TCS Daily

A Singular Sensation?

By Sidney Goldberg - July 8, 2003 12:00 AM

After World War II some 900,000 Jews lived in the Arab world, most of them middle class, which in that time and place meant servants, a fine apartment or house, good restaurants, a rich cultural life. Some of them were immensely wealthy.

The three department stores in Alexandria, Egypt -- where 40,000 Jews lived in the most cosmopolitan Arab city -- were owned by Jews. And in Baghdad, where one out of five residents was Jewish, many of the best shops and several banks and insurance companies were owned by Jews, who could choose for membership from among several dozen synagogues.

Virtually all of these Jews fled their Arab homelands out of fear or were forcefully expelled, with no compensation for their lost properties, after the creation of Israel and the early wars. Most of these Jews had lived in these lands for centuries -- in Iraq, going back to the Babylonian Captivity. Two thirds of them went to Israel, where most of them had to create new lives with no start-up assets, and the remainder went to the United States, France, Argentina, and elsewhere.

Whereas the Jews were expelled with contempt and hatred, there were many in Israel who pleaded with the Arabs to stay. The Haifa Workers' Council published the following on April 28, 1948: "...our city flourished and developed for the good of both Jewish and Arab residents... Do not destroy your homes with your own hands; do not bring tragedy upon yourselves by unnecessary evacuation and self-imposed burdens. By moving out you will be overtaken by poverty and humiliation. But in this city, yours and ours, Haifa, the gates are open for work, for life, and for peace, for you and your families." (The plea, indeed, did persuade many Arabs to remain in Haifa.)

Although very few Jewish exiles wish to return to their former homes in the Arab lands, rejoining the 10,000 or so who still remain there, most of them elderly, for the first time there is a real movement to seek compensation, which would be in the multi-billions of dollars, significantly greater than any compensation the Palestinians reasonably could demand for lost Palestinian properties.

The refugees in the Middle East comprise a tiny segment of the millions and millions of refugees throughout the world. But whereas nearly all the world's refugees -- many of them expelled from their homes under far worse conditions than the Palestinians -- have built new lives, the Palestinians have endured the past half century in bitterness, unquenchable hatred for Israel and Jews, and self-pity.

So many of the world's refugees are invisible to us because they have not become terrorists, and certainly not tossing bombs at children and other innocents. As an example, which some may not like, at the end of World War II several million Germans were forcefully expelled from Prussia (emptying it of its population), Western Poland, Danzig, the Sudetenland. The expulsions were barbaric -- slaughters, torture, tens of thousands of gang rapes (violating everyone from preteens to grandmothers, nuns, nurses, any woman, mostly at the hands of the Red Army).

The Sudetenland was depopulated of Germans under the legal framework of the Benes Decrees of 1945 which provided openly and without apology or even any attempt at justification for the expulsion of any resident with German blood and confiscation of his property with no compensation. It's good to remember that the Germans in the Czechoslovak republic that was created after World War I numbered half as many as did the Czechs in the republic but were harassed and indeed persecuted by the Czechs who denied them the right to include German as a legal language in this supposedly liberal democracy.

Many of us forget how German the culture of Bohemia and Moravia was. Kafka, the great "Czech" author, wrote in German. Charles University was a German university. Freud and Mahler were born in the Sudetenland. German emperors were crowned in Prague, an equal to any other city as a center of German high culture, and, ironically, the bearers of much of it was German Jewry.

Despite the subhuman brutality of the expulsion of these millions of Germans, they swallowed hard and started all over again in their new environments, no doubt longing terribly for all that was left behind.

These tales can be matched in many cases by the millions of refugees who suffered terribly -- death, impoverishment, total separation from families -- from India, Pakistan, Vietnam, black Africa (where in Uganda, for example, the entire Indian population was expelled a generation ago).

So what is it about the Palestinians that makes them the singular group of refugees in the world that gains our attention? It is unanswerable, except that perhaps it is because the object of their burning hatred is Israel, which contains the remnants of European Jewry and cannot endure the unthinkable tragedy of another holocaust, which would turn the world's stomach.

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