Arguing About History

November 23rd, 2009

In her letter to the editor, Hanan Masri '98 refers to "forced displacement and ultimate expulsion of the Palestinian people" ("Yiddish Revival," Mail Room, September/October). However, historical evidence from the British authorities in 1948 indicates that in most cases Arabs left Israel not due to forced expulsion or displacement by Jews but because Arab leaders told them to leave their homes in Israel during the upcoming war with the Jews. These leaders promised that once they had defeated and destroyed the Jewish land, the Arabs would return in triumph to a Jew-free Palestine. In declaring the independence of the State of Israel in 1948, the Jews proclaimed that Arabs would be equal citizens and called on "the sons of the Arab people" to remain in Israel.

Masri also falsely compares the fate of Native Americans and African Americans to the fate of Palestinian Arabs. From around 1860 to 1881, 80 percent of Native Americans were exterminated in a deliberate genocide. There is simply no comparison between this extermination of Native Americans and the tragic fate of Arab refugees who left their homes in Israel because they hoped to defeat and destroy the Jews. Similarly, African Americans were enslaved in the United States for 250 years and then forcibly segregated and denied the right to vote and hold elected office for another 100 years. By contrast, Palestinian Arabs were never enslaved or segregated by the Jews. And African Americans sought only the end of slavery and segregation, not the destruction of white America. In contrast, Palestinian Arabs have consistently sought the destruction of Israel and the Jews and have refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Rebecca Witonsky '97

Boca Raton, Fla.


In her letter, Hanan Masri '98 refers to "forced displacement and ultimate expulsion of indigenous Arabs from Israel." The lineage of my own family demonstrates that this dichotomy of "indigenous Arabs" and invading Jews is not true. Early members of the Betesh family came from Aleppo, Syria, and nearby towns, where they'd lived for centuries. About 750,000 Jews fled to what is now Israel from Arab and Muslim countries, where they had lived for millennia. Jews were in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, and Lebanon, for example, even before Arabic was spoken there.

Most Arabs stayed in Israel after 1948, and their descendants make up 20 percent of Israel's citizenry, complete with the right to vote. After the Jewish state was established, 750,000 Arabs fled and were not accepted by any Arab country. There's no reversing this, any more than Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims from India who fled in 1948 can go back.

The Arab world was once diverse and often more tolerant than Europe. My father-in-law kept a photo of an Arab friend with whom he played backgammon as a young man. Although we can't go back, we can go forward. Peace must mean Israel living within secure borders, with economic development and the human rights so desperately needed in the Arab world.

Joan Betesh '72

Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

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November/December 2009