Have any people in history been asked to make such a sacrifice?
Mohammed, a young Palestinian who lives in the US, asks, “If a Jew from New York has the right to live in Jaffa, why don’t I, as the grandson of Arabs who lived in Jaffa in 1948, have the same right?” 1
That is a fair question. This post is my answer to Mohammed, in the form of a letter.
* * *
It is understandable that you ask this question. You deserve an answer. Here it is.
The moment your grandparents and their leaders launched a war of genocide against my people — the Jews of the new State of Israel — that is the precise moment you lost your right to live in your grandfather’s home.
Your People Launched a War against My People
You may believe that your people have done nothing to deserve their fate. Your politicians, religious leaders and teachers have drummed this idea into you since you were a little boy. But they have deceived you.
The League of Nations, in 1922, granted all of Palestine to the Jewish people for the re-establishment of a Jewish national home. This grant has never been rescinded or superseded. It has the status of recognized international law.2 (More recently, United Nations resolutions declaring Israel’s West Bank to be occupied territory do not have the force of international law under the United Nations Charter.)
In 1947, the United Nations (UN) passed General Assembly Resolution 181. That resolution divided Palestine — the place where your family and mine lived — into separate Palestinian and Jewish states. This was the second time your grandparents had the opportunity to have a Palestinian state — as long as they agreed to live alongside a Jewish state. The first offer was under the British-appointed Peel Commission in 1937.
Both times, your people roundly rejected the offer of statehood. My people reluctantly accepted the Peel Commission Partition and fully accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan.
When the British army withdrew from Palestine in 1948, your people launched a war of genocide against my people — the Jews of the new State of Israel.
Mohammed, if you take the trouble to read the newspaper reports of the time, you will see that Arab leaders declared that their armies would “drive the Jews into the sea.” Your leaders loudly and confidently proclaimed that, after their onslaught, few Jews would be left in Palestine. They left no doubt that their intention was genocide against the Jews. And for decades afterwards, they violated Israel’s borders and carried out deadly attacks, mostly against Jewish civilians.
But your people were not to have their way. They lost the war and they have been spoilsports ever since.
Your People Tried to Destroy My People
In 1967, Arab states again tried to annihilate Israel. Israel prevented this by launching a pre-emptive strike, in which they once again prevailed. In response, the Arab League declared its infamous “three noes.” That is, they swore there would be “no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition” of my people’s state.
Because we Jews fought a defensive war, international law gives us the right to hold onto acquired territory, as long as relinquishing it would represent a military threat. Mohammed, I am sorry to say that not one day has passed when your people have not planned or launched deadly attacks against my people. That is another reason why you cannot “return” to the place of your grandfather.
Mohammed, think about this from my perspective. When our Jewish state was born, the armies of five Arab countries invaded in order to destroy my people. The Jewish state won that war, but at a terrible price. Your people murdered almost one per cent of the Jews in Israel. It would be as if the US successfully warded off invasion by armies from Mexico and Canada, but lost 3.2 million people in the process.
Why would my people allow in hundreds of thousands of Arabs hostile to our existence? People who had already killed us in great numbers. People who surely would continue to murder our children.
Have any people in history been asked to make such a sacrifice?
Your People Suffered and So Did Mine
Had your people not launched a war of annihilation against my people in 1948, few Arabs or Jews would have lost their homes. The result of the war was that 650,000 Palestinian Arabs lost their homes, land and possessions.
The displacement of Palestinian Arabs like your grandfather has been made much worse by anti-Palestinian policies of Arab countries. These policies deny or severely restrict citizenship rights for Palestinians who today live in neighboring Arab countries. They also deny Palestinians many rights related to residency, employment, education and other basic human rights.3
For example, in today’s Lebanon, Palestinians — whose parents and grandparents were born in Lebanon — will never be eligible for citizenship. They suffer massive job discrimination, with scores of occupations permanently closed to them. Educational opportunities for their youth are severely limited. Similar restrictions exist today in every Arab country in which your people live.
But did you know Mohammed, that in the years following the 1948-1949 war, over 900,000 Jews who lived in Arab countries lost their homes?
This tragedy resulted from massive Arab retaliation for the Jewish victory in the 1948-1949 war. Displaced Jews from Arab countries, many of whom had lived in Arab lands for two millennia, were subjected to gross human rights violations. Although the details differed from Arab country to country, these violations included revocation of citizenship and other basic rights; restrictions on employment; property seizures; government sponsored anti-Jewish riots and destruction of Jewish-owned businesses; imposition of “Jew taxes;” imprisonment; public executions; and mass expulsions.
My People Reclaimed Our Ancient Homeland
Mohammed, you ask, “Why do Jews from anywhere in the world, have the right to settle in Israel?”
The answer is first and foremost, that the Jews are the indigenous people of the region. There is massive archeological evidence for this, as well as evidence from genetic research. There are other reasons for the Jewish right to live in our homeland.
There was never a time when Jews did not live in the area you call Palestine. In the late 1860s, Jews were the majority of Jerusalem’s population.
When Jews began to return to Palestine in 1881, they purchased the parcels of land on which they settled. They purchased this land from eager Arab landowners who took advantage of the high prices Jews paid for land that was often unproductive—-marshy, or dry and degraded due to destructive flood irrigation followed by years of neglect.
The Jews returned to a Palestine that was ruined, desolate, and sparsely populated. There were few roads and little land suitable for growing food. Diseases were widespread. The great majority of Arab inhabitants were illiterate. This all changed as the influx of Jews transformed Palestine into what is today a modern, affluent state, with a standard of living on a par with western countries.
Your grandfather may want you to live on his former land. But those modern homes, irrigated agricultural fields, water and sanitation systems, roads, universities and colleges — all the features of a modern society — were built by my people.
You come from a people who created one of the world’s great civilizations. But if you ever settle where your grandfather lived, you will be in a place built by Jews, not Arabs.
My Final Answer to Your Question
Mohammed, I bear you no ill will. I would be pleased to see you happy and settled on your grandfather’s land.
But until you stop trying to kill my people, we will not allow that to happen.
- I was inspired to write this post after viewing the following video: Gil Shuster, C. [Video] Israelis: Why Does a Jew from New York have More Rights than a Palestinian Born in Jaffa? Retrieved March 7, 2019 from:
- The original San Remo Resolutions of the League of Nations granted all of mandatory Palestine to the Jews, including what is today Jordan. But in1922, Great Britain created the Arab state of Jordan in the territory east of the Jordan River. In 1923, they granted the Golan Heights to France. The remaining area of the mandate, now defined as the national home of the Jewish people, included all of today’s state of Israel, as well as Gaza, and the West Bank, including the city of Jerusalem.
- Human Rights Watch Policy on the Right to Return: Relevant Background. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved March 7, 2019 from: