The Ukraine war has catalyzed media coverage highlighting the plight of displaced people around the world.
Ahead of World Refugee Day — which is marked on June 20 every year — UNICEF, an agency of the United Nations responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, found that conflict, violence, and other crises left a record 36.5 million children displaced from their homes at the end of 2021. This is the highest number recorded since the Second World War.
Yet this heightened interest in the predicament of refugees is seemingly selective. While the rising amount of displaced people is regularly used by news organizations (see here, here, and here) to rekindle the story of Palestinian “refugees,” the expulsion of Jews from Arab and Islamic lands that took place before and following the Palestinian leadership and Arab states’ violent rejection of the UN Partition Plan in 1947 has generated virtually no coverage by prominent news outlets.
Moreover, people who care deeply about the plight of displaced people are not being told the truth about Palestinian refugees.
Supermodel Bella Hadid used her Instagram account — and its close to 53 million followers on June 17 — to share pictures of Palestinian refugees.
View this post on Instagram
This post was the latest in a slew of online comments pushing a distinctly anti-Israel agenda.
In May of last year, Hadid was filmed chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” effectively calling for the dismantling of Israel, as these “lyrics” echo those included in the founding charter of the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist organization that is committed to the Jewish state’s destruction.
Yet Hadid is but one example of a wider trend — that of the media misleading their followers in several ways when it comes to the Palestinian refugee story.
For one thing, the claim that there are millions of displaced Palestinians was refuted last year by the US State Department.
The reason behind the wildly inflated numbers that are peddled by news organizations and social media influencers is that Palestinians — unlike any other group of refugees in the world — are under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which has changed the very definition of what it means to be a refugee, in order to encompass the descendants of displaced individuals.
UNRWA also classifies as “refugees” a significant number of people who live in the Palestinian Authority-administered West Bank, in addition to many living under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.
Even some people of Palestinian heritage who have citizenships of other countries fall under the organization’s wide definition.
During Israel’s War of Independence, approximately the same number of Jewish refugees arrived in the fledgling Jewish state as Palestinians who fled their homes. Yet one side of these historic events has seemingly been buried by the media.
Indeed, on the eve of World Refugee Day, the media’s silence regarding the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands is deafening.
HonestReporting examined thousands of articles and news segments to gauge how news organizations have reported on the Jewish refugee story compared to the Palestinian refugee issue in 2021. While “Palestinian refugees” was cited nearly 6,500 times, there were only 865 “Jewish refugees” citations during the same period.
It’s estimated that approximately 850,000 Jews were living in Arab countries and Iran at the time of Israel’s independence. Some scholars think that the number is closer to one million. In the North African region, 259,000 Jews fled from Morocco, 140,000 from Algeria, 100,000 from Tunisia, 75,000 from Egypt, and another 38,000 from Libya. In the Middle East, 135,000 Jews were exiled from Iraq, 55,000 from Yemen, 34,000 from Turkey, 20,000 from Lebanon, and 18,000 from Syria. Iran forced out 25,000 Jews.
These people were forced to leave the countries where their families had lived for millennia solely because of their Jewish identity.
In an attempt to correct this historic injustice, the Israeli government took action in 2019, demanding compensation totaling $250 billion for property and assets left behind by Jews who fled for their lives.
By using the Russia-Ukraine conflict to perpetuate debunked claims about the Palestinian refugee issue, news organizations are doing a great disservice to the noble goal of World Refugee Day: the right of every person on this planet to seek safety — whoever they are, wherever they come from, and whenever they are forced to flee.
And by allowing the memory of the massive Jewish expulsion from Arab lands to fade, the media are making it easier for similar events to occur in the future.
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Author: Gidon Ben-Zvi
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