I am originally from Israel. I have family in Israel. I believe that on balance Israel is on the side of right when it comes to its conflict with the Palestinians, and for sure with Iran. I am, however, very critical of Israel in many respects. That is why I am here.

It is therefore with great interest that I read in the WSJ on 1/22/2014 that according to the World Bank of the 101 countries that ranked as middle-income economies back in 1960, 54 years ago, only 13 moved to high-income economies by 2008 and remained there as of 2008.

Those countries are:

  1. Africa: Equatorial Guinea and Mauritius. It’s surprising to find two countries in Africa on the list but the fact is that they are both tiny countries; one is full of oil and has a population of less than 700,000. The other has slightly more than one million people and is a tourist’s paradise being an island nation.
  2. Europe: Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain. These are all part of the EU and I doubt if they like their status and strength of their economy now. I suspect the 2008 World Bank report is not that relevant any more. They are “founding members” of the infamous “PIGSS” nations’ “hall of fame” and with the exception of Spain, have all been bailed out by the EU.
  3. America: Puerto Rico. Due to its connection to the USA. It is astounding that NO other country in America (South and Central America) moved from middle-income to high-income.
  4. The rest are all in Asia: Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.
  5. And one more: Israel.

What a high testament for a country in the Middle East, in a permanent state of war, surrounded by enemies, that has fought 3–4 wars since 1960, and has zero natural resources (recent discoveries of huge off shore gas reserves may change that but they were not a factor in 2008).

Why is that such a high testament?

To start with only 13 percent of the countries on the World Bank list managed to get to a high-income status. If you dig a little further you will see that the European countries were bound to get there and five years after the report they are not in very good shape.   The African and American countries are special situations. Asia, as we know, is the tiger economy of the world so it is to be expected. But Israel? By the way, by a purely geographical definition, Israel is part of Asia too.

While not entirely connected, this leads me to the subject of refugees.

The world has seen many waves of refugees since the end of WWII. In general, looking at it in hindsight and with the benefit of decades, all refugees have been successfully settled and integrated with the exception of one special case—the Palestinian refugees. Why is it that the Palestinians are still refugees sixty years after the event that caused them to become refugees in the first place?

During Israel’s 1948 war of independence, a war that was foisted on it against its will by seven Arab nations who attacked the fledgling country declared by the UN resolution, about 700,000 Palestinians became refugees. The reasons why they fled and how it all happened are in dispute and do not mater for this blog.

What does matter is that sixty years after that war, these refugees and mostly their descendants still live in refugee camps all over the Middle East. There are about 5,000,000 of them now and they all live in squalor, poverty, and shameful conditions.


At the same time more or less that the Palestinian refugees’ problem occurred in 1948, a similar number of Jewish people were forcefully and purposely evacuated from their homes by a number of Arab countries. They all came to Israel and were put in refugee camps. Israel was a new state with hardly any infrastructure to accommodate 700,000 refugees, especially given that the number of Israeli citizens at the time was not much more than 700,000 and the country was ravaged after two years of war. What happened to these refugees?

For an answer, see the first part of the blog. By 1960, Israel was a middle-income country with not a refugee camp in sight. In 2008, it was a high-income country and has been so for many years before.

Israel has dealt with two other refugee waves of note—in the 1990s, about one million Jews came from what was then the Soviet Union countries. Israel by then was a very strong country but still managing a wave of immigration of people with nothing but the clothes on their back amounting to about 20 percent of its population is a challenge. The result—not one of these people was put in a refugee camp. They all assimilated fairly quickly and have helped push the Israeli economy, culture, and state forward and strengthen it.

The third wave was very small even in Israeli terms. In the middle of 1980s, Israel made an effort to provide a home to about 60,000 people from the Falashas tribe in Africa. Historically they are considered to be Jews. This was a very small wave of refugees, but the striking thing about it was how different and not homogenous these people were. You cannot find a more distinct and wider gap in culture, language, education, economic status, and outside look as the Falashas are as dark skinned, black, as you can get. Twenty-five years later with the exception of the skin color, you just cannot tell the difference between children of the Falashas born in Israel and any other children born in Israel at the same period.

It is also important to note going back to the original wave of refugees to Israel that they were NOTHING like the Israeli residents of the time. They were Jews but that is where the similarity ended. The Jewish refugees from the Arab nations were Arab-speaking, had a totally different level and type of education from the Israeli residents mostly from European origin, they had a different culture, they were distinct in appearance (darker skin), and of course as refugees they had no economic wealth. In summary, they were as different as one can imagine from the residents of Israel, except they had a shared history. Nothing prevented their assimilation.

Why is it? Why was Israel so successful in assimilating all its refugee waves in spite of enormous odds and by the way with very little international aide, certainly no aid from any UN refugee agencies? Israel is not alone. Since WWII there have been many waves of refugees and generally speaking, with the exception of the Palestinian refugees, they are all settled if one looks with a 20–30 year hindsight.

So why is it that the Palestinian refugees are the only group of refugees that are still a problem? Not only are they still a problem but they are a cesspool of growing issues and problems and there is zero progress in settling them.

Were there too many of them for the Arab states that gave them a home to deal with?

When the Palestinian refugees were created they fled to a number of Arab countries surrounding what is now Israel. These counties had about 50,000,000 citizens at the time. Why could they not assimilate 700,000 people without even noticing it? Remember Israel assimilated about 700,000 Jewish refugees, which were about 100 percent of the then-citizens of Israel.

Were they too different from the people of their host countries to be assimilated?

Evidence from all over the world shows that being different is not a hurdle to assimilation. Again, look at Israel as an example. Except that in this case they were and are NOT different. They are VERY much alike. They speak the same language more or less, they have the same faith, they share the same culture, the look the same. There was zero reason for that to be a problem in their assimilation.

So why?

A common view is that the Arab rulers wanted to keep them as refugees and refused to try and assimilate them so that they can keep the Israel-Palestinian issue alive and central in world affairs.

Can you imagine something more cruel and heartless than playing a game with the lives of 5,000,000 people, using them and their poverty and squalor as pawns in some political game?

This is part of the answer but not the fundamental part. The fact is that today no sane Arab ruler can really think that the refugee issue contributes to the solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is a Palestinian Authority (PA) and they represent the needs to resolve this conflict quite well.

And speaking of that, why did the PA as the legal ruling authority over these refugees do nothing  to solve their problems in the last twenty years, since it was recognized as the prevailing power in this matter? The PA received billions of dollars of aide over the years to try and resolve the refugee issues. On a per capita and in real $ values, that is more than Germany received under the Marshal Plan and vastly more than Israel received in international assistance in the 1950s. What have they done with all that money? Why is there ZERO progress in settling these people? It is not as if the PA is doing some things to improve the situation; it is not as if we are seeing progress or a positive trend; it is not as if we are seeing ANY effort whatsoever in this regard. No, simply put, the PA is doing nothing to resolve this issue and is allowing the refugees to continue their lives in the same deplorable conditions.

So again, why?

Because they do not care. All these Arab rulers of the past and now in particular the PA and Hamas simply do not care. They have a different value system to what we in the West would define as civilized.

That is why the Palestinian refugee problem is still a problem sixty years after it was created; that is why there is NO progress indeed ZERO activity in solving their problem.

NO ONE cares.

It is not for me or for us to care. It is not for the world to care. It is for their brothers of the greater Arab nation to care. And it is time for us to understand that they do not care and that this lack of care is embedded in their different morals and set of values.

We need to remember it whenever we look at an Arab issue, negotiations, and problems—they do not CARE for human lives. They only care about themselves (the rulers and ruling class) and their survival.

They care about NOTHING else. Not about the refugees, nor about their own people. After all, the living conditions of most of their population, leaving refugees aside, are not much better than those of the refugees.

The moral of the story?

First, it is not clear to me if Israel’s success stems from the successful assimilation of the refugees or if the successful assimilation is the result of the traits that made it successful. The two are clearly connected. I do not know which is the cause and which is the effect but I believe they are related and probably cross-fertilize each other.

Most importantly though, we need to remember that the Arabs have a different set of values and in particular, a different approach to human lives.

No inalienable rights for them, unless they are the rulers.