To call the Jewish migration to the Lord’s land “the greatest crime of the twentieth century,” as the Arabs have generally done, ignores the history of humanity over the past one hundred years. Mass migrations have taken place all over the globe. Large-scale refugee flights have also occurred in many places, especially in Asia and Africa. For example, the 1980s Afghan refugee exodus of several million Muslims was considerably larger than the Palestinian flight, yet little was heard about it. The Palestinian flight was not even in the twentieth century’s top ten in terms of overall size.

National boundaries in Europe, Africa, and much of Asia were either created or redrawn many times during the 1900s, usually as a result of war.

The Arabs, like other peoples, were promised an independent state or states by the victorious European powers who helped liberate them from Ottoman control during World War I. They now have not one but seventeen states stretching from the west coast of Africa to Iran.

After centuries of oppression and persecution in Muslim and Christian regions, the Jews were also promised a national home in the Middle East, a proposition essentially agreed to by Arab-Muslim leader Faisal Hussein and endorsed by the League of Nations and later by the United Nations. While many Jews did not see the need for such a state in the early 1900s, almost all did so after the fires of the Holocaust were finally put out.

Jews immigrating to their ancient ancestral homeland did not “steal Arab land” as is so often charged, but legally bought what they could, as Arieh Avneri fully documents in his book Claim of Dispossession. It is true that much Arab-owned property was seized by Israeli authorities in 1948 and 1949. Many abandoned villages, usually partially destroyed, were either completely razed or rebuilt for Jewish settlement. Palestinians understandably reacted with much anger and bitterness when they learned, in many cases, that their homes either no longer existed or were being occupied by Jews.

Historical Context

But the Israeli land seizures must be placed in their historical context. This is usually not done by Palestinians and their advocates. It was the Arabs who initiated a self-declared total war of destruction against the fledgling Jewish state after turning down the U.N. partition plan and refusing, as is generally still true today, to recognize that the Jews might have a legitimate right, and certainly a need, for a sovereign state in their beloved Holy Land. If the Arabs had agreed to a land partition, there would have been no war, no refugees, and no land seizures. Socialist and Western-orientated Jewish leaders like David Ben Gurion — keenly aware that world support was vital for the new state — were not about to initiate military action to drive Palestinians from their homes and farms.

It was in the midst of the 1948 and 1967 wars, waged by a number of Arab countries against the vastly outnumbered Jews, that Palestinian land was seized. Unpleasant as it may be, land is often taken by victors in war, especially if the other side initiated the conflict and threatens to do so again in the future. The United States did not expand by land purchases alone, nor has any other nation in recorded history.

It is also important to remember that Jewish properties and other assets were seized all over Europe before and during World War II and from parts of the Arab world as Jews fled to the newly established state of Israel. Plundered Jewish wealth in Arab lands has never been compensated for, although West Germany paid war reparations to most holocaust survivors. Other countries like Switzerland and Sweden are only beginning to admit that they benefited economically from stolen Jewish assets.

The more than one hundred thousand Jews who fled Baghdad in the early 1950s were allowed to carry only one small suitcase with them and could take out of the country no more than the equivalent of 140 American dollars. The Iraqi government seized all of the remaining Jewish assets, which were substantial. The Jews of Europe and parts of the Arab world lost their property and valuables because of unprovoked attacks upon them, or they were forced to give them up in order to buy safe passage from hostile Arab lands. In contrast, Palestinian refugees lost their assets in the course of wars initiated by their own leaders and surrounding Arab states.

Understanding the Palestinian Plight