Yesterday the Arab world marked the Nakba ("catastrophe") commemorating the displacement of Palestinians following Israel's independence and the first Arab-Israeli war. Though the Palestinian refugee issue remains high profile (indeed a whole division of UN bureaucracy is given over to this single issue), the displacement of another Middle East (ME) people following Israeli independence is rarely discussed. I refer, of course, to nearly equal number of Jews forced to abandon their property and flee for their lives from Arab countries venting fury.
How the stories of both these tragic displacements are played out is very different. In one case, the vast majority of ME Jews fled to Israel, where they were welcomed, given a new life and opportunity, and today enjoy the full rights of citizenship and have contributed substantially to their country's economic success. In the other case, Palestinian refugees have, sadly, received no such welcome from the Arab world to which they fled, where the vast majority have few rights or citizenship.
I raise this issue to make another, often missed point concerning the displacement of ME Jews. An interesting article by Matti Friedman promoting his new book raises this issues of displacement in the ME. But his article (and presumably the book) goes on to make the point that because the vast majority of Jewish refugees fled to Israel, where they and their children had (and continue to have) an enormous social, political and economic impact upon that country, Israel is not, as many would claim, a wholly external transplant imposed upon the ME. Rather, a substantial part of its population originated in the ME, and Israel is not the wholly colonial project much of the Arab world claims.
This makes complete sense. Anyone who visits and knows Israel recognises it is far from being completely Western. In fact, it is a thoroughly Middle Eastern country, whether evident through its food, language, culture, religion and attitudes (and, dare I say, its roads and driving!).
The Friedman's article is interesting and worth a read.