Tuesday, May 24, 2011




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The Jews of Arab Lands: The Middle East’s Ignored Refugees

Following the war in Iraq, an opportunity has arisen for Jewish Iraqi expatriates to file for compensation for the property and assets that were confiscated as they were forced to flee the country. The case of the Jews of Iraq is, in fact, similar to the case of the Jewish communities of various other Arab countries.
Indigenous Jewish communities existed since time immemorial in what is known today as the “Arab World”, long before the emergence of the successful movement of Arab imperial expansion in the 7th century. Under the banner of Islam, Jews living in Arab lands were subjugated, discriminated against, and persecuted. A core concept of Islam is the “jihad” that summons the non-Muslims to convert or accept Muslim supremacy, and, if faced with refusal, to attack them until they submitted to Muslim domination. The “dhimmi” status stemming from the “jihad,” is the degrading relationship that was imposed on the Jews.[1]

Immediately before and after the State of Israel was established in 1948 and as a direct result to the opposition to Zionism, the anti-Jewish persecutions intensified, forcing most Arab Jews to flee, primordially, to Israel. By way of example, in Syria, as a result of anti-Jewish pogroms that erupted in Aleppo in 1947, 7,000 of the town’s 10,000 Jews fled in terror. In Iraq, ‘Zionism’ became a capital crime. Bombs in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo, Egypt killed more than 70 Jews. After the French left Algeria, the authorities issued a variety of anti-Jewish decrees prompting nearly all of the 160,000 Jews to flee the country. Muslim rioters engaged in bloody pogroms in Aden and Yemen, which killed 82 Jews. In numerous countries, Jews were expelled or had their citizenship revoked. The repression and violence inflicted upon the Arab Jews represented a mass violation of human rights.[2]

The Right to Redress:
According to International Law, Jews from Arab countries have a right to redress as victims of persecution, for their expulsions, and for the confiscation of properties and assets by Arab regimes. United Nations Resolution 242, adopted in 1967, calls for "a just settlement of the refugee problem." The Resolution makes no distinction between Arab refugees and former Jewish refugees from Arab countries; The Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty provide that "the parties agree to establish a Claims Committee for the mutual settlement of all final claims." Former U.S. President Carter stated in a press conference on October 27, 1977 that "Palestinians have rights... obviously there are Jewish refugees... they have the same rights as others do." The Madrid Peace Conference established a Multilateral Working Group in 1991 whose mandate was to ensure the status and rights of "all persons displaced as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict". The rights of Jews displaced from Arab lands was also discussed at 'Camp
David II' in July, 2000. Former U.S. President Clinton spoke of "…Jewish people, who lived in predominantly in Arab countries who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own land".[3]

According to one authoritative assessment, 850,000 Jews were displaced from Arab countries, of whom 600,000 settled in Israel.[4] The value of the property and assets of the Jews of Iraq alone is estimated in today’s terms at $1 billion.[5]

The Palestinian Refugees:
The Palestinian refugee problem arose as a result of the unwillingness of the Arab countries to accept the 1947 UN Partition Resolution calling for both a Jewish and a Palestinian state.[6] Neither under the international conventions, nor under the major UN resolutions or other relevant agreements between the parties, do the Palestinian refugees have a right to return to Israel.[7] A heavy burden for the origin of the problem lies with the Arabs countries themselves, who encouraged Palestinians to leave their home to make way for the Arab armies intended on invading the nascent Jewish state. Approximately 600,000 Palestinian refugees fled what is now Israel and were confined to various refugee camps.

Remarkably, whereas the response of the international community to assist Palestinian refugees was significant, there was no comparable action with regard to the Jewish refugees. This can be illustrated by the fact that since 1947 there have been 681 UN General Assembly resolutions dealing with the Middle East and the Arab- Israeli conflict, of which 101 refer to the plight of Palestinian refugees, and none that refer specifically to the Jewish refugees. Moreover, whereas UN agencies and organisations were created to deal with Palestinian refugees, no such attention was forthcoming for Jewish refugees.[8]

Population Exchanges:
The population movements highlighted above amounted to a straightforward exchange of population, which have been a regular occurrence in history.[9] In the case under discussion there is a notable asymmetry. Whereas Jewish refuges from Arab countries became, not without many problems, integrated in Israeli society, Arab refugees have largely and purposely been precluded from settling down. They have, with exceptions, been kept artificially confined to camps to keep the Palestinian issue and their grievance against Israel festering. These camps have become breeding ground for terrorists.

In what represents a record not matched by any other refugee group, the international community has spent billions of dollars, sometimes without proper transparency, to provide relief for Palestinian refugees. Strikingly no such international support was ever provided to ameliorate the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.[10] 

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA):
The Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who were persecuted out of their homes, have resettled around the world and mainly in Israel without any specific international aid or compensation. A similar number of Palestinians who chose to flee rather than make peace with the State of Israel remain refugees and often live in dire conditions in cities designated as refugee camps in the Middle East.

UNRWA is largely responsible for running the administrative services in these camps, and has never created an environment or incentive for these 'refugees' to integrate into their host environment. In fact, they helped the Arab host environments - including the Palestinian Authority - to deliberately prevent such integration, using these people as political pawns in the effort to eliminate the State of Israel. UNRWA has allowed its camps to become armed militant enclaves, using civilians as human shields and cover, in direct contravention of the Geneva Conventions. UNRWA employees, including teachers and others, were associated with terrorist organisations and the UNRWA schools became places where children were inculcated with the glorification of violence and terror against Israel.

The Right of Return:
Palestinians claim a “Right of Return” to what is today Israel, often adding an “equivalent” corollary invitation for Jews from Arab countries to return to their countries of origin. According to Palestinian sources, there are about 3.5 million Palestinian refugees nowadays registered with UNRWA. Israel has a problem agreeing to the “Right of Return” because the latter, coupled with the refugees’ higher birth rate, would dramatically shift the demographic balance of the Jewish state. The invitation for Jews to return is considered to be a disingenuous ploy activated by Palestinians to legitimise their “Right of Return”. This offer is meaningless, given the Jews’ fate under Arab rule and the superior standard of leaving they enjoyed after emigrating to Israel and other Western countries. Great efforts should be made by all those involved, to find a reasonable, viable and fair solution to the refugee problem.

The Way Forward:
The issue of Jewish refugees can be concluded with a formula to settle the issue within the framework of the Arab-Israeli peace process. In the first instance there should be a recognition by the Arab states and the Palestinian leaders, that the claims of Jewish refugees from Arab lands are legitimate, that Arab countries bear a heavy burden in the origin of this problem and that they should also bear the cost of compensation for this injustice. Second, the international community, bearing in mind its role in perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem through such intermediaries as the UNRWA, should rectify its failure to address the issue over time. Third, Israel should do its utmost to help resolve both refugee problems, and, together with the Jewish Diaspora, must organise a programme of gathering testimonies and documentation to preserve the historical record and claims of the Jews displaced from Arab countries.

Unlike their Palestinian counterparts, the Jewish refugees do not seek the right of return to their country of origin. After much initial hardships the Jews from Arab states have come to play a full and important role in making Israel the great diverse society it is today. The Jewish refugees desire recognition of their plight and compensation for what they were forced to give up such as homes and businesses. The Palestinians should consider beginning proceedings against the Arab states that have hosted their refugees in abysmal conditions for the past 55 years.[11]

Reference - Jewish Population in Arab Countries 1948-2001:

Source: David Matas and Stanley A.Urman, “Jews from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights and Redress”, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, 2003, www.jewishrefugees.org .


[1] Bat Ye’or, “The Dhimmi, Jews and Christians under Islam”, London, 1985

[2] David Matas and Stanley A.Urman, “Jews from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights and Redress”, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, 2003, http://www.jewishrefugees.org

[3] www.jesishrefugees.org

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dr Avi Beker, Secretary General, World Jewish Congress, Ha’aretz, 18 May 2003

[6] Henri Stellman, “1997:Notable Israeli Anniversaries”, The Anglo-Israel Association, London, 1997.

[7] Do Palestinian Refugees Have a Right to Return to Israel? , Ruth Lapidoth.. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs .

[8] Matas and Urman, op. cit.

[9] Malka Hillel Shulewitz in collaboration with Raphael Israeli, “Exchanges of Populations Worldwide: the First World War to the 1990s in Malka Hillel Shulewitz, Editor, “The Forgotten Millions, The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands”, London, 1999.

[10] Matas and Urman, op. cit.

[11] It's time to tell the world about the other 1948 refugees, By Neill Lochery, The Jerusalem Post, July 16, 2003

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