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Op-Ed: It’s not about Arab-Palestinian refugees but destroying Israel

Stephen E. Hughes dives into the Palestinian refugee argument. According to Hughes, when you examine the history of the Jewish population in Arab states throughout the 20th century, the 1948 war between newly-founded Israel and five Arab armies and the major attempts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it’s clear that the main issue is not about refugees.
Archive Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

In 1948, it is claimed there was an Israeli military operation which drove out almost one million Arabs, accusing the Jewish people in Israel of being hideously responsible for these Arab refugees and their decedents. There are some 4 million United Nations registered Arab Palestinian refugees who trace their origins to the 1948 exodus; they demand the right of return. Estimates put the worldwide Arab Palestinian population at over 8 million today. 

But is this really the case and is the state of Israel Occupied Territory? In May 1948, Israel became an independent state after Israel was recognized by the United Nations as a country in its own right within the Middle East. The Arab Palestinians refused their own state and chose war instead. Had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN resolution, not a single Arab would have become a refugee and an independent Arab Palestinian state would now exist beside Israel.

During the 1948 war, about one half million poorly armed Jewish families were attacked by the combined weight of 5 modern Arab armies of that era along with the Arabs of Palestine. These were the armies of Jordan (then Trans-Jordan), Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Saudi Arabia sent a formation that fought under the Egyptian command. A British officer, Lieutenant Sir John Bagot Glubb, commanded the Trans-Jordanian Arab Legion along with 50 to 75 experienced British officers and non-commissioned officers. These forces were equipped with artillery, tanks, armored cars and etc. Further, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria had air forces. As sovereign states, they had no difficulty (as had the pre-state Jewish defense force) in securing whatever armaments they needed through regular channels from Britain and other friendly International countries.

In fact, a lot of the Arabs Palestinians who were driven out of Palestine in 1948 by the Jews had been fighting alongside the invading armies. Many of these Arabs Palestinians believed the war was far from over and in a few short weeks, the war would resume. Many wealthy Arabs fled earlier to avoid the war; others fled feared being caught in the war. Others left because they were asked and even forced to leave by other Arabs. PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas admitted: “Arab armies forced Arab Palestinians to abandon their homes" (Filastin A-Thawra, March 1976). On May 13, 2008, Al Ayyam, the second largest pro-Abbas Palestinian daily, claimed: "In 1948 the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) told Palestinians to leave their houses and villages, and return a few days later so that the ALA can fulfill its mission."

Abbas Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

When presented with the Palestinian refugee argument, I can’t help but counter with the fact that almost a million Jews, whose communities stretch back up to 3,000 years, have been 'ethnically cleansed' throughout the greater Middle East and North Africa. These refugees outnumber the Arab Palestinian refugees two to one, but their narrative is widely ignored. Unlike Arab Palestinian refugees, they fled not war, but systematic persecution. In Israel, some 50 percent of the Jewish populations are descendants of these refugees. 

The assaults on Jews and their property in Arab countries escalated in the 1920s. The slaughter of Jewish lives and property losses grew worse in the 1930-1945 eras partly because of the added factor of Nazi propaganda and the Nazi and Vichy occupation of North Africa. During this period, there was a small but steady increase in the number of Jews from Arab countries migrating to Palestine.

It was the extreme Arab violence and discriminatory government measures in reaction to the 1948, 1956, and 1967 wars that lead to the huge exodus of Jews. Throughout the region, there were anti-Jewish riots involving harassment and killings reminiscent of East European pogroms. There was confiscation of property (several billion dollars worth by today's standards). Added to this was the independence of North African countries from France, which removed the French protection.

Moreover, since 1947, the Arab Palestinians refused the creation of a state. They rejected the offer of a state at Camp David in 2000. Arab Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2001; Clinton Parameters, which were similar to the later Olmert Plan, though not quite as extensive. Despite the enormous concessions the plan required of Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Barak accepted President Clinton's proposal while Arafat refused, returned home and launched a new terror campaign against Israeli civilians (the Second Intifada).

The grand bargain of 2008, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented one of the most far-reaching unbelievable concessions to Arab Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert "accepted the principle" of the "right of return" of Arab Palestinian refugees. Olmert's grand concessions were something no previous Israeli prime minister had done and even offered to resettle thousands of Arab Palestinians in Israel. In all, Olmert's plan would have annexed the major Israeli settlements to Israel and in return given equivalent Israeli territory to the Palestinians and would have even divided Jerusalem. East Jerusalem would have been their capital. Olmert had shown him a map proposing an Arab Palestinian state on 97% of Judea and Samaria (West Bank). Olmert's peace offer was more generous to the Arab Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it's almost impossible to imagine even Obama, or any Israeli government, going further. Three rejections in eight years.

In 2005, the Arab Palestinians were given all of the Gaza Strip as a mini-state. They used it for one thing only waging war on Israel. Thousands of rockets, terrorist attacks to suicide bombers pounded Israel. This Gaza Arab Palestinian war is still waged to this day. 

It is time to wake up to the simple fact: it is not about refugees, land or peace it is about one thing only and one thing only destroying the State of Israel. 

JOL Blogger | Stephen Hughes

Stephen E Hughes spent 13 years with the U.S. Army. Half of Hughes’ time in the military was spent overseas. Hughes is currently the Association of Geo-Strategic Analysis CEO and the author of several books concerning Iran and the Middle East.

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