As Nicholas noted, anti-Israel activists around the world are protesting Israel’s founding.
We still remember the Nakba, or “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding and the displacement of Palestinian Arabs, because Palestinian refugee camps remain densely populated even after 64 years. But it’s also worth remembering the millions of Jews who fled Arab lands following Israel’s founding.
On November 30, 1947, a day after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states, one for Arabs and one for Jews, Aleppo erupted. Mobs stalked Jewish neighborhoods, looting houses and burning synagogues; one man I interviewed remembered fleeing his home, a barefoot nine-year-old, moments before it was set on fire. Abetted by the government, the rioters burned 50 Jewish shops, five schools, 18 synagogues and an unknown number of homes. The next day the Jewish community’s wealthiest families fled, and in the following months the rest began sneaking out in small groups, most of them headed to the new state of Israel. They forfeited their property, and faced imprisonment or torture if they were caught. Some disappeared en route. But the risk seemed worthwhile: in Damascus, the capital, rioters killed 13 Jews, including eight children, in August 1948, and there were similar events in other Arab cities.
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In many Arab towns and cities there is an area where Jews used to live. In some cities, like Cairo, this area is still called harat al-yahud, the Jewish Quarter. Reporting there several years ago I found people who could show me the location of a certain abandoned synagogue, which they knew by name. A man who once showed me around Fez, Morocco, knew exactly where the old Jewish neighborhood, the mellah, had been, though there was not a single Jew there and had not been for many years. There are remnants like this in Aleppo, Tripoli, Baghdad and elsewhere. The people who live in or around the Jews’ old homes still know who used to own them and how they left; this extinct Jewish world might have been forgotten elsewhere, but millions in the Arab world see evidence of it every day.
As I have reported this nearly invisible story, it has occured [sic] to me that we often hate most the things or people that remind us of something we dislike about ourselves, and that here lies one of the hidden dynamics of the Israel-Arab conflict. It is one papered over by the simple narrative of Nakba Day, which posits that a foreign implant displaced a native community in 1948 and that the Palestinian Arabs are paying the price for the European Holocaust. This narrative, chiefly designed to appeal to Western guilt, also conveniently erases the uncomfortable truth that half of Israel’s Jews are there not because of the Nazis but because of the Arabs themselves.
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