The Jerusalem Post and The Huffington Post
September 2, 2012
Hanan Ashrawi, the PLO Executive Committee member much sought after by Western media outlets, has just earned a gold medal for historical revisionism.
In a recent article intended for an Arabic-speaking audience, she asserted there were no Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Instead, according to her, there were only "emigrants," who left their ancestral homes voluntarily. Jews were not singled out for persecution, and if they were, it was, in reality, a plot by "Zionists."
This line of Palestinian argumentation is of a piece with other efforts to delegitimize Jewish history.
In other words, the Palestinian strategy, of which Ashrawi has been an integral part, is essentially to try to eliminate any grounds for Jewish self-determination and nationhood.
Which brings us to her preposterous claim that there were no Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
To get personal, according to Ashrawi, my wife's life must be based on a lie.
Ironically, my wife and her family – parents and seven siblings – placed their faith in Arab "democracy" and "pluralism." How dangerously short-sighted!
In 1951, Libya became an independent country. It adopted a constitution that ensured protection of minorities, including Jews.
My wife's family, unlike the majority of Libyan Jews, chose to believe in these guarantees. They stayed while others, fearing the worst, had not waited, leaving as quickly as they could. Those fleeing recalled the lethal Arab pogroms of 1945 and 1948, when Libya was still under British rule, and foresaw only a downward spiral under Libyan authority.
What happened post-1951?
Jews were never accorded equal rights, equal opportunity, or equal protection under the law, such as the law was.
They were second-class citizens from the get-go, if, that is, they could even acquire Libyan citizenship. That many had lived there for millennia, indeed long before Arab forces conquered and occupied – yes, conquered and occupied – the land was deemed irrelevant.
Then came the fateful year of 1967.
My wife and her family were turned into refugees, whose lives had been in immediate jeopardy. But they were luckier than some. Many of their Jewish friends and neighbors – whose names and circumstances are well-known to this day – were killed by marauding mobs.
The reason? Only one. They were Jews. The backdrop was the Six-Day War, a thousand miles away. Libyans found the Jews in Tripoli and Benghazi easy prey, without any means of protection, governmental or otherwise.
So, my wife and her family were on the run, seeking safe haven, compelled to start lives anew, and facing the realization they could never return to the land of their birth.
If that doesn't make them refugees, pray tell, what does? Do they not have a right to be heard and to make clear there were two refugee populations of roughly equal size, not one, as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
The Libyan regime, especially after Colonel Muammar Qadhafi seized power in 1969, then set about extinguishing any trace of the Jewish presence, as if to write a new history that 40,000 Jews had never lived, studied, worked, created, or otherwise contributed to society.
And what took place in Libya was not unique. It was repeated in country after country, from Iraq to Syria, from Egypt to Yemen.
It's telling – isn't it– that Ashrawi doesn't wish to understand, much less confront, the stark truth.
Friends of the Palestinians who want to advance the prospects of a two-state accord with Israel should open their eyes and see what's staring them in the face.
Quick to condemn any alleged misdeed of the Israelis, they tend to make an art form of coddling the Palestinians, offering excuses or rationalizations for their behavior, or simply looking the other way.
But the denial of Jewish history – be it ancient or modern, in Israel or the Diaspora -- gets to the core of the conflict. It's not a side show; it's the main show.
Think back to Yasser Arafat's assertion to President Bill Clinton that there was never a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, seeking to make the insultingly bogus point that no Jewish connection to Jerusalem ever existed.
Or, more recently, to Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, who spoke at the UN General Assembly last September.
He mentioned Christian and Muslim links to the land. Yet he pointedly omitted any reference to the Jewish tie, though it predates the other religions' claims by thousands of years, and is buttressed by a Bible that both Christianity and Islam invoke, not to mention countless archaeological findings.
Or consider the Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish character of the State of Israel – and the broader efforts to question its very right to exist, despite the Balfour Declaration (1917), Treaty of San Remo (1920), League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (1922), Peel Commission (1936), UN Special Committee on Palestine (August 1947), UN General Assembly (November 1947), and UN membership since 1949.
Apropos, compare the legal and historical case for Israel as a sovereign state with those of several neighboring countries, including Iraq and Jordan. Quite a contrast!
Israel has come a long way from the days of Prime Minister Golda Meir, when Palestinian nationalism, then a relatively recent phenomenon, was rejected. Today, there is a broad consensus among Israelis on the need for a two-state peace accord, however complex its realization may be.
As long as Palestinian leaders, however, seek to rewrite history – as Ashrawi just did – then, let's be clear, the chances for building trust and moving toward an agreement grow ever slimmer.