Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Peace talks must include Jewish refugees

 Refugee child in a ma'abara (transit camp) Israel, 1950 (JDC archives)

Lest anyone fear that the present Israeli government has put  Jewish refugees issue on the back burner,  Joseph Puder in Front Page magazine sets forth the case for putting the issue squarely at the centre of the peace agenda (with thanks: Michelle):

What has been conveniently ignored, if not forgotten by the international community which funds UNRWA, is the plight of the Jewish refugees from Muslim lands (mostly Arab states).  These Jewish refugees from Arab countries were absorbed by the Jewish State, albeit they were greater in number than the Palestinian refugees. The Jewish refugees were forced to flee their homes in the Arab world in which they have lived long before the arrival of Islam. Israel must insist that any discussion of refugees should include the Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

In his book In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands (2010: Yale University Press) Martin Gilbert pointed out that the earliest recognition of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands came in 1957, when Auguste Lindt, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, cited the Jews, who were being expelled from Egypt.  He stated, “Another emergency problem is now arising, that of refugees from Egypt. There is no doubt in my mind that those refugees from Egypt who are not able, or not willing to avail themselves of the protection of the government of their nationality, fall under the mandate of my office (page 325).”

In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, when the UN Security Council on November 22, 1967, voted for the famous Resolution 242, it included a provision on the refugee issue. The Soviet Union sought to insert, as part of the Resolution 242, a reference to “Palestinian refugees,” which was rejected by Britain and the U.S. In fact, the U.S. and Britain demanded that both Palestinian refugees, as well as Jewish refugees from Muslim lands, be included in the reference to the refugees.  In the end, Arthur Goldberg (U.S. ambassador to the UN) and Lord Carrington (British ambassador to the UN) prevailed. The resolution affirmed “the necessity…for a just settlement of the refugee problem.”

In his 2001 book, Locked Doors: The Seizure of Jewish Property in Arab Countries, the author Itamar Levin challenged the Israeli government to take on the claims of Jewish refugees from Arab lands at peace negotiations.  He wrote (page 235) “Taking this risk would mean some sort of justice for anyone forced to leave their home against their will, carrying only one suitcase in hand.”
Whereas the Palestinian Arab refugees have had a choice to stay in their homes in most cases, Jews in the Arab world did not, they were forced out.  The Economist, a frequent critic of the Zionists, reported on October 2, 1948: “Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit… It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.”

In December, 2007, 14 Jews who emigrated to the U.S. from Arab lands met with President George W. Bush in the White House. Their spokesperson, Maurice Shohet, urged the President to remember the rights of Jews from Arab countries whenever the rights of Palestinian Arab refugees were raised in the international arena.

The Jerusalem Post reported on January 27, 2009, “More than 850,000 Jews fled or were expelled from Arab lands and Iran, most after Israel’s founding in 1948. Estimates of the value of the property they were forced to leave behind are hard to come by, ranging from as low as $16 billion in known assets to as high as $300 billion. ‘Israel has talked about this on and off for 60 years. Now we’re going to deal with it as we should have all along,’ said Dr. Avi Bitzur, director-general of the Pensioners Affairs Ministry. The ministry established a department with an initial staff of five to begin to collect the claims of the Jewish refugees, about 80 percent of who settled in Israel. Bitzur hosted a panel on the issue at Herzliya Conference.”  Dr. Bitzur made the point that while the U.N has dealt with Palestinian Arab refugees and their property at least 700 times, it has totally ignored the issue of Jewish property in Arab lands.

UNRWA has inflated the current number of Palestinian-Arab refugees and their fourth generation descendants to around 5 million.  As per the UNRWA’s refugee definition, in 2012, the number of registered patrilineal descendants of the original Palestine refugees, based on the UNRWA registration requirements, is estimated to be 4,950,000. The number of original Palestine refugees has declined from 711,000 in 1950to approximately 30,000 to 50,000 in 2012.
In actuality, the numbers are far smaller and pale by comparison with the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. The Arabs claim that 800,000 to 1,000,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1947-49. The last census was taken in 1945. It found only 756,000 permanent Arab residents in Israel. On November 30, 1947, the date the UN voted for partition, the total was 809,100. A 1949 Government of Israel census counted 160,000 Arabs living in the country after the war. This meant that no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. A report by the UN Mediator on Palestine arrived at an even lower figure – 472,000.

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