Tag Archives: refugees

Israel is Jewish – Part Three: The Creation of the Palestinian Refugee

Israel
© James Pyles – Cover image for David Brog’s book “Reclaiming Israel’s History”

“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”)

Brog writes:

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.

Further:

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.

The Day a Christian Wore a Hijab

A tenured Wheaton College professor who, as part of her Christian Advent devotion, donned a traditional headscarf to show solidarity with Muslims has been placed on administrative leave.

-Manya Brachear Pashman, December 16, 2015
“Wheaton College suspends Christian professor who wore a hijab”
Chicago Tribune

Hawkins
Photo: Chicago Tribune

Actually, she never wore a hijab, just a scarf, but her actions probably won’t endear her to a lot of Christians and Jews. However, it’s important to take a moment to understand why she did what she did.

Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at the private evangelical Christian college in Chicago’s west suburbs, announced last week that she would wear the veil to show support for Muslims who have been under greater scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she posted on Facebook.

Hawkins, 43, planned to wear the hijab everywhere she went until Christmas, including on her flight home to Oklahoma, where voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning Islamic Sharia law.

She said it’s “a time of real vitriolic rhetoric by fellow Christians sometimes and people who aren’t Christian who conflate all Muslims with terrorist — and that saddens me — so this is a way of saying if all women wear the hijab we cannot discriminate. If all women were in solidarity, who is the real Muslim? How is TSA going to decide who they really suspect?”

I’m probably going to take a lot of heat for even writing this blog post, but I think Hawkins may have a point. My wife periodically shops at a Muslim owned food store here in Boise. As a Jew, she says she has no reason to fear or be suspicious of the owner, who seems like a really nice guy, but there’s some part of her that’s wary anyway.

Before it burned down, my family and I used to frequent the Boise International Market, a collection of businesses maintained by various refuge families.

Kahve Coffee
Kahve Coffee

I particularly enjoyed having coffee with a friend periodically at Kahve Coffee, which if I’m correct, was owned and operated by two brothers who, in all likelihood, are Muslims.

Granted, I can’t read minds and automatically know the motivations of everyone I encounter, but as far as I could tell from casual conversation, Kahve Coffee and the other family owned businesses in the Market, represented people who came to this country to build a better life and become part of our community.

Of course, these refuges were from all over the Middle East, Africa, and Central America, so probably they weren’t all Muslims, but I’m not sure it really mattered one way or the other. What mattered, is that the Market wasn’t just a place to eat, drink coffee, and buy various other goods and services, it was a gathering place for all of these families and probably their second home.

There were always children playing between the shops, the kids of the business owners. Everyone watched out for everyone else’s kids. It wasn’t always a venue conducive to quiet conversation. It was more like having coffee or a meal in someone’s living room while their children were playing.

I’m writing all this to say that, religious and political differences aside, at the end of the day, the people who ran the Market were people, parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, children. They were people just like we’re people.

I hear they’re rebuilding (website under construction). I hope so. Not just for the sake of some of the best coffee I’ve ever consumed, or the ability to have a meal that isn’t mass-produced American pap, but for the sake of people who, like all of our ancestors who came to this country at some point in the past, just want to make a living, support their families, and be friends and neighbors who happen to live in my little corner of Idaho.

interfaithAs far as Professor Hawkins is concerned, Wheaton College chose to look at things differently:

“While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation and the life of prayer,” Wheaton College said in a statement.

Makes me wonder what Wheaton College would have done if Hawkins decided to dress frum to support Israel and the Jewish people.

Granted, Wheaton is a private Evangelical Protestant Christian liberal arts college, and they can make decisions based on their understanding of being Christian vs. being Muslim, but they might have handled this differently. Was what Hawkins did so radical and her reasoning so out-of-balance?

Wheaton administrators did not denounce Hawkins’ gesture but said more conversation should have taken place before it was announced.

“Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion and theological clarity,” the college said in a statement. “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”

The Wheaton College administrators are within their rights to take such an action, and after all, as faculty, Hawkins does represent the college, but not everyone agrees with Wheaton’s decision.

Last week, a coalition of student leaders at Wheaton drafted an open letter calling on evangelical Christian leaders to condemn recent remarks by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. that students armed with guns can “end those Muslims.”

Gene Green, a professor of the New Testament, said what motivated Hawkins is the same concern many faculty at Wheaton share about the unfair scrutiny facing the Muslim community.

(Renner) Larson (communications director for CAIR’s Chicago chapter), who attends a Unitarian Universalist church, said he was dismayed to hear that some view Hawkins’ gesture as compromising Christianity.

“It’s disappointing that showing solidarity means that you are somehow sacrificing your own identity,” he said. “I do what I do not to be closer to Islam but because it makes me closer to my identity as an American who believes in American ideals.”

Boise International Market
Boise International Market

I can only imagine that what I’m expressing may seem radical to some of my readers, but as Larson pointed out, it’s an American ideal to accept people who are different from you into our local communities. The vast majority of American citizens have ancestors who came here from other parts of the world. That some Muslims have committed terrible crimes here and elsewhere on our planet doesn’t make your Muslim neighbor a terrorist.

In fact, having just read a story from Arutz Sheva, I discovered the most unlikely people (at least from my uninformed point of view) can be heroes or criminals.

You can’t tell by looking.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

-attributed to Martin Niemöller