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One of the most powerful images I've seen on the nightly news is a parade of Arabs in the 'West Bank,' with a gigantic key held in front of the procession. The meaning of this picture is obvious - Palestinian refugees forced out by the Jews 50 years ago, holding up a symbolic key representing the keys each and every Palestinian still hold to their former homes. Either that, or their former homes contained huge doors with gigantic locks. When the pope visited Israel in March of 2000, his visit to Bethlehem included a crowd of Arabs holding up keys to their old homes, something they still possessed after 50 years.
These and other such images are well-ingrained in the minds of the international community - especially since anti-Semitism dominates the international media and the peoples of western Europe and the Middle East.
The popular perception of Israeli history is one of the evil Jews coming from Europe, especially refugees from the Holocaust, settling in Palestine and ending up taking land away from the Palestinians. It's an image that's a culmination of centuries of these types of images as depicted by such literary characters as Shylock, Svengali, and Fagan. Most everybody in the world considers the Arabs of Israel/Palestine to be indigenous to the region because they look indigenous to the region.
Ironically, the Zionist movement helped to spread this type of perception: Jews coming to an empty land after a 2000 year absence, fighting the indigenous Arab marauders, and making the desert bloom.
Now let's take a look at the facts. There has never been a 2000 year absence. Jews have lived in Israel/Palestine for 4000 years and those Jewish families who have constantly lived in the country since Biblical times, the mustarabim, are the indigenous Palestinians.
The first Arabs came to the country in the 7th century in the wake of their conquering armies after the death of Mohammed. They've been immigrating, and emigrating, ever since, bringing with them their civil wars (in which Jews were severely persecuted by both sides) and their screwed-up environmental concepts that turned forest into desert. Other groups of peoples also immigrated to Israel/Palestine during this time, especially the Druze. (Today, if you call a Druze an Arab, you've just insulted him. This was told to me by a Druze.) Perhaps the earliest Zionist pioneers did have to fight Arab marauders and make the desert bloom, but they did not come to an empty land. Maybe it was sparsely populated, but it was not empty of Jews.
Subsequent decades of Zionist history have been characterized by trying to make peace with the Arabs, and totally ignoring the indigenous Jewish community, as if they didn't exist. White America may have killed off the native peoples of America, but at least they acknowledged that they were there. The treatment of the Palestinian Jews by the Zionist immigrants reflected their treatment by the Zionist movement during the troubled years of the British mandate between 1917 and 1948. There were 4 periods between WWI and 1949 that Palestinian conflicts resulted in a refugee situation:
1920/1. The first Palestinian refugees were Jews. In the aftermath of WWI, British rule in Palestine supplanted 400 years of Turkish rule and a British administration was installed, headed by Ronald Storrs, governor of Jerusalem, and the Chief-of-Staff Richard Waters-Taylor. A week before Easter, Waters-Taylor, with the blessing of Storrs, had made a secret agreement with local Arab nationalist leaders to conduct bloody riots against the Jews of Palestine to show the world just how unpopular Zionism was. (See Benjamin Netanyahu's A Durable Peace under the chapter "Betrayal.") During the Arab pilgrimage to the site of Nebi Musa, believed by Muslims to be the burial place of Moses, the Arab masses were whipped into a frenzy and began to riot. This spread throughout the whole of the country beginning in Jerusalem. Their excuse to the world at large was that they were acting out their 'legitimate' grievances against the massive Jewish immigration into the country, fostered by the 'lax' British policy.
What they conveniently ignored was the massive Arab immigration into the country brought on by the economic opportunities introduced by the Jews. In fact, in the 30's, President Roosevelt was reported to have commented that Arab immigration to Palestine far exceeded that of Jewish immigration (See A Durable Peace.) In any case, these riots were tame when compared to later riots. Seven Jews were killed, 200 wounded and women were raped. There were partial expulsions from various areas, such as from east Jerusalem, Jaffa, Gaza, and the tiny Jewish community of Khan Yunis, which consisted of just a few families. A total expulsion occurred from Lod. Many just left fearing more of the same, which indeed happened. In east Jerusalem, the remaining Jews were faced with massacre, but a defense force, organized immediately after WWI by Vladimir Jabotinsky, a WWI hero of Jewish Palestine, prevented this from happening. This organization was later to become the Haganah. As a result, Jabotinsky was arrested by the British and given a 15 year prison sentence. He was pardoned the next year due to international pressure.
The parliament in London was outraged at events in Palestine and quickly set about to dismiss both Storrs and Waters-Taylor. They created the office of High Commissioner, the first of which being Sir Herbert Samuel, a Jew. But the anti-Semitic administration still remained in the country. Samuel was a rather weak politician and the administration was successful in prevailing upon him to appoint Haj Amin al Husseini, the notorious Arab nationalist, as Grand Mufti of Arab Palestine, to appease the 'legitimate' Arab grievances. He later became a strong nazi ally.
The next year, Husseini orchestrated, with the full backing of the British authorities, a renewal of the most recent riots which resulted in the deaths of, perhaps, as many as 47 Jews. Of these, at least 13 were massacred at an immigrant hostel in Jaffa. The mob was actively aided by the Arab members of the local police. Consequently, more Jews were expelled from Jaffa and Samuel acquiesced to Arab demands and suspended Jewish immigration to the country while allowing Arab immigration to continue unabated. Partial expulsions occurred in Ramle, Beersheba, and Shiloah, the site of the original City of David and burial place of Rabbi Ovadiah Bertinoro, the late 15th century Chief Rabbi of Palestine. The tiny settlements of Kfar Saba and Kfar Malal (birthplace of Ariel Sharon), were totally destroyed and their residents driven out. Both were rebuilt the following year, but other communities were not so lucky. These refugees were either immigrants, or were families that have lived in their homes for generations. To anyone who could see, it was clear - it didn't matter whether Jews were immigrants or not. The Arabs and British wished to clear Palestine of Jews, period. It is a policy that continues to this day.
In 1922, in a continuing policy of appeasing the Arabs, 75% of Palestine was taken away from the Jews and the Emirate of Transjordan was created, later to become Jordan. First the British, then the Arabs banned the entry of Jews from the area - a policy that continued until very recently. This put those communities of Arabs in Transjordan and even the Judean desert who were of Jewish ancestry in an awkward position. In 1948, these Arabs had always had good relations with their Jewish neighbors, but after 1948, most found themselves living on what became known as the 'West Bank' (and Jordan). They were often threatened with death by the other Arabs so that today, they would emphatically deny any Jewish connection.
1929. The pretext for the newest wave of riots, and subsequent expulsions, was the right of Jews to pray at the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Temple of Solomon. These riots, which began in August on the holiday of Tisha B Av, commemorating the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, were even bloodier than the previous ones as Jewish women were raped, pregnant women were disemboweled, men were sometimes hacked to death and not even children were spared. This became an Arab trait to this day. When it was all over, approximately 130 Jews had been killed.
By this time, the Haganah was stronger and able to contain the rioters. But they weren't totally successful. In Hebron, 67 Jews were massacred, including 8 Americans, in the brutal way previously described, and the rest were driven out. Similar events occurred in Motza as was witnessed by a young Mordechai Makleff (later, Chief-of-Staff of the Israel Defense Forces) who saw his parents murdered. Eighteen were massacred in Safed, resulting in a partial exile of the community. Partial expulsions also took place in other places, most notably in Jerusalem and Pekiin - a mustarabi community and the last of the Jews were driven out of Shiloah, Gaza, Kfar Uriyah, Ein Zeitim, Bet Shemesh/Har Tuv and Beer Tuviyah. Some of these communities were reestablished the following year and Motza in 1933.
During this time, the area of northern Samaria became known as the 'Triangle' consisting of the 3 apex cities of Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm. It became a hotbed of Arab fanaticism and no Jew would dare enter this area. The Jewish community of Nablus, driven out in 1904 due to centuries of persecutions, oppression, and high taxes imposed only on Jews and Samaritans, had long made repeated attempts to renew itself. And some were, in fact, successful in settling there. But an organized community was repeatedly blocked by the Arabs and the few Jews who lived there were finally driven out during the riots of 1929. Only the Samaritans remained, however precariously. The ancient Jewish pilgrimages to the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, and the Biblical tombs in Awarta and Kfar Haris nearby, became dangerous and ceased. (Today, Jews are banned from entering Nablus except with army permission. The Samaritan community still remains.) During the riots, Jews were banned from Kfar Yasif which lies to the east of Acre and Haifa and the ancient pilgrimages to the Tomb of Samuel to the north of Jerusalem and the Tomb of Rachel to the south became extremely dangerous. Jabotinsky was exiled by the British authorities, at the instigation of the Arabs.
1936-1939. This was the last of the major Arab riots and expulsions before the War of Independence in 1947-1949. In the first month of the riots, 21 Jews were killed, rising to 80 in the first year. It would eventually result in the deaths of approximately 500 Jews. The Arabs blamed the British authorities with fostering Jewish immigration resulting in bloody attacks against the British as well. This situation resulted in a brief period of Jewish/British military cooperation. From the British point of view, they were cooperating with the Jews while fighting Arab terror on the one hand, and trying to prevent Jewish immigrants from arriving while 'appeasing Arab grievances' on the other. From the Jewish point of view, they just wanted to live.
During this period the last of the Jews were expelled from Ramle, Beersheba, Acre, Ein Zeitim, Hebron (except for 1 family who was driven out in 1948), Pekiin, and Bet She'an which became a base for Arabs to attack the neighboring Jewish communities. Partial expulsions occurred in a number of places and Jews were again banned from entering Kfar Yasif after a brief respite. At the end of the year, the bloodbath ceased when the Arabs responded to British pleas to stop the violence. It was renewed, however, early the next year with a vengeance. In Tiberias, 19 Jews were massacred and many Jewish families fled their homes rather than await the same fate. Armed gangs took control over the Old City of Jerusalem which was relieved only with British reconquest.
1947-1949. In November, 1947, the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The Arabs rejected the decision and embarked on a campaign of slaughter in order to turn Palestine into an exclusively Arab state. Between this time and Israeli independence on May 14, 1948, many hundreds of Jews were massacred by Arab gangs. After independence, 5 Arabs armies invaded, threatening an extermination that would have made the nazis proud - and indeed, several of their military leaders and organizations were either nazi or British trained and led: Fawzi al Kaukji, Haj Amin al Husseini, the Arab Legion of Jordan. During the war all communities in and around east Jerusalem were massacred, destroyed, and expelled. The students at the agricultural school in Ben Shemen near Tel Aviv were driven out and partial or total expulsions occurred in places far away from Jerusalem.
In addition, Israel had to deal with a new phenomenon - the massive expulsion of Jews from the neighboring Arab countries, many times more than the Palestinian Jewish refugees, and eventually numbering between 6-800,000. Some estimates go as high as 900,000. Israel survived the war, with approx. 6000 dead, 1% of the Jewish population at the time. Jordan took the chunk of Palestine known today as the 'West Bank' including east Jerusalem, and Egypt took the area now known as the Gaza Strip, which included Gaza and Khan Yunis.
According to JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), 'refugee' is a state of mind. If you believe you're homeless and stateless victims, you'll soon act like homeless and stateless victims. While the neighboring Arab countries refuse to care for their Palestinian Arab brothers, all Jews have been successfully resettled by other Jews, mostly in Israel (ideally anyway), but also by other Jewish communities in other countries.
Since the war and until the Six-Day War in 1967, all Jews were banned from the West Bank and Gaza Strip - areas where Jews had lived since Biblical times. This applied even to those Jews who were not Israeli citizens. Those who lived in Jerusalem along the cease-fire line were constantly subject to Arab snipers coming from the other side. Those who could fled the terror. These were part of the post-1948 refugees.
After the 1967 war, these areas returned to Israel/Palestine. It was soon revealed that the ancient Jewish neighborhoods in Gaza, Hebron and east Jerusalem were totally gutted and the ancient synagogues were used as garbage dumps. (This is the situation in Gaza even today.) The ancient Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem was destroyed, its tombstones were used either for road-building or for making latrines. Much has been rebuilt since then, but today, the descendants of the Gaza or Khan Yunis or Nablus or Hebron refugees can never return to their ancestral homes in Gaza or Khan Yunis or Nablus or Hebron except by government permission (if such is granted).
This report is not detailed by any means, but it gives an approximate picture of what really happened. This is not unique to Israel. The indigenous peoples throughout the Arab world have suffered similar fates: the Copts of Egypt, the Berbers of North Africa, the Nubians of the Sudan, the Syrian Orthodox of Syria, etc. All these peoples are suffering, at present, in their respective homelands, because of Arab colonization and oppression, massacres and expulsions. To date, only the Jews have been successful in regaining their ancestral homeland. So when revisionist historians whine and bitch that ben Gurion expelled the Arabs from Ramle, remind them that Jews were expelled from Ramle the previous decade.
David Silon is a free-lance writer living in Los Angeles.
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