Ethnic Cleansing, real and imagined

“Historically, there was an exchange of populations in the Middle East and the number of displaced Jews exceeds the number of Palestinian Arab refugees. Most of the Jews were expelled as a result of an open policy of anti-Semitic incitement and even ethnic cleansing. However, unlike the Arab refugees, the Jews who fled are a forgotten case because of a combination of international cynicism and domestic Israeli suppression of the subject. The Palestinians are the only group of refugees out of the more than one hundred million who were displaced after World War II who have a special UN agency that, according to its mandate, cannot but perpetuate their tragedy. An open debate about the exodus of the Jews is critical for countering the Palestinian demand for the “right of return” and will require a more objective scrutiny of the myths about the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” – Avi Becker

The Israelis are the worst ethnic cleansers on the planet.  They have consistently, throughout their 62 year history – despite its dastardly desire (according to its critics) to cleanse the state of its non-Jewish citizens – allowed the Arab/Muslim community to grow exponentially throughout the years.

However, the insidious charge of ethnic cleansing against Israel at the Guardian is so frequent its become a banality. Ben White, Gideon Levy, Seth FreedmanNeve Gordon, Daphna BaramKen Livingstone and others casually employ such vitriol.

Most recently, a letter was published in CiF by serial Israel haters, again leveling the charge of ethnic cleansing, imploring Labor’s new leader, Ed Miliband, to break from tradition and withdraw his support for the Jewish National Fund.  The open letter was signed by (among others) Tony GreensteinProfessor Moshe Machover, and Professor Mona Baker.

Ethnic Cleansing” is typically described as the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation.

Indeed, such a definition perfectly describes the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries between 1948 and 1967.

In April 2008 a bipartisan resolution (H. Con. Res. 185) passed the U.S. Congress that recognized the forgotten exodus of nine hundred thousand Jews from Arab countries who “were forced to flee and in some cases brutally expelled amid coordinated violence and anti-Semitic incitement that amounted to ethnic cleansing.”

Between the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the Six Day War in 1967, there was a mass Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim lands, Jews  that either fled from persecution and anti-Semitism or were forcibly expelled.  They were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. Most migrated to Israel, where today, they and their descendants constitute about 40% of Israel’s population.

In all, (approximately) there were 856,000 Jews living in Arab countries in 1948, while today the population is about 5100.  That means that over 99% of Arab Jews have been cleansed from Arab lands.


Interestingly, even a cursory look at Palestinian population statistics reveal that such charges (of ethnic cleansing against Israel) are absurd – and that, at the very least, Israel, unlike its Arab neighbors, are completely inept at the practice of ethnic cleansing.

For instance.  One of the charges heard most frequently today is that Israel is trying to “Judaize” Jerusalem, and are “ethnically cleansing” their Muslim population.  Yet, somehow, the Muslim population in Jerusalem, rose from 58,000 from the time Israel took control of the city in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, to about 250,000 today.

In 1949, just after the state was founded – in the aftermath of the war of Independence – there were 159,000 Arabs living in Israel.  Today, there are roughly 1.4 million.  In fact, Arabs represent a greater percentage of Israel’s total population today, 20%, than they did in 1949, 14%.

In the West Bank, the Arab population has risen from 462,000, in 1948, to roughly 2.4 million today.

Actual cases of ethnic cleansing in the second half of the 20th century, include:

  • In September 1955 the Istanbul Pogrom, secretly backed by the Turkish government, was launched against the Greek population of Istanbul. The mob also attacked some Jews and Armenians of the city. The event contributed greatly to the gradual extinction of the Greek minority in the city and country, which numbered 100,000 in 1924 after the Turko-Greek population exchange treaty. By 2006 there were only 2,500 Greeks.
  • Between 1957–1962 President Nasser of Egypt carried out an Anti-European policy, which resulted in the expulsion of 100-200,000 Greeks from Alexandria and the rest of Egypt. Many other Europeans were expelled, such as Italians and French.
  • In July 1960, five days after the Congo gained independence from Belgium, the Force Publique garrison near Léopoldville mutinied against its white officers and attacked numerous European targets. This caused the fear amongst the approximately 100,000 whites still resident in the Congo and led to their mass exodus from the country
  • Burmese Prime Minster Ne Win’s rise to power in 1962 and his persecution of “resident aliens” (immigrant groups not recognized as citizens of the Union of Burma) led to an exodus of some 300,000 Burmese Indians. They migrated to escape racial discrimination and wholesale nationalization of private enterprise a few years later in 1964.
  • During the Bangladesh War of Independence of 1971 around 10 million Bengalis, mainly Hindus, fled the country to escape the killings and atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army.
  • The communist Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia disproportionately targeted ethnic minority groups, including ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and Thais. In the late 1960s, an estimated 425,000 ethnic Chinese lived in Cambodia; by 1984, as a result of Khmer Rouge genocide and emigration, only about 61,400 Chinese remained in the country. The small Thai minority along the border was almost completely exterminated, only a few thousand managing to reach safety in Thailand. The Cham Muslims suffered serious purges with as much as half of their population exterminated. A Khmer Rouge order stated that henceforth “The Cham nation no longer exists on Kampuchean soil belonging to the Khmers” (U.N. Doc. A.34/569 at 9)
  • In 1987 and 1988 Al-Anfal Campaign, the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein started a violent campaign against Iraqi Kurds in Northern Iraq, and Massacred 100,000 to 182,000 non-combatant civilians including women and children; destroyed about 4,000 villages (out of 4,655) in Iraqi Kurdistan. Between April 1987 and August 1988, 250 towns and villages were exposed to chemical weapons; destroyed 1,754 schools, 270 hospitals, 2,450 mosques, 27 churches; and wiped out around 90% of Kurdish villages in targeted areas.
  • In 1991, in retribution for supporting Saddam Hussein against Kuwait during the 1990 Invasion of Kuwait, Kuwait carried out the expulsion of 400,000 Palestinians.
  • The widespread ethnic cleansing accompanying the Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1995): Large numbers of Croats and Bosnians were forced to flee their homes and were expelled by Serbs. Beginning in 1991, political upheavals in the Balkans displaced about 2,700,000 people by mid-1992, of which over 700,000 of them sought asylum in Europe.
  • In October 1990, the militant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), forcibly expelled the entire ethnic Muslim population (approx 75,000) from the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. The Muslims were given 48 hours to vacate the premises of their homes while their properties were subsequently looted by LTTE. Those who refused to leave were killed. This act of ethnic cleansing was carried out so the LTTE could facilitate their goal of creating a mono-ethnic Tamil state in Northern Sri Lanka.
  • Since 2003, Sudan ethnically cleansed several black African ethnic groups in response to a rebellion by Africans – attacks by militia known as the Janjaweed and Sudanese military and police forces on the African population of Darfur, a region of western Sudan. 75,000 Arabs from Chad and Niger crossed the border into Darfur. Most have been relocated by the Sudanese government to former villages of displaced non-Arab people. Some 450,000 have been killed and 2.5 million have now been forced to flee to refugee camps in Chad after their homes and villages were destroyed. Sudan refuses to allow their return, or to allow United Nations peace-keepers into Darfur.

Clearly, compared to the rest of the world, Israel has failed miserably at the task of ethnic cleansing – one of the few Israeli failures that will likely go unnoticed by The Guardian.


Written By
More from Adam Levick

Hamas leader contradicts Financial Times claim the group no longer seeks Israel’s demise

It's actually quite astonishing that a leading news outlet like Financial Times...
Read More