In his famous speech in Cairo last year President Obama said:
For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.
The degree to which Palestinian displacement was due to Israel’s founding is usually overstated. President Obama’s speech, more than showing empathy, emphasized a false narrative.
Yet still the Palestinians fled their homes, and at an ever growing pace. By early April some 100,000 had gone, though the Jews were still on the defensive and in no position to evict them. (On March 23, fully four months after the outbreak of hostilities, ALA commander-in-chief Safwat noted with some astonishment that the Jews “have so far not attacked a single Arab village unless provoked by it.”) By the time of Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14, the numbers of Arab refugees had more than trebled. Even then, none of the 170,000-180,000 Arabs fleeing urban centers, and only a handful of the 130,000-160,000 villagers who left their homes, had been forced out by the Jews.
The exceptions occurred in the heat of battle and were uniformly dictated by ad-hoc military considerations–reducing civilian casualties, denying sites to Arab fighters when there were no available Jewish forces to repel them–rather than political design. They were, moreover, matched by efforts to prevent flight and/or to encourage the return of those who fled. To cite only one example, in early April a Jewish delegation comprising top Arab-affairs advisers, local notables, and municipal heads with close contacts with neighboring Arab localities traversed Arab villages in the coastal plain, then emptying at a staggering pace, in an attempt to convince their inhabitants to stay put.
For the most part, then, Arabs (not yet Palestinians) left the nascent Jewish state by heeding the exhortations of their leaders, and were not driven out by the Jews.
There was a different group of refugees at this time. These were Jews who lived in Arab states. For example here’s what happened to the Jews of Iraq:
Under British rule, which began in 1917, Jews fared well economically, but all of this progress ended when Iraq gained independence in 1932.
In June 1941, the Mufti-inspired, pro-Nazi coup of Rashid Ali sparked rioting and a pogrom in Baghdad. Armed Iraqi mobs murdered 180 Jews and wounded almost 1,000.
Additional outbreaks of anti-Jewish rioting occurred between 1946-1949. After the establishment of Israel in 1948, Zionism became a capital crime.
In 1950, Iraqi Jews were permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship. A year later, however, the property of Jews who emigrated was frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country. From 1949 to 1951, 104,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah; another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran. Thus a community that had reached a peak of some 150,000 in 1947 dwindled to a mere 6,000 after 1951.
In 1952, Iraq’s government barred Jews from emigrating. With the rise of competing Ba’ath factions in 1963, additional restrictions were placed on the remaining Iraqi Jews. The sale of property was forbidden and all Jews were forced to carry yellow identity cards. Persecutions continued, especially after the Six-Day War in 1967, when many of the remaining 3,000 Jews were arrested and dismissed from their jobs. Around that period, more repressive measures were imposed: Jewish property was expropriated; Jewish bank accounts were frozen; Jews were dismissed from public posts; businesses were shut; trading permits were cancelled; telephones were disconnected. Jews were placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to the cities.
If the Arabs of what was then Palestine had a choice to leave, Iraqi Jews were offered no such choice. They were effectively chased out by a combination of violence and official persecution.
Now the Jewish community of Iraq is in the news again.
A few weeks ago I blogged about an ongoing effort of the Iraqi government to gain control Jewish documents that had been recovered by American forces in Baghdad. Elder of Ziyon noted the other day that apparently the American government has agreed to this travesty.
Here’s the AFP report:
“We have reached an agreement with the United States, after negotiations with officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, over the return of the Jewish archives and millions of documents that were taken to America after the events of 2003,” Deputy Culture Minister Taher Hamud said.
“The Jewish archives are important to us — like the rest of the documents, it is a part of our culture and sheds light on the lives of the Jewish community,” he told a news conference.
Important? When an Iraqi politician is a target (and his sons killed) for advocating ties with the Jewish state or the tomb of the prophet Ezekiel is defaced to erase any mention that he was Jewish, the chutzpah of claiming that the Jewish archives are important to Iraq is astounding.
It is a culture that Iraq obliterated. The documents rightly belong to the Jews who lived in Iraq, not their oppressors. That the administration would deny the historical plight of Iraqi Jews is offensive. That it would do so as the President uncritically accepts the dubious Palestinian narrative compounds the insult.
History is a tool that the Arab world has wielded effectively to wipe out their responsibility for repressing Jews – repression of Iraqi Jews started before there was a state of Israel – and to create a Palestinian narrative of Israel’s birth in sin. In word and deed, now, President Obama has faithfully accepted this distorted history. This isn’t just an affront to Israel, but all Jews.
Crossposted on Soccer Dad.