Friday, September 14, 2012
Israel and the refugee problem - Myths and Realities
13 September '12..
Five years ago I came to a life changing decision – I was leaving the country of my birth, Great Britain, and I was moving to Israel. You may question whether this was a difficult choice for a Jew and passionate Zionist to make. You might also want to know why I hated life in England so much that I preferred the prospect of living in a war zone. Both would be fair questions.
But for all my love and pride for Israel, and despite the anti-Semitism I experienced intermittently throughout my life previously, I genuinely love Britain too, and leaving was not an easy choice. Sitting here in my office in Jerusalem, as happy as I am, I can honestly say that I'm still a proud Brit and that I miss many aspects of life there, and probably always will.
I support the England Cricket team with a near obsessive passion and stayed up until the early hours willing Andy Murray to win his first grand-slam title this week, not because I'm a big tennis fan, but because I'm British. Some of my favorite places in the world are in the UK: The New Forest, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales. And I admit that I sat glued to the TV, eating homemade scones, as William and Kate got hitched.
This is despite the fact that I am essentially a second/third-generation immigrant to the UK (although I've never seen myself in those terms): six of my great grandparents were refugees from Eastern Europe, and indeed one of my grandfathers was born outside the UK.
But I was born and educated in Birmingham, England; its customs, accents, culture, food etc. are mine and no amount of eating falafel and speaking Hebrew will erase the imprint onto my psyche that growing up British has made.
I am a lucky person, because I was totally free to choose to move to Israel, which I did for purely ideological and religious reasons. As God said to Abraham (the first Jew), "go to the land I will show you for your own good". I didn't 'make "aliya" (Heb: move to Israel) to escape the UK. I made it because I believe being here is better for me and for my family's future and for the Jewish future. My choice; my decision.
I’m not alone. Thousands of Jews from across the Middle East also love the countries of their birth: Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon etc. -- all these have housed Jewish communities for thousands of years, some from even before the Romans destroyed the second Temple.
There was no strong Zionist movement in these communities, largely untouched by Hitler's efforts to eradicate the Jewish people from Europe, but in the 1940s and 50s these Jews were thrown out of the countries that they had considered themselves citizens of since before Islam's birth. They were told that because a little patch of land hundreds or thousands of miles away had declared itself to be a Jewish state, and they shared that faith, that made them enemies of the Arab people. 820,000 Jews were made refugees overnight, with literally just the clothes on their backs as possessions.
It is true that they didn't stay refugees for long, because unlike the Arab world's treatment of "Palestinian refugees", their Jewish brothers and sisters in the new state of Israel welcomed them with open arms and far from hurting Israel, the absorption of these people strengthened it, bringing new cultures, foods, languages and ideas.
I cannot imagine Israel without these people's descendants, who today number around 50 percent of the population. Zionism, the political ideology behind the birth of Israel, believes in the in-gathering of the Jewish people and so these Jewish-Arab refugees' children and grandchildren are woven into the fabric of Israeli society. That does not erase the racist crime that was committed against them by states across the Arab world.
Nobody can take away my pride in being British and I can't imagine that identity being ripped away from me. I can say I'm a British Israeli with a smile, because that country was and is good to my family. It’s still my other home.
What does a Yemenite or Libyan Israeli think of a land his family helped build and cultivate since Caesar ruled in Rome that turned on them for no reason other than their religion? Many of these people had never left the town of their birth, had lived in the home of their parents, grandparents and generations before that, and suddenly they are fleeing for their lives to a place they only know from prayers?
Businesses, homes, and possessions, their lifetime of achievements, stolen from them overnight. I doubt Moroccan Israelis feel able to cheer the Moroccan football team as I do the English cricket team.
An entire agency of the UN (UNRWA) exists to handle Palestinian refugees from that period, who today number 5,000,000 stateless people. The same Arab states that had expelled the Jews, then refused to let the Palestinians become absorbed into their countries, as Israel did for its Jewish refugees.
Three generations later, Palestinians across the Middle East remain stateless and in some places still live in shanty town refugee camps, not allowed to work, build homes or create lives. The real crime of 1948 was never the creation of a tiny Jewish state in barren, undeveloped land, or the exile (self-imposed or otherwise) of 450,000 local Arabs (today known as Palestinians). No, the real crime was the exile of Jews across Arabia and the on-going disgrace of the Palestinian refugees, who remain so because their Arab "brothers" need them to be poor and angry pawns.
Over 50 years ago, Ralph Galloway, former Director of UNRWA, wrote: "The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it an open sore, as an affront to the UN and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don't give a damn whether the refugees live or die."
While the UN and Human Rights groups have been busy condemning Israel for the past 60 years, they have been complicit in the crime of the Palestinian refugee problem. Even King Hussein of Jordan recognized this crime writing in 1960: "Since 1948 Arab leaders…have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is…criminal."
This situation should shame the world, but it is never discussed in the media, by rights groups or in the UN. The Palestinians are still pawns as they were in 1958, in the Arab world’s xenophobic hatred of Israel and Jews in general.
The Palestinians' so-called leaders are busy selling their "narrative", but let's call a spade a spade – their narrative is nothing but propaganda, full of half-truths, omissions and outright lies and it's built on the tears of the crimes the Arab world committed against 850,000 Arab-Jewish refugees and continues to commit against the 5,000,000, downtrodden Palestinian pawns.
Shame on them and shame on anyone out there who becomes an accessory to these crimes by buying into the propaganda.