Amir Hetsroni

The Bosnian Tragedy – The Forgotten Part of the Nakba

Bosnian architecture in Caesarea. Photo by: Amir Hetsroni

When we think of war crimes against Bosniaks the first connotation is Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslims were killed in 1995 by Christian Serbian neighbors. The dissolution of Yugoslavia did not pass without a civil war (actually a series of wars) wherein the first genocide on European soil since World War II took place. However, Bosniaks were also victims of war crime in 1948, again in the framework of a civil war fuelled by religious hatred ethnic differences, but in a different continent with entirely different proprietors.

The old port of Caesarea, a tourist trap offering plentiful of world cuisine dishes in an attempt to cater to almost any taste without pretending to have a signature style, looks like the last place to host a Slavic seaside village – but it was Bosnian until 1948.  Despite the current messy architecture, combining everything from Roman to Arab, it is still not difficult to notice the ruler-straight line of houses with shingled roofs that seem stolen from Europe.

Indeed, Caesarea was predominantly European between the 1880s and 1948. The Bosniaks came after Austria took over their homeland from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. As Muslims, they were frontline suspects in collaborating with the previous Islamic regime. Thus, nearly a quarter of a million of Bosniaks moved to Turkey to feel safer. Dozens of families ended up in Palestine (by then – a Turkish territory) and settled in Caesarea and in Yanun near Nablus. The small Bosnian settlement in Yanun exists to this day, but suffers tremendously from hostile Jewish settlers who attempt to take possession of their land. The Caesarea village ceded to exist in February 1948, when Israeli Haganah units expelled the last 20 denizens to the west Bank.

The expulsion was precedential because Bosniaks had nothing to do with the on-going war between Jews and Palestinians. Knowing how numbered they were, the Muslim southern Slavs were keen on maintaining a neutral stance, believing that this would enable them to stay. They were wrong. Furthermore, as the war progressed and Israel’s victory became clearer, the same kind of expulsion happened in many Arab villages as well as in Bir’im (predominantly Maronite) and Iqrit where most of the population was Melkite, even though none of these villages took active part in the war.

Israel allowed “exotic minorities” to remain on their land only in one condition: unequivocal cooperation with the conqueror and willingness to serve in the armed forces and fight against Arab neighbors. Druze and Circassian villages who met this condition were not destroyed.

Obviously, the problem is with the condition, which by modern-day standards would be easily classified as a war crime threat. Civilian minorities cannot be depopulated only because ethnically they are alien and politically they do not align with the conqueror.

Zionists tend to apologetically justify the Nakba with the argument that it was not an intentional move in order to make Israel an Arab-free land but a consequence of bloody conflict between Jews and Arabs. The sad fate of Bosniaks, Maronites and Melkites indicate that ethnic cleaning was actually a norm in 1948.

Ironically (or not?) while Israelis rush to demand European citizenship and reclaim former Jewish property in the Diaspora – we do not even consider showing some sort of gesture toward the Bosniaks of Caesarea whom we turned into refugees and confiscated their property.  At least, we should not be shocked if some of their decedents Ahed Tamimi for instance, are not particularly fond of us.

About the Author
Amir Hetsroni was a faculty member at Ariel University in the West Bank. He is emigrating from Israel in order to miss the next war, earn higher wages, enjoy cooler summers, and obtain a living package that is cost-effective. He has three passports and does not feel particularly worried about anti-Semitism.
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