Calling For Palestinian Forward Thinking: The Unique Perspective Of Israel's Vice-Ambassador To Nor

From a speech delivered in Oslo on September 27, 2014 by George Deek.

When I walk in the streets of my home town Jaffa, I am often reminded of the year 1948. The alleys of the old city, the houses in Ajami neighborhood, the fishing nets at the port – they all seem to tell different stories about the year that changed my city forever.

One of those stories is about one of the oldest families in this ancient city – the Deek family – my own. Before 1948 my grandfather George, after whom I’m named, worked as an electrician, at the Rotenberg Electricity Company. He was not very interested in politics. And since Jaffa was a mixed city, he naturally had some Jewish friends. In fact, his friends at the electricity company even taught him Yiddish, making him one the first Arabs to ever speak the language.

In 1947 he got engaged to Vera – my grandmother – and together they had plans to build a family in the same city where the Deek family has lived for about 400 years – Jaffa.

But a few months later, those plans changed, literally overnight. When the U.N. approved the establishment of Israel and the State of Israel was established, the Arab leaders warned the Arabs that the Jews are planning to kill them if they stay home, and they used the Deir Yassin massacre as an example.

They told everyone: "Leave your houses, and run away." They said they needed just a few days for 5 armies to destroy the newly-born Israel.

My family, horrified by what might happen, decided to flee, with most others. A priest was rushed to the Deek family’s house, and he wedded my grandparents in haste. My grandmother did not even have a chance to get a proper dress. After their sudden wedding, the entire family started fleeing north, towards Lebanon.

But when the war was over, the Arabs failed to destroy Israel. My family was at the other side of the border, and it seemed that the fate of the brothers and sisters of the Deek family was to be scattered around the globe. Today, I have relatives in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Dubai, the U.K., Canada, the U.S., Australia and more.

Global Displacement

The story of my family is just one – and probably not the worst – among the many tragic stories of the year 1948.

And to be frank, you don’t need to be an anti-Israeli to acknowledge the humanitarian disaster of the Palestinians in 1948, namely the Nakba.

The fact that I have to Skype with relatives in Canada who don’t speak Arabic, or a cousin in an Arab country that still has no citizenship there – despite being a third generation – is a living testimony to the tragic consequences of the war.

According to the U.N. 711,000 Palestinians were displaced – some fled, some forcefully expelled.

At the same time, because of the establishment of Israel, 800,000 Jews were intimidated into leaving the Arab world, leaving it mostly empty of Jews.

As we’ve heard before, atrocities from both sides were not uncommon.

But it seems that this conflict was not the only one during the 19th and 20th century that led to expulsion and transfer.

  • From 1821-1922, 5 million Muslims were expelled from Europe, mostly to Turkey.

  • In the 1990s Yugoslavia broke apart, leading to 100,000 people dead and about 3 million displaced.

  • From 1919-1949, during the Visla operation between Poland and Ukraine, 150,000 people died and 1.5 million were displaced.

  • Following World War II and the Potsdam convention, between 12-17 million Germans were displaced.

  • When India and Pakistan were established, about 15 million people were transferred.

  • This trend also exists in the Middle East, for example the displacement of 1.1 million Kurds by the Ottomans, and 2.2 million Christians expelled from Iraq. As we speak today, Yazidis, Bahai, Kurds, Christians and even Muslims are being killed and expelled in a rate of 1,000 people per month, following the rise of radical Islam.

The chances of any of those groups to return to their homes is almost non-existent.

Nakba Day

So why is it that the tragedies of the Serbs, the European Muslims, the Polish refugees or the Iraqi Christians are not commemorated?

How come the displacement of the Jews from the Arab world was completely forgotten, while the tragedy of the Palestinians, the Nakba, is still alive in today’s politics?