Some personal Reflections on this chapter:
The overarching, abiding sentiment that resonates with me after reading this chapter is of the incontrovertible conclusion that the Arab States have waged a massively successful internal and external anti-Israel propaganda campaign which is based on deceit against Israel via an imaginary narrative that uses the Palestinians as their pawns. Unfortunately, to date, Israel has been unable or disinclined to counter the false myth that the Arab States have perpetuated: that former Jewish citizens of Arab countries have been authentically invited to their respective former homelands. Thus the chapter’s title: “The Invitation”.
– Marcia Sugar
Following Israel’s resounding 1967 military defeat of the combined Arab countries the latter determined that they must wage a different kind of war to destroy the “Zionist Entity”. It would be a diplomatic, public relations war of deceit. At the same time, Israel’s image in the view of the world mutated from that of a David vs. Goliath, to that of aggressor.
In 1975 an initially beguiling but specious “invitation” was issued in by Farouk Kaddoumi, PLO political department head. It invited all exiled Jews who had fled Arab states under the threat of death and completely dispossessed to be welcomed to return, provided they were not Zionists or supporters of Israel. This condition disqualified all of them from accepting the “invitation” and this was patently the purpose of the aforementioned condition. Approximately 600,000 Jews were expelled from various Arab states, including Iraq,Yemen, Syria,Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Libya. This “invitation”, published in oversized headlines in newspapers around the world, had as its goal to reduce international support for Israel and align readers with the Arab States. Certain that no Jews from Arab countries would return under that condition, it was easy to extend this “invitation.”
The Toronto Star observed that the real purpose of this ad was to give credence to “the Zionism is racism” United Nations resolution and to invalidate Israel’s existence and its legitimacy as a nation. The paper encouraged all Canadians to disregard it. Its other purpose was to turn former Israeli sympathizers into an anti-Israeli lobby and to support the notion of the supposed Israeli outrages alleged by the Arabs. They were successful in this endeavour. Joan Peters thinks the actual ulterior motive was to divert international attention away from the historic expulsion of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab states who had lived there throughout the ages, facts which were largely unknown by anyone outside the Arab world. This historical revelation would discredit the theme of the Palestinians’ insistance on “return”. Another virtually unknown fact (ca. 1984) is that many thousands of Arabs had left Israel for nearby Arab states of their own volition before Jewish statehood.
At the time of Israel’s independence, another “invitation” of a totally different nature was extended by fellow Arabs to their brethren: to “leave” while the invading Arab armies were purging the land of Jews. They believed the latter would happen easily and quickly. At that time, the Jewish Haifa Worker’s Council issued an appeal to Haifa’s Arab residents: “…in this city, yours and ours, Haifa, the gates are open for work, for life and for peace…”. Ultimately, according to the Arab-sponsored Institute for Palestine Studies in Beirut, 68% of Arab refugees left without fighting or being expelled, but this is rarely reported.
At this point the need for an Arab myth was devised and a new and convincing narrative was created. It was the myth of nationality whose goal was to foster self-respect and identity as “Palestinian refugees” from the “West Bank”, annexed by
Jordan in 1948. It was this land that Arab moderates had pinpointed as the site of a ministate for Palestinian Arabs. Despite the “Palestinian” myth being promulgated, until after the Six Day War, all Arab refugees simply assumed that they would be settled permanently in Jordan; there was no movement to create there an Arab state.
A new, more nuanced and devious Arab tactic emerged that focussed on an economic, diplomatic and political attack since military success was not assured. No longer relying on “throwing Israel into the sea” rhetoric, they decided to reduce Israel to indefensible borders and into diplomatic and economic isolation. To sway international opinion, the Arabs adopted humanitarian terminology in support of the Palestinian refugees. While privately rejecting the recognition of Israel in perpetuity, Arab states publicly stressed that there was an “occupation” of the Arab lands by Jews.
After 1967, Israel was no longer perceived as a weak state being threatened with annihilation by combined aggressors and it began to lose international sympathy of a state under siege. Arab propaganda revved up to support this point of view. Repatriation of the refugees became the order of the day and was to proceed as a condition for peace talks. The refugees needed to remain in squalid camps instead of being easily absorbed by Arab countries in order to keep them as emotionally evocative pawns. Additionally, following Israel’s victory in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the Arab oil embargo reminded the world of its heavy dependence on oil, engendering hesitation to face Arab displeasure. This, coupled with the image of Israel as aggressor, facilitated widespread acceptance of the Arabs’ myth-spinning diplomatic and public relations offensive. Indeed, “Palestinian” military strategist Al-Haytham Al-Ayubi (1974) is quoted saying, “The nations of western Europe condemned Israel’s position…their dependence upon sources of energy precluded their allowing themselves to incur Arab wrath”.
In fact, throughout the millenia, millions of refugees have been very successfully been absorbed into other countries after wars and have lived successful lives. In 1959, Al-Hayat, a Lebanese journal reported that 120,000 out of 135,000 refugees in Lebanon were successfully absorbed into the country. Various international agencies have challenged Arab countries over the decades to absorb their brethren to no avail despite the fact it would have been a great benefit to those countries. This was especially true for Iraq and Syria which desperately needed workers at that time who could have filled the gap created by the exiled Jewish artisans, shopkeepers, agriculturists etc.. During the past five decades at least, the UN suggested it would be beneficial for Arab host countries to add needed manpower which would be financed by oil revenues and outside aid. All Arab states unceremoniously rejected such measures which would have de facto terminated the refugees’ status as “refugees” and thus destroyed their usefulness as pawns.
Ignored in this saga is the plight of hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled for their life or expelled from their homes in Arab countries. Also, on the financial side, the total of assets left by Jews in Arab lands far exceeded those left by Arabs. The Jewish refugees from Arab lands lost not just citizenship but their cultural, social, political moorings, wealth and identity. They have in the main been absorbed into their Jewish Homeland.
Resettlement of refugees and their absorption into a new entity has been the norm since time immemorial. It has always been considered normal and humanitarian.
Even after the war between India and Pakistan where wholesale exchanges of several millions of refugees took place and it was internationally accepted. There are hundreds of other examples. Then why is the “Palestinian refugee” problem treated as a special case? Because of the Arab countries’ intransigence against accepting Arabs. The true motives behind this intransigence have been buried by propaganda slogans and omissions. The immediate objective of the Arab world’s propaganda strategy has remained one-sided repatriation, a “return” in the name of “self-determination” with “rights” to their land.
A mutual repatriation could not be demanded if one side had fled from intolerable conditions and could not return applies to the Jews from Arab lands. Thus the revised scenario: the Arab “invitation” to Jews to return and the alteration from Arab “refugees” to Arab “Palestinians”.
Major existential threats to the Arabs like Muslim fundamentalism, sectarian violence, and other threats, fade in importance to them compared with their unrelenting goal to destroy Israel. A political-diplomatic climate currently (1984) exists where their strategy is “morally” acceptable”.
[The next chapter, The Arab Jew, details what life was really like for Jews from Arab countries, and why they did not dare take up the “invitation”. It includes the history of the various Arab Jewish communities and selected testimonies of Jews from each—Editor]