Jewish refugees from Iraq (Photo: Pavel Wolberg)
There is no end in sight to the relentless stream of Haaretz critiques of the Israeli government’s campaign for justice for Jewish refugees: Dimitry Shumsky
( 19 October) argues against the concept of an exchange of
refugee populations. The
Palestinians were not guilty of the expulsion of Jews in other Arab
countries, he claims, because they were not part of a unitary Arab state. My comments appear below.
“Let’s consider the following hypothetical scenario: At the end of World War I the Allied Powers decide to offer national self-determination to the Arab entity of the Ottoman Empire, and give their blessing to the founding of a single, broad Arab state in the region. Immediately upon establishment, this new state halts Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel and begins a relentless persecution of the local Zionism movement, claiming that it threatens to rip the historic land from the Islamic nation.
“Following waves of illegal Jewish immigration, supported by those in the international community who reject self-determination for the Arabs at the expense of the Jews, the Zionist yishuv rebels against the Arab rulers. In the wake of a protracted war of independence, the Jews defeat the foreign ruler and carve out a Jewish national homeland alongside the Arab one.
“In the course of this war, the Arabs living in the Land of Israel flee to the safer regions of the Arab state, while the Jewish inhabitants of the Arab state flee to the Jewish territory. After the war these demographic trends are completed and formalized in a population transfer agreement, along the lines of the Greek-Turkish one in the 1920s.
“If the national struggle for the Land of Israel/Palestine in the last century unfolded according to this scenario, the comparison between the issue of Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees from the Arab lands, which Israel’s National Security Council is trying to create, would have been entirely acceptable. With all due respect to the pain experienced by the Palestinians, it is entirely possible to have envisioned a parallel refugee situation in which Jews from the Arab entity returned to the Jewish national homeland, while Arabs living in the Land of Israel returned to the Arab state.
“Luckily for Zionism, a sovereign Arab state did not arise in place of the Ottoman Empire. Instead the Arab territories were severed by the Western powers into separate countries in a process that strengthened tribe loyalties and deepened the cultural alienation among different Arab populations, creating or shaping new Arab national identities based on local territory.
“Despite shared language and religion, there is more that separates the Arabs of Palestine from the Arabs of Morocco, Egypt or Iraq than unites them, just like for hundreds of years there was more that separated Bavarian Germans from Saxon Germans, or Tyrolean Italians from Neapolitan than united them.
“In this context, it’s understandable that the Palestinians — who did not reject the justified Israeli demands that Arab countries compensate Jewish refugees — do not accept the comparison between Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Palestinian refugees from the Land of Israel/ Palestine.
“Despite absorption difficulties and exclusion at the hands of the Ashkenazi establishment, the immigrant-refugees from Arab states ended up in their national and political homeland. In contrast, the Palestinian refugees have continued their refugee existence in Arab states, both because of rejection by the residents of those states, whose ethnic identities and interests have nothing in common with the Palestinians, and because of their own ongoing connection with their homeland.
“That being the case, it is best not to blur the reality. In the eyes of Palestinians, Palestine, not other Arab states, is their national homeland – and not just in a symbolic way. It is incumbent upon Israel to recognize that reality, just as it is incumbent upon the Palestinians to recognize the parallel reality that the entire Land of Israel will remain, in the eyes of Jews, their national homeland – and not just symbolically. ”
Arab states began acting in concert from 1945, with the formation of the Arab League. Even before the Palestinian exodus, the Political Committee of the Arab
League hatched a plan for the official victimisation of Jewish citizens
in Arab states, identified as citizens of the ‘Jewish minority of
Palestine’. Before the mass exodus of Palestinians, It drafted a law in December 1947 freezing bank accounts, confiscating assets and stripping Jews of citizenship.
As well as persecuting Jews, the Arab League is responsible for the
non-resettlement of Palestinian refugees in their own countries: a 1949
law denying Palestinian refugees the right to citizenship has yet to
be repealed. The issue has nothing to do with ‘ethnic identities and
interests different to Palestinian’ ones, but is a matter of elementary
human and civil rights.
The pro-Nazi Palestinian leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, together with some
500 Palestinians and Syrians, incited Jew-hatred leading to the Farhud pogrom
against the Jews of Iraq in 1941. He sought Nazi license to
exterminate Jews in Arab countries as well as Palestine “ in the same
way as the problem was resolved in the Axis Countries”.
The Palestinian leadership cannot be
absolved from responsibility for the exodus of Jews from Arab lands that
followed within 10 years.
The Mufti dragged the other Arab states into war against the nascent Jewish state in 1948. Thousands of Palestinian Jews fled areas conquered by the Arab legion –
Jerusalem and the West Bank.
It must also be said that the Arab side were the first to link the two
sets of refugees by proposing the exchange of Palestinian refugees for
Iraqi Jews – an exchange they were later to renege on.
Shumsky argues unconvincingly that what separates the Arabs of Palestine from the Arabs of Morocco for instance, is greater than what unites them. Yet
the PLO national charter states Palestine is an indivisible part of the
Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the
To quote Ahmed Tibi’s immortal words: “how many homelands do you need”? There are 21 Arab states;
Jordan already has a majority of Palestinans. The Palestinians have
consistently refused all offers to partition the land west of the
What divides Israeli Jews
of Moroccan origin and German origin is a good deal greater than what
divides Arabs of Morocco and Iraq – differences of language, culture and
mentality – yet Shumsky insists that all Jewish immigrants belong to
the Jewish homeland.