Joe's Family

1948 and the refugee crisis

DAD Sheldon: You see this? Haaretz has an interview with historian Benny Morris who says that he’s written his last book on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

First he took apart the traditional Israeli narrative of independence to expose details of human rights abuses by some Israeli troops, and the fact that some Palestinians fled as a result of Israeli attacks.

Now he’s saying the Palestinians don’t support the two state solution and they never have, while the Israelis have already made painful compromises and demanding further compromises will not only be unfair but the result will be unworkable. Let me read you a bit…

The Zionist movement started out calling for the establishment of a Jewish state on all the territory of the Land of Israel, but from 1937 on, its leaders gradually abandoned the claim of ‘it’s all mine’ and adhered to the ambition to form a sovereign Jewish state in part of the territory of the Land of Israel. Thus it changed its approach and consented to territorial compromise: that is, to the idea of two states for two peoples, a decision that derived in part from the logic of dividing the land between the two peoples living in it.”

“The Palestinian national movement has remained unchanged, throughout the different periods of the struggle, whether under the leadership of Hajj Amin al-Husayni or his successor, Yasser Arafat. It did not even change during the years of the Oslo process. In the end, both sides of the Palestinian movement − the fundamentalists led by Hamas and the secular bloc led by Fatah − are interested in Muslim rule over all of Palestine, with no Jewish state and no partition.”

“It is vital to show the continuous, historical line of thinking that characterizes the Palestinians − which, at its base, does not give Jews any legitimate right to this place.

MOM Halona: I have no doubt that there was a lot of suffering during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.  Some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled due to the conflict. The Jewish community lost over 6,000 people, a huge number for a population of only 600,000.  After the war there were over 700,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries in the Middle East who fled to Israel following a surge of attacks and persecution. These refugees were absorbed into the State of Israel, and today constitute an integral part of Israeli society.

Joe: The Arab refugee problem could have been avoided had the Arabs, both within Palestine and in the neighboring Arab States, accepted the UN 1947 partition plan calling for both a Jewish and an Arab state. The Arabs who launched a war on Israel were not doing so in order to ‘protect’ a Palestinian state but in order to destroy the Jewish one. I have no intention of ever apologizing for the Jews in Palestine and then Israel winning a war of defense, that had they lost would have led to their complete destruction.

And speaking of refugees resulting from the war, let us also remember that in every single territory that was conquered by Arab forces, every last Jew was either killed or expelled.  Not a single Jew was left in Jerusalem’s old city, or such places as Kfar Etzion or Kfar Darom that were lost to Arab forces. The only reason why there weren’t more Jewish refugees within Palestine/Israel was because on the whole the Jews did not lose territory, for they had no where to flee to!

Sarah: Benny Morris, in his book ‘1948,’ states that “most of the displaced likely expected to return home within weeks or months on the coattails of victorious Arab armies….few expected that their refugeedom would last a lifetime or encompass their children and grandchildren. But it did.”

“The Arab states regarded the repatriation of the refugees as an imperative of ‘justice’ and besides, understood that, in the absence of a return, maintaining the refugees as an embittered, impoverished community would serve their anti-Israel political and military purposes. As a tool of propaganda  the existence of refugee communities, many of them in ‘dilapidated’ camps, bit into Israel’s image.”

What I don’t get is why the international community, under the aegis of UNWRA- they United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, lends a hand in making the Arab refugee problem a perpetual problem. As Alexander Jaffe and Asaf Romirowski write in Haaretz “The best estimates are that perhaps 700,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948-1949. By UNRWA’s accounting, however, virtually every Palestinian born since that time is also a refugee. That number now reaches into the millions.”

“This is unprecedented in the history of refugee crises. In no other situation has a group been extended specific status that has been continually expanded to include subsequent generations over a period of decades. The result of this 60 year long process is that incentives for the refugees to resettle in Arab countries and elsewhere are minimal, as are those for UNRWA itself to ever end its operations.”

What do you think the international community can do to resolve the Arab refugee problem in a way that serves the cause of peace and justice? And how can we give recognition and justice for the Jewish refugees, who the world has forgotten about? Ideas are welcome!

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