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The Origins of the Refugee Problem

The Origins of the Refugee Problem

Putting to rest the canard that Israel caused the Arab refugee problem.

by David Meir-Levi

The Arab version of the tragic fate of Arab refugees who fled from the Palestine Mandate before and during the 1948 war and from Israel immediately after the war, has so thoroughly dominated the thinking of even well-educated historians, commentators, journalists and politicians, that it is almost a given that the creation of the State of Israel caused the flight of almost a million hapless, helpless and hopeless Arab refugees. Israel caused the problem and thus Israel must solve the problem.

This assertion, although viscerally engaging and all but canonized by the anti-Israel propaganda which makes it the core of its narratives of the Middle East conflict, is unequivocally and totally false.

Origins of the Problem

The State of Israel was created in a peaceful and legal process by the United Nations. It was not created out of Palestinian lands. It was created out of the Ottoman Empire, ruled for four hundred years by the Turks who lost it when they were defeated in World War I. There were no "Palestinian" lands at the time because there were no people claiming to be Palestinians. There were Arabs who lived in the region of Palestine who considered themselves Syrians. It was only after World War I that the present states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq were also created - and also created artificially out of the Turkish Empire by the British and French victors. Jordan was created on about 80 percent of the Palestine Mandate, which was originally designated by the League of Nations as part of the Jewish homeland. Since then, Jews have been prohibited from owning property there. Two-thirds of its citizens are Palestinian Arabs, but it is ruled by a Hashemite monarchy.

In 1947, the UN partition plan mandated the creation of two states on the remaining 20 percent of the Palestine Mandate: the State of Israel for the Jews, and another state for the Arabs. The Arabs rejected their state, and launched a war against Israel. This is the primal cause of the Arab refugee problem.

The Arab refugees were roughly 725,000 people who fled because of the war that the Arab states - not the Palestinian Arabs -- started.The Arab states - dictatorships all - did not want a non-Arab state in the Middle East. The rulers of eight Arab countries whose populations vastly outnumbered the Jewish settlers in the Turkish Empire, initiated the war with simultaneous invasions of the newly created state of Israel on three fronts. Nascent Israel begged for peace and offered friendship and cooperation to its neighbors. The Arab dictators rejected this offer and answered it with a war of annihilation against the Jews. The war failed. But the state of war has continued uninterruptedly because of the failure of the Arab states -Saudi Arabia and Iraq in particular - to sign a peace treaty with Israel. To this day, the Arab states and the Palestinians refer to the failure of their aggression and the survival of Israel as an-Nakba - the catastrophe.

Had there been no Arab aggression, no war, and no invasion by Arab armies whose intent was overtly genocidal, not only would there have been no Arab refugees, but there would have been a state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza since 1948.

In the war, Israel acquired additional land. In the absence of a peace treaty between belligerents, the law of nations allows the annexation of an aggressor's land after a conflict - although the land in question belonged to the Turks and then the World War I victors. Israel actually offered to return land it had acquired while defending itself against the Arab aggression in exchange for a formal peace. It made this offer during the Rhodes Armistice talks and Lausanne conference in 1949. The Arab rulers refused the land because they wanted to maintain a state of war in order to destroy the Jewish state. Had Israel's offer been accepted, there could have been prompt and just resolution to all the problems that have afflicted the region since. The only problem that wouldn't have been resolved to the satisfaction of the Arabs was their desire to obliterate the state of Israel.

After their victory, Israel passed a law that allowed Arab refugees to re-settle in Israel provided they would sign a form in which they renounced violence, swore allegiance to the state of Israel, and became peaceful productive citizens. During the decades of this law's tenure, more than 150,000 Arab refugees have taken advantage of it to resume productive lives in Israel. Jews do not have a similar option to become citizens of Arab states from which they are banned.

It was not Israel that caused the Arab refugee problem, nor Israel that obstructed its solution. On the contrary, the Arab refugee problem was the direct result of the aggression by the Arab states, and their refusal after failing to obliterate Israel to sign a formal peace, or to take care of the Arab refugees who remained outside Israel's borders.

The Jewish Refugees

There were other refugees from the Arab-Israeli conflict that everyone on the Arab side of the argument chooses conveniently to forget. Between 1949 and 1954, about 800,000 Jews were forced to flee from the Arab and Muslim lands where they had lived for hundreds and even thousands of years - from Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Iran, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and other Muslim countries. These Jews were peaceful citizens of their Arab countries and in no way a hostile population. Nonetheless, they were forced at gun-point to flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The only reason for their expulsion was revenge against the Jewish citizenry of Arab countries for the shame of the Arab defeat in their war of aggression.

Most of these Jewish refugees came to Israel, where they were integrated into normalcy by the tiny fledgling Jewish state. The Arab states (and later the PLO) refused to do this for the Arab refugees because they preferred to keep them an aggrieved constituency for their war against Israel.

Some observers have suggested that the dual refugee situation should be understood as a "population exchange" -- Arabs fled to Arab countries as Jews fled to the Jewish country, both as a result of the 1948 war, both under conditions which their side regards as forced evacuations. On the other hand, no one on the Arab side has suggested the obvious: if Jewish refugees were resettled on land vacated by fleeing Arabs, why not resettle Arab refugees on the lands of Jews who were forced to flee the Arab countries. One reason no one has suggested this is that no Arab state with the exception of Jordan will even allow Arab refugees to become citizens.

Taking into account the Jewish refugees' assets that were confiscated when they fled from Arab and Muslim lands, one can conclude that the Jews have already paid massive "reparations" to the Arabs whether warranted or not. The property and belongings of the Jewish refugees, confiscated by the Arab governments, has been conservatively estimated at about $2.5 billion in 1948 dollars. Invest that money at a modest 6.5% over 57 years and you have today a sum of $80 billion, which the Arab and Muslim governments of the lands from which the Jews were expelled could apply to the benefit of the Arab refugees. That sum is quite sufficient for reparations to Arab refugees. There is no way of accurately assessing the value of Arab property left in Israel's control; but there are no estimates as high as a 1948 value of $2,500,000,000. So, hypothetically, the Arab side has already gotten the better end of the deal.

During the many wars of the 20th century, tens of millions of refugees were created in Europe and Asia. In 1922, 1.8 million people were relocated to resolve the Turkey-Greece war. Following World War II, some 3,000,000 Germans were forced from countries of Eastern Europe and resettled in Germany. When the Indian sub-continent was divided, over 12 million people were transferred between India and Pakistan.

All such refugee issues have been resolved, except the roughly 725,000 Arabs who fled Israel during the 1948 war and whom the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority have kept in refugee camps.

The Arab Refugee Problem

Another irony must be considered in the context of the refugee issue. Israel handled its Jewish refugee problem by devoting massive resources to the education and integration of the Jewish refugee population into its society. These refugees never became a burden on the world, never needed the assistance of the United Nations, and never had their civil and human rights denied by their new host country. Instead, despite great hardship, early discrimination, difficult adjustments and initial privations, they and their offspring have become productive citizens of the Middle East's only democracy, and substantive contributors to one of the most technologically and socially advanced countries in the world.

The fate of the Arab refugees has been the diametric opposite of this obvious positive solution to their problem. Arab leadership has purposely kept their Palestinian brethren in refugee slums, at times approaching the status of concentration camps, with their misery perpetuated by Machiavellian rulers to be used as a propaganda weapon against Israel and against the West.

The Palestinian refugees in Gaza were forced there in 1948 not by Israel but by the Egyptians, kept there under guard, shot if they tried to leave, and never given Egyptian citizenship or Egyptian passports. (These facts are recorded by Yasir Arafat himself in his authorized biography by Alan Hart, Arafat: Terrorist or Peace Maker? 1982). Refugees in Lebanon were kept under similar but less draconian repression. They were barred by law from almost 70 professions, not granted citizenship, and not allowed to travel. Only in Jordan were the refugees granted citizenship.

Senior Fatah Central Committee member Sakher Habash succinctly explained the reason for the calculated refusal of the Arab rulers including the Palestinian rulers to help the Palestinian refugees to return to normal lives. During a 1998 lecture at Shechem's An-Najah University, Habash said: "To us, the refugee issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state."

In other words, war, terrorism, diplomatic isolation of Israel, world-wide PR campaigns to demonize Israel all may fail (and most have, so far); but as long as this last trump card is still alive, hope for the destruction of Israel still pulses in the hearts of Arab revanchists.

Palestinians who fled Israel in 1948 and are still alive have no legal right to return to Israel, because the Arab leadership representing them (Arab nations until 1993, and since then the Palestinian Authority) are still, de jure and de facto, at war with Israel; and these refugees, therefore, are still potential hostiles. International law does not require a country at war to commit suicide by allowing the entry of hundreds of thousands of a potentially hostile population. In the context of a peace treaty, in 1949, the Arab refugees could have taken advantage of Israel's offer; but their leadership refused.

Of course the present Palestinian claim of a "Right of Return" is accompanied by the claim that there are not 725,000 refugees (minus those who have died in the interim) but 5 million. This number serves many political agendas but from the point of view of international law generations born into a refugee population that has been resettled and living in exile do not have the legal status of refugees. That means that legal refugee status today applies only to those few surviving Arabs who fled in 1948, among whom most are advanced in age.

A Summary of The Salient Facts

The protracted Arab refugee crisis is an artificial crisis maintained for 57 years by Arab rulers in order to exploit their own people's suffering -- to create a "poster child" for Palestinian victim-hood; a staging ground for anti-Israel propaganda; a training center for Arab terrorists; and a trump card for the anti-Israel jihad (per Sakher Habash) when all else (war, terrorism, international diplomacy) fails.

"Haq el-Auda," the "law of return," for Palestinian Arabs to their own homes and farms and orchards that have been part of Israel for the past 57 years is a sham.

Sixty years ago there were nearly a million Jews in the Arab states of the Middle East: honest hard-working citizenry contributing to the culture and economy of their countries of domicile. Today, there are almost no Jews in the Arab countries of the Middle East, and racist apartheid laws prohibit even Jewish tourists from entering some Arab countries.

In Israel, on the other hand, the Arabs who did not flee numbered about 170,000 in 1949; and now number more than 1,400,000. They have 12 representatives in the Israeli Parliament, judges sitting on the Israeli courts and on the Israeli Supreme Court benches, and Ph.D's and tenured professors teaching in Israeli colleges and universities. They are a population that enjoys more freedom, education, and economic opportunity than do any comparable Arab populations anywhere in the Arab world.

The Arab rulers caused the Arab refugee problem in 1948 by their war of aggression against the infant state of Israel, a legal creation of the United Nations; the Arab rulers have since maintained the Arab refugee population and denied it any possibility of normal life in Arab countries in order to use the suffering they themselves have caused, as a weapon in their unending war against Israel.

During all these decades the refugee camps and their Arab exploiters have been funded by billions of dollars from the United Nations, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and others.

Excerpted from "Big Lies: Demolishing the Myths of the Propaganda War Against Israel". For complete version, go to www.frontpagemag.com/media/pdf/BigLies.pdf

Published: November 12, 2005


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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Jennifer Herne, January 7, 2006 12:00 AM

Get this story out

Even among the Jewish community, many people have not been exposed to this story. Please try to place this story in main stream media.

(6) Beverly Kurtin, Ph.D., November 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Arab's long memories

In order to intelligently discuss the situation that the Arabs have created for themselves, one must remember that the memory of an Arab is long. Recently, Queen Elizabeth was put on an al-qaeda hit list by naming her as “one of the severest enemies of Islam” for upholding the “Crusade” laws in Britain. Those Crusades started some 910 years ago, yet the Arabs are still holding a grudge against a descendant of one of the English kings who supported the Crusades!

Of course, it is merely a ruse to somehow excuse the heinous and cowardly bombings of London. England did something to harm the Arabs over nine centuries ago, so, yeah, bombing London today makes sense. You have to have some kind of moral sickness to think that way—or better, a total lack of morals.

As we have seen in the past few years, many followers of Mohammad have no sense of morality. They are vicious madmen who are willing to forgo their very lives in favor of a post-life of sexual lasciviousness. Even in death they show a lack of principles and civility.

Therefore, a mere 57 or so years is merely a drop in the bucket of the Arab’s memory. Anyone who still feels that they will back off and permit Israel to live in peace and harmony within the next thousand or so years is an optimist of the first degree.

The so-called Palestinians have a tremendous advantage in that they have an incredible public relations force that trumps anything that smacks of intelligent logic; the only thing that Israel has going for it.

The Arabs have managed to get the world to view recent history through the view of a carnival’s House of Mirrors. No image of the relatively recent past is permitted to be viewed without that kind of distortion. Heck, folks, even the Holocaust didn’t happen if you hear some tell the story. So how can we expect the world to roll back their recall of the past 57 years without engaging on a strong, unending public relations effort of our own?

It will take a miracle to get the Arab dictators and their serfs to change their attitudes towards Israel and its existence.

(5) Thomas Sebastian, November 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Why It Still Does Not Make Sense To The World

Dear David Thank you for the very informative article and I am sure that any political or just refugee settlement talk should take in to account the whole of the
things you have mentioned

(4) Alphonce Katemi, November 15, 2005 12:00 AM

It is no wonder that the merciless Arab rulers are less concerned with the plight of their so called Palestinians brothers. Had it been not for their hiden and hinious agenda against Israel, they could have used their vast riches in terms of oil and land to resettle their so called brothers. Israel should be seriously concerned with the demographic issue.

(3) Andy, November 14, 2005 12:00 AM

what was and what is

You wrote, I believe correctly what caused the Arab refugee problem.
The Arab solution seems to be to keep up whatever preassure is necessary until there are no Palestinian refugees who have not returned or who have chosen to accept compensation.

The current reality appears to me as follows:

It seems that the Arabs will not willingly accept a Jewish state in the Middle East.The Palestinians will not permit themselves self respect nor will they be treated with dignity within the Arab world if they settle for at a minimum any less than what they refused in 1947. A Palestinian people has been created and it is as strong an identity for them as The Jewish &/or Israeli one is for the Jews. As a percentage of the population maybe their identity as a distict people is stronger as sadly many Jews lack a strong Jewish identity. It seems that much if not most of the Jewish world, along with the vast majority of non Jews believe that the creation of the State of Israel [and for sure the settlement activity post 1967] resulted in injustices and suffering to Palestinians. Not long ago very few inside of Israel or in the diaspora would have believed Israel was ready to give up[part of Jerusalem] all that was offered at Camp David and Taba. The Arabs believe time is on their side. I pray that they are mistaken.

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