Skirmishes between Jews and Arabs in 1930s-40s pre-state Israel produced a Palestinian refugee population. It is often argued that the Israeli government should compensate the descendants of the Palestinian refugees who claim to have fled during the 1948 war – which began when Arab neighbors invaded Israel the day after it declared its independence.
In the 1930s, there was a mass migration of Jews fleeing anti-Semitic violence to pre-state Israel as leaders of Arab nations issued calls to violence against their small Jewish populations. Hajj Amin Al-Husayni, political and spiritual leader of the Palestinians, even met with Adolf Hitler himself to express his support for the Final Solution, and to make arrangements to deal with the Jews of the Middle East the same way Hitler dealt with the Jews of Europe. In the weeks and months following the 1947 Partition vote by the United Nations – which called for Jewish and Arab states, side by side – Arab leaders issued anti-Jewish edicts, inciting mobs to raid Jewish homes and businesses, creating 600,000 Jewish refugees immediately and another 300,000 in the following years.
The Jews living in Arab nations spoke Arabic, trading and interacting as friendly members among the Arabs. Iraq has had a Jewish population ever since Babylonian times, Egypt since Pharaonic times and Iran since well before the birth of Christ. In the 1950s, 250 Jews were killed and thousands were tortured and arrested under Gamal Abdel-Nasser in Egypt. The Jews of Iraq were persecuted and many who believed in Zionism were forced into internal exile. The former Iraqi leader, Nuri as-Said, even advocated expelling all the Jews to Jordan, explaining to a Palestinian delegate in Jordan in 1951 that, “The Jews have always been a source of evil and harm to Iraq….” According to the organization Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, the financial loss of all of these Jews through their expulsion amounts to over $30 billion.
History textbooks fail to acknowledge these crimes, preferring to center solely on the issue of the Palestinian refugees. This blind eye to the issue of Jewish refugees is unchanging, even as the mistreatment of Jews in Arab nations continues today, the plight of whom was recently brought to our attention in the stories of Jews liberated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Even when the horrors of Jewish life in increasingly hostile Arab nations are brought to the attention of reporters, they seldom make it to the headlines.
While Jewish refugees were given a new home in Israel and given aid from the government, Palestinian refugees were kept in refugee camps in Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and many continue to live in these detestable conditions 55 years later. Some camps in Jordan don’t provide basic services such as running water and electricity – services the UN is paid to provide. Palestinians were persecuted by their Arab brethren: 300,000 were expelled from Kuwait in the 1990s, 2000 were killed by Jordanians in two days in “Black September” of 1970. In fact, Israel is the only country except Jordan to grant Palestinians citizenship in mass numbers. Unlike in the Arab nations, there are Palestinian parties in the Israeli parliament.
If the future does bring hope for a potential resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, it would likely include reimbursement of the descendants of Palestinian refugees. And if this is the case, then there would be absolutely no justification for Arab nations to fail to compensate the descendants of the forgotten Jewish refugees.
Neer Lerner is an undeclared sophomore.