A few days ago, at a meeting of the World Jewish Congress, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was asked if negotiations with the Palestinians would also deal with the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Her answer was: “Yes, but there is no connection between the Jews and Palestinians refugee problem. The connection is with the Arab countries.”
There is something irritating about the fact that Israeli diplomats, even the most senior representatives of Israel, do not say things clearly and precisely on the issue of refugees – whether Jews, Arabs and others.
The issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was neglected and abandoned for decades by all Israeli governments. Palestinians, however, inflated the refugee issue and managed to fix the label “crime against humanity“ on Israel. The results are clear.
Israel’s diplomats find it difficult to say that even if people were driven out, the exchange of populations in those years was acceptable and normative.
They find it difficult to say that successive Arab leaders, including Jordan’s King Abdullah, Nuri al-Said, Iraqi Prime Minister, Husni Zaim, the Syrian ruler, and prominent leaders of the Arabs of Palestine, supported the idea of transfer and exchange of population.
They find it difficult to say that out of tens of millions of refugees, from the 40s, no one is a refugee today, except the Palestinians.
They find it difficult to say that not one of those tens of millions of people displaced has a “right of return.”
They find it difficult to say that the Jews were expelled from Arab countries, through no fault of their own, and in greater numbers than Arabs in Palestine.
They find it difficult to say that Jews’ right to compensation are tenfold that of the Palestinians.
They find it difficult to say recalcitrant Arabs created the refugee problem.
They find it difficult to say that international law does not recognize the right to recover one’s original property and certainly not a ‘right of return.’
And when they are uninformed and lack confidence, they also lack the ability to say things in the international arena and in negotiations. Because a clear Israeli position could remove the greatest obstacle to reaching an agreement.
In the past, Livni drew a barrage of criticism when she said that the Palestinians should delete the Nakba – the Tragedy, as they have labelled what befell them in 1948 – from their lexicon. They are not supposed to forget it on the personal level. The pain is real. They must forget it on the political level. The responsibility for the Nakba rests on those who refused the 1947 Partition plan, and encouraged the Palestinians to leave. The responsibility for the Nakba lies with those who said, again and again, that the Jews of Arab countries will pay the price.
This is not a Zionist propaganda ploy. These Arab leaders in person said it. Khalid al-Azam, who was Prime Minister of Syria, said: ”
Since 1948 we have demanded the return of the refugees to their homes, but we ourselves, we encouraged them to leave.
Nuri Said, who was prime minister of Iraq, said:
We will smash the country (Israel) with our guns, and destroy the place where all the Jews are seeking shelter. Arabs should lead their wives and children to a safe place until the end of the fighting.
And the Palestinian leader Abu Mazen also said this in 1976 in the newspaper Falistin el-Thawra:
Arab armies entered to protect the Palestinians, but instead, they abandoned them, forced them to emigrate and to leave their homeland.
In addition, the Arab League decided on a plan to persecute the Jews, and almost every Arab leader announced that Jews in Arab countries would become victims. Hassan al-Banna, the founder and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, went further and threatened that “Arab peoples will drive the Jews who live in their midst into the sea.”
Contrary to what Livni says, there is no distinction in this matter between the Palestinians and the Arab world. It was the Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Palestinian leader, leading broadcasts from Berlin, who incited against Jews in Arab countries, and played a key role in raising the level of Nazi anti-Semitism in the Arab world. So you cannot separate Arab states and the Palestinians on the question of who is responsible.
For decades, Israel has neglected the Jewish Nakba. For many years, Israeli spokesmen failed to put it on the agenda or the negotiating table. Even the U.S. Congress passed a resolution on the subject before the Israeli Knesset. This is why Livni, who runs the negotiations on behalf of Israel, is also proceeding in the lamentable old tradition of forgetting the subject.
Jews from Arab countries do not forget. Historians with intellectual honesty not forget. This forgetfulness is not conducive to peace. On the contrary, it contributes to disruption and distortion and reinforces the position of the Palestinian refugees. We should remind both Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, and thus inform world opinion. Not to create an obstacle to peace. On the contrary. Peace will be achieved only when the Jewish Nakba and the Jewish refugee issue are on the public agenda and the negotiating table. It’s an important truth after decades of silence. There is no need to abandon it.