Kurdish refugees arriving at the Atlit transit camp
JTA has the low-down on the forthcoming campaign for justice for Jewish refugees:
TEL AVIV (JTA) – Naim Reuven was only 8 when he left Baghdad more than 50 years ago, but he still remembers going with his father to catch fish in the Tigris River.
His dad worked in a laundromat, a middle-class father of six and one of Iraq’s more than 100,000 Jews. Baghdad’s Jewish community suffered a pogrom in 1941, but Reuven, born a year later, has only fond memories of his childhood there -- until Israel declared independence in 1948.
“When Israel was established it began, there was hate,” said Reuven, now 70. “We had a neighbor we got along with, and then there was hate.”
He still remembers the fear when grenades were thrown into his family’s synagogue.
In 1951, after three years of increasing animosity and persecution, the Reuvens moved to Israel, where the government placed them in an immigrant absorption camp and gave Reuven’s father agricultural work. Reuven now lives in Tel Aviv’s low-income Hatikvah neighborhood, retired after a career in construction.
More than 800,000 Jews lived in the Arab world at the time of Israel’s founding. Virtually all of them left, fled or were forced out of their homes after Israel’s birth, with more than three-quarters moving to Israel. The once-thriving communities they had established in places such as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia shrunk and, in some cases, virtually disappeared. In many cases the emigrants were forced to leave behind much of their property.
As part of an effort to have those Jews recognized as refugees and demand compensation for their lost property, the World Jewish Congress will be hosting a conference in Jerusalem next week focused on “raising the flag of rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries,” according to WJC Secretary General Dan Diker. Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Ministry for Senior Citizens are joining the WJC as hosts.
Then, on Sept. 21, the WJC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Israeli Foreign Ministry will host a similar conference at United Nations headquarters.
“It’s important that the world accept and recognize that most of them were forcibly exiled and subjected to the worst kind of anti-Semitic assault,” which included Jews being “attacked, assaulted, killed, robbed,” Diker told JTA. “This issue has been largely ignored by Jewish leaders over the past number of years. They were resettled, so it wasn’t perceived as an acute bleeding."
In addition to the WJC efforts, the Israeli Knesset is slated to vote soon on a resolution to establish a day commemorating the history of Jews from Arab lands and to found a museum focused on that history. The U.S.-based Justice for Jews from Arab Countries also advocates for the refugees’ rights.
While the campaign for the Jewish refugees ostensibly is aimed at winning some recompense for Jews from Arab countries and their descendants -- known in Israel as Mizrahim, Hebrew for Easterners -- it's also part of a political effort to create a Jewish parallel to Palestinian refugee claims from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Advocates want the Jewish refugee issue to serve as a counterbalance to the Palestinian refugee issue in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and want recognition and monetary compensation for Jewish refugees to be a part of any final-status deal.
While no mechanism for such compensation exists now, Diker envisions an international fund that would resolve claims for Jewish and Palestinian refugees. Meir Khaolon, chairman of the World Organization of Libyan Jews, which is collaborating with the WJC in its campaign, says Mizrahi Jews have listings of 80 percent of the property left behind in Arab countries.
“It restores parity to Arab-Israeli diplomacy,” Diker said. “That narrative has become distorted in recognizing and advancing the narrative that the Palestinian Arabs are the sole aggrieved party in this conflict.”
The issue of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is not new, but Diker said it has risen in prominence now because of a parallel effort by Knesset members to celebrate Mizrahi history and culture in Israel. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who is leading the effort and introduced the resolution in the Knesset two months ago to memorialize Mizrahi communities, will speak at the upcoming WJC conference along with other Israeli and international politicians.
“All those Jews wanted to be part of the Jewish rebuilding” of Israel, Ayalon said. “But the fact that they were harassed, that they were killed, that they were robbed of their dignity as human beings is something that has never been recognized.”The Times of Israel has this news item:
A Foreign Ministry advocacy campaign set to be launched online this week — “I am a refugee” – seeks to raise awareness about Jewish refugees from Arab countries at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel.
“It is time to correct a historic injustice and deal with the Jews who were forced out of Arab countries,” reads the campaign’s Facebook page, which had garnered 38,000 likes at the time of writing.
The project, spearheaded by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, focuses on the personal stories of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, termed “a little-known refugee group” by the ministry, who were expelled from their homes and their countries, without their belongings, by their rulers.
The campaign calls on the Jewish descendants from Arab countries to upload videos, text, documents, and pictures to the Facebook page in order to tell the story that is an “inseparable part” of the establishment of the State of Israel.
“The time has come to correct an ongoing historical injustice affecting half the population of Israel,” Ayalon said, according to the ministry. “We started 64 years late, but it’s not too late. For the sake of true reconciliation with our Palestinian neighbors, the issue of the Jewish refugees must be resolved.”Read article in full