Arabs and Jews: a failed population transfer

Writing in  American Thinker, Jeff Lipkes explains the root cause of the Middle East conflict, the only one of 20th century conflicts where the population transfer of refugees failed. Read it all!

Jewish refugee girl from an Arab country, 1949 (photo: R.Capa)

There were often transfers
of populations.  An ethnic or religious group fleeing a new country was
replaced by individuals who had been ousted in turn from a neighboring
country.  The dusty columns of refugees, the packed trains, the crammed ferries
passed each other.  It’s worth taking a look at three of these exchanges
of populations (out of some 50), because what happened in the Middle East in
the years after 1948 was a failed population transfer.  Or, rather, a
thwarted one.  For the first and only time in the 20th century,
a people turned their backs on their own kinsmen.  That decision is at the
root of the crisis Israel faces today.

1.  Greeks had lived
on both sides of the Aegean Sea for at least 3,000 years.  Western
Anatolia was called Ionia, and its cities were the birthplace of Western
poetry, philosophy, and art.  Homer was supposed to have been an
Ionian.  So was Heraclitus, the greatest pre-Socratic philosopher.

When the Ottoman Empire
was divided by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, the Greeks were given control of
this coastal region, pending a plebiscite in five years.   They had
already invaded Anatolia the previous May, following the surrender of the
Ottoman Empire to the British.  After initial successes, the Greeks suffered
a crushing defeat in August 1921.  Their lines were over-extended, the
French switched sides, joining the Soviet Union and Italy in supporting the
Turks, the army was demoralized by purges, and it faced a formidable opponent
in Ataturk.  The Greeks had committed atrocities against Muslim villages
both as they advanced and retreated, and the Turks upped the ante when they
retaliated.  Some 440,000 Armenians and 260,000 Greek civilians were
killed as Ataturk’s army swept westward.  In the exchange of population
that followed, over 1.2 million Greeks crossed the Aegean, while about 350,000
Muslims were expelled from Greece.

The refugees were welcomed
into their new homelands.  But, not surprisingly, the persecution of
Christians continued in Turkey.  After a pogrom in September 1955 in
Istanbul, only 2,500 Greeks remained in the country.  Over 200,000 had
lived in the former capital of the Byzantine Empire during the 1920s. 
Meanwhile, the Muslim population in Greece increased to about 150,000.

2.  In the closing
months of World War II, Germans fled en masse ahead of the Soviet Army. 
After the war, ethnic Germans were expelled from the Netherlands, Poland,
Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Ukraine, and Romania.  Some 12 to 14 million
people trekked west or south.  An estimated 500,000 to 2.25 million
refugees were killed.  The totals are hotly contested.

Some were colonists of the
Third Reich, but the overwhelming majority were descended from ancestors who
began settling in Central Europe in the 13th century.  East of
the Oder-Neisse Line, the new border, were Prussian, Pomeranian, and Silesian
lands regarded as German for centuries, and famous medieval cities like Danzig,
Stettin, Breslau, and Königsberg.   But Germany, like Greece in 1922,
had lost the war, and civilians were paying the price for the unspeakable
atrocities of the National Socialist occupation and for the activities of
German minorities in the inter-war period.

This was the largest mass-movement of human beings in history.  The
record, however, lasted only one year. 

3.  In July 1947,
India was granted independence.  Much to the amazement of Gandhi, Nehru,
and Jinnah, who imagined that the hostility between Muslims and Hindus and
Sikhs was the result of the machinations of the British, pursuing a strategy of
divide and rule, members of the three religious communities immediately began
slaughtering each other.  Not surprisingly, it was the Muslims who began the
killings, just as Direct Action Day in Calcutta in 1946, the great Muslim
League rally on behalf of an independent Pakistan, kicked off with a massacre
of Hindus.  The violence after partition was all the more brutal as most
of the victims were clubbed, hacked, or stabbed to death rather than
shot.  The death toll, contested as always, was probably somewhere between
600,000 and 1.5 million.

Hindus and Sikhs from the
Pubjab and Hindus from East Bengal were welcomed by the new government in
Delhi.  So were the Muslims who’d moved to what had become West Pakistan
and East Pakistan.  Under far more difficult conditions the previous year,
ethnic Germans from Central Europe were welcomed into the new Federal Republic
of Germany.  Its cities were in ruins, its economy moribund, but the
refugees were provided with food and shelter, and, eventually, housing and
jobs.  The Greeks, earlier, had also faced a daunting task in providing
for the influx of their Anatolian cousins.  The refugees increased the
population by 20% — as if 63 million Americans had been driven out of Canada
and crossed the border.  The Greek economy was weak.  The drachma was
twice devaluated by 50% during the ‘20s.  But the newcomers were provided
with land and over 50,000 homes were constructed for them.

In 1948, there was still
another population transfer.  Again, it followed a war.  But whereas
in 1922, 1945-6, and 1947, those on the losing side were brutally slaughtered
in the hundreds of thousands, their homes pillaged, their neighborhoods
destroyed, this time there were occasions when the victors pleaded with the
vanquished to remain.  And the numbers were miniscule compared to the
millions displaced earlier in the decade, and in the ‘20s.

In the population exchange
that followed the war for Israel’s independence, some 583,000 to 633,000 Arabs
fled the new state.  (Figures range from about 475,000 to 850,000; the
official Israeli total is 550,000.  Efraim Karsh provides a detailed summary.)  About 146,000 to 160,000
chose to remain.  The Arab population of Israel today is 1,660,000. 
This thriving community, which enjoys rights no other Arabs do in the Middle
East, took a pass on the Arab Spring in 2011.

There is an endless and
contentious debate about what motivated the Arabs to flee.  The
inhabitants of some villages in strategic zones and along roads were expelled
by Haganah; there were attacks on civilians in a few other villages during
military operations, famously and controversially, Deir Yassin and Lydda.

Many others fled at the urging of the leaders of the five Arab nations invading
the territory of the new state, so as not to impede the attacking armies. 
They would, after all, soon be returning to their homes, and local Arab leaders
had already decamped for Beirut and Damascus.  In some areas, Jews urged
the Arabs to remain, dispatching trucks with loudspeakers — something that
certainly did not happen in Anatolia, in the Punjab and Bengal, in Bohemia,
Moravia, Silesia, etc.

Meanwhile, around 820,000
Sephardic Jews were expelled from their homelands in the Middle East.  The
immediate causes of the flood of refugees also varied, but it was nearly always
violence against Jews, with government complicity — pogroms, riots,
attacks.  Sometimes it was the arrest and trial of leading Jews on trumped
up charges, the confiscation of property, legislation directed against Jews,
etc. — actions taken directly by governments.  Of the total fleeing Arab
lands and Iran, about 586,000 emigrated to Israel. 

We know the rest of the
story all too well.  The Jewish refugees were settled in Israel and
quickly absorbed.  The Arabs, eventually to be called “Palestinians,” were
for the most part housed in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and
in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

Read article in full: 


  • Interesting. Of course the Arabs never expected in their wildest dreams that the Jews would win this war, so the population was ordered to get out of the way temporarily so that they could march back in in triumph.

  • "Many others fled at the urging of the leaders of the five Arab nations invading the territory of the new state, so as not to impede the attacking armies."

    According to Muslim teaching, Muslims should not live under non-Muslim rule or subject to non-Muslims. Hence, it was perfectly normal by Islamic law for Arab-Muslim leaders to tell Arabs to leave the war zones both to avoid getting in the way of Arab troops and to avoid living under Jewish, that is non-Muslim rule. Turkish historian Kemal Karpat described this rule in Muslim law and gave as an example the emigration of Tatars –also called Crimean Tatars– from their khanate which was located in the Crimea of today plus the area of southern and southeastern Ukraine of today. Up to the last quarter of the 18th century, up to about 1774 –with some areas conquered by Russia a few years later– that vast region, now disputed in part between Russia and Ukraine, was part of a Muslim-Turkic khanate. In that case, Muslims did not want to live under Russian rule and migrated to the Ottoman Empire, of which the Crimean khanate had been loose suzerainty.

    It appears that observance of that same rule was urged on Palestinian Arabs by their leadership in the Arab Higher Committee in 1948.

  • This article is not about general population transfers per se. It is about the Palestinian Arab refugees specifically. My question is "why?" In 1947-1949, the Arabs embarked on a war of annihilation against the Jews. The Jews won – somewhat – and survived and the Arabs lost. Not being annihilated was Israel's biggest crime. So personally, I don't care how the Arabs became refugees. I don't care if Israel expelled them or they left by other means. Let them suffer. That's what they're good at anyway.

  • Some comments:
    — before WW One non-Muslims –Jews & Christians– were a solid majority in Constantinople, as Istanbul was originally called. The Greeks alone may have been a majority but certainly Greeks, Jews, Armenians and Bulgarians made up a majority easily.

    — the leaders of the Allied states, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt basically approved of these expulsions of ethnic Germans at the Yalta conference in 1945

    — The Greeks were promised by the Allies, the Entente powers, that they could take southwestern Anatolia, Ionia more or less, as a reward for joining the war.

    — the Greek army was winning as it crossed through Anatolia but was ordered to stop, that is it was betrayed, by the Supreme Allied Council [of the Entente powers] in 1921. This left the Greeks with hard to defend lines which enabled a Turkish victory on the counter-attack. If the Greeks had won, it would have made a big difference in subsequent history. Some of the top Greek leaders like Venizelos were pro-Zionist.


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