A guest post by Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif: a UK association representing Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, and dedicated to promoting their history, culture and heritage
Not only has the issue of Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries in greater numbers begun seriously to challenge the Palestinian monopoly of victimhood, but the US Congress is mounting a pincer movement on the UN refugee agency UNWRA, questioning the right of Palestinian ‘refugees’ to pass on their status from father to son and to drink at the eternal fount of international aid.
Such an onslaught on two sacred Palestinian cows has left their advocates seriously rattled.
How else can one explain an article in the Palestinian warhorse Electronic Intifada by Richard Irvine?
Irvine, who teaches a course at Queen’s University Belfast entitled ‘The Battle for Palestine’, berates Israel’s “cynical campaign to pit Arab Jews (sic) against Palestinian refugees”. “After years of denial and neglect, the Israeli government has rediscovered the issue of the Mizrahi Jews”, he writes.”Deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon has instructed his diplomats to request that foreign parliaments recognise the refugee status of Jews forced from Arab countries.”
The good news is that our warrior for Palestine does not attempt to deny that many Jews were forced out by persecution and fear of persecution from Arab countries. This is progress.
(Contrast with a recent article in the Jordanian Addustour which claims that Israel has ‘fabricated’ the issue of Jewish refugees. The expulsion of thousands of Jews from Jerusalem in 1948 by the Jordanian Arab legion must have been a desert mirage.)
Equally, Richard Irvine recognises that the Arab states’ legal and moral responsibility to those who left is indisputable. So far so reasonable.
But the embattled Irvine soon goes into emotional overdrive: it’s OK to blame Arab governments; but don’t touch the whiter-than-white Palestinian leadership. Israel alone is responsible for the 1948 ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinian refugees, although contemporary press reports blamed Arab states.
Ah that old chestnut, ‘the ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians – a cleansing so effective that one million Arabs now live as citizens of Israel.
Behind Ayalon’s quest for truth’, Irvine charges, is a dastardly campaign to nullify the Palestinian ‘right of return’.Yet eminent legal experts such as Ruth Gavison have proclaimed that the Palestinian ‘right of return’ does not exist in international law; it is as good as built on desert quicksand. Apparently, it also selectively applies to refugees from Israel but not to the 400,000 Palestinians expelled from Kuwait in 1991.
Enter Yours Truly in Irvine’s diatribe. In Haaretz I accused Arab states of abusing the Palestinians by denying them basic civil and human rights. Palestinians are denied citizenship, and in many cases, the right to jobs and property. I called the turning back of Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria at the Jordanian border ‘cynical and cruel’.
Irvine’s response is a choice piece of whataboutery:
“For stateless Palestinians facing dispossession and expulsion by Israeli forces from East Jerusalem and the Jordan valley, one can only stand in awe at the chutzpah.”
I see. Palestinian suffering is only worth pointing out when Israel can be blamed.
Irvine goes on to say that “Julius uses ‘racist terms’ to characterise the Palestinian ‘right of return’” – their right to ‘Arabise Israel by flooding Israel with millions of refugees.
It is not racist to surmise that an influx of five million Palestinians and their descendants would lead to an Arab-majority state in Israel. It is fact. Such a state would speak Arabic and be overwhelmingly Muslim. Its first act would undoubtedly be to rescind the Law of Return for Jews.
“Whether refugees have the right to return to their homeland or they do not,” Irvine declares,” that they be Arab, European, Jewish Muslim or Christian should not matter.”
In an ideal world, perhaps, Mr Irvine. But show me an Arab country that would permit Jews to return to their homes, restore their property to them and full civil rights, including the right to practise their religion in full security. The two sets of refugees are not being played off against each other. The Jewish refugees have rights and demands of their own. At the same time, they serve as a model for successful resettlement.
Advocating that one lot of refugees should fester in squalid camps without rights, while denying that the other group have a right to enjoy full rights in Israel, smacks of hypocrisy – and dare I say, ‘chutzpa’.
“Those who claim to be genuinely concerned for peace, reconciliation and rights should be reaching out to both Mizrahi and Palestinian refugees and inviting them how, as two communities of dispossessed peoples they can make a new future together.”
Amen to that, Mr Irvine, but what measures is he proposing today to ease the plight of Palestinians? Reconciliation has to be based on truth. There is no turning the clock back after 60 years: After an irreversible exchange of populations, one set is happily resettled in Israel. Time for the other set of refugees to abandon their delusional ‘right of return’ for a ‘right of resettlement’ in a state of Palestine or other Arab states.