No one can ignore the Palestinian refugee problem. Yet no one speaks of the predicament of the larger number of Jews expelled from the Arab states in the wake of Israel’s establishment. Edy Cohen has this article in BESA Center Perspectives for Nakba Day (with thanks: Imre):
Having failed to abort the
newly established Jewish state by force of arms, these states took
revenge on their own Jewish communities, some of which had lived in
those lands way before their Arab/Muslim conquest in the seventh century
Yemenite Jews walking to Aden in 1949
About 900,000 Jews of Arab countries were forced to leave their
homes, and their properties were summarily expropriated. In some of
those countries, primarily Egypt and Iraq, that stolen property is
estimated today in the hundreds of billions of dollars. This includes
many buildings and hundreds of beautiful synagogues, enterprises, and
private assets that were confiscated solely because their owners
happened to be Jews.
Those Jews were expelled and/or forced to flee their homelands in
fear of their lives. They were subjected to persecution and numerous
pogroms, though they had in no way harmed their Arab compatriots –
unlike the Palestinian refugees, who fled in the wake of a war of
annihilation that their leaders and the Arab regimes had waged.
As part of the recent Arab League summit in Jordan, the 2002 Arab
Peace Initiative was revived. It offers Israel normalization with the
Arab and Muslim states in return for a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria
and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its
Not surprisingly, the statement issued by the summit demands
concessions only of Israel. If, however, Jerusalem decides to enter
peace talks on the basis of this plan, it must demand an explicit
apology from the Arab states that expelled their Jewish citizens in the
course of the conflict. Israel must further insist that these Jews be
compensated for the loss of their earthly properties and for the
suffering attending their expulsion.
Over the course of history, countless peoples have afflicted the
Jewish people. Some have apologized, and some have even tried to atone
for their misdeeds. For example, the Portuguese and the Spanish have
apologized for their persecution of Jews, and now offer passports to all
Jews whose families were expelled from those countries, as far back as
the Expulsion of 1492. The Germans, who annihilated one-third of the
Jewish people, have apologized, signed a reparations agreement with the
state of Israel, and compensated numerous Holocaust survivors.
In contrast, the Arab states are not only unwilling to pay
compensation to those Jews they expelled, but refuse to acknowledge this
atrocity in the first place. The time has come for these states and
their leaders to own up to their misdeeds, apologize for this injustice,
and compensate those whose property they stole.
Israel can help to redress an historical injustice if it makes it
unequivocally clear that it will not sign an agreement on ending the
conflict with the Palestinians and/or the Arab states until the issue of
the Jewish refugees and their plundered property in the Arab countries
As the state of the Jewish people, Israel has a supreme moral duty,
along with a right anchored in international law, to demand that the
Arab states compensate their past Jewish citizens for the assets and
lands that were illegally and unjustifiably wrested from them.
Unfortunately, Israeli governments have thus far ignored this issue
altogether. One can only hope that the current and future governments
will come to their senses as soon as possible, since no solution for the
Palestinian refugee problem is possible so long as justice is not
served for the Jewish refugees from the Arab states.
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