“Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction out of proportion to any other party in the Middle East is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.” –Thomas L. Friedman, 2002
I was going to make Part Three of this series address the idea of the “occupation,” but then I started reading David Brog‘s excellent book Reclaiming Israel’s History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace. I’ve only gotten through the Preface and Introduction, but already there are so many important details to share.
To back up a step, I created this series, which includes Is There a Palestine and Israel is Not Apartheid, in response to certain actions committed during the recent protests/riots here in the U.S. Namely that synagogues and Jewish businesses have been vandalized with the phrase “Free Palestine” being prominently included in the “message.”
As the quote above suggests, you can criticize Israel as a nation and not be anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish, but the relentless and narrowly focused allegations against the Jewish state and their “crimes” against the Palestinian people, including refugees, ignores the reality that there are many more displaced people groups all over the world. We rarely or never hear of them, and according to what I’ve read so far, the Palestinian Arabs and their experiences are hardly unique historically and in the current world.
Brog tells some of the history of “Jewish Arab” nationalist Albert Memmi. As a marginalized Jew in Arab Tunisia, his efforts helped free Tunisia from French rule, but then the Arabs turned around and exiled him from his homeland because he was Jewish.
As early as 1969, Memmi was calling for a Palestinian homeland, but the irony of that cry is one had existed twenty years prior. On November 29, 1947, according to the author:
…the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states – one Jewish and one Arab.
In a 2011 Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, PLO President Mahmoud Abbas wrote a passionate plea to the United Nations to create a Palestinian state that for decades Israel had denied them. But such a state did exist as a legally recognized entity, just as much as “Jewish Palestine” did.
In his essay, Abbas said that the Jews started the 1948 war in order to oust the Arabs from their land. That’s a lie (politely, we’re supposed to say it’s the “Palestinian narrative”)
The 1948 War began as a civil war, with Palestine’s Arabs attacking Palestine’s Jews in an effort to prevent the creation of a Jewish state.
It wasn’t about Jews taking away and occupying Arab land. The conflict, the real conflict is and always has been preventing, and now, destroying every bit of the Jewish state in the Middle East. It’s about eradicating Israel from the face of the Earth.
In 1969, in the aftermath of 1967’s “Six Day War,” Albert Memmi called for a Palestinian state to be created alongside Jewish Israel, and considering himself both Arab and Jewish, he was sincere. However, as Brog says:
From the start, Palestinian leaders linked their national liberation to the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians did not seek a state alongside the Jewish state; they demanded a state that would replace the Jewish state. In doing so, they were setting the stage for endless conflict.
But let’s go back to 1947-48 for a minute. You might be saying to yourself that by carving Palestine up in two (it’s actually more complicated than that), wasn’t it the United Nations who stole Arab land?
We could argue about the historic right of the Jews to the Land as I did in Part One and Brog does say that has to be considered in light of the lack of a Jewish presence in Palestine for so long, but remember, lands, borders, and people groups had been shifted around for centuries.
Brog covered some historical ground about World Wars One and Two, and how in their aftermath, whole populations were moved hundreds of miles away from lands they’d occupied for nearly a thousand years. Then there were the massive reshifting of national boundaries as well as the creation of brand new countries. So whether you agree or not that the Jewish state should have been created by the U.N., it was hardly a rare or unique event.
When the British Mandate for Palestine was officially ended on May 15, 1948, the civil war between Jewish and Arab Palestinians “went international,” with Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, and Iraq all attacking the tiny, newborn Jewish state.
Now, here’s the kicker:
The Arab states did not invade Israel to help the Palestinian refugees (as Abbas’s essay erroneously claimed). It was the Arab invasion that produced the Palestinian refugees. Had the Arabs accepted the UN Partition Plan and agreed to the creation of the Jewish state, there would have been a Palestinian state back in 1948. And had the Arabs accepted the partition of Palestine, there would not have been so much as one Palestinian refugee.
There’s a lot more to this history of course, and I certainly encourage you to get a copy of Brog’s book (I found one at my local public library) to discover the rest.
Now let’s return to the title of this write up. “The Creation of the Palestinian Refugee”. They weren’t oppressed and didn’t exist as refugees until the surrounding Arab nations attacked Israel and attempted to destroy them. It was the consequences of that war which created these refugees.
There’s a reason they still exist. Most refugee populations dwindle as time passes. Although there are hundreds of different people groups who have been displaced and have refugee status, the Palestinians are unique in a single detail.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the United Nations established a new organization dedicated exclusively to the Palestinian refugees: the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA defines a “Palestine refugee” as anyone who was displaced by the 1948 War plus the “descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children.” In other words, Palestinian refugees pass their refugee status to their children in perpetuity.
It’s even worse than that because any Palestinian refugee who obtains citizenship in another county is still considered a refugee…forever. Brog continues:
For example, there are approximately two million Palestinian refugees currently living in Jordan. They are all counted as refugees even though over ninety percent of these individuals are full Jordanian citizens.
The only refugee population on Earth that grows in size over time and continues to exist generation after generation, at least based on what I’ve read so far, are Palestinian refugees.
I hate to drag Wikipedia into this but:
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the Arab population in 2019 was estimated at 1,890,000, representing 20.95% of the country’s population. The majority of these identify themselves as Arab or Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship.
Arab citizens of Israel, or Arab Israelis, are Israeli citizens who are Arab. Many Arab citizens of Israel self-identify as Palestinian and commonly self-designate themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel or Israeli Palestinians.
- Muslim: 82%
- Christian: 9%
- Druze: 9%
So, Palestinian refugees can live in Gaza or the West Bank, they can become full citizens of Israel (and we saw in Part Two that Arab Israeli citizens enjoy the same rights as Jewish citizens), and as we’ve seen, an additional nearly two million are citizens of neighboring Jordan.
Brog says according to the UNRWA website, when the agency began operating in 1950, there were about some 750,000 Palestinian refugees. As of the publication of his book a few years ago, that number had exploded to 5 million refugees eligible for services. He concludes this point with:
If Palestinian refugees were defined the same way as all other refugees, the number of Palestinian refugees in 2014 would be closer to 30,000.
There’s a very strategic reason for the continued existence and population growth of the “Palestinian refugee” and it seems to be to continually outrage people in many other nations on how Israel has oppressed its refugee population for decades. The goal, although the “outraged” are probably not aware of this for the most part, is to reduce and eventually eliminate the Jewish nation of Israel.
So, when (probably) well meaning U.S. protesters torch synagogues and physically assault elderly Jews men on the street, all in the name of “Freeing Palestine,” I think they are simply another expression of folks who have bought a fantasy and ignored the facts. To be fair, we all practice bias confirmation, and you would say I’m doing that right now.
On the other hand, anyone with a library card and who can read can educate themselves.
David Brog is scrupulous to point out that Israel is not a perfect nation and that Jews have committed injustices against Arabs. That said, the injustices much of the world believes Israel is guilty of aren’t factual.
I’m not writing this series to come up with some “magic” answer. People a lot smarter than I am have been approaching that for a long time. I do want to remind people, or maybe inform people for the first time, that what you see in the news and what’s actually happening are sometimes, maybe often, two different things.
Just because someone paints “Free Palestine” on the side of a Jewish deli, or breaks the windows, or assaults the proprietor, doesn’t mean they’re being just. In fact, quite the opposite. They’ve just been fooled.