Olmert's Twisted Priorities
voices sorrow for Palestinian refugees
September 15, 2008 | Eli E. Hertz
It is important to set the historical record straight: The overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees left what was then the newly-established State of Israel on their own accord due to structural weaknesses within Palestinian society and their leadership.
The pressure of wartime conditions triggered the collapse of what was already a fragile Palestinian society, particularly when Palestinian leaders chose to oppose the Jewish state by a show of arms rather than by accepting a UN plan for their own state. Military necessity resulted after seven Arab armies invaded western Palestine with the goal of exterminating the newly born State of Israel.
The human tragedy of being uprooted notwithstanding, Palestinian refugees were neither hapless targets nor innocent bystanders. The first stage of the 1948 war was a fierce interethnic or anti-Zionist civil war in which Palestinians were the aggressors and the initiators; the second half was an all-out war involving regular armies, whose participation the Arab Palestinians engineered.
The violent path that Palestinians chose - and the ensuing fear, disorientation, and economic deprivation of war - led to their own collective undoing.
Because Palestinian Arab society had been so dependent on the British civil administration and social services, Britain's departure left Arab civil servants jobless. As a result, most social services and civil administration ceased to function in the Arab sector, disrupting the flow of essential commodities such as food and fuel, which added to the hardships, the uncertainty, and the dangers.
In contrast, Jewish society in Palestine, or the Yishuv as it was called in Hebrew, had established its own civil society over the span of three decades under the Mandate. The Yishuv created its own representative political bodies and social and economic institutions, including health and welfare services, a public transport network, and a thriving sophisticated marketing system for manufactured goods and food - in short, a state-in-the-making.
During that same period, the Arabs of Palestine, however, had invested all of their energies into fighting any form of Jewish polity-in-the-making.
So it was no surprise that when the British departed, the Palestinian Arabs remained unorganized and ill prepared not only for statehood (which they rejected in any case), but also for sustained conflict with their Jewish adversaries.
To this day, in fact, Palestinians reject the notion of Jewish institutions and symbols of Jewish peoplehood, labeling them as apartheid and racist, with their only goal being the dissolution of the Jewish character of Israel. Palestinians were, and to a great extent remain, a society with fundamental weaknesses that have nothing to do with Zionist aspirations or actions. It is a society characterized by tribal rivalries and social cleavages, rife with distrust and plagued by poor leadership.
In January 1948, Hussein Khalidi, Secretary of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) - a coalition of six political factions established at the start of the Arab Revolt in 1936 and the Palestinians' only representative framework - complained to the Mufti: "Forty days after the declaration of a jihad, and I am shattered ... Everyone has left me. Six [AHC members] are in Cairo, two are in Damascus - I won't be able to hold on much longer... Everyone is leaving. Everyone who has a check or some money - off he goes to Egypt, to Lebanon, to Damascus."
As the flight of the leadership spread, the stampede effect spread to the middle classes and the peasantry, as the last British High Commissioner for Palestine General Sir Alan Cunningham noted in his report to London as the Mandate era wound to a close: "The collapsing Arab morale in Palestine is in some measure due to the increasing tendency of those who should be leading them to leave the country... In all parts of the country the effendi class has been evacuating in large numbers over a considerable period and the tempo is increasing."
The first five-and-a-half months of the war began with riots in so-called mixed cities where Jews and Arabs lived, escalated to attacks on Jewish transport until the violence grew into a bitter guerrilla warfare, as interethnic wars tend to be.
There were 6,000 Israeli dead as a result of that war [between November 30, 1947 - July 20, 1949] in a population of 600,000. One percent of the Jewish population was gone, along with billion of dollars [at present value] in damages to the newly born State of Israel.
The Palestinians were responsible for escalating the war - a move that cost the Jews thousands of lives and Palestinians their homes. By their own behavior, Palestinians assumed the role of belligerents in the conflict, invalidating any claim to be hapless victims and demand the 'right of return' a right not mentioned under international law or humanitarian law conventions.
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