Commentary Magazine

An Exchange of Populations

More than sixty million persons have become refugees since World War II. Of these, most have been resettled and rehabilitated in the countries to which they fled, seeking asylum. Indeed, the world community has long considered the resettlement and integration of refugees in their host countries to be a moral obligation of the highest order, and this understanding has been embodied in international law. Except after military victory, there have been no instances of the successful mass repatriation of any refugee group once it has become absorbed in its host country.

The one striking exception to the general rule is the situation of the Arab refugees in the Middle East. The Arabs who left Palestine during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-49 have to this day not been resettled or rehabilitated in the Arab countries to which they fled. On the contrary, the Arab states have refused to absorb or integrate their brethren into their respective societies; instead they have made the “restoration” of the “legitimate rights” of these refugees—namely, their repatriation to Jewish Palestine in a position of sovereignty they never previously enjoyed—the central demand in their confrontation with Israel: the “heart of the matter.” This demand runs counter to all historical precedent and the universal present-day practice of mankind, yet it seems to have the approval and endorsement of a majority of the world community.

That this should be so is a tribute primarily to the success of Arab propaganda in persuading the world that in the Middle East the cause of justice lies on one side and one side only. That, however, is a serious distortion of truth, with respect to the “refugee problem” no less than with respect to the general situation. With respect to the refugee problem, the truth is that an exchange of populations has taken place between Israel and the Arab countries. Far from being a case simply of Palestinian Arabs fleeing from Jews, what occurred in the Middle East in the late 1940’s was a flight of refugees in both directions almost simultaneously. For every Arab refugee—adult or child—now competing for the sympathy of the world from Syria, Lebanon, or Jordan, there is a Jewish refugee now living in Israel who fled or was expelled from the Arab land of his birth where he and his ancestors had lived for two thousand years. Indeed, so symmetrical is the historical record that the actual numbers on each side are almost exactly the same—about 700,000 Palestinian Arabs versus about 700,000 Jews from Arab lands. And so far as property goes, the tradeoff leans, if anything, to the benefit of the Arabs, who confiscated Jewish-held assets in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere. The difference is that where the Israeli government, from the beginning, took it upon itself to attempt to integrate its refugees into society, the Arab states, successfully flouting precedent and disregarding the claims of conscience, have kept their fellow-Arab refugees in a condition of unremitting squalor and poverty.




“Before the Jewish state was established there existed nothing to harm good relations between Arabs and Jews.” Thus, to Henry Kissinger, spoke the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, a country which Jews are not even allowed to enter. The king was repeating a cliché which has attained something of the status of a myth: that, unlike the history of the Jews under Christendom, the history of the Jews under Islam was one of tranquility, equality, and friendship—until the advent of Zionism. Yet the assertion of Muslim tolerance is only a myth; one would have to search far indeed in doctrine and in historical practice to find substantial evidence of it as a reality. The fact that during certain short-lived periods Jews under Arab domination did achieve a greater degree of security than Jews often experienced in Christian lands should not be allowed to obscure the essential record, which is one of political subjugation, social humiliation, and officially decreed religious inferiority.

This inferiority is prescribed in the Koran itself, and is elaborated upon in the hadith, the traditional sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad. Wherever Jews have lived under Islam, their condition has been determined by the legal ordinances of the Koran, which forbids followers of Muhammad from dealings with Jews, promises their eventual downfall and ignominy “because they disbelieve the revelations of Allah and slew the prophets wrongly,” and in general denounces them as the enemies of the faith. It was to such Koranic imprecations that President Sadat of Egypt referred in 1972 when he said of Jerusalem: “We shall take it out of the hands of those of whom the Koran said, ‘It is written that they shall be demeaned and made wretched.’ . . . We shall celebrate the defeat of Israeli arrogance so that they shall return and be as the Koran said of them, a people ‘condemned to humiliation and misery.’”

The 7th-century Covenant of Omar delineates the twelve laws under which a dhimmi, or non-Muslim, was allowed to exist as a non-believer among believers. The charter codified the conditions of life for Jews (and Christians) under Islam—a life which became forfeit if the law was broken. According to the Covenant, Jews were compelled to wear a distinctive (sometimes dark-blue or black) habit with sash, and a yellow piece of cloth as badge; they were not allowed to perform their religious practices in public, or to own a horse; they were forbidden to drink wine in public; and they were required to bury their dead without letting their grief be heard by the Muslims. Islam’s religious law decreed the lightest of penalties for a Muslim who murdered a non-Muslim; the testimony of a Jew (or Christian) against a Muslim was held invalid. As payment for being allowed so to live, the dhimmi paid a special head-tax and a special property tax.

These and other harsh restrictions of the Covenant were carried down through the centuries, implemented with varying degrees of cruelty or flexibility depending upon the character of a particular Muslim ruler. The extra head-tax, for example, was enforced in some form until 1909 in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey, until 1925 in Iran, and in Yemen until the present day. Throughout the centuries, the Jews were the first to suffer in times of economic turmoil or political upheaval, and were also the victims of sporadic mass murders.

In the 20th century, with the departure of the European colonial powers from the Middle East, the old Muslim attitude toward Jews—superior, condescending, possessive—came to be replaced by one of open hatred. Nazi anti-Semitism found a receptive home here in the 1930’s and 1940’s. As early as 1940 the Mufti of Jerusalem requested the Axis powers to acknowledge the Arab right “to settle the question of Jewish elements in Palestine and other Arab countries in accordance with the national and racial interests of the Arabs and along lines similar to those used to solve the Jewish question in Germany and Italy.” Hitler’s crimes against the Jews have frequently been justified in Arab writings and pronouncements. In the 1950’s Anwar Sadat, then a government minister, published an “open letter” to Hitler expressing the hope that he was still alive and would yet resume his interrupted cause.

The anti-Semitic literature (including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and many official school texts) published by the Arabs since World War II has been voluminous, and is continually increasing, despite the almost total evacuation of Jews from the Arab world. The virulence of the literature aside, what is significant about it is its official origin—it is the product not of an extremist fringe but of Arab governments, including those called moderate.1 And in the meantime the image of the Jew has taken on new colorations: despised for centuries as a non-believer, portrayed in the modern Arab world as the demoniacal incarnation of evil, the Jew living in an Arab country after the rise of Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel came to be calumniated, as well, as a fifth columnist, a foreign agent, a de facto spy. This was the climate from which the Jews of Arab lands fled.




Of nearly 900,000 Jews who lived in Arab lands in 1948, only 35,420 now remain. The Arab world has been nearly emptied of its large and ancient Jewish communities.

The entire Yemenite community of Jews, almost 50,000, swarmed into Israel via “Operation Magic Carpet” in 1948. Yemenite Jewry, whose history went back 2500 years, was fleeing from what the historian S. D. Goitein has described as “the worst aspect” of Arab mistreatment of Jews. A Yemenite law had decreed that fatherless Jewish children under thirteen be taken from their mothers and raised as Muslims. Goitein writes: “To my mind, this law, which was enforced with new vigor about fifty years ago, more than anything else compelled the Jews to quit that country to which they were very much attached. . . . The result was that many families arrived in Israel with one or more of their children lost to them. . . .” The stoning of Jews was still practiced in Yemen at the time of the 1948 exodus.

From Iraq, between the years 1949 and 1952 alone, 123,371 Jews fled to Israel, leaving their assets and communal holdings behind. Iraqi Jews took pride in their distinguished community, with its history of scholarship and honor. Under the British mandate many were writers, traders, and physicians, and some had become quite wealthy through commerce and banking. All this ended when Iraq declared independence in 1932. Almost immediately afterward, increasingly violent demonstrations took place over the “Palestine problem”; many Iraqi Jews were murdered by agitated mobs, nitric acid was thrown by terrorists upon Jews in the street, and bombs were flung into synagogues. In 1941 the violence exploded into a bloody farhud—massacre—of the Jews, with the police openly participating in the attack; at least 150 were killed, hundreds more were wounded, and more than a thousand Jewish-owned houses and businesses were looted and destroyed. That same year, the Iraqi Minister of Justice proclaimed that “Judaism is a threat to mankind.” From then on Jews suffered indiscriminate torture, imprisonment without charge, and relentless persecution.

When Iraq joined the Arab war against Israel in May 1948, government terror increased; Jews were forbidden to leave the country, and many fortunes were extorted or confiscated. Zionism was made a capital crime, and Jews were publicly hanged in the center of Baghdad. (A Dutch Jew was hanged as a “Zionist” in Iraq less than a year ago.) Although no laws authorized the confiscation of Jewish property before 1950, the Jews were stripped of millions of dollars through economic discrimination, “voluntary donations” appropriated by the government, and other subterfuges. An Egyptian journal reported in 1948 that all Iraqi Jews who went to Palestine and did not return would be tried in absentia as criminals. Those who were tried in absentia were sentenced to hang or serve extended prison sentences. Perhaps because of the desperate financial condition of the Iraqi government, Jewish “emigration” was later legalized—upon confiscation of property and permanent loss of citizenship. The Jews left their accumulated holdings behind, and within the first three years of the law, most fled. As of 1975, only 400 of this ancient and distinguished community of 150,000 remained behind.

In 1948, 75,000 Jews lived in Egypt; today there are 350, the remnant of a community dating back millennia. Under Ottoman rule, Egyptian Jews had flourished; despite occasional eruptions of hostility toward them, their standard of living into the 20th century was much better than in most other Arab countries. Yet by the late 1930’s Egyptian nationalism, Arab hatred of Zionists, and Nazi propaganda combined to erupt violently against the Jews. The first major incident was the burning of synagogues, churches, and other communal buildings belonging to non-Muslims. From 1945 on, many Jews were killed or injured in organized riots. Jews suffered extensive economic losses when the Egyptians passed a law that largely excluded Jews from employment; the government confiscated much Jewish property and wrecked the economic situation of the Jews within a few months. In 1948 anti-Jewish riots were rampant. According to one account, in one seven-day period, 150 Jews were murdered or seriously wounded. With the outbreak of the 1948 war, Egyptian Jews were barred from leaving Egypt, whether to go to Israel or elsewhere. Then, early in August 1949, the ban was abruptly lifted, and much sequestered Jewish property was returned. From August until November of that year, more than 20,000 of Egypt’s 75,000 Jews fled, many to Israel. A brief period of tolerance under General Naguib was followed by the takeover of Gamal Nasser who instituted mass arrests of Jews and confiscation of their property.

After the Sinai campaign of 1956, thousands of Egyptian Jews were interned without trial while thousands more were served with deportation papers and ordered to leave within a few days; their property was confiscated, their assets frozen, and they were forced to acknowledge in writing that they were leaving voluntarily. When the Six-Day War began in 1967, many Jews were again arrested and held in camps where they were beaten and whipped, deprived of water for days on end, and forced to chant anti-Israel slogans. By 1970, these Jews too had left the country. “Egypt,” according to the officer in charge of one internment camp, “has no place for the Jews.” By 1975, Egypt was virtually Judenrein.



From North Africa more than 300,000 Jews have crowded into Israel since 1948. Almost 250,000 of these are from what is now Morocco, where Jews have lived since the destruction of the First Temple. Down through the 19th century, Jewish existence in Morocco remained insecure and tenuous. Under Islam, André Chouraqui has written, the Jews of Morocco were subjected at various times to “such repression, restriction, and humiliation as to exceed anything in [Christian] Europe” except for the Nazi Holocaust. Charles de Foucauld, a French Christian officer who in 1883-84 posed as a rabbi in an intelligence-gathering mission, was one of many to record Jewish life under Arab rule in 19th-century Morocco:

. . . Bled white without restraint, . . . they are the most unfortunate of men. . . . Every Jew belongs, body and soul, to his sid [Muslim seigneur] . . . he came in the sid‘s possession through inheritance as part of his personal belongings under the rules of Muslim law . . . or [if] he settled only recently in the place where he lived, then immediately upon arrival he had to become some Muslim’s Jew. . . . Once having rendered homage, he was bound forever, he and his descendants. . . . Nothing in the world protected the Jew against his sid: he was entirely at his mercy.

By contrast, in those regions of Morocco which were under Turkish rule the Jewish condition was less desperate, and some Jews even achieved a measure of affluence.

French rule came to Morocco in 1912 and brought welcome relief for the Jews, despite a pogrom in Fez that killed sixty Jews and left 10,000 homeless, and despite the fact that (unlike Algeria and Tunisia), Jews remained under local Arab rule. By 1948, Jews had even become nominally involved in local politics. When Israel was established, the French authorities strove to maintain calm between the Muslim and Jewish communities, and the Muslim sultan appealed to his subjects not to commit violence against the Jews. Yet early in June 1948, mob violence erupted simultaneously against the Jewish communities of several towns in Northern Morocco, and dozens of Jews were killed. Shortly afterward, the first major group of Moroccan Jews—30,000—fled to Israel. The fate of Morocco’s Jewish community fluctuated with each strong political wind: Moroccan independence was declared in 1956 and although emigration to Israel was declared illegal, 70,000 more managed to reach the Jewish state. The Sultan’s return was followed by appointment of Jews to major government posts; in 1959, Zionism became a crime. Two years later the new king attempted to appease the Jews by legalizing emigration: another 100,000 made their way to Israel. Israel’s victory in the 1967 war brought heightened hostility from the Muslims, and by 1975 Moroccan Jewry had shrunk to less than 10 per cent of its former number. The 25,000 who remain reportedly live well, and King Hassan is anxious for them to stay, but many Jewish schools are now run by Muslims, there has been no Jewish press since 1960, and occasionally there are renewed anti-Israel demonstrations.



The Algerian Jewish community generally shared the treatment of Moroccan Jews. In the 1930’s the ascent of Nazi Germany, reinforcing Muslim attitudes of the past, gave rise to new waves of anti-Semitism; a massacre at Constantine in 1934 left twenty-five Jews slain, dozens wounded, and Jewish property pillaged. In 1940, when the Vichy government took over, Jews were stripped of French citizenship, banned from schools and public activities, and legally rendered “pariahs.” Only the Allied landing prevented the transfer of Algerian Jews to European death camps. (However, Messali Hadj, the “father of the Algerian nationalist movement,” refused to support Nazi Germany.) After World War II, Jews were caught in the middle of the struggle for Algerian independence between the French and the nationalists, and in addition Algeria had now forged stronger links with the Arab League. The Jewish community of Algeria which had numbered 140,000 in 1948 diminished within months at the height of hostilities in the early 1960’s; about 14,000 Jews fled to Israel and 125,000 went to France. The Jewish population in Algeria now numbers 500.

Tunisian Jews were somewhat better off than either their Algerian or Moroccan brothers throughout the last centuries, but the separate Jewish quarter of Tunis was not much less squalid and miserable than were other North African mellahs or haras—Jewish ghettos—before French rule. When Tunisia became independent in 1956, a Jew was included in the Bourguiba cabinet, yet the Jews of Tunisia were soon forced to flee from the extremism which the “Arabization” policy of the government now fostered. Of 105,000 Jews in 1948, only 200 are living in Tunisia today; 50,000 emigrated to Israel and many others have gone to France.

Jewish history in Syria dates back to biblical times. By 70 C.E. 10,000 Jews dwelled in Damascus, and a consistent Jewish presence was maintained there for more than two millennia despite periodic eruptions of violence, the best-known of which in modern times was the Damascus blood libel of 1840—it is still being invoked to this day. The French, assigned mandatory rights over Syria in 1920, made persistent attempts to protect the Jews from attack by Arabs, but the growing dispute over neighboring Palestine in the 1930’s crystallized local hostility and brought anti-Jewish riots in 1936. In 1937 a Nazi delegation paid a visit to Damascus, intensifying the level of anti-Jewish propaganda and bringing about closer affiliations between German and Arab youth organizations. From Damascus, the Arab Defense Committee warned the Jewish Agency: “Your attitude will lead you and the Jews of the East to the worst of calamities that has been written in history up to the present. . . .” In 1944 and ’45 the Jewish quarter was raided; in the latter year Syria won its independence, and the Damascus Mufti warned at a religious conference that if Jewish immigration to Palestine were not halted, all countries of Islam would declare a “holy war” against the Jews. Shortly afterward a Syrian student mob celebrated a Muslim holiday by desecrating the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, beating Jews at prayer and burning prayer books in the street. Government intimidation was initiated, and Jews were prohibited from leaving the country. Jewish leaders were forced to denounce Zionism publicly.

In December 1947 anti-Jewish feeling climaxed in a vicious pogrom; Syrian mobs poured into the mellah of Aleppo and burned down most of the synagogues, destroyed 150 Jewish homes, five Jewish schools, fifty shops and offices, an orphanage, and a youth club. Holy scrolls, including a priceless ancient manuscript of the Old Testament, were burned, while the firemen stood by and police “actively helped the attackers.” By early 1947 only 13,000 Jews remained in Syria of an estimated 30,000 four years earlier. Letters smuggled out of Syria told of a “war against Zionists [which] has turned into a war against the entire Jewish people. . . .”

Since that time regimes have come and gone in Syria, but except for brief periods Syria’s ever-diminishing Jewish community has remained huddled together in a ghetto, without collective or individual rights. Despite government-monitored or staged media presentations for propaganda purposes, the only candid reports available on the condition of the Jews in Syria are those of escapees. The plight of Syria’s Jews—menaced both by officialdom and by hostile Palestinian Arabs who have been moved into the homes left by Jewish escapees—has become an international issue of human rights, and world attention has been focused on the government’s repressive tactics. No one knows what will become of the 4,350 Jews still in Syria.

The Jews of Lebanon—a country about which, at this point, it is difficult to generalize—have historically enjoyed greater freedom than any other Jewish community living in the Arab world. In fact, many Jews fled to Lebanon from other Arab lands in the years following Israel’s independence, boosting the Jewish population there to 9,000 by 1958. In. that year, in the wake of the attempted revolution in Lebanon, the Jews began to depart; the 1967 war and the infiltration of Lebanon by Arab terrorists caused most to flee. The latest figure estimates the number of Jews still in Lebanon at 1,800, but that figure was calculated prior to the recent warfare there between Muslims and Christians, which has produced many Christian refugees and undoubtedly some Jewish ones.

Libya‘s, Jewish community has virtually disappeared. Of the 38,000 Jews whose roots were deep in the North African terrain that is Libya today, perhaps twenty are left. Most fled in the years after World War II, which saw virtually unceasing violence against a community that had already suffered horribly during the war. One violent anti-Jewish pogrom, in November 1945, was described by Clifton Daniel in the New York Times: “Babies were beaten to death with iron bars. . . . Old men were hacked to pieces where they fell. . . . Expectant mothers were disemboweled. Whole families were burned alive in their houses.” By the time Libya achieved independence in 1952, there were only 8,000 Jews remaining to attempt to take advantage of the equality purportedly offered under the new constitution. Libya’s entry into the Arab League made life even more hazardous, and with the renewal of Arab mob violence after the Six-Day War of 1967 Libya’s remaining Jews were forced literally to run for their lives, leaving behind everything they owned; most became a part of Israel’s refugee community.



What this cursory survey indicates is an unwavering pattern all over the Arab world, and reaching far back into history. No Arab nation has ever accepted the Jews (or any other minority) on an equal footing in its midst, none has given any sign of a readiness to do so, despite all the PLO talk of a “secular democratic” state to be established in Palestine. No Arab state today is or has ever been secular; none is or has ever been democratic. It is in light of this melancholy fact, indeed, that one should understand the extraordinarily cynical “invitation” recently extended by various Arab governments, amid much publicity, to Jewish refugees from Arab lands, to return to their countries of birth and resume there the life of “harmony and amity” which they supposedly left behind. Responding to one such “invitation,” by Libya’s President Qaddafi, the Tunisian-born writer Albert Memmi summed up the real plight of the Jews from Arab lands, and contrasted it to that of the Palestinian Arabs:

Do you believe that the Jews who were born in Arab countries can go back, where they had been robbed, massacred, and from which they had been expelled? . . . When all is said and done, the disaster of the Arabs in Palestine amounts to their having been displaced for some fifty kilometers within the same enormous Arab nation. How much more serious is our case: we Jews from Arab countries have been displaced for thousands of kilometers, after having lost everything.




Quite some time before the 1947 Partition Plan which proposed the division of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, there were many British advocates of an exchange of populations—the Arabs of Palestine for the Jews in Arab countries—to facilitate the formation of homogeneous populations in the envisioned new sovereignties. (Modern precendents for such an exchange include those between Turkey and Bulgaria in 1913 and between Turkey and Greece in the 1920’s; in the postwar period perhaps the best-known example of an exchange of populations is that between Indian and Pakistan in the 1950’s—8½ million Sikhs and Hindus from Pakistan to India, an almost equal number of Muslims from India to Pakistan.) Among the arguments advanced in favor of the proposed Arab-Jewish exchange was that of the British Colonial Secretary in 1937, who observed before a hearing of the Mandate commission that since the Arabs living in the Jewish areas of Palestine “had not hitherto regarded themselves as Palestinians but as part of Syria, as part of the Arab world as a whole,” they would be “going to a people with the same civilization” and “therefore the problem of transfer would be easy.” In fact, a preponderance of the approximately 650,000 Arabs living in Jewish Palestine in the mid-40’s were relatively recent arrivals, having been attracted there by the affluence and work opportunities created by the Jews (a circumstance that in itself gives the lie to present-day claims of a centuries-old Arab “Palestinian identity”).

As is well known, neither the proposal for a Jewish state nor the plan for an exchange of Arab and Jewish populations won the approval of the Arabs themselves. They rejected the 1947 UN Partition of Palestine, and instigated hostilities immediately upon Israel’s declaration of independence. Ironically, it was as a result of these Arab hostilities that the war of independence and the Arab-Jewish population exchange did take place.

At the time of the 1948 war the invading Arab governments were certain of a quick victory. Arab leaders exhorted their fellow Arabs to leave Jewish Palestine in order to clear the roads for advancing Arab armies and to cause general chaos. They promised a triumphal return after the hostilities, meanwhile creating panic and fear by spreading false stories of Jewish “revenge.” The Jews in fact had pleaded with the Arabs to stay. After the Arab defeat, of course, the Arab position changed: now their demand was for the “return” of the “expelled” refugees to their former homes, but only after those homes ceased to be “occupied” by Jews. Emile Ghoury, Secretary of the Arab Higher Command, stated the new Arab position in the Beirut Telegraph on August 6, 1948: “It is inconceivable that the refugees should be sent back to their homes while they are occupied by the Jews. . . . It would serve as a first step toward Arab recognition of the state of Israel and Partition.” Thus was created the status of semi-permanent refugeehood which the “Palestinian” Arabs have assumed ever since.

Right after the war international experts cited undisputed evidence that resettlement of the Arab refugees within the larger community of Arab nations would not only benefit the refugees but would also contribute needed additional labor forces to the underpopulated and underdeveloped Arab world.2 Iraq and Syria seemed especially ideal for such resettlement. A report by President Truman’s International Development Advisory Board, headed by Nelson Rockefeller, asserted that Iraq alone could absorb an Arab refugee population of 700,000.3 As for Syria, a Chatham House Survey estimated that that country “might well absorb over 200,000 Palestine refugees within five years in agriculture alone.” In 1949 an editorial in a Damascus newspaper stated that “Syria needs not only 100,000 refugees, but five million to work the lands and make them fruitful.” The paper suggested that the government place these “100,000 refugees in districts where they will build small villages with the money appropriated for this purpose,” and in fact Syrian authorities began the experiment by moving 25,000 refugees into areas of potential development in the northern parts of the country. The overthrow of the ruling regime in August 1949 changed the situation, however, and the new leadership reverted to the rigid Arab League position against resettlement.

As late as 1959, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold reiterated that there were ample means for absorbing the Arab refugees into the economy of the Arab region. Hammarskjold detailed the estimated cost of the refugee absorption, which he proposed be financed by oil revenues and outside aid. But plans for permanent rehabilitation of the refugees were rejected by the Arabs, because such measures would have terminated their status as “refugees” waiting to be repatriated. At a Refugee Conference in Homs, Syria, the Arabs declared: “Any discussion aimed at a solution of the Palestine problem which will not be based on insuring the refugees’ right to annihilate Israel will be regarded as a desecration of the Arab people and an act of treason.”



Over the years there have been individual Arabs who have admitted in public to the cynical use made of the Arab refugees for propaganda advantages. Khaled El-Azm, who was Syria’s prime minister following the 1948 war, wrote in his 1972 memoirs: “Since 1948 it is we who demanded the return of the refugees while it is we who made them leave. . . . We brought disaster upon one million Arab refugees. We rendered them dispossessed, unemployed. . . . We accustomed them to begging and . . . participated in lowering their morale. . . . Then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson, and throwing bombs upon . . . men, women, and children—all this in the service of political purposes in Lebanon and Jordan. Some of them become so accustomed to crime that their thirst for it is never quenched. . . .” Others have gone so far as to acknowledge the reciprocal nature of the refugee question. Thus, Sabri Jiryis of the Institute for Palestine Studies wrote last year in the Beirut journal, Al Nahar: “This is hardly the place to describe how the Jews of the Arab states were driven out of their ancient homes, . . . shamefully deported after their property had been commandeered or taken over at the lowest possible valuation.” Jiryis envisages a day when Israel will claim, “‘We Israelis entailed the expulsion of some 700,000 Palestinians. However, you Arabs have entailed the expulsion of just as many Jews from the Arab states.’ Actually,” he goes on, “what happened was a kind of ‘population and property exchange,’ and each party must bear the consequences. Israel is absorbing the Jews of the Arab states; the Arab states for their part must settle the Palestinians in their own midst and solve their problems. . . .”



But these are isolated voices. Today, the official Arab position remains as it was stated in 1949 by the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Salah al-Din: “Let it therefore be known and appreciated that, in demanding the restoration of the refugees to Palestine, the Arabs intend that they shall return as the masters of the homeland. . . . More explicitly: they intend to annihilate the state of Israel.” It is in line with this position that the Arab governments over the years have rebuffed every effort to secure the well-being of their refugees, have insisted—without legal or moral foundation—on their “legitimate right of return,” and have sought to obscure the fact that, with the exchange of Arab out-migrants from Israel for Jewish out-migrants from Arab lands that occurred in the late 1940’s and early 50’s, a balance of refugee populations has already been struck in the Middle East.


1 Some examples drawn from educational texts:

A history text for third year junior-high-school students, Jordan: “The Jews in Europe were persecuted and despised because of their corruption, meanness, and treachery.”

From a religious-studies reader, second year of junior high school, Syria: “The Jews . . . lived exiled and despised since by their nature they are vile, greedy, and enemies of mankind.”

An elementary-school exercise in syntax and spelling, Syria: “Analyze the following sentences. 1. The merchant traveled to the African continent. 2. We shall expel all the Jews from Arab countries.”

A favored subject in much Arab anti-Semitic literature is the infamous Damascus blood libel of 1840. In 1962 the Egyptian Ministery of Education brought out an official book, Human Sacrifices in the Talmud (a reprint of a work dating from 1890), which repeats the charge that Jews use human blood for ritual purposes, and in 1973 a former minister in the Egyptian foreign service published a play based on the same idea.

2 This continues to be the case. This year it has been reported that Saudi Arabia alone is seeking to recruit up to half-a-million workers to develop its growing economy, and an Iraqi official confirmed recently that Iraq is now “inviting Egyptian farmers to settle” there.

3 The report also acknowledged explicitly that what had occurred was an actual exchange of populations. At the same time, another authoritative study noted that the flight of Jews from Iraq had opened a gap that could best be filled by Arab refugees from Palestine. Even Arab sources were known to put forward suggestions of this kind. El-Balad, a daily paper in Jordanian Jerusalem, stressed the value to Arabs of the Jews’ flight from Iraq. According to the paper “roughly 120,000” Jewish refugees had fled Baghdad to go to Israel, leaving all of their goods and homes behind them. “Now the 120,000 Arab refugees could replace the Jews, occupy their houses, and find opportunities to earn a livelihood which had been left vacant.” In fact, many of these homes left behind in Syria, Libya, and Iraq by Jewish refugees who fled to Israel are today occupied by Arabs who formerly lived in Palestine.

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