A slanted view of Middle East history (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By JAY BUSHINSKY 05/18/12)
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It was inconceivable that Tel Aviv University, part of whose budget
is covered by the State of Israel, would permit the observance
of “Nakba Day” – “The Day of the Catastrophe” – on campus.
It was unbelievable that Arab students who are Israeli citizens would
be joined by Jewish students to commemorate the suffering endured by
Palestine’s Arabs due to Israel’s emergence as an independent Jewish
state 64 years ago.
This abortive event, which initially was unopposed by the
university’s administration, surely has no counterpart in the United
States, which, like Israel, also is a democratic country. Students in
none of the American South’s colleges and universities mourn the
defeat of the Confederacy that violated the US Constitution by
seceding from the federal union and forming a separate government 151
years ago. Similarly, latter-day monarchists in France, if there
still are any, do not stage memorial ceremonies for members of the
royalty and aristocracy who were guillotined during the French
Revolution of 1789.
Fortunately, when Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar learned that plans
were afoot for Nakba Day to be observed at TAU, he forbade it. An
attempt to stage it just outside the university’s fence resulted in a
fiasco in which demonstrators in favor were loudly jeered by
But Nakba Day was marked elsewhere in the country by the closure of
Arab-owned shops and other enterprises. That did not add any luster
to Israel’s democratic character. At most, it reflected official
passivity or indifference toward the refusal of diehard elements
within the Arab minority to resign themselves to the reality that
resulted from Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948.
(It is no accident that this inherently anti-Israel event takes place
every May 15; That is the date when Great Britain terminated its
League of Nations mandate over Palestine.)
The commercial stoppage is an act of solidarity that coincides with
those in the Arab World who observe Nakba Day by staging large
demonstrations in which Israel is condemned for the alleged expulsion
of most of Palestine’s Arab population. It also bemoans Israel’s
alleged “ethnic cleansing” that is blamed for the physical
disappearance of hundreds of Arab villages.
The number of refugees, most of whom are subsidized by the UN Relief
and Works Administration (UNRWA) with which they are registered and
which keeps the demographic count, has been increasing annually.
Today, it exceeds four million.
This does not make any demographic sense. Although no official or
reliable census of Palestine’s population was taken prior to 1948,
the consensus was that there were just over one million Arabs here
when the country was partitioned to form two states, one Jewish and
one Arab. More than 100,000 Arabs stayed put when Israel was
established and nearly 200,000 returned during the state’s first two
or three years as a result of various reunification of families
programs. Those figures mean that 700,000 became refugees.
And indeed, 700,000 is a plausible estimate of the number of Arabs
who were uprooted.
On the other hand, it does not take into consideration the fact that
at least half that number relocated in the West Bank and that they
and their descendants have been living there ever since.
These calculations and interpretations are not meant to disregard or
ignore the suffering endured by the Arabs who fled. However, the
unfortunate fact is that in modern wars large numbers of people flee
their homes for fear that they may be harmed if their side loses. It
should be noted that Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II was
followed by the USSR’s takeover of East Prussia, the transfer of
Upper and Lower Silesia to Poland and the establishment of the Soviet-
dominated East German republic – events that turned 19 million
Germans into refugees. Unlike the case of the Palestinian Arabs,
however, there have been no demands by these Germans that they be
The partition of the Indian subcontinent into two states – India and
Pakistan – spawned more than 15 million refugees, which is twice as
many as the number of Palestinian Arab refugees cited (inaccurately)
by some elements of the news media today and more than 15 times the
plausible estimate that fewer than a million fled Palestine in 1948.
Nor can one overlook the fact that the Palestinian Arab refugee
problem was a direct result of the Arab states’ joint attack on the
fledgling Jewish state and of their subsequent refusal to negotiate
any kind of compromise with Palestine’s Jews before their attempted
invasion failed to achieve its goal, i.e. the destruction of Israel.
Had they been willing to make peace, a mutually acceptable solution
to the Palestinian refugee problem might have been an instant by-
This recalls a profound statement made to me by a late Palestinian
He was a distinguished journalist whose articles appeared in the
Arabic press, and also served as a foreign correspondent.
In 1948, his family fled from its village in what was to become
“We simply had very bad political leadership,” he said, undoubtedly
referring to the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who
not only opposed Jewish immigration to British-ruled Palestine
despite the Jews’ need for a haven from Nazi persecution, but also
spent part of WWII in Berlin as an honored guest of Adolf Hitler.
Contemporary Israeli Jews looking for a bright light at the end of
this historical tunnel may find it in the planned establishment of a
new Israeli-Arab political party that advocates greater integration
into Israel’s society, economy and culture and basically is pro-
rather than anti-Israel. That undoubtedly is the way to go and the
extent to which this idea may be implemented may serve as a source of
hope for better intercommunal relations.
The writer is a veteran foreign correspondent. (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 05/18/12)
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