The Refugee Issue Examined

Ha’aretz reports on today’s Olmert-Abbas meeting.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas held one-on-one talks Tuesday on the three issues that are at the heart of a final status agreement – borders for a Palestinian state, the future of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

I would like to address the palestinian refugee issue, since it incenses me every time it is brought up, not to mention our lame response/lack of response.

Around 820,000-850,000 Jews were either expelled from, or were otherwise forced to leave Arab countries after the 1948 War of Independence, a war started after the 5 Arab armies attacked the newly established State of Israel. Of these Jewish refugees, approximately 590,000-600,000 were absorbed into Israel, leaving behind their homes, businesses and possessions without receiving any compensation.

The War of Independence also produced some Arab refugees, totaling somewhere between 430,000-650,000. The vast majority of these refugees (approximately 68%) left without even seeing an Israeli soldier, but rather at the beckoning of the invading Arab armies, who were certain of a quick victory.

The Arab refugee figures were inflated by UNRWA’s relief rolls since it was impossible to distinguish between a genuine refugee from nomadic bedouins and unemployed local residents. Not only that, but UNRWA adopted an unbelievably broad definition of “refugee”, which included those who lived in “Palestine” a minimum of only two years preceding 1948, as well as descendants of these “refugees.” This is why the number of registered palestinian refugees is now well over 4 million.

When looking at the lower refugee figures (and ignoring the facts that the majority of Arab refugees were self-created, as well as the fact that even these Arab figures included recent (1946-1948) residents, as mentioned above), for every Arab refugee there was more than one Jewish refugee. Not only that, but the number of Jewish refugees absorbed by Israel is almost exactly the same as the number of displaced Arab refugees. In other words, an exchange of populations has taken place – approximately 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands have been resettled in Israel, and approximately 600,000 Arabs from Israel have moved elsewhere (mostly to refugee camps, thanks to their Arab brethren and UNRWA, who have kept them there for 60 years!) .

So from my point of view, it is clear that the only just solution is for the Arab refugees to be absorbed into the Arab countries, rather than being kept in refugee camps as a pawn in the war against Israel. As for talk of compensation, Jewish refugees left behind assets in the Arab countries of greater worth than the Arab assets left behind in Israel, so if any side has a claim, it is us.

This is a brief summary of the facts behind the so-called refugee issue. I could write more, but I would instead encourage you all to read the fabulous Joan Peters book From Time Immemorial. After reading that, you will likely also be scratching your head as to why the Israeli government have not answered the so-called palestinian refugee and “right-of-return” issues with the facts as outlined above.

Further reading:

Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries – The American Sephardi Federation

The Palestinians – (including The 1948 Palestinian Refugees – Whose Responsibility)

The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries – Avi Beker


David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media

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