George Deek, Israel's vice ambassador to Norway, giving a lecture in the House of Literature in Oslo, 27 September 2014.
...According to the U.N. 711 thousand Palestinians were displaced, we’ve heard that before – some fled and some forcefully expelled.
At the same time, because of the establishment of Israel, 800 thousand Jews were intimidated into leaving the Arab world, leaving mostly empty of Jews.
As we’ve heard before, atrocities from both sides were not uncommon.
But it seems that this conflict was not the only one during the 19th and 20th century that lead to expulsion and transfer.
- From 1821 to 1922, 5 million Muslims were expelled from Europe, mostly to Turkey.
- In the 90’s Yoguslavia broke apart, leading to 100,000 people dead and about 3 million displaced.
- From 1919 to 1949, during the Visla operation between Poland and Ukraine, 150,000 people died, and 1.5 million were displaced.
- Following World War II and the Potsdam convention, between 12-17 million Germans were displaced.
- When India and Pakistan were established, about 15 million people were transferred.
- This trend also exists in the Middle East, For example the displacement of 1.1 million Kurds by the Ottomans,
- 2.2 million Christians who were expelled from Iraq,
- And as we speak today, Yazidis, Bahai, Kurds, Christians and even Muslims are being killed and expelled in a rate of 1,000 people per month, following the rise of Radical Islam.
The chances of any of those groups to return to their homes, is almost non-existent.
So why is it then,
Why is it that the tragedies of the Serbs, the European Muslims, the Polish refugees or the Iraqi Christians are not commemorated?
How come the displacement of the Jews from the Arab world was completely forgotten, while the tragedy of the Palestinians, the Nakba, is still alive in today’s politics?
It seems to me to be so, because the Nakba has been transformed from a humanitarian disaster to a political offensive.
The commemoration of the Nakba is no longer about remembering what happened, but about resenting the mere existence of the state of Israel.
It is demonstrated most clearly in the date chosen to commemorate it:
The Nakba day is not April 9th – the day of the Deir Yassin massacre,
Or July 13th – the day of the expulsion from Lod.
The Nakba day was set on May 15th – the day after Israel proclaimed its independence.
By that the Palestinian leadership declared that the disaster of the Nakba is not the expulsion, the abandoned villages or the exile – the Nakba in their eyes in the creation of Israel.
They are saddened less by the humanitarian catastrophe that befell on Palestinians, and more by the revival of the Jewish state.
In other words: they do not mourn the fact that my cousins are Jordanians, they mourn the fact that I am an Israeli.
By doing so, The Palestinians have become slaves to the past, held captive by the chains of resentment, prisoners in the world of frustration and hate...
...If the Palestinians wish to redeem the past, they need to first focus on securing a future, on building a world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.
And the first step in that direction, without a doubt, is to end the shameful treatment of the Palestinian refugees.
In the Arab world, the Palestinian refugees – including their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren – are still not settled, aggressively discriminated against, and in most cases denied citizenship and basic human rights.
Why is it, that my relatives in Canada are Canadian citizens, while my relatives in Syria, Lebanon or the gulf countries – who were born there and know no other home – are still considered refugees?
Clearly, the treatment of the Palestinians in the Arab countries is the greatest oppression they experience anywhere.
And the collaborators in this crime are no other than the international community and the United Nations.
Rather than doing its job and help the refugees build a life, the international community is feeding the narrative of the victimhood.
While there is one U.N. agency in charge of all refugees in the world – the UNHCR, another agency was established to deal only with the Palestinian ones – UNRWA.
This is no coincidence – while the goal of the UNHCR is to help refugees establish a new home, establish a future and end their status as refugees, the goal of UNRWA is opposite: to preserve their status as refugees, and prevent them from being able to start new lives.
The International community cannot seriously expect the refugee problem to be solved, when it is collaborating with the Arab world in treating the refugees’ as political pawns, denying them the basic rights they deserve.
Wherever the Palestinian refugees were granted equal rights – they prospered and contributed to their society – In South America, in the U.S., and even in Israel.
In fact, Israel was one of the few countries that automatically gave full citizenship and equality for all Palestinians in it after ‘48.
And we see the results: despite all the challenges, the Arab citizens of Israel built a future.
Israeli Arabs are the most educated Arabs in the world, with the best living standards and opportunities in the region.
Arabs serve as judges in the Supreme Court;
Some of the best doctors in Israel are Arabs, working in almost every hospital in the country;
There are 13 Arab members of parliament who enjoy the right to criticize the government – a right that they exhaust to the fullest – protected by the freedom of speech;
Arabs win popular reality shows;
And you can even find Arab diplomats – and one of them is standing in front of you.
Today, when I walk the streets of Jaffa, I see the old buildings and the old port,
But I also see children going to school and university; I see flourishing businesses; and I see a vibrant culture.
In short, despite the fact that we still have a long road ahead of us as a minority, we have a future in Israel.
...rather than reviving the successful approach of tolerance, Arab youth are being taught to hate Jews, using anti-Semitic rhetoric from medieval Europe, mixed with Islamic radicalism.
And once again, what started as hostility towards Jews has become hostility towards anyone who is different.
Just last week more than 60,000 Kurds fled from Syria towards Turkey, afraid of being slaughtered.
On the same day, 15 Palestinians from Gaza drowned in the sea trying to escape the claws of Hamas;
Bahai and Yazidis are at risk.
And on top of it all, the ethnic cleansing of Christians in the Middle East is the biggest crime against humanity in the 21st century. In just two decades Christians like me have been reduced from 20% of the population of the Middle East to a mere 4% today.
And when we see that the main victims of Islamist violence are Muslims, it is getting clear to everyone –
At the end of the day, hate destroys the hater.
If we wish to succeed in protecting our right to be different, if we want to have a future in that region, I believe we should stand together – Jews, Muslims and Christians:
We will fight for the right of Christians everywhere to live their faith without fear, with the same passion with which we will fight for the right of Jews to live without fear.
We will fight against Islamophobia, but we need our Muslims partners to join the fight against Christianophobia and Judeophobia.
...I fail to see a debate questioning the wisdom of the destructive leadership of the Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Hussaini; or the unnecessary war launched by the Arab league in 1948, or any of the wars against Israel, in the years that followed until today;
And I fail to see self-criticism in the Palestinian mainstream today about the use of terrorism, the launching of the second intifada, or the rejection of at least two Israeli offers in the last 15 years to end the conflict.
Self-reflection is not a weakness; it is a sign of strength.
It brings forth our ability to overcome fear and face reality.
It demands us to look sincerely into our decisions, and take responsibility for it.
Only the Arabs themselves can change their reality.
By stopping the leaning on conspiracy theories and the blaming of outside powers – America, the Jews, the West or whoever – for all the problems;
By learning from past mistakes,
And by making wiser decisions in the future...
...We cannot change the past.
But we can secure a future for our next generations, if we want to mend the past some day;
We can help the Palestinian refugees have a normal life;
We can be sincere about our past, and learn from our mistakes;
And we can unite – Muslims, Jews and Christians – to protect our right to be different, and by that preserve our humanity;
Indeed we can’t change the past,
But if we do all that, we will change the future...