Lebanon's parliament recently passed a law allowing Palestinian refugees to work legally in Lebanon. As a refugee myself, this news makes me reflect on my own experience.
I am also a refugee from the Arab countries. But I am not a Palestinian. I am a Jewish refugee forced out of the land of my birth in Libya.
I know that Jewish refugees from the Arab countries were larger in numbers than the Palestinian refugees. Yet, we have been successfully integrated. So I ask the question: "Why do the Palestinians still remain in squalid refugee camps?"
My thoughts turn to those savage days when my family fled Libya in 1967. We narrowly escaped death at the hands of a bus driver who, instead of taking us to the airport, tried to burn us alive inside the bus.
I am one of nearly one million Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa who were forced to flee their ancestral homes in the last 60 years. I am now the voice of an Arab minority culture that has been ethnically cleansed.
Jews are amongst the oldest existing indigenous group in the region. We have lived throughout the Middle East and North Africa for millennia, since long before the Arab Muslim conquest in the 7th century. Not that this simple historical fact gets the attention of certain international journalists and activists who at times seem obsessed with delegitimizing the modern Israeli state.
For all our contributions and success, we encountered racism and oppression that ultimately forced us out.
Under Islamic “dhimmi” rules, Jews (and Christians) were often subjugated and persecuted. This carried on to the modern era. In the 20th century, synagogues were bombed, family members thrown in jail on trumped-up charges, and innocent people lynched or hanged before cheering crowds. Arab governments froze bank accounts and allowed Jews to leave with just one suitcase.
Though the circumstances of the exodus differed from country-to-country, the anguish of being uprooted from the only homeland we ever knew was the same. No memorial exists to commemorate these once vibrant communities in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Yemen, and beyond.
My community in Libya, once 38,000 strong, is now extinct. Our cultural heritage has been obliterated. In short, over 2500 years of history has vanished.
As we say in Arabic, Ma fdel shei—there is nothing left. I cannot even go back to Libya to visit my grandfather’s grave.
Nevertheless, the plight of the two refugee populations, Jews and Palestinians, is a study in contrasts when it comes to refugee resettlement.
Israel absorbed 600,000 Jewish refugees. Indeed, it became the largest and most successful refugee camp in the Middle East because it gave the Jews from the Arab Countries dignity and hope.
We were successfully integrated us in Israeli society. The Mizrahi Jews now comprise over half the population of Israel and hold top positions in Israeli society. Other refugees went to the U.S. and Europe. We rapidly integrated in our new host countries. These Jews have been integrated without any money or help from the United Nations even though the UN recognized us as "bona fide" refugees.
By contrast, the UN pours millions of dollars a year to UNWRA United Nations Work and Relief Agency to provide for the Palestinian refugees. This they have done for the past 59 years.
Except for Jordan most Arab countries to this day refuse to integrate Palestinian refugees into their own societies. It is shameful that Lebanon with a population of 400,000 Palestinian refugees keeps them in 12 refugee camps According to the BBC, "many have open sewers running through tight mazes of alleys. There are severe restrictions on repairs and improvements to the cheaply- built dwellings."
Why is it that the Palestinians continue to live in squalid refugee camps? Why do they remain a people homeless and on welfare for over 60 years, even under their own Palestinian Authority?
The Arab leadership sinned doubly by driving the Jews from their own homes in nine Arab countries and at the same time refusing hospitality and integration to their own Palestinian brothers who sought refuge in Arab countries.
Lebanon is no exception. It is almost inconceivable that Palestinians have been living in Lebanon for over 60 years and still are not afforded the most basic human and civil rights which most countries grant to refugees.
The Arab countries continue to perpetuate the misery of their Palestinian “brothers” for their own political ends, stoking the flames of Palestinian "victimhood". Religious fanatics exploit the refugees’ suffering and sow hatred against Jews, delivering willing suicide bombers to Hezbollah and Hamas.
Hate is a weapon of mass destruction. The same forces of hatred that turned me into a refugee and nearly burned me alive on a bus in the Libyan desert continue to deliver terror around the world: Bus bombings in Israel, 9/11 in the United States, hostages in Bombay are all the result of hate education in Madrassah schools.
The Palestinians who have made their homes in Western countries, have been successfully integrated, they have a life and they are contributing to their host societies and their children are not recruited by Hezbollah.
Lebanon should take a moral inventory of their own treatment of the Palestinians before they join the flottilla of food for their poor Palestinians in Gaza.
Lebanon continues to deny 400,000 Palestinian refugees the most basic rights, like the right to buy a home, or the right to become citizens of a country they have lived in for over 60 years. I say to their government: "Haram Alekem." Shame on you for discriminating against your own brothers and sisters.
Bygone plight of Jewish refugees (Letter, Irish Independent)
IN his excellent article pitying the next Israeli ambassador to Ireland (Irish Independent, August 20), Kevin Myers remarks that people emote about Palestinian refugees without pausing to ask themselves why, after 60 years, they are still ‘refugees’.
What about the much larger numbers of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were given sanctuary in Israel and the West? Why are these refugees airbrushed from history, just because they were successfully integrated?
It is hardly ever pointed out that the Jewish refugees have been almost totally ‘ethnically cleansed’ from countries they lived in for over 2,000 years, having abandoned property and land four times the size of Israel itself.
We need to inject some balance into this distorted debate.
Mrs L Julius