Middle East's Other Refugees

(National Post-Canada) Editorial - Unlike the Armenians, the Sudetenland Germans, or South Asia's mid-century migrants, the Arabs believe they can turn back history. When Israel bested five invading Arab armies and established its independence in 1948, the Arabs' collective psyche sustained an existential wound from which it has never really recovered. To this day, a majority of Arabs cling to the comforting delusion that Israel might somehow be destroyed through force of arms, terrorism, or demographic pressures - and that history can be set "right," with Muslims on top, Jews on the bottom. Nowhere else in the world will you find an entire civilization living in collective denial. For ordinary Palestinians, this mindset has produced disaster. Throughout history, refugees have been settled by their allies and kinfolk in neighboring lands. But for Arab leaders to allow Palestinians to settle in neighboring countries would be to admit that the wars of 1948 and 1967 really ended as they did. Thus, Arab leaders pushed Palestinians into squalid, "temporary" camps to provide the world with a pathetic, swarming testament to - as they see it - the barbarity of "the Zionist entity." Meanwhile, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from 800,000 to 3.5 million. There is another refugee population that emerged around the same time as the Palestinians: the Jews who were forced out of Arab nations around the time of Israel's birth. In 1948, about 900,000 of these Mizrahim [Sephardim] lived throughout the Arab world. Today, fewer than 20,000 remain. While the details varied from country to country, the general pattern was one of state-fomented violence followed by Mizrahim flight or expulsion. As a group, these people were refugees no less than their Palestinian counterparts. Unlike Arab states, Israel did not dump its displaced co-religionists into wretched tent cities for 50 years so it could exhibit them to the rest of the world as a sympathy prop. Rather, Israel did what any enlightened society would do: It worked to integrate these people into its society. Many Mizrahim Jews still bemoan the land and riches that were stolen from them three generations ago, but it is not an obsession that precludes them from building new lives.

2003-01-21 00:00:00

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