So explained Joan Peters (pictured), author of From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine, who died recently.
You have to be over a certain age to remember Joan Peters' book, published by Harper & Row, and the sensational reception it had. The year was 1984, and it debunked the received wisdom regarding the history and demography of the land called Palestine, which led, inevitably, to controversy and attempts to discredit her conclusions.
Discussing her work, the prominent scholar Dr Daniel Pipes has observed, inter alia:
'Although the Jews alone moved to Palestine for ideological reasons, they were not alone in emigrating there. Arabs joined them in large numbers, from the first aliyah in 1882 to the creation of Israel in 1948. "The Arabs were moving into the very areas where Jewish settlement had preceded them and was luring them." Arab immigration received much less attention because both the Turkish and British administrators (before and after 1917, respectively) took little interest in them....
As a result, officials in Palestine counted only a small percentage of the Arab immigrants. British records for 1934 show only 1,734 non-Jews as legal immigrants and about 3,000 as illegals. Yet, according to a newspaper interview in August 1934 with the governor of the Hauran district in Syria, "In the last few months from 30,000 to 36,000 Hauranese had entered Palestine and settled there." In 1947, British officials had counted only 37,000 Arabs as the aggregate of non-Jewish immigrants in Palestine since 1917—hardly more than had come from one district of Syria in less than one year alone.
Non-Jewish immigrants came from all parts of the Middle East, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Transjordan (as Jordan was once known), Saudi Arabia, the Yemens, Egypt, Sudan, and Libya. Thanks to British unconcern, Arab immigrants were generally left alone and allowed to settle in Mandatory Palestine. So many Arabs came, Miss Peters estimates, that "if all those Jews and all those Arabs who arrived in ... Palestine between 1893 and 1948 had remained, and if they were forced to leave now, a dual exodus of at least equal proportion would in all probability take place. Palestine would be depopulated once again." ....
What took hundreds of thousands of Arabs to Palestine? Economic opportunity. The Zionists brought the skills and resources of Europe. Like other Europeans settling scarcely populated areas in recent times—in Australia, Southern Africa, or the American West—the Jews in Palestine initiated economic activities that created jobs and wealth on a level far beyond that of the indigenous peoples. In response, large numbers of Arabs moved toward the settlers to find employment.
The conventional picture has it that Jewish immigrants bought up Arab properties, forcing the former owners into unemployment. Miss Peters argues exactly the contrary, that the Jews created new opportunities, which attracted emigrants from distant places. To the extent that there was unemployment among the Arabs, it was mostly among the recent arrivals....
The data unearthed by Joan Peters indicate that Arabs benefited economically so much by the presence of Jewish settlers from Europe that they traveled hundreds of miles to get closer to them.
In turn, this explains why the definition of a refugee from Palestine in 1948 is a person who lived there for just two years: because many Arab residents in 1948 had immigrated so recently. The usual definition would have cut out a substantial portion of the persons who later claimed to be refugees from Palestine.
Thus, the "Palestinian problem" lacks firm grounding. Many of those who now consider themselves Palestinian refugees were either immigrants themselves before 1948 or the children of immigrants. This historical fact reduces their claim to the land of Israel; it also reinforces the point that the real problem in the Middle East has little to do with Palestinian-Arab rights.' [Emphasis added, here and below]
'....[Joan Peters] slaughtered the sacred cow known as "the Palestinian refugee problem" by revealing just how the United Nations altered the criteria for gaining refugee status in order to exacerbate the problem well beyond its proper dimensions. Peters discovered that the U.N.'s changing requirements for being listed as a Palestinian refugee essentially turned them into something else, something far different from other refugees in distant crises.
Peters even offered proof that many of the Palestinian refugees that earned special status in the eyes of the U.N. were never even residents of prestate Israel "from time immemorial," contradicting a long-standing Palestinian claim. Instead, these were immigrants who had only arrived quite recently.
There were many who followed in Peters' footsteps. They backed up her facts, but she was the first to bring them to light. Peters was the first to challenge the underlying assumptions of Palestinian wretchedness and refugee status. ...
The debate that was sparked by Peters' book has never been more relevant since it laid the foundations for later works of research on the subject of refugee status. Prior to the "birth" of the Palestinian matter, the customary definition of refugee was an individual who was forced to leave their residence from time immemorial due to war, hostile actions, or expulsion.
The U.N.'s alternate definition of refugee, which was applied solely to the Palestinians, states that a refugee is anyone who lived in the area that currently encompasses the State of Israel for a period of two years prior to the founding of the state in 1948. The Arab League, which was the driving force behind the newly reconfigured definition, managed to significantly inflate the number of refugees. Indeed, many of the refugees who fled or were expelled from the country did immigrant to prestate Israel during the British Mandate period.
Ze'ev Galili, a veteran Israeli journalist, often used his newspaper column to cite Peters' work. He even had a hand in the reissuance of her book in the early part of the previous decade.
"Not only did Peters expose the bluff of the criteria for refugee status," he said, "but she also exposed the big lie which tells of a 'Zionist invasion' of a supposedly Arab country, even though it is known that the First Aliyah consisted of Jews coming to an empty country, while a very significant percentage of the Arab population in 1948 were immigrants who came here after the advent of Zionism."...
Peters found that the Arab population grew in proportion to the rising Jewish presence in the country. Indeed, the economic prosperity generated by the budding Zionist enterprise, particularly in the latter stages of the 19th century, spurred internal Arab migration from Transjordan and the highlands (the traditional areas of Arab settlement in Palestine). It also invited illegal Arab immigration from all over the Middle East. Arabs settled along the coastal plain and the Shfela region, both areas that were inhabited primarily by Jews.
Peters' conclusion was clear: Most of the Palestinian refugees of 1948 who fled the coastal area were not, as the Palestinians claim, inhabitants of the land "from time immemorial," but instead were recent newcomers. They were not refugees. Instead, they were economic migrants who eventually would return to their original homes after the founding of the state....
The number of documents that Peters unearthed was tremendous. Her prolific research was also a source of confusion. Some disagreed with the numbers she cited in her research, but even her critics had a difficult time contradicting what was painfully obvious -- hundreds of thousands of Arabs had settled in the heart of Jewish-populated areas. When they were expelled, they were given the status of refugees, even though they had not been here "from time immemorial."....Read the entire article here