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Exchange of Populations

For every refugee - adult or child - in Syria, Lebanon, or elsewhere in the Arab world who compels our sympathy, there is a Jewish refugee who fled from the Arab country of his birth. For every Arab who moved to neighboring lands, a Jew was forced to flee from a community where he and his ancestors may have lived for two thousand years. The Jews escaped to their original homeland, where their roots are even older; the Arabs also arrived where they were in the majority, where they shared the same language and culture with fellow Arabs, and often only a few dozen miles from their places of origin.

An exchange of populations has in actuality taken place and been consummated; by coincidence, even the total number of Arabs who reportedly left Israel is almost exactly equaled by the number of Jews exchanged. There has been a completed exchange of minorities between the Arabs and the Jews, and a more-than-even tradeoff of property for the Arabs. The Jews who fled Arab countries left assets behind in the Arab world greater than those the Arabs left in Israel.1 Jewish property that the Arabs confiscated in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt apparently has more than offset Arab claims of compensation from Israel. In fact, the concept of an "exchange of Arab and Jewish populations" was introduced by an Arab leader as a solution to the "disturbances" in the Middle East long before Israel or the actual exchange came about. In 1939, Mojli Amin, a member of the Arab Defense Committee for Palestine, drew up a proposal, published in Damascus and distributed among Arab leaders, entitled "Exchange of Populations." Amin proposed that

all the Arabs of Palestine shall leave and be divided up among the neighboring Arab countries. In exchange for this, all the Jews living in Arab countries will go to Palestine....

The exchange of populations should be carried out in the same way thar Turkey and Greece exchanged their populations. Special committees must be set up to deal with the liquidation of Jewish and Arab property....

I fear, in truth, that the Arabs will not agree.... But in spite of this, I take upon myself the task of convincing them ....2

At least a decade before the 1947 resolution to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, the British had proposed the exchange,of "Arab population in Palestine" for Jews elsewhere."3 In 1945 Herbert Hoover stated that "The Arab population of Palestine would be the gainer from better lands in exchange for their present holdings. Iraq would be the gainer, for it badly needs agricultural population. Today millions of people are being moved from one land to another." Therefore, Hoover suggested "financing" Iraq to "complete" the population transfer with greater facility.4

From the time Israel attained modem statehood, independent humanitarian pleas attempted to reveal the actualities of all the "Middle East refugees" and to spotlight the potential permanent relief. One example was clergyman Carl Hermann Voss, who hoped through his books to change the world's faulty perception. He wrote,

Some appeals for aid have implied that there is only an Arab refugee problem, enabling Arab propagandists to blame the Arab refugee plight on Israel. If proper attention is called to both Jewish and Arab refugee problems, much ill-will may be avoided and genuine human need, regardless of race or creed, will be served.5
1.Maurice Roumani, The Case ofthe Jewsfrom Arab Countries. A NeglectedIssue, with Deborah Goldman and Helene Korn, vol. 1, World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), Jerusalem, 1975, p. 82.

2.Transmission from Damascus, political agent, Political Department of the Jewish Agency, to Elialm Sasson, Political Department, Palestine, May 16, 1939 (from the English translation), CZA-525/5630 (Central Zionist Archives).

3. For example, see Permanent Mandates Commission, Minutes of the 32nd Session, pp. 111-118; particularly August 13, 1937: Lord William Ormsby Gore advocated the transfer of the Arab population of Palestine, who "had not hitherto regarded themselves as 'Palestinians' but as part of Syria as a whole, as part of the Arab world. ... They would be going only a comparatively few miles away to a people with the same language, the same civilisation, the same religion . . . " cited by Martin Gilbert, Exile and Return: The Strugglefor a Jewish Homeland (Philadelphia and New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1978), p. 185. Also see reactions to Ormsby Gore, PRO FO, 371/E71 34/976/31, minute, E.W. Rendel, December 8, 1937: According to British Foreign Office official Rendel, the transfer of "the Arab population from the Jewish state ... seems clearly to have been regarded as a matter of enforcement by his Majesty's Government," judging from Lord Ormsby Gore's statements in the cabinet and his interview in the Jewish Chronicle of August 13, 1937. Rendel feared it would "be very difficult to answer the Saudi Minister's inquiry." In 1944, the British Labor Party officially endorsed the proposed transfer of Palestinian Arabs to Arab countries, and a year later the British Commonwealth passed a similar resolution. Schectman, European Population Transfers 1939-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 457.

4. Interview, New York World Telegram, November 19, 1945.

5.Carl Hermann Voss, The Palestine Problem Today: Israel and Its Neighbors (Boston: Beacon Press, 1953), p. 36.

This page was produced by Joseph E. Katz
Middle Eastern Political and Religious History Analyst 
Brooklyn, New York 
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Source: "From Time Immemorial" by Joan Peters, 1984
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Portions Copyright © 1984 Joan Peters, Portions Copyright © 2001 Joseph Katz
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