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Jewish World Review April 17, 2000 /12 Nissan, 5760

Don Feder

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"Right of return," newest threat to Israel -- IMAGINE AN ISRAEL of the future where Holocaust remembrance ceremonies are banned, Hebrew is outlawed and the nation's doors are permanently barred to Jewish immigrants.

That future will be all too real if Arabs who are pushing a Palestinian "right to return" succeed. An April 8 conference at Boston University kicked the campaign into high gear.

The gathering of more than 500 heard from the likes of ubiquitous Palestinian propagandist Edward Said and veteran America-basher MIT Professor Noam Chomsky.

Ilan Pappe, a leftist Israeli academic, claimed Israel was founded on a "program of ethnic cleansing" involving "expulsions, sporadic massacres, confiscation of land and property, and terror." Not to be outdone, Chomsky charged that Arafat's Palestinian Authority was "an agent of Israel and the U.S."

The conference was one tentacle of a multi-faceted movement. A March 28 gathering of the Arab League demanded that Jewish immigration to Israel be halted until the question of Palestinian resettlement is settled.

For the Arab world, an impending Palestinian state -- armed and occupying the high ground in Judea and Samaria, giving Israel what Abba Eban used to call "Auschwitz borders" -- isn't enough. Even control of East Jerusalem won't satisfy these chronic hard-liners.

They seek the entry of an estimated 3.5 million to 6 million Arabs not to a West Bank state but to pre-1967 Israel, giving the Jewish state an Arab majority.

They insist that during the 1948 War of Independence, Zionists drove the Palestinians from their homeland en masse. So justice requires repatriation. While the Palestinian Authority demands that 120,000 Jews be expelled from the West Bank (biblical Israel), it wants Israel to accept millions of Palestinian refugees -- at which point there would be no more Israel.

During the 1948 war, precipitated by neighboring Arab nations intent on teaching the Jews aquatic sports, from 175,000 to 200,000 Arabs left what became Israel.

Some fled the war. A few were expelled. More evacuated at the urging of Arab leaders. Get out of the way so we can settle with the Jews, they were told. Soon, you can return to your homes -- and theirs, too.

A 1954 article in the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Difaa explained: "We (Palestinian Arabs) were masters in our land, happy with our lot. ... But overnight everything changed. The Arab governments told us: 'Get out so that we can get in.' So we got out, but they did not get in."

During the war, 150,000 to 175,000 Arabs stayed in Israel. Today, they have grown to 1 million and are the only minority in the Middle East that's treated decently. Egypt's Coptic Christians, Iranian Baha'i, Iraqi Kurds -- all are envious of Arab Israelis.

After the '48 war, 800,000 Jews were driven from the Arab world. Most were resettled in Israel, not left to fester in miserable refugee camps like their Arab counterparts. No one is suggesting that they be allowed to go home, assuming Yemenite Jews would want to return to Yemen.

The 20th century has seen wave after wave of refugees. Following World War II, 10 million Germans were expelled from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Half a million Italians left Yugoslavia, a quarter of a million Dutch were kicked out of Indonesia, and 15 million were exchanged between India and Pakistan. These population movements are viewed as an unfortuante consequence of war and nation-building, not an ongoing human-rights issue.

If it weren't so sick, this right-of-return stuff would almost be funny. Arafat wants to eject Jews from the West Bank. Jews are legally prohibited from living in Saudi Arabia.

In much of the Arab world, tiny Jewish communities exist in a state of siege. There are 25,000 Jews left in Iran. On May 1, 13 of them will be tried for espionage. In 1997, the mullahs hanged two Iranian Jews on trumped-up spy charges.

Morton Klien of the Zionist Organization of America explains, "If six Arab armies hadn't invaded Israel in 1948, in an attempt to destroy a state sanctioned by the United Nations, there would not be a single Arab refugee."

Those trumpeting a right to return hope the '48 refugees and their descendants will succeed where Arab armies failed half-a-century ago.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate