Jewish refugees from Yemen
As the Jewish refugee issue becomes more prominent so commentators are expressing pressimism that the Kerry proposals are a cynical electoral ploy, and the refugees might never achieve justice. Not so, argue Stanley A Urman and Lyn Julius in the Jerusalem Post:
Suddenly Jewish refugees from Arab countries have been catapulted into
the headlines. The Kerry peace framework proposals will, it is rumored,
contain a clause recommending compensation for both Jewish refugees
and Palestinian refugees. This is music to the ears of us activists on
behalf of Jewish refugees. It’s what we have been fighting for for
At last, the rights of over 856,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries
will be recognized and redressed. What’s not to like? Already
discordant voices are being heard. In this newspaper, Sarah Honig’s
February 13 column entitled: “Another Tack: A Page from Barker’s Playbook” suggested that a reported proposal to compensate Jewish
refugees along with refugees from British Mandate Palestine is just a
means for US Secretary of State John Kerry to sway the “hawks” of the
Israeli electorate – Jews from Arab countries and their descendants.
At its core, advocating for the rights of Jews from Arab countries is
not about money. Recognizing rights and redress for Jewish refugees is a
quest for truth and justice, the prerequisite for true reconciliation
between and among peoples in the region.
While under international law the legitimate rights of Jews forced to
flee Arab countries are neither identical to, nor symmetrical with,
those of Palestinian refugees, there is significant linkage between
these two refugee populations, underscoring the need to deal with both
simultaneously: Both refugee populations were created by the Arab
countries’ refusal to accept the 1947 UN Partition Plan and attacking
Israel; both became refugees during the same period in history; and
both were declared to be bona fide refugees, under international law,
by the appropriate UN Agencies – UNHCR and UNRWA.
In the international, political arena, Jewish refugees have been
inextricably linked to Palestinian refugees. The historic United
Nations resolution 242 on the Arab-Israeli conflict stipulates, that a
comprehensive peace settlement should necessarily include “a just
settlement of the refugee problem,” language that, according to the
expressed intent of the UN Resolution’s co-authors, would be inclusive
of Arab refugees and Jewish refugees.
The 1991 Madrid Peace Conference created a Working Group on Refugees
whose mandate was to “...consider practical ways of improving the lot
of people throughout the region who have been displaced from their
homes” – generic language applicable to both Palestinian and Jewish
refugees. The 2002 Road map to Middle East Peace also refers in Phase
III to an “agreed, just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee
issue,” language applicable both to Palestinian and Jewish refugees. The
intention in all of these seminal blueprints for peace is for both
refugee populations to be addressed in tandem.
Rights for Jewish refugees have been enshrined in legislation, as a
matter of government policy, for years, both in Israel and in the
United States. In 2008, the US Congress’ House Resolution 185
proclaimed that, in Middle East peace negotiations, “any explicit
reference to the rights of Palestinian refugees must be matched by a
similar reference to the rights of Jewish refugees.” In 2010, Israel’s
Knesset passed a Law which requires that: “As part of negotiations to
achieve peace in the Middle East, the government will include the
subject of providing compensation for the loss of assets of Jewish
refugees from Arab countries.”
So who will pay? There are those who pessimistically believe that compensation for Jewish refugees will never materialize.
Surely it won’t come from the Palestinians. And Arab states in the
throes of internecine warfare won’t want to pay. Even President Barack
Obama may be loathe to pay out from the US’s depleted coffers.
Compensation for Arab and Jewish refugees is not a new idea. The
concept, which was first proposed by president Bill Clinton in 2000, was
for the creation of an international fund to which many states would
contribute, including the United States.
But Uncle Sam should not foot the bill alone. Multilateral involvement
would provide the legitimacy and commitment – as well as financial
support – to cement the peace. The G-8, the EU, the Arab League, Arab
countries, Israel and others as well – should all participate and
Arab participation is paramount; a genuine peace can only be achieved
when all culpable Arab states accept responsibility and express regret
for the injustices they perpetrated on their Jewish citizens.
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