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The Arab refugees and the Jewish refugees

Reader comment on item: The Solace of Poor U.S.-Israel Relations
in response to reader comment: Obama: Champion of the poor, pitiful, persecuted Muslims

Submitted by Esther (Israel), Apr 17, 2010 at 10:35

Between 48 and the mid 50s hundreds of thousands of Jews fled or were expelled from Arabic speaking countries, and then some more until the early 70s. All in all nearly a million Jewish refugees, most of which were resettled in Israel.

It was by no means an easy feat. In a few years between 48 and the mid 50s Israel had to absorb a number of refugees that nearly equaled the size of the existing population, plus Jewish refugees from Europe. Most of them came with only the shirts on their backs, their property was confiscated by the Arab governments. Israel was a poor country back then, just starting out and coming out from a war for its survival. It could hardly provide food for everyone. There was a regime of food rationing for the entire country to be able to sustain the entire population. Many of the refugees lived in tents for years until Israel could manage housing for all. In addition these refugees came from a different culture. Some even had high education, but some, like the Jews from Yemen and from the rural areas of North Africa, came from a low tech environment with very limited education and very traditional patriarchal societies, straight to a liberal democracy with very different social norms, which was quite a culture shock. And only some were speaking Hebrew, so they had to be taught the language as well and how to manage in general. Within a few years these refugees became about half of the Israeli Jewish population, and they used to have a higher birth rate too, big families that added to their poverty.

Naturally, under these urgent circumstances quite a few mistakes were made, but all in all I consider it a nearly miraculous success since within a few decades all were absorbed and integrated, all adjusted well to the new social environment and norms, and started climbing financially, socially and politically. Israeli culture adjusted to include Middle Eastern components such as music, food and customs of the Middle Eastern Jewry that are somewhat different, while keeping the core Western values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, gender equality etc. Inter-community marriage grew with every generation. In a few decades, if Israel still exists, the terms Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, or Western and Eastern, to denote the two major Jewish groups in Israel will become obsolete thanks to this assimilation process.

The Arab refugees from Israel shouldn't have faced any of these difficulties. Their number, lower than that of the Jewish refugees, was of no consequence to the huge Arab population of the Middle East numbering tens of millions and then hundreds of millions. They have the same culture and speak the same language, most of them are Muslim like the majority in the Middle East, and they're considered part of the Arab nation with its 21 states and enormous territory. They could have been easily absorbed just by giving them citizenships and not placing artificially contrived obstacles in their way, such as limitations on occupations and residence - they're actually persecuted in Arab countries. Plus they were recognized by the UN and received plenty of aid which could have been used for their resettlement. The Arab countries CHOSE not to give them citizenships and not to integrate them - it wasn't for financial reasons, nor because of indifference, but for political reasons. The Arabs want to use the refugees as a weapon against Israel and demand they and all their descendants will be resettled INSIDE Israel even if an Arab Palestinian state is founded next to Israel. The purpose of which is to flood Israel with millions of hostile Arabs, that within a couple of generations, due to much higher birth rate, will become the majority and effectively turn Israel into yet another Arab Muslim state.

Both the Arab refugees and the Jewish refugees from Arabic speaking countries are the result of Arab aggression, of the Arab war of annihilation against Israel. Without the genocidal war launched by the Arabs there wouldn't have been refugees. In similar cases in history the aggressor refugees were not allowed a right of return or even reparations (which Israel did offer in the negotiations). In addition, this is a case of population exchange. In all other cases of population exchange as a result of war the people on both sides were resettled among their own people and didn't go back to live within the other side's population.

The refugee issue is not just another issue that needs to be negotiated and resolved for peace to erupt - it's the core issue, even more so than Jerusalem. The refugees are the Arabs' instrument to destroy Israel through diplomacy. If Israel can't be destroyed through conventional warfare and terror, then it would be destroyed through demography. The refugees issue is why the Arabs rejected all Israeli proposals. Both Barak in 2000-1 and Olmert in 2008 offered the Palestinians 95-100% of the territories (including land swaps), a settlement in Jerusalem and reparations for the property the refugees left behind, but the Palestinians rejected both proposals because under such terms the refugees and their descendants will be resettled in the nascent Arab Palestinian state and other Arab states, and in any case not in Israel. This means Israel will remain a Jewish state rather than become an Arab Muslim state - and that is what the Palestinians and the rest of the Arabs will not accept. It's not a matter of money or sympathy for the Palestinians, it's a matter of denying Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, from both nationalist pan-Arab perspective, and religious pan-Islamic perspective.

That's why Israel tried the unilateral approach in Gaza. Since the Arabs will not accept any agreement where Israel doesn't die, another approach is for Israel to withdraw unilaterally and hope this will be enough to create a de facto peace even without a peace agreement. This approach was tried in Gaza and failed miserably - the attacks from Gaza immediately escalated and than Hamas took over.


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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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