Monday, September 3, 2012

Nakba v Nakba Update: The Hanan Ashrawi Version***

Peter Beinart's Open Zion blog has run a four-part debate about whether or not the 800,000+ Jews who were forced to flee the Arab countries after 1948, should be considered refugees entitled to the same consideration as the 800,000+ Palestinians who fled or forced out of the areas that became Israel. The debate turns on naming, and consequently on compensation.

Lara Friedman's arguments, here and here, rely retroactively far too much on the success of the eventual integration of the Jewish refugees, as if to say: Israel wanted them, see how well they've done, how can you call them refugees? "They are either refugees, or they are new immigrants—they can’t be both.”

Lyn Julius' response, here and here, is that the Jews of Arab countries who had lived there for centuries fled as refugees with almost nothing, their property having been confiscated by the Arabs and were forced to live for years in miserable conditions either in Israel tent cities, or in rat-infested rooms in way-stations such Paris awaiting future absorption, somewhere, anywhere. What can you call them other than refugees?

No doubt both Israel and the Arab countries were driven by ideology in naming the two sets of people: Israel seeking an ingathering of Jews from all over the world named their refugees immigrants and made them citizens. The Arab countries which had provoked the war that resulted in Palestinian refugees insisted on maintaining their status and, apart from Jordan, refused to integrate them, give them full civil rights and fed them an illusory yearning for a return. Six decades on and we don't need to rehash the results.

I realize I'm guilty of narrowing the arguments tremedously, but what I really wanted to do with this post was to challenge Open Zion's editors' insidious choices of photos to accompany each side of the debate: all four parts are illustrated with pictures related only to the Palestinian refugees. There are mourning Palestinians, protesting Palestinians, Palestinians of every generation, as if to say, the Palestinian refugees are still here, where are the Jewish refugees? Why even bring this up now?

Well, take a look at the photo montage above. See if you can tell the Arab refugees from the Jews. Both sets lived in very similar conditions upon losing their homes. Life was hell for both. One of these groups has been exploited mercilessly and most of its members are still mired in misery, but do not belittle the suffering of the other group whose story now is very different. Open Zion should have reached back into the archives to find contemporary photos of both Jews and Palestinians. That they didn't confirms their ideological bias.

There is lots more to say about this issue and the Open Zion debate is worth a read for Lyn Julius' excellent summary of the history behind the Jewish expulsion. For more background, I recommend Point of No Return, a blog detailing the lives and history of Jews from Arab countries then and now, and Lucette Lagnado's rich memoir of the life of one Egyptian family forced to leave their beloved Cairo, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit.

1, 4, 5, 8: Palestinian refugees
2, 3, 6, 7: Jewish refugees

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, has just published an article in the Arab press asserting that there are no Jewish refugees. According to her, "Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries are not refugees, because they left their homes voluntarily and under pressure from Zionist groups and the Jewish Agency." A preposterous claim and a couple of excellent refutations to it are worth reading:

David Harris in the Huffinton Post: Hanan Ashrawi is to truth what smoking is to health.
Lyn Julius in Times of Israel: No cats in America for Hanan Ashrawi.


  1. Great post, Bella and thanks for the plug! I contacted Open Zion to ask them why they always featured Palestinian refugees. The answer is that they have a deal with Getty Images to use only their material. Surprise, surprise, Getty Images only have pictures of Palestinian refugees.

  2. Thank you! Interesting...when I tweeted a question about the photos I got a rather inane reply on Aug 10: “We used the pic bc the article discusses Jewish refugees from Arab countries in comparison to Palestinian refugees”

    Still, I find it strange that Getty Images, one of the largest international agencies with huge resources, didn't have even one pic.


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