This is a cross post by Wales-based historian Professor William Rubinstein, at the blog, Daphne Anson
What a surprising number of people, even those who are highly sympathetic to Israel, fail to realise, is that the Partition of the Palestine Mandate in 1947-48 has many parallel examples, and is far from unique in modern history. Moreover, the population transfers which occurred there at that time are also far from unique, and for the most part they have never been questioned.
The most obvious precedent for the Partition of Palestine, and the one the British almost certainly had in mind, was the Partition of Ireland in 1922. In that year, Ireland was divided between the Roman Catholic-dominated Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), and the Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland, which remained within the United Kingdom. For decades, the Roman Catholics in the north of Ireland had demanded, first, “Home Rule” for the whole of the island, and then, with the ascendancy of Sinn Fein, complete independence. These goals were, for decades, fiercely resisted by the Protestants of the north.
A civil war in Ireland almost began in 1914, delayed only by the outbreak of the First World War, and then began after the end of that conflict. The division of Ireland into two states has been opposed by Roman Catholics of the south to this day, although most moderates now accept it as a reality. The IRA, however, has never accepted it, and, like the PLO and later Hamas, commenced a terror campaign in the 1960s which culminated in the murders of over 3000 persons. Nevertheless, the Partition of Ireland has been relatively peaceful, and was certainly the only way to end the bitter conflict there.
At exactly the same time as the Palestine Mandate was being divided into a Jewish and a Palestinian state, a vastly greater partition was taking place
1500 miles to the east, the Partition of British India into a largely Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan (which at the time included what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh). There, the Partition of India and the creation of a specifically Muslim state was demanded by Muslims.
It is worth remembering that while in Palestine the Arabs opposed the creation of a largely Muslim Palestinian state, in India it was the Muslims who demanded Partition. Pakistan has no historical foundation whatever, and the very name Pakistan was invented by Muslim students and activists in London in 1931. The Partition of British India in 1947-48 was accomplished by bloodshed on an unimaginable scale, with probably 500,000 deaths in communal violence. Literally millions of Hindus and Muslims living in the “wrong” part of British India left for the other state. Karachi became known as a city of refugees.
Yet – in contrast to Palestine – no one demands the “Right of Return” for these “refugees”, and in any case neither India nor Pakistan would be likely to allow any of their former residents back.
At that very time, too, vast population transfers were taking place in early post-war Europe. An estimated ten million Poles, Balts, and Russians fled to the West, ahead of the advancing Red Army, or, in some instances, were deliberately moved on. In Czechoslovakia, Eduard Beneš, the “good” Czech head of state between the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945 and the imposition of Stalinist rule in 1948, expelled three million Sudeten Germans from the Sudetenland in 1945-46. The Sudetenland is the rim area of what is now the Czech Republic whose demands (sparked by Hitler) for incorporation into the German Reich led to the Munich Crisis of 1938. After the war, the democratic Czech government was taking no more chances with a potential Fifth Column in the reborn state, and expelled the Sudeten Germans en masse. If there were any demands for their “Right of Return” these were unacknowledged. Most fled to West Germany, where, frankly, they were a lot better off than they would have been in a wretched Stalinist satellite regime, which is what Czechoslovakia became in 1948.
Few people know or care about these events: only in the case of the Palestinians is the issue of Partition and the “Right of Return” being kept alive, nearly 65 years later.