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David Bedein

David Bedein on The death of Joan Peters who wrote the landmark book "From Time Immemorial"

By David Bedein, January 15, 2015




Joan Peters died Monday Jan 5 at her home in Chicago.



Her funeral was on Thursday, January 8 at 10 AM at Anshe Emet, 3751 N. Broadway, in Chicago.




Joan was best known for her landmark book: “From Time Immemorial,” published in 1984, which caused unprecedented heartache to detractors of Israel.



Joan’s book was the first academic study published in the modern era which documented how the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, perpetuates the refugee status of Arabs who were displaced, or left voluntarily, during the War of Independence.


Today, as Joan predicted would happen, UNRWA has become an integral part of efforts to undermine Israel’s standing in the eyes of the world and in its own eyes.




A 1984 review of Joan’s book by Dr. Daniel Pipes analyzes the strength of her research:

“Making use of work done by Kemal Karpat in the Ottoman records, Miss Peters ascertains the non-Jewish population in 1893 of the area that would later form Palestine under the British Mandate. She then divides this area into three parts: one without Jewish settlement, one with light Jewish settlement, and one with heavy Jewish settlement. She compares the non-Jewish population of each of these parts in 1893 and 1947, on the eve of Israel’s independence. In the area of no Jewish settlement, the non-Jewish population stood in 1893 at 337,200; in 1947 it was 730,000, a growth of 116 percent. In the area of light Jewish settlement, the non-Jewish population grew in the same period from 38,900 to 110,900 or 185 percent. Finally, in the area of heavy Jewish settlement, the non-Jewish population grew from 92,300 in 1893 to 462,000 in 1947—or 401 percent. From these figures Miss Peters concludes that “the Arab population appears to have increased in direct proportion to the Jewish presence.”


Only a year after the publication of “From Time Immemorial”, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution in December 1985 that rejected all efforts to require UNRWA to help Arab refugees engage in a process of resettlement and rehabilitation.


Joan Peters had written at the time that Mordecai Ben Porat, a minister in the Israeli government was asked by Israeli Prime Minister Begin to research ways to settle the Palestinian Arab refugees in humanitarian conditions. However, Ben Porat was indeed thwarted in his efforts by the UN resolution preventing their move to new quarters, as explained above and concluded in Ben Porat’s book, Will there Always Be Refugees, often cited by Peters: “Preservation of the image of miserable, homeless, and penniless refugees has … ruled out any possibility of dealing with the issues … the funds initially intended to erase the refugee problem have become a powerful instrument intent on preserving this very problem.”.


In an interview published in November, 2014 in the Sovereignty magazine, published in Jerusalem, Peters updated her scathing analysis of UNRWA


“UNRWA has been perpetrating fraud against the Jewish nation and against the world since they became the only ‘refugee’ organ solely dedicated to one group of the world’s refugees. The Arab refugees, who really ran or were displaced during Israel’s War of Independence, were a small group when compared to the world’s hundreds of millions displaced during wars and strife. The Arabs were also a much smaller actual number than the Jewish Arab-born refugees forced to flee from Arab countries. But the Arabs were counted over and over, going back and forth from the refugee camps. As American congressmen have attested, fraud was committed constantly, aided by the almost totally Arab staff in the UNRWA employ”,


Now for a personal word.


Joan’s work inspired a metamorphosis in my career, as a social worker and as a journalist.


27 years of professional devotion to UNRWA reform emanated from the inspiration that I received from Joan Peters, whom I interviewed in 1987.


Joan Peters should be credited in her passing as the pioneer who generated concern over the fact that a bona fide agency of the UNITED NATIONS –  UNRWA – actually preserves the indignity of Arabs confined to refugee conditions for 66 years under the specious premise of the “right of return” to Arab villages that existed before 1948.



Many years ago, when Joan Peters was staying at the King David Hotel, I took my children to express appreciation to her for her courage.


May I express that appreciation now to Joan Peters, as she is laid to rest.


The author is the Director of the Israel Resource News Agency at the Center for Near East Policy Research.

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