Wash. Post libels Israel on Palestinian refugees

The Washington Post, in its June 22 edition, runs an article by correspondent Caroline Anning about thousands of Palestinian refugees who, after fleeing to Syria in the 1940s, now again have fled -- this time to Lebanon, to escape the fighting in Syria.

The article, at its very core, paints a false picture of how these Palestinian refugees and their descendants came to be displaced in the first place.

Here's how Anning puts it: "To date, an estimated 55,000 Palestinians have sought sanctuary in Lebanon from the war in Syria, according to the United Nations, most of them descendants of families displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948."

Not so.  The founding of Israel did not create the Palestinian refugee problem.  In 1948, Israeli leaders pleaded with Arabs in Palestine to stay put and live in a democratic state that would fully protect their basic rights.  Instead, Arab leaders urged them to get out of the way of half a dozen Arab armies intent on annihilating the Jewish state at its infancy.  Had Arabs not declared war on Israel, but instead accepted the U.N.'s two-state mandate -- an Arab state and a Jewish state -- there would be no refugee problem today.

The Palestinian refugee problem is an affliction imposed on Palestinians by the Arab world.  To blame Israel is nothing short of libelous.

Since the founding of Israel, Palestinian leaders and leaders of Arab regimes have indulged in historical revisionism, memorializing each year the alleged Israeli-imposed "naqba" -- catastrophe -- in 1948.  There indeed was a "naqba," but it was entirely self-imposed by the Arabs.  The notion that the Palestinian refugee problem is the creation of Israel -- not of the 1948 Arab war to destroy Israel -- is a canard of the first order.  Now, the Washington Post is perpetuating it.

Anning's article also is flawed -- and biased into the bargain -- by its failure to point out that Arabs were not the only ones displaced by the 1948 war.  Some 850,000 Jews from Arab lands, where they had lived for several millennia, were persecuted and dispossessed by Arab authorities, forced to flee from their ancestral homes, leaving behind almost all their possessions.

These Jewish refugees deserve as much attention as the Palestinian refugees -- an egregious omission by the Post.

Also lacking in the article is the sharp contrast between Israeli treatment of Jewish refugees and the Arab world's treatment of Palestinian refugees.

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries were resettled, absorbed, and integrated into Israeli society.  They and their descendants, whose numbers now total several millions, now constitute about half of Israel's population.  In contrast, Arab rulers have kept Palestinian refugees bottled up in camps and denied them full absorption so as to use them as political pawns in their efforts to delegitimize Israel and ultimately remove it from the Mideast map.

Anning again fails to give readers this important historical context, except a bare hint that Arabs who fled to Syria "lacked citizenship."  This doesn't begin to convey the betrayal of Arab refugees in Arab countries, whose rulers were intent on keeping them as stateless refugees.

The latest chapter of that betrayal can be found in the current so-called Arab League peace plan, which contains a provision that any settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not impinge on the right of Arab nations to continue to deny citizenship to Palestinians.

The "naqba" continues, but it is a direct result of the Arab world's disregard of Palestinian interests.

To spin a tale that the Palestinian refugee problem was spawned "by the creation of Israel'' is utter bunk -- a disservice to history and to Post readers.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.

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