On Refugees (601)

Herbert Zweibon

The 20th century witnessed the flight of millions of people uprooted by genocide, terrorism, famine, natural disaster, ethnic cleansing, and war.

In the decades following 1948, Israel, to its eternal credit, absorbed about 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab nations and an even greater number of Europeans, most from the displaced persons camps that dotted the geography of virtually every Eastern European state in the aftermath of the Holocaust, others who were tired of the marginal safety afforded by reluctant host nations. Israel's success, in spite of meager resources and the enmity of the entire Arab world, represents the fulfillment of Zionist aspirations to ingather the exiles. This epic undertaking, with the help of the international Jewish community, remains the most stunning rescue of a people in history.

They came to Israel from every corner of the earth. Most learned a new alphabet and a new language, adapting to unfamiliar mores, climate, and culture. They found immediate citizenship, counseling, lodging, vocational training, and the immeasurable joy of an army pledged to defend them. The saga is ongoing, as hundreds of thousands of Jews from Russia and the former Soviet Union, 63,000 Ethiopian Jews, and, more recently, French Jews have sought succor in the Jewish homeland.

Contrast the foregoing with the cynicism of the Arab states, above all the oil-rich kingdoms, which permit -- indeed insist -- that generations of Palestinian Arab refugees languish in filthy and squalid conditions in the camps administered by UNRWA. The acronym stands for United Nations Relief and Work Agency, but what relief and what work has this bloated bureaucracy brought to the so-called refugees? The only systematic education the children of the camps get are in crude hatred of the Jews and stubborn rejection of any reconciliation with the idea of a Jewish state. Their "vocational training" grooms them to become suicide bombers. Compare this with the work of ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation through Training) which taught thousands new vocations in Israel. Contrast this with the work of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and of the Jewish Agency, which raised millions for lodging and food for the new arrivals and to help them integrate into their new society.

Where are their Arab counterparts to deal with the genuine suffering of many of the Palestinian refugees? Moslems, speaking Arabic, participating in the culture of the Arab world, they should find the absorption process far easier than it has been for Jews coming to Israel from a host of cultures. All that is lacking in the Arab world has been the willingness to welcome the refugees.

If the United States -- and Western countries generally -- are serious about creating the conditions for peace in the Middle East, they have no choice but to force a rethinking of the refugee issue. It is more than high time to resettle the refugees in the 22 Arab states. In this issue of Outpost, Rael Jean Isaac and Ruth King present a rational plan for refugee resettlement. It is critical to put an end to the present situation where the word "peace" is used to wage war; the word "refugee" to create anti-Israel sentiment; the words "prisoner release" to unleash on Israel hardened killers sworn to its destruction; the word "truce" to facilitate the strategic regrouping of terror organizations; the words "territorial concessions" to shrink Israel and permit a pincer movement of enemies to surround and vanquish the only democracy in the Middle East; and the phrase "the right to return" to make the Jews of Israel a homeless people.

Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans for a Safe Israel.

Sep 2003 issue OUTPOST

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