Israel's population is comprised of 'European colonialists', when half of Israel's Jewish population originate from arab lands. While unjustifiable, it is easy for those for whom Israel-hatred is a career -- to sound 'reasonable' by demanding that Jews 'go back' to Poland etc if they were all from Europe; it is impossible for them to say it if they came from arab lands.

She fails to challenge the label 'refugees' in relation to palestinians. This is a blatant example of Arab exceptionalism -- demanding 'rights' not granted to anyone else. The UN definition of a refugee extends only into the second generation, while the Arabs are into the fourth and fifth.

Finally, Israel has neglected to dismiss outright another product of the fanciful Arab imagination -- the 'right of return'. There is no such thing in international law -- none whatsoever!

Anonymous said...

I do not have the honour of knowing the person who writes under "Londoner" but i agree with that text.
Now if i were to be asked to go back to my land: where would that be but Egypt? So we would then be creating a new refugee problem. We were very numerous and now with our chldren and grandkids we are a massive group. Will Egypt accept us after expelling us?I doubt that very much!
Sultana Latifa: a Jewish refugee from Egypt.
i would like to point out that several books written in French
Mainly books by Moise Rahmani who is president of the Sefardi European Jews.Other books as well have been written about us.Mainly one named "les réfugiés oubliés." I have that book. And several others.
At long last they talk about us!!!

Sylvia said...

The problem is we just are not as shrewd.
-In mentioning the Palestinian refugees or refugees rights or the refugee problem in discussions or comments we should always say: a solution to the problem of Palestinian and Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.
- Or: recognition of the rights of Jewish and Palestinian frefugees
ofr-that mezuzah is great: compensation for palestinian as well as Jewish refugees from Arab Lands.
-Demand that others do so.

2. Carry the information on that mezuza at the bottom of every post, comment and e-mail.

3. Share - if you have the books and the verified reference - all the relevant quotes referring to the "equivalency" of Jews of Afrab Lands with palestinian refugees and relevant statements.
-Arab writings from the fifties and sixties in particular (before the new narrative) show that the ther paldestinians indeed fled willingly following calls by Arab leaders- that a great number has returned until 1959. The poet Mahmoud Darwish said so. Unlike the Jews who fled after harsh persecutions.

These are a few ideas pele-mele but I am sure others have better ones and I hope they'll post them.

Jewish Lands Seized in Arab Countries
100,000 square kilometers of Jewish-owned land seized or abandoned in Arab lands,
FOUR times the size of Israel
1 000,000 Jews ethnically cleansed
$Billions of assets lost by Jews in Arab lands
Hundreds of Jewish communities destroyed
Fight for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries
Fight for Compensation for all Refugees

Sylvia said...

Sorry for the typos
- Or: recognition of the rights of Jewish and Palestinian refugees
- or: compensation for Palestinian as well as Jewish refugees from Arab Lands.


Dr. Michael D. Evans said...

I do hope they get heard.