Updated: Aug 21, 2020
As a tour guide of Israel, one question I often get is about the refugee issue. In the Israeli Arab conflict, the issue of Palestinian refugees plays a major role. Some 630-750,000 Arabs either fled or were expelled from Israel during Israel's War of Independence. This was due to a) a war they started b) calls from Arab leaders abroad for them to leave to make way for the invading Arab armies to exterminate the Jews (understanding that they would get their homes and all the Jewish land/homes/institutions as well) c) people fleeing when war happens d) Israel clearing out a number of villages in high-security areas, notably along the road to Jerusalem after the Arabs cut off access to the city, starving its 100,000 Jewish residents. UN Resolution 194 - a non-binding General Assembly resolution - calls for them to return, hence the famous "right of return."
What is conveniently forgotten is that they need to be willing to "live at peace with their neighbors," which based on Palestinian public opinion, is still a long ways away. Virtually nothing from that resolution was ever implemented (like making Jerusalem an international zone).
What is fascinating is how these Palestinian refugees have been treated - and mistreated. In the 1940's there were tens, if not hundreds, of millions of refugees worldwide. The only ones who have never been permanently dealt with are the Palestinians. Why is this?
Arab countries used them as pawns. Instead of incorporating them and giving them citizenship and a new life, they left them to rot in camps. They kept telling them that they would return home one day, and in some cases, like Lebanon, barred them from 50 professions among other restrictions on them (such as movement). They have been lied to, manipulated and abandoned by their people.
Only two countries gave them citizenship - Jordan... and Israel.
Meanwhile the UN has helped to enable this situation. They have created two separate refugee agencies in the world with completely different rules and goals. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deals with all the refugees in the world, with a goal to resettle them and help them start their lives anew. Only someone displaced themselves is entitled to the title [and any benefits] of being a refugee. The United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), meanwhile, was establishled only to deal with Palestinian Arab refugees. They do not deal with resettlement, and one can pass on their refugee status to their children, meaning there are some 5 million plus Palestinians who are claiming to be refugees today. They generally are not living in tents and are in "permanent" homes. The most amazing thing is that these UNRWA "refugees" are receiving from the UN 8 times the amount of money as actual refugees (UNHCR).
Nothing is ever mentioned of course about the Jews who had to flee their homes during the War of Independence - as ethnic cleansing also took place in that direction as well.
The people who truly never get mentioned though, when it comes to this conflict, are the Jews who lived in Arab and Muslim majority countries. Some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee (an even higher number than Palestinian refugees), as these countries took out their own frustrations about not being able to the throw the Jews of Israel "into the sea." Their "embarrassment" of allowing a Jewish state to come into existence led these governments to attack and persecute their Jewish populations, many of whom lived in those countries for a
millennium before the Arab/Islamic invasion of the 7th c. CE/AD. They left behind billions of dollars of assets and collective property 4-5 times the size of the state of Israel.
The reason we don't hear about them is because Israel welcomed them with open arms - and because even if they were being coerced/forced to leave, many of them were happy to come to Israel. That and the fact that the UN never made a special agency to help them; in fact they offered no help at all. Israel doubled its population twice in seven years after independence, as Jews came in with nothing after the Holocaust and the expulsions from Arab/Islamic countries. In order to handle that situation [which was not always handled perfectly to say the least], the country went on rations for 12 years! That is what you do however, when family needs your help, and Israel, more than anything else, at its core is one giant family. As a tour guide of Israel, this issue is near and dear to my heart as my Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot used to be a transit camp for some of these refugees (see photo below).
No matter what, they deserve to be remembered. And if and when a final peace agreement is made between Israel, the Palestinians and the surrounding Arab/Islamic countries, the issue of the "Forgotten Refugees" needs to be a part of it [especially if the Palestinian refugee issue is to be a part of it].
Yesterday (June 20) was World Refugee Day. Please take some time to honor and remember the Jews of Arab and Islamic lands. To learn more about the "Forgotten Refugees" there are two videos below the map. The first is a quick 90 -second video, whereas the second is a full 50-minute documentary, aptly titled "The Forgotten Refugees." I highly recommend the second one, but at least watch the first one if you can :).
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