Ben-Dror Yemini was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel in 1954. He studied Humanities and History in Tel Aviv University, and later on he studies Law. After his university studies, he was appointed advisor to the Israeli Minister of Immigration Absorption and then became the spokesman of the Ministry. In 1984, he began his career as a journalist and essayist. He worked as a lawyer and was a partner in a law firm. He has worked for the daily newspaper Maariv, and in Spring 2014 began writing for the daily Yedioth Ahronoth. The author of "The Industry of Lies."
Tue May 18, 2010 5:57 pm Nakba Day and the Fraud - By Ben-Dror Yemini
Nakba Day and the Fraud
By Ben-Dror Yemini
The Palestinians have been holding the title of "refugees" for over six decades . They have succeeded in creating a unique historical narrative for themselves . This myth is growing, so it should be shattered and the real facts presented: the Palestinian population before the first Aliya was sparse, hundreds of thousands of Jews were also expelled from Arab countries, and there is no precedent anywhere in the world for the right of return.
The Nakba - the story of the Palestinian refugees is the greatest success story in the history of modern times - a success that is a complete fraud. There is no other group of "refugees" in the world that has gotten such broad global coverage. Not a week goes by without a conference, another conference, about the wretched state of the Palestinians. There is not a campus in the West that does not devote countless events, conferences and publications, each year or each month to the issue of the Palestinian refugees. They have become the ultimate victims. A million calamities and injustices and expulsions and population exchanges and acts of genocide and slaughter and wars have befallen the world since the Arabs, among them the Palestinians, declared a war of annihilation on Israel - but the Nakba of the Palestinians takes up most of the space. A visitor from another planet would think that it was the greatest injustice suffered by the entire universe since the Second World War. So it is best to shatter this lie. It is best to present the real facts. It is best to expose the fraud.
The Jews came to the area of the Land of Israel, which was part of the Ottoman Empire, in many small waves, back before the First Aliya. Did they really expel millions of Arabs? Well, there is no debating the fact that in those years there were no "Palestinians" and there was no "Palestine" and there was no "Palestinian identity." And, mainly, there was no real boundary between Arabs from Syria, Egypt or Jordan. There was a steady stream of people. In the years in which Muhammad Ali and his son conquered this region in 1831 - 1840, they sent many Arabs from Egypt to Gaza, Jaffa and other cities. The Jews who also arrived in Jaffa during those years helped to develop the city as well.
Forgotten research findings
There is a debate among historians over the number of Arabs who lived during those years in the area of "Palestine," which, in effect, was composed of districts (Sanjaks) that were subject to Damascus or Beirut, as part of the Ottoman Empire. The most serious testimony about what existed before the First Aliya is a forgotten one. It's known to many scholars, but it doesn't exist in the public discourse. It was made by a delegation of British researchers - the Palestine Exploration Fund - which traveled through the western Land of Israel in 1871 - 1878, from Dan to Beer Sheba, and published a precise and authentic map of settlements in 26 parts, which is rare for its size, type and authenticity. The researchers found a small number of sparse settlements here. The journalist Zeev Galili published a comprehensive investigation following publication of the map, and found that Haifa, for example, was a settlement of 440 x 190 meters. No more than that. Acre and Nazareth were larger settlements, whose area was 600 x 300 meters. The size of Jaffa was 540 x 240 meters.
Jerusalem was situated between the walls, and was relatively huge, about 1,000 meters x 1,000 meters. There were a total of about 100,000 residents.
There are those who bring up the famous tour of the Land of Israel in 1891 by Achad Ha'am, who also found cultivated and flourishing fields. It seems, however, that the impressions of Achad Ha'am are dwarfed by a series of well-established findings from that era. Another visitor, like Achad Ha'am, was Mark Twain, who toured the land in 1865. "....A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds... a silent mournful expanse... A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tabor safely... We never saw a human being on the whole route. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes... desolate and unlovely... these unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness...that melancholy ruin of Capernaum; this stupid village of Tiberias slumbering under its six funereal plumes of palms" Of the same mind was Henry Baker Tristram, who made several visits to the Holy Land during those same years, and his descriptions are very close to those of Twain's.
It appears, however, that the findings of the research delegation are above any dispute. These were not chance visitors. They were researchers who stayed here for years, researched the land, went from settlement to settlement, measured every mountain, settlement and hill, and published six volumes. One of the researchers, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, said about the Judea region that "mile after mile not a living thing is to be seen."
An Arab village, at the foot of Mount Tavor, 1877
Despite these findings, there is a sharp debate among researchers, historians and demographers about the number of Arabs who lived in the area before the First Aliya. The estimates range from 100,000 according to the British research delegation and hundreds of thousands according to other researchers. There is another dispute on the question of the extent of Arab immigration to Israel following the advent of Zionism. This issue also occupied other researchers, among them Moshe Braver and Moshe Sharon.
With regard to the immigration, we should add that as long as the government was Arab or Muslim, the people sought a better place to live. The Arabs of the region were under Egyptian and Jordanian rule for two decades (1948-1967), and they never demanded a state for themselves. They lived under a cruel regime (a subject for a separate article) and made every effort to emigrate to other countries. The change began in 1967. The Israeli government caused another attraction. That is the reason that many Palestinians prefer to return to the territories of Judea and Samaria, and that is the reason that many of them want to immigrate to Israel and become citizens (hundreds of thousands have already done so).
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Throughout the years of the British Mandate, there were two populations here - Jews and Arabs. The original area of the Mandate, according to the Balfour Declaration, included the eastern side of the Jordan. As mentioned, the area was very sparsely populated. The establishment of a national homeland for the Jews would not have caused any injustice because there was no state here and there was no nation here. That was the real background to the Balfour Declaration. In 1922, the League of Nations cut off part of the promised area to give to the Hashemite family, and one year later the Golan Heights was also cut off to give to the French government in Syria.
Parallel to the UN resolution on partition, the Arab countries declared a war of annihilation on Israel. The result is well known. The declaration of war led to hundreds of thousands of Arabs being forced to move to neighboring countries. Many of them fled. Many testified that they were forced to leave under pressure of their leaders. There were also some who were evicted in the heat of battle. About 600,000 people became refugees.
But only the Palestinians, out of all those groups, have held the title of "refugees" for over six decades. They have succeeded in creating a unique historical narrative for themselves. This myth is also growing with the help of UNRWA, a group dedicated to taking care of the Palestinian refugees, separate from the care given to all the other refugees in the world by the UNHCR. Many countries, including Israel, help to maintain the UNRWA, which deals not only with assisting and perpetuating the refugee problem, but also with incitement. The tragedy is that if the Palestinians were to receive such treatment from the international community, their situation today would be far better.
The fraud that is called the right of return
In the many discussions in which I have participated, I asked my colleagues, devotees of the Palestinian narrative, when have deportees who declared war, and lost that war, been granted the "right of return"? Is there one among the dozens of groups and the tens of millions who experienced expulsion in the past century that has been granted a "right of return" in a manner that caused the political annihilation of a nation state? To this day I have not received an answer. Because there is no such right.
The Palestinian Authority presents a document which claims that there are precedents for a "right of return." The most serious example presented there is the Dayton Agreement of 1995 which allows the return, for example, of Serbs to Croatia. The circumstances, however, are different. First, the return was never implemented. Croatia allowed the return of Croatians but placed barriers on the return of Serbs. Second, even if it had been implemented, the return would not have undermined the existence of Croatia as the national state of the Croatian people. Another example presented by the Palestinians is an agreement from 1997 regarding Azerbaijan. This is also a fraud because a report from 2002 shows that the Muslims who were exiled to Azerbaijan did not return to Armenia, and the Armenians who arrived as refugees did not return to Azerbaijan. In effect, the Armenian constitution grants the right of return only to Armenians (similar to the Israeli Law of Return, which exists in other countries around the world). The other examples presented by the Palestinians, from Africa and South America, are also irrelevant to the many population exchanges around the world and certainly to the population exchanges between the Arab countries and Israel.
The Palestinians are also relying on resolution 194, so it should be recalled that the Arabs presented a united front in opposition to the resolution. They knew why. Because it is a resolution which, in effect, is based on recognition in a previous resolution - the partition resolution - which grants international legitimacy to recognition of the Jewish state. There are other stipulations in that resolution, such as the creation of suitable conditions and pre-agreement to the fact that candidates for return must agree to live in peace with their neighbors. Needless to say, the Palestinians are insisting on non-recognition of the Jewish state, which shows that the conditions have not been created and certainly that the return is for the purpose of eliminating the Jewish entity and not for the purpose of peace. And as Abu-Mazen stated in May 2009, he does not recognize the Jewish state because it is liable to prevent the return of the masses.
One of the Palestinian claims is that for the purpose of resolving the conflict, the Palestinian Nakba must be recognized, and primarily the Israeli responsibility for the refugee problem. The truth is the opposite. Cultivating the myth of the Nakba is not what is delaying resolution of the conflict, because the Palestinians are busy reinforcing the problem, inflating it and insisting that it is different from any international precedent. They are forgetting that they are the ones who preferred to support the Nazi axis of evil. They are the ones who refused the partition proposal. They are the ones who declared a war of annihilation. They are the ones who started the war. They are forgetting that a greater number of Jews were persecuted, dispossessed and expelled from Arab countries. As long as they continue the myth of the Nakba, and delete the basic facts, they only perpetuate their suffering. And despite all this, the Palestinians deserve respect, freedom and independence. But alongside of Israel. Not instead of Israel. And not by means of the Nakba, which is no more than a political fraud and that a historical fraud.
Ben-Dror Yemini is a senior columnist in Maariv, daily newspaper