Wednesday June 20th was World Refugee Day, a day when the international community expresses solidarity for people forced to flee their homes as a result of war, persecution, or violence.

Palestinians and their supporters globally typically also use the opportunity of World Refugee Day to raise awareness about the current situation facing Palestinian refugees and also to remind people about what befell the Palestinians in the 1947-1948 war for Israel’s independence.

There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the hardships that some 700,000 Arabs faced during the war, although as we’ve noted in several recent posts, the reason that these Palestinian Arabs became refugees wasn’t because of any master plan on the part of the Zionists to expel them, as no such policy existed.

On the contrary, the historical evidence and even the personal stories and accounts of the refugees themselves shows that the vast majority fled their homes and villages because they were instructed to do so by Arab leaders and military officials. They also greatly feared being mistreated by the advancing Zionist armed forces, based on the lies that were told to them about a horrible massacre that had been perpetrated on some defenseless Arab villagers by Jewish paramilitary groups—a brutal incident which in fact never happened:

Still, there should be no doubt that the Arab men, women, and children who fled their homes during the 1948 war endured many hardships, not least on account of the fact that the neighboring Arab countries were unwilling to absorb them.

Documenting their suffering and adversity, especially with photos and images from the time, is a perfectly legitimate way to highlight the many difficulties that the Palestinians faced—a shameful mistreatment that continues to this day (for example, see our post about the ongoing discrimination and privations that the descendants of Palestinian refugees face today in Lebanon).

There’s a problem though when Palestinians or their international supporters try to raise awareness about these refugees by erasing the plight and collective traumas experienced by Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

That’s what happened on Wednesday when a large Africa-based organization tried to commemorate the experiences of the Arab Palestinian refugees by mistakenly disseminating an old image of Jewish refugees in Israel:

[Credit: The Tower]

Blooper: COSATU Replaces Arab for Jewish Refugees

At issue is a tweet that COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) shared with its 120,000+ followers in order to commemorate the plight of Palestinian refugees on World Refugee Day. The tweet included an iconic photograph from 1950 depicting a group of Jewish refugees who had been placed by the Israeli government into a refugee absorption center, known as a ma’abara. The tweet no longer appears on COSATU’s Twitter feed after Israel supporters mocked the tweet, but here’s a screenshot:

COSATU is a South African trade union with more than 2 million members and is reportedly Africa’s largest such federation. It’s a staunch supporter of the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement and of pro-BDS organizations in South Africa, and has a virulently anti-Israel perspective as exhibited by a number of its statements and social media postings.

Its howler of a tweet on Wednesday was caught quickly. Many then replied to the tweet, noting the error. Here are a few of the replies to COSATU on Twitter, there are dozens more too:

COSATU’s Photo Blooper: Why It Matters

As blogger “Aussie Dave” writes for his pro-Israel Israellycool website, there are two reasons this tweet is important. First, the mix-up actually draws attention to the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Second, it highlights the fact that the

tiny, nascent country of Israel was able to absorb them while the multitude of Arab countries did not bother doing the same for the Palestinian refugees (leading to the situation we have today and perpetuating the conflict.”

So Israel re-settled the Jewish refugees, while the Palestinian refugees were placed in camps and deliberately kept there for 70 years, with complicity of the United Nations, in order to exploit them as a propaganda weapon to sow hatred against Israel.

In several prior posts we discussed how, in a series of events that spanned over three decades from the 1940s through the 1970s, some 850,000 (and according to some experts, as high as one million) Jews from across the Middle East and North Africa became refugees:

As we discussed,

Thriving Jewish communities—many of them centuries old—were wiped out during these years as Jews were subjected to arrest, properties and assets were seized or set on fire, and draconian anti-Jewish laws were instituted. Violence against Jews was either instigated or tolerated by the authorities. The hostility led to waves of Jews being uprooted from their homes, and sometimes fleeing for their lives—typically with nothing other than the clothes on their backs.

The loss was devastating. In fact, experts believe that the Jewish exodus from Arab/Muslim lands was larger than the Arab refugees of what is referred to as the ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe), both in terms of the numbers of people displaced and the loss of property (approximately $350 billion of Jewish property was destroyed or seized during these years).

But the paramount loss was to Middle Eastern states and societies. Of the estimated 1 million Jews in Arab countries in 1948, the year Israel was established, today only some 5,000 remain.”

Basically, as we noted, there were two refugee populations created in 1948—not just one.

Stories abound about one of these groups of refugees—the Palestinian Arab refugees. Even Israelis learn about the creation of the Palestinian refugee crisis in their schools. But, as is clear from COSATU’s blunder with the appropriated photo, many Palestinians and their global supporters aren’t aware of the other refugee population—the “forgotten exodus” of Jewish refugees and the suffering that Jews in nearly a dozen Arab countries experienced on account of hostility toward Jews, Zionism, and the very creation of the state of Israel.

Not a single Arab state has ever formally acknowledged the Jewish refugees and lost property. And while over 100 UN resolutions seeking justice for Palestinian refugees has been passed, not a single one exists for the Jews who were forced to escape repressive abuse.

In our prior posts we documented how the Jews of Arab/Muslim lands were subjected to pogroms, systematic violence, and persecution. Included in the posts are many embedded images and videos. Here are a few:

[Credit: The Tower]

Conclusion

COSATO deservedly generated quite a few laughs on Twitter. But its blunder with the refugee photo underscores a more serious problem: the fact that many Palestinians and their global supporters lack basic knowledge about the nature of antisemitism and anti-Jewish persecution in the Arab and Muslim world, which eventually led to a mass departure and expulsion.

We noted in our prior post that a greater understanding of this tragic but little-known chapter in Jewish history and the catastrophe that befell the Jews in Arab nations is important not only for historical truth and for setting the record straight about the Jewish experience in Arab countries. It’s also essential for securing justice for these Jewish victims and for Palestinian refugees too.

Acknowledging the Jewish departure and expulsion highlights Israel’s remarkable and unprecedented absorption of hundreds of thousands of refugees who desperately flooded into the young state, while underscoring the extent to which the Arab/Muslim world shamefully neglected their own. Consequently, it’s not only a step toward obtaining proper redress and compensation for the descendants of the Jewish refugees—it could also be a way to begin the long-overdue process of securing Palestinian refugees the justice they’ve been denied in other Arab countries and by their own governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

Moreover, by increasing awareness of the Jewish refugees from Arab states and Iran, along with their right to compensation, authentic negotiations between the parties can take place and thus contribute to both the conflict’s lasting resolution and to reconciliation.

As we mentioned in our prior post,

The one-sided presentation of the refugee problem is in fact part of the reason that an Israeli-Palestinian peace remains elusive. It has helped to nurture the Palestinian narrative of exclusive victimization which feeds hard-line policies, violence, and the rejection of reasonable compromises.”

Bottom line: Remembering that there were two tragedies or two ‘nakbas’ may be a way to incentivize peace.

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her Facebook and on Twitter @MiriamElman