Some 70 years ago, as the Jewish state of Israel was approaching its birth, many Arab regimes through the Near and Middle East began wicked campaigns of intimidation and oppression against their own Jewish citizens. Despite a long and fruitful relationship with their respective Arab homelands, Jews from all over the region were systematically brutalised tortured and murdered, their businesses destroyed or stolen, their possessions and homes ransacked and expropriated. 850,000 refugees in a matter of just a couple of years were left desolate, isolated, hated and abused; refugees and victims. It should be remembered, this brutal ethnic cleansing was taking place just months after the end of the Holocaust in Europe and whilst millions of European Jews were now refugees wandering through a desolate war torn landscape with nowhere else to go.
Much less of the Arabic Jewish refugee situation was made than that of the circumstances in Europe. Israel and many of the refugees looked to Europe and thought to themselves “what happened in Europe was far far worse, so let’s just get on with it”.
Despite the abominable circumstances, the nascent State of Israel, did what Israel was set up to do. It provided the only safe haven and security that these near 1 million could rely on. Jews relied on Jews. The world’s only Jewish State protected, saved and gave new life and purpose to these refugees. Jews had no UN to fund them, no wealthy oil money to provide for them, no parent global organisation to put care around them. Indeed quite the opposite, a world reeling from World War II had no capacity to help and a country barely borne and already accomodating refugees from Europe was already struggling both financially and psychologically.
It is not without irony that in the Near and Middle East today a global organisation with massive resources operates to assist refugees. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was created to support Palestinian refugees in Gaza, The West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Jordan. Whilst these countries and many others in the region disposed of their Jewish citizens, robbed them of their wealth and lives, the UN resolved to set up a refugee status for those other than Jews. Jews had been systematically murdered and made refugees across the region yet those who continued this persecution were provided with funding and resources to sort their Palestinian refugee problem?
Stretching the irony yet further, the part of the UNRWA work that has by far the highest visibility is the work in Gaza and the West Bank. In Syria, Jordon, Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region the majority of the refugees exist that this organisation is aiding, yet the world and the UNRWA make much smaller investment and effort. Instead, the UNRWA’s multi billion budget and extraordinary large organisation make much of the need for Israel to be responsible for the refugee problem. This convenient association between Israel and Palestinian refugees makes for a convenience that suits much of the Arab world. It plays into the hands of anti semites who profess their hate against Jews through the accusation of role reversal in crimes against humanity.
And in one final paradox, this huge and high profile vehicle for Palestinian refugee aid (along with the extraordinary global donations from charities and Arabic States equating to small nation incomes) consumes much of the global efforts for refugees. 1 in 7 of our planets inhabitants (around 1 billion people) are classified as refugees. Yet the lions share of the support and effort for refugees goes to just 5 million or so people. And one country alone takes the brunt for the issue. That one country being the only country that has successfully resolved this without cost to others, without seeking funds from others and without fuss.
It is surely to Israel that the UN should come to address how to resolve the world’s refugee problem. Indeed countries like Somalia and Ethopia already have. And Israel has opened its doors and let those that need help in.
So just to repeat, with no support from the UN and incredibly limited resources, the lives of these 850,000 Jewish refugees were safeguarded as they were given safe haven in Israel. The UN, in 1947 resolved to set the UNRWA to help refugees in the Near and Middle East region. Yet not one cent of this was for Jews or Israel, but only for the region’s displaced Arabs. Billions upon billions and huge global resources continue to be invested in specifically supporting those Palestinian refugees whilst the only refugee problem that was resolved in the region was that of the Jews which ironically the UN’s agency did not address.
Israel may now seek some reparation for those Jewish refugees. But even that will be used to preserve the history of the Jews in the Middle East and to support the less than 5,000 Jews still in the Arabic diaspara. Retaining and protecting synagogues in places like Syria, Morocco and Tunisia and protecting tiny Jewish communities like the 6 remaining Jews of Bagdad (who are still able to practice due to the leadership, love and care of Canon Andrew White) is a more meaningful way to use reparations rather than the “blood money” provided by Egypt to residents kicked out of their homes on the Gazan borders.
So just who is making the refugee problem for Palestinians a problem…. Maybe the UNRWA, in existence since 1947 has forgotten that its objective should be to resolve the refugee problem not to create and maintain one to justify it’s own existence.
Israel, on the 30th November this year, remembered these 850,000 refugees amongst others and continues to help refugees from around the globe. Maybe the UN could learn a thing or two.