The Middle East in Transition: Studies in Contemporary History

By Walter Z. Laqueur | Go to book overview

LEVANT DUSK: THE REFUGEE* SITUATION

by STEWART PEROWNE

DURING THE past four years I have been working in Jerusalem with the Anglican Bishop, as one of his assistants on schemes for the welfare of the Arab refugees. I want to tell you today, as best I can, something of the present condition of these unhappy people. Then perhaps some of you may be interested to hear of a small experiment which the Bishop has made, not in providing a future for these people, but in trying to ensure that whatever their future may be, they may face it with confidence, self-respect, and peace of mind. I should like to tell you of other enterprises, particularly those undertaken by Arabs for Arabs, such as those of Musa Alami, Mrs. Antonius, Miss Hussaini, and Miss Nasir. If I speak of the Bishop's work, it is because I have been closest to it.

The refugee problem was created in 1948 when, during the war with the Zionists, nearly one million Arabs fled from their homes. The massacre of Deir Yassin, the latest link in a chain of terror, had struck fear into the hearts of those civilians whose homes lay in the path of the Zionist forces. Just as, in 1940, Frenchmen in their thousands fled before the advancing Nazis, so, in 1948, before the Zionists, thousands of Arabs did the same, and for the same reason. As General Spears has put it in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph of November 16, 1955: 'That an honest person should be expected to believe that anything but force or fear for their lives would drive peasants from their age-long holdings is an affront to common sense.' I have talked to many refugees during the past four years. They all support General Spears's view. And I think they should know.

So there were these hundreds of thousands of peasants, with their

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