January 19, 2020

Voices from the Nakba, the propaganda tour

“Voices from the Nakba” reads the advertisement for a presentation at Rossmoor, a retirement community in Walnut Creek, California.

The “voices” are those of three generations of Palestinian refugees – a grandmother, her granddaughter, and great-granddaughter. Three generations living in refugee camps as stateless people in Lebanon. At first blush, the poster evokes both sympathy and outrage.

How is it possible? Throughout the history of humanity refugees have never existed in limbo for more than a few years, affecting only a single generation. Yet, Palestinians are living in refugee camps for four generations. And Lebanon, which shares with them a common language, culture and, in part, religion, refuses to integrate them into the larger society.

Wars, ethnic hatreds, whimsical changes in political and economic policies have created millions of refugees. I could try and bring in voices from the 850,000 Jewish refugees who inhabited the Middle East for thousands of years before there was a single Muslim warrior galloping out of the Arabian Peninsula and who, in the 20th century, were thrown out of their homes in the passing of a single historical night. I cannot.

I cannot because Israel took in all who wanted to come. They came with the clothes on their back. Their wealth and property were confiscated by the Arab and Muslim regimes that expelled them.

Israel took them in and set up tents for them. There was not enough food in the country for everyone to have three meals a day. Israel took them in anyway. There was neither outrage nor sympathy from the international community. There certainly was no aid. Not like the aid the Palestinians are provided through UNWRA, an organization devoted exclusively to the welfare of the Palestinians.

Do you think these voices from the Nakba will tell their audience that they get $30,000 a year in aid as refugees, but that aid ceases if they leave the refugee camp?

The Jews got nothing. They lived in tents. Israelis shared their food with the refugees. In three years, not one tent was standing. Every Jewish refugee was absorbed into Israel’s fledgling economy. A state still in neonatal care transformed refugees into productive citizens. Most Israelis are not descendants of Europeans but of the Arab-speaking Jews, the Mizrachim, who were forced out of their homes and made refugees by the same Arabs and Muslims that now promise to exterminate them.

I cannot bring three generations of Jewish refugees to Rossmoor because they do not exist. It would be a national disgrace, an insurmountable shame, for Israel to have consigned 850,000 Jews to refugee status for four generations and not transform them into citizens. Indeed, millions of people were displaced after the redrawing of Europe’s borders in the aftermath of World War II. Can you find any of them or their descendants claiming refugee status?

Will the voices of the Nakba speak of the Jewish villages and towns that were leveled and whose people were exterminated by the British-trained Arab Legion during the 1948 war? Will they echo the refrains of the Arab generals who promised to throw the Jews into the sea or of Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hitler’s personal guest in Berlin, who promised to finish in Mandate Palestine what Hitler started?

I imagine none of this will be voiced. Instead there will be the heart-wrenching stories of their status as refugees of war in 1948 where all the victims and all the injustice were on one side of the conflict. And all the peace and justice types that attend such pitiful displays of propaganda will be reinforced in their hatreds.

Even now, as ISIS creates a sea of blood and refugees across the Middle East, the wealthy oil nations have closed their doors to their fellow Arabs, not wanting their social equilibrium disturbed. It is Israel that has built field hospitals in Jordan that are ministering to these refugees. It is often Israeli medical personnel that are the first to receive Arab refugees washing up on the shores of the Greek Isles. And it is Israel that is treating the wounded of the Arab civil wars in its hospitals.

Let us not forget that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas take in Palestinian refugees from Syria and resettle them on the West Bank. What was Abbas’ response? He refused, for in his eyes it was better for them to die in Syria than to give up their claim to return. And that is why the refugee problem will persist into yet another generation.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Haym Salomon Center, a news and public policy nonprofit. @salomoncenter