Tuesday this week saw Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s Chief Rabbi,...
Who were the refugees in 1948?
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Then there was the Gulf War. Operation Desert Storm was a war fought between the oil-hungry West and a fanatical dictator called Saddam Hussein who'd just invaded the nursery and pinched a few toys. Put it this way; if Kuwait produced fruit and not oil, no-one would have given a fig. When political and economic interests are concerned, moral issues can go out of the window! Britain and other western nations had been profitably arming Iraq since the Iraq/Iran conflict. All of a sudden the Iranians, who had recently been excommunicated, were now our friends along with the Syrians. Let's forget the Salman Rushdie fatwa, we're all friends now, at least until we get our toys back! If you think that's crazy and mixed up, spare a thought for King Hussein of Jordan at this time, on the one hand English educated and a friend of the British Royal Family, but on the other suddenly now Saddam's biggest (and only) chum!
So where does Israel fit into all this? While the might of the coalition forces was destroying Iraq's infrastructure and playing war games with computers and thinking missiles, Iraq was lobbing over 40 or so Scud missiles at the Zionist Entity, hoping to lure Israel into the conflict. A miracle of this indiscriminate and unprovoked attack was that only 2 people died as a direct result of the missiles, although others died of heart attacks brought on by stress. One interesting statistic that came out of this was that, during this time, less Israelis died than they would have done if life had been normal - less road accidents for example.
After forty days (a 'biblical' number if there ever was one) of missile attacks on Israeli cities the war came to an end. And the biggest miracle of it all was that of all the days that the war could have ended, it had to end just before the most poignant day of all - Purim. Purim is the day of Jewish deliverance. A festival day of national rejoicing now had a special ring to it. The evil Haman, who (as we read in an earlier chapter) tried to annihilate the Jews at the time of Queen Esther, now became the evil Saddam, who tried to knock out the Jews with the Scud missiles. Saddam joined the long line of 'Hamans', symbols of anti-Semitic hate and a natural successor to Hitler, the previous 'Haman of this age'.
The intervening years from the Gulf war until today have repeated more of the same. Israel with her back to the wall has become increasingly isolated, while Arab nations still plot her downfall and the Western powers formulate whatever selfish strategy they can to keep the oil pumping. Intifada, suicide bombing, propaganda - all these have been thrown at Israel, with increasing ferocity. Modern times have become the most nerve-racking days in Israel's brief history, with each day adding a new twist. There must be barely a moment when an Israeli, whether under siege in a settlement, in the comparative safety of Tel Aviv, or in the uncertain streets of Jerusalem, doesn’t wonder 'What's going on, what's it all about?' To find an answer they must look upwards and inwards towards the God who, for the most part, they have deserted but Who will never, according to His promises, desert them, the ‘apple of His eye’.
When we think about all that has gone on so recently, it is difficult not to get sucked into a fiery cauldron of emotion and political spin. Humanly speaking, it is hard to imagine a workable solution that would bring true peace to the region.
Let us review some of the personal implications of this recent history.
In a nutshell, what happened was that the day after Israel became a country, it was invaded by Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Within a matter of weeks, against all odds, Israel was victorious, resulting in an expansion of territory and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Arabs who had been living in Palestine.
As a result of these events not one but two refugee situations were created.
Just under 750,000 Arabs (U.N. estimate) lost their homes. These became the Palestinian refugees. They lost their homes for two main reasons. Some were driven out by the Jewish (Israeli) army and others fled after being told to do so by Arab army commanders, who were expecting an eventual victory (i.e. when the Jews would be driven out of the land), at which time people could return to their homes. Apart from extremists on either side, people generally accept these as the main reasons, though the proportions (i.e. what percentage were driven out or told to leave) would vary wildly, depending on your viewpoint.
The United Nations were strangely silent at the time, viewing the moving of populations and the creation of refugees as an unavoidable consequence of war. But they did have something to say about the Arab attitude, suggesting that they brought the whole thing on themselves. In a report of the United Nations Palestine Commission just before hostilities they stated, ‘Arab elements, both inside and outside of Palestine, have exerted organized, intensive effort toward defeating the purposes of the resolution of the General Assembly. To this end, threats, acts of violence and infiltration of organized, armed, uniformed Arab bands into Palestinian territory have been employed … The organized efforts of Arab elements to prevent the partition of Palestine; the determined efforts by Jews to ensure the establishment of the Jewish State as envisaged by the resolution; and the fact that the Mandatory Power, engaged in the liquidation of its administration and the evacuation of its troops, has found it impossible fully to contain the conflict, have led to virtual civil war in Palestine’. If the Arabs had accepted the United Nations resolution then, arguably, there would have been no refugee crisis.
The Palestinian website, http://muslimwiki.com/mw/index.php/Palestine concedes that ‘about half probably left out of fear and panic …’, which is a grudging concession to the Jewish view. The quote continues ‘… while the rest were forced out to make room for Jewish immigrants from Europe and from the Arab world’.
This leads us to examine the second refugee situation, the lesser known and the largest one. This will be covered next week …