The Syrian “Nakba” and 1948

A guest post by Akus

Syrians are fleeing into Turkey by the thousands. Of course, it remains to be seen how long Turkey’s Erdogan will stand behind the bravado of his statement that Turkey welcomes the refugees, who he described as “brothers”, as the number of refugees climbs.

There is a revealing lesson unfolding about the events in Israel in 1948, when some 650,000 – 700,000 Arabs fled to escape the war launched by the Arab states against the newly created State of Israel. We are seeing in real-time the response of civilians when their towns are engulfed in fighting between two groups – in this case, the Syrian Army and the “resistance”.

Despite all reports and research to the contrary, Israel’s opponents have never ceased to claim that Israel drove out the Arabs, rebranded in 1967 as the Palestinian refugees. This despite the obvious fact that hundreds of thousands of Arabs remained in Israel and their descendents live there to this very day, comprising approximately 20% of the population.

What we are seeing unfold in real-time on our TV screens is a similar exodus occurring in Syria.

No-one has claimed that the Syrians deliberately drove the civilians out of the town of Jisr al-Shughour, a border town of 50,000, into Turkey.  Yet the Washington Post reports that the entire population has vanished, except for perhaps 3,000 “unarmed men” – as the Washington Post describes them.

It is obvious that large numbers of civilians have no desire to be caught in the middle of this conflict and have left for Turkey, surrounding villages, or the hills just as happened in 1948.

Although tragic for the refugees who have escaped to Turkey, many apparently middle class Syrians – TV clips show some in posh sedans and many equipped with cell-phones – it will be very interesting to see how this plays out. Will Turkey keep the refugees in the refugee camp that has been established for them as has been the fate of those who fled from Israel into Arab countries or will it absorb them into its vast territory  and population of 78 million? Will the Syrians allow those who fled to return? Will they be like the two million forgotten refugees from Iraq now living in abject poverty in Jordan, Syria and elsewhere?

If all this results in a new group of Middle Eastern refugees huddled along Syria’s borders will there be calls in 60 years for a “Right of Return” to the village or villages abandoned? Will UNRWA divert resources to feed and house these refugees? Will Syria be faced with endless condemnation in the UNHRC and General assembly?

Finally – will the events of this “Arab Spring” be applied to better understand why hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled “Palestine” 63 years ago and Israel’s refusal to permit the millions of their descendents to return to its small territory?

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