Sunday was the day the Arab world commemorated the Nakba. One can and should participate in the sorrow of those who became refugees and remained so to this very day. They lost their homes and property. They were denied basic human rights. And many of them, because of what is happening in Syria, have become victims once again. Moreover, one must look bravely at history.
In the first half of the 20th century, with the fall of the empires, nation states began to take shape. The Ottoman Empire, which became Turkey, began the process of expelling minorities. It started with the expulsion of the Armenians that turned into a genocide. It continued with a huge wave of population exchanges in Europe and Asia. At least 52 million people went through that experience. That was the norm. Even the Permanent Court of International Justice, the highest international jurisdiction in those years, ruled that it was a proper arrangement. Until the adoption of the Geneva Convention. What was until then considered the norm had suddenly become a war crime.
Calls supporting transfer were also heard from the Zionist movement, but they were fewer compared to those coming from Europe. In any case, Arab opposition to the UN partition plan of November 1947, declarations of destruction and the invasion of Israel immediately after its independence was declared, led to 711,000 Arabs – at the time they were not called Palestinians - becoming refugees. Most of them fled. Some were deported.
Jews also became refugees. Many leaders in the Arab world spoke menacingly of the imminent destruction awaiting the Jews of Palestine and Arab countries if the partition plan was approved. The Arab League passed a resolution that, in practice, turned the Jews into hostages. A series of pogroms against Jews in Arab countries have made it clear that a chapter in history had come to an end. The Jewish minority in the Arab countries, which numbered one million people, was mostly forced to flee. It was the Jewish Nakba.
The Arabs of Palestine came under Arab jurisdiction. With the exception of Jordan, which made them citizens for the purpose of annexing the West Bank, the refugees became second-class citizens in the Arab countries. They suffered under a military regime in Gaza and suffered veritable apartheid in Lebanon that continues to this day. They were not supposed to be foreigners. After all, they all spoke the same language, had the same culture, had the same religion and, in many cases, were members of the same family.
None of the tens of millions of refugees from those years is still a refugee. None of them received "the right of return." Only the Arabs who turned into Palestinians had their status perpetuated. Instead of being taken care of by the the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they were granted their very own agency – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Their number grew. It is meritorious to show empathy for refugees. But the insistence on their "right of return," the code name for the destruction of Israel and refusal of any agreement, suppresses any desire for empathy.
Reconciliation will only be achieved when the Arab world stops deceiving itself and takes responsibility for the double nakba. Both the Arab one and the Jewish one. Inshallah.