Let us begin with a story. A well-known and familiar story. In a certain well-known and familiar country that was once under Ottoman rule lives a large Muslim minority. The relations between the majority and the minority are hardly loving. They, the majority and the minority, have an inglorious history that is full of reciprocal acts of hostility. At a certain stage the majority forced a substantial number of the members of the Muslim minority to leave the state, to emigrate to a neighboring state in which the members of the minority are a majority, both in terms of their religion, but also in ethnic and national terms as well.
No, no, this is not a story about Israel and the Palestinians. It is the story of the Turkish-Muslim minority in Bulgaria. And no, it did not happen 200 years ago. It happened less than 20 years ago, at the end of the 1980s. Three hundred thousand Muslims were forced to leave Bulgaria. Not exactly forced transfer, but transfer under duress.
And if you haven’t heard about the “right of return” and about a thousand and one organizations that tend to the “refugees” from Bulgaria, and you haven’t heard about refugee camps and seen a thousand advertisements, it is only because of one reason: they aren’t Palestinians. Because, like the Turks, there are dozens of other groups that account for millions of people, many millions, who were forced to leave their quondam homeland in the wake of political changes and border shifts.
[A graph depicting the number of people who became refugees from a variety of locations throughout the world, including: Cyprus, Israel- Arabs, Poland and Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Sudan, the Balkans, Germany and India-Pakistan. The total number of world refugees is cited by the graph as just shy of 45,000,000]
The World is Full of Refugees
Population swaps used to be viewed, and this remains the opinion of many today as well, as the most effective solution to conflicts between various populations over religious or ethnic issues. Less than 100 years ago a Norwegian geographer, Fridtjof Nansen, sought and found a solution to the conflict between Turkey and Greece. He planned and executed a population transfer plan under international auspices. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930. We will revisit that later.
No, I did not write the above to advocate transfer [of the Palestinians]. These are different times. International morality is also a matter of time, background and circumstances. Not every solution that was suitable in biblical times is suitable today as well. Support for transfer is outside the list of recommendations for Nobel Peace Prizes.
The world is full of entire communities that were forced to leave one country or county and move somewhere else. If we apply to them the definitions that were uniquely created for the Palestinians-in terms of defining them as refugees, in terms of the international approach towards them, in terms of the infinite number of organizations that exist to protect them-we could only expect an all- out world war. Millions of Hindus would have to return to Pakistan. Tens of millions of Muslims would be returned to India. The Balkan states would be forced to undergo a tremendous population shift that would result in the remixing of the various populations and also in the rekindling of countless conflicts.
It is true that no one even contemplates such an idea. It is true that no one thinks that Muslims need to return to Greece or Bulgaria, that Christians need to return to Turkey, that Germans need to return to the Czech state, and the list goes on and on. Because if that “right of return” is implemented, numerous states would consequently collapse and fall apart, and we would begin a long era of a perpetual bloodbath.
“The Right of Return is a Winning Card that Means the Destruction of Israel”
Fortunately, the current world is sane. It does not demand imposing this worldwide bloodbath on itself that would dismantle states and cause their collapse. The world is sane-until it comes to the Palestinians. It is at that point that it goes mad. Black is white and white is black. Everything that applies to every other conflict in the world, becomes inverted when it comes to this small, tiny plot of land of the Jews.
Suddenly, everything that was true in Bulgaria and Turkey and Greece and the Czech Republic and India and Pakistan and dozens of other countries-is not true with regard to Israel. It is obliged to meet other criteria. Opposite criteria. And here too, an entire chorus of international organizations deal with just one thing: worldwide propaganda that intensifies the problem of the Palestinian refugees and perpetuates it.
The direction taken by many other organizations is even clearer: to force Israel, and only Israel, a type of solution that is code- named “the right of return,” which is clearly going to produce a tremendous volcanic eruption. There are some who support that solution out of ignorance and naivet?. But many support this solution because their goal is neither an arrangement nor a solution. Their goal is the eruption of violence. Or, as Saker Habash, one of Yasser Arafat’s advisers, said: “the right of return is a winning card that means the destruction of Israel.”
We will not discuss the great migration of the nations in history.
Nor will we demand that the Arabs who invaded Asia, Africa and Europe return to the cradle of their homeland, and we will not demand that the White occupiers of America return to Europe, even though they not only seized and occupied and raped a land that was not theirs, but also committed, by the bye, crimes against humanity.
We will only examine those population swaps that have occurred since the beginning of the twentieth century. And we will not examine all of them, since our space is limited, but only those that bear a certain resemblance to the population swaps between Israel and its neighboring Arab countries. Swaps that contained everything: expulsion, flight and voluntary departure-on both sides.
UNRWA’s Purpose: To Perpetuate Palestinian Refugeehood
Between 600,000 and 800,000 Arabs left Israel for neighboring countries. A similar number of Jews left Arab countries and arrived in Israel. That occurred as part of a global process-tens of thousands of population swaps that occurred against the backdrop of the creation of the nation states-states that have either ethnic or religious characteristics. Tens of millions were part of that migration. Not a single one of those tens of millions has remained a refugee. Including those who arrived in Israel. That title is reserved only and solely for the Palestinian refugees.
The double standard begins, but does not end, with the fact that there are two organizations that are responsible for refugees. The first is for all the refugees of the world, and it is the UNHCR (the United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and the second is UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), which deals solely and only with the Palestinians, in keeping with a special UN resolution.
While the goal of the general organizations is to help refugees start over with a new life and to stop being refugees, the purpose of UNRWA is the exact opposite: its purpose is to perpetuate the state of refugeehood. Tens of millions of refugees have stopped being refugees thanks to the UN aid programs. But not a single Palestinian refugee has lost that title. On the contrary, their numbers only grow from one year to the next.
UN Definition Forces Number of Refugees to Rise
There is a difference also in terms of the definition of the term “refugee.” When the subject is Palestinians, it is anyone whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948. The catch is that anyone who arrived in Palestine as a work- seeking immigrant in early 1946 is automatically defined as a Palestinian refugee, even if the person at hand was actually an Egyptian, a Syrian, a Jordanian or a Lebanese national. A two-year sojourn in Palestine wins a person the right to be included in the list of people who will be taken care of in perpetuity by UNRWA.
That does not apply to a regular refugee, who needs to prove entitlement to receive UNHCR assistance. And that is not all. The general UN definition, which is good for everyone, is that anyone who has become acclimatized in another state and has become an active citizen in it is no longer a refugee. In Jordan there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. They received citizenship. They even serve as ministers in the Lebanese [sic] government. However, according to the UN definition, they are still refugees.
And there is another important and substantive difference. With regular refugees, it is only the individual who is considered to be a refugee. Not family members and certainly not the future generations. With the Palestinians the situation is inverted. Refugeehood becomes genetic. A matter for generations to come. Even if his sons and his sons’ sons have never seen Palestine, and even if they are as rich as Bill Gates-they are still refugees.
And so, with UN sanction, the “refugee problem” is perpetuated. It has a different definition and the refugeehood is perpetuated. This is how the number of refugees continues to grow with every passing year. That is how a monster was raised that has only one purpose: to create a problem that will prevent the conflict from being resolved. In Tandem with the Regional Conflict, 10 Million were Expelled in the Balkans
By all international criteria, the “Palestinian refugee problem” was over as soon as it began: the number of Palestinians who left Israel is similar if not identical to the number of Jews who arrived from Arab countries to Israel. Israel was not the only place where population swaps were carried out in the wake of a religious or national conflict. In every other place in the world that was the end of the story. Not here. Here the double standard comes into play. In order to understand just how much political, historical and international manipulation is at work here, I will review other instances in which there were population swaps.
The Balkans were a major scene of population swaps, expulsion, transfer and mass flight in the wake of wars over the past 100 years, beginning with the first Balkan War in 1912, all the way through to the most recent war in Kosovo in 1999-which also failed to complete the population swap. The number of people who took part in those major migration waves is somewhere between seven and ten million. We will not cite every migration, only a few key instances.
The first wave in the period in question began in 1915 after the first Balkan War. In the course of this wave, 200,000 Ottomans moved to Turkey, 150,000 Greeks returned to Greece and 250,000 Bulgarians returned to Bulgaria.
The First World War resulted in a far more significant population migration. The number of Serbs who were forced to leave their homes is estimated at 750,000 at the very least. Another 250,000 were indentured into forced labor in Bulgaria and Hungary. Many others died in the course of the forced march to the Adriatic Sea. The Designer of the Balkan Transfer Won the Nobel Prize
After the war 300,000 Bulgarians were forced to return to Bulgaria, from territories that Bulgaria controlled up until the war.
The same applied to some 200,000 Hungarians who were forced to leave Transylvania and to move to Hungary. A similar number of Hungarians were forced to leave territories the belonged to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.
The 1920s produced another wave that is more significant to our issue. The major population swap was carried out there in agreement between Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, and was secured in Lausanne in 1923. That migration involved principally approximately 1.5 million Christians from Turkey to Greece, and 500,000 Muslims from Greece to Turkey. There were other migrations as well, of some 80,000 Bulgarians to Greece.
It is noteworthy that not all of the Christians were moved to Greece and not all the Muslims were relocated to Turkey, but the declared goal was to create religious homogeneity. In 1930, with the completion of the population transfer, Nansen was given a Nobel Peace Prize for having conceived of an executed the above plan. [… ]
None of the above adequately describes the migration of populations in the Balkans, which involved between seven and ten million people, as noted above. In some cases, it was the result of ethnic cleansing, in other cases it was the result of genocide (such as the lethal transfer the Turks forced on the Armenians), and sometimes, as in the salient case of Nansen, it was the result of an agreement. The common denominator to all of the above was an attempt to create an ethnically or religiously homogeneous state. In any event, there was no recognition of the “right of return,” with the exception of the unusual case of the Serbs who were permitted to return to Croatia, but in practice that right was denied them.
The 12 Million German Refugees were Rehabilitated Within a Number of Years
After World War II, the Polish border was established along the lines that were proposed in 1919. The demarcation of that border resulted in a forced population transfer of some 1.4 million Poles and Ukrainians. The Poles who remained on the Ukrainian side of the border were forced to move to the other side and vice versa. The principle, just like in the Balkans, was to retain the religious and ethnic homogeneity.
The next forced population movements were decided on at the Potsdam Conference, immediately after the end of World War II. German communities existed for hundreds of years in various parts of eastern Europe and southern Russia. Those communities were accused of having supported the Nazis and of having fermented nationalist conflicts. Indeed, in the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, for example, a majority of the Germans supported Hitler and his demands. But millions of other Germans in the Sudetenland, Romania, Hungary and Poland were not among Hitler’s supporters. Nevertheless, the decision at the Potsdam Conference was to transfer the German population.
In the wake of that decision between 12 and 16 million Germans were forced to move against their will. Many others were murdered in the course of the transfer. German ferries that helped with the transfer were sunk with torpedoes. German sources claim that some 2.5 million people were either murdered or were killed in the course of the population movement, but even if that number is somewhat inflated the number of people who were killed remains very high.
Just a few years after the great expulsion, not a single German was still living in a refugee camp, and the issue of the expulsion, the refugees and the terrible suffering that was caused to the Germans, many of whom were personally blameless-is not on the German agenda. All that is left is a single organization, the BDV (the organization of expelled Germans), but that is a fringe organization that is supported mainly by the extreme right. There is also a single MP, Erika Steinbach, who invests herself in the affairs of the expelled and their rights, but the German consensus is that there are no rights either to compensation and certainly not to return. India: 14 Million Refugees Resettled Quickly
[… ] Pakistan remained principally Muslim. In India today, with a population of close to one billion, there is a Muslim minority that accounts for approximately 16% of the population. [… ] The absorption of the refugees on both sides was not easy. But today there are neither any Indians or Pakistanis who are defined as “refugees.” They resettled in their new counties. [… ]
The World is Indifferent to Refugees (So Long as They’re Not Palestinians)
The cases reviewed here are far from adequate to describe the population migrations of the past 100 years. Some organizations assess the number of people who moved inside the USSR under Communist rule at 65,000,000. The conflicts in Africa, such as the endless civil wars in the Congo and Somalia, produce numerous refugees. Most of them receive no care. They certainly do not have their own UN relief organization.
They would like to receive the treatment the Palestinians are given, but the world is indifferent to their fate. For them, it sets other criteria. Aside from various aid organizations with limited budgets, they are left to fend for themselves. The degree of publicity they receive and the international attention they command is negligible, relative to the Palestinian refugees, regarding whom there is an opposite international campaign: to intensify the problem, to manipulate it so that the number of refugees rises from one year to the next.
The major population movements that I reviewed above (not including Sudan!) accounts for some 38 million people who were absorbed into places where they are the majority. But only the 700,000 Palestinians became a “problem” that is perpetuated by the UN, the international community and the Arab world, with the encouragement of academics and members of the media, thousands of books, articles and publications, that prevent the readers from gaining access to the real facts and to a comparative international vantage point.
The solution to the Palestinian problem today is not transfer.
These are different times. That which a murderous country like Sudan does cannot serve today as an authority to force a population to move. The forced and agreed to population movements that were reviewed above were so done to point to one thing: the return of refugees and displaced persons to the places they were born will lead to an all-out war. The implementation of the right of return in Europe will send that continent reeling into a countless number of wars.
Supports Transfer in the Balkans, Condemns Transferists in Israel
The Muslims won’t return to Greece, the Germans won’t return to Poland. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a Muslim minority in Greece or a German minority in Poland. There is also room for a Muslim minority in Israel, just as there is room for a Jewish minority in Morocco, and in future Palestine.
An interesting anecdote: Professor John Mearsheimer published with Professor Stephan Walt a strongly-worded, borderline anti-Semitic article against the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. The hostility towards Israel and the influence of anti-Israel elements, particularly those who support the right of return for Palestinians, was particularly salient in the contents of that article and the sources they cited.
But this very same Mearsheimer published an astonishing article in 1993 in which he wrote, among other things, about the way to solve the problem in the Balkans. Mearsheimer wrote that “ethnically homogeneous states must be created” and that Croats, Muslims and Serbs were going to have to concede territories and move populations.
And this is the very same Mearsheimer who became a hero of the radical Left, in the world and in Israel, on the one hand, and of the most prominent anti-Semite in the United States today, David Duke, on the other. In his hostile article towards Israel, incidentally, Mearsheimer accuses the Israelis of being supportive of encouraging the Arab population to emigrate from Israel. He bases that on polls and the manipulation of poll results, but there is no mention there that the parties that support transfer have never won any significant support.
And that is a little bit odd considering the fact that the honorable professor advocates transfer, writing: “creating homogeneous states would require transferring populations and drawing new borders.” One would be right to assume that a proponent of transfer would pounce on this finding as a valuable treasure. The issue is not transfer. Our issue is having international rules applied fairly and equally. Mearsheimer is an example of the industry of double standard, which creates the industry of the “right of return”
Blacks are Inferior Refugees, Palestinians are Privileged Refugees
All of the population swaps reviewed above have a common denominator of international accord: the creation of a religiously or ethnically homogeneous state prevents conflicts. That does not mean that one should aspire to complete homogeneity. The international agreement to homogeneity, as it was manifested in the Cyprus Accord, is the correct model for solving the Palestinian refugee problem.
If the world were to take the same policy that was taken in those same years to other groups-Germans, Indians, Pakistanis-there would be no refugee problem today. But the UN decided, in one of the errors that will go down in the history of poor decisions, to deal differently with the Palestinians. That is a policy that is inherently a declaration of inequality: Palestinians are privileged refugees, and Blacks are inferior refugees.
The international community takes its cue from the UN. Even if it does not formally support the “right of return,” it finances the “right of return” industry. The European Union helps dozens of organizations whose goals include it. According to the international principle, the Palestinians have the right to be absorbed by the Palestinian state as well, which will be established if only the Palestinians should choose to live in a nation-entity alongside of Israel, and not in its stead.
Those Who Demand Right of Return for Palestinians Deny Israel’s Existence
The statement that each country has the right to maintain its ethnic or religious homogeneity and that the refugees who now live in a place where they belong to the religious or ethnic majority, do not have the right of return, also binds Israel. This means that even though Judea and Samaria are part of the historical homeland of the Jewish people, the Jews do not have the right to return there, just as the Palestinians do not have the right to return to Israel, even though this is their historic homeland.
There must be one rule that applies to the Germans who were absorbed in Germany, to the Hindis who were absorbed in India, to the Muslims who moved to Pakistan, and this rule says that the Jews have the right of return to Israel, but not to Palestine, and that the Palestinians have the right of return to Palestine, not to Israel.
The absolute negation of the right of return is also a derivative not only of the international situation, but also of the right to self determination. The Palestinians have such a right, and so do the Jews. And those who demand the right of return for the Palestinians, and only for them, basically negates, in laundered words, the Jews’ right to self determination. Only of the Jews.
The Muslims Must Learn From Israel, and Take Responsibility for the Refugees
Israel is not to blame for the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem, but rather the international community is. Instead of a remedy, it sowed salt in the wounds. It manipulated the issue. It is the irony of fate, and this is very bitter irony, that the double standard only increased the Palestinian s’ suffering. It perpetuated their suffering. It prevented a solution of their problem.
The day that the world leaves off its double standard, will be a day of new tidings for the Palestinians. It will be the first day in which the level of their suffering will start to drop. It will be the day they stop being political pawns. For their benefit, for the benefit of the idea of peace, it would be good were this day to come.
Israel has already done its share by taking in the Jews who arrived in Israel, as a result of the same conflict that caused the Palestinians to leave Israel. Responsibility for the Palestinian refugees, in the main, is that of the Muslim world and the Arab world and the international community.
Germany took in the Germans. India took in the Hindis. Pakistan took in the Muslims. Israel took in the Jews. Tens of millions of refugees were taken in by countries to where they moved-countries where their fellow religionists were the majority. Let the Arab world now take in the Palestinian refugees.
This piece an in the on line edition of Maariv on October 3rd, 2006