Friday, November 28, 2008

Israel refugees conference marks a turning point

There will be no peace between Israel and Arab states unless Jews forced out of Arab lands are compensated, a government minister told a ground-breaking conference at Bar Ilan University in Israel on 24 November. The conference marks a turning point in the campaign for the rights of Jews from Arab Countries, assembling for the first time academics, four associations (Iraq, Egypt, Libya and North Africa) and the Israeli ministries of Justice, Culture Religious Affairs and Pensions. Levana Zamir sent us this report:

This conference, the first of its kind and well attended by Israelis from all Arab countries, dealt with two subjects: firstly, persecution of Jews in Arab Countries during the first half of the 20th century, long before the creation of the State of Israel and before the Balfour declaration; secondly, the rights of the Jews from all Arab countries, and their right to financial restitution and compensation. Academic presentations were given by Dr. Shimon Ohayon, Dr. Yehudit Ronen, Dr. Moshe Zafarani, Dr. Orly Rahmyan and others.

Expert Dr. Haim Sadoun, detailed the persecutions of Jews country by country - bombings, riots and murders. He stressed that the life of Jews in Arab countries was never the symbiosis and utopian coexistence some would like us to believe. Before colonialism in those Arab countries, the Jews were always under Dhimmi status, paying the jiziah tax for their protection. They had their ups and downs, but were always second-class citizens. There was a respite under colonialism, and violence was directed at foreign rule.

Dr. Haim Sadoun gave a partial list of those persecutions, which killed any number from a few to several hundred Jews each time, and left many wounded. In Morocco, riots already began in 1907 in Fez, and continued in 1912, 1942, 1948, 1955 and 1967. Tunisia - 1917, 1967. Algeria - 1930 and 1932 (Constantine). Aden – 1935 and again 1947. Iraq - 1941 with the Farhoud, where more than 130 Jews were killed. Libya, the massacre of 1945 in Tripoli, and again in 1967. Syria – 1947, 1948, 1949, 1967. Egypt – 1945, with synagogue burnt, in 1948 with 50 Jews killed and many wounded, in 1952, in 1956 – with mass expulsion and confiscations, etc. The Jews from Arab lands, where they lived for more then two millennia before the Arabs conquered those countries, were thus 'ethnicially cleansed'.

All these riots caused damage and looting to businesses, homes and shops, leaving often thousands of families without homes and livelihood. "The life of one million Jews in Muslim countries would be endangered by partition",declared Hussein Heykal in November 1947 and so it proved. But those massacres became rare after the creation of the State of Israel, concluded Dr. Sadoun, and the animosity turned towards the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Stanley Urman, Executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), gave a presentation about the perennial refugee status of the Palestinians, whose numbers have grown hugely, in contrast to the 900,000 Jews from Arab countries, none of whom are still refugees.

The topic of sequestration and financial restitution was presented by the presidents of each Association of Jews from Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Libya and North Africa). They made the point that non-sequestrated businesses were abandoned or 'sold for peanuts'. Lawyer Jean- Claude Niddam from the Ministry of Justice confirmed that he already collected 20,000 claims of Jews from Arab countries.

David Nawi, a lawyer at the Jews of Iraq Association, then declared that as long as the state of Israel fails to present claims against Arab countries, the Association will sue the state of Israel in the Israeli High Court. If this does not work, they will present their claims to the International Court in The Hague. Mordechai Ben-Porat, head of the Jews of Iraq Association reminded the audience that President Clinton had already declared in July 2000 that an international Fund will be established to cover compensation for Palestinian refugees as well as Jewish refugees from Arab Countries. Levana Zamir, President of the International Association of the Jews from Egypt said that the state of Israel had declared long ago that compensation for Palestinian refugees will be offset against that of the Jews from Arab lands. Now that all the associations are working together, we will not let this happen.

At the Bar Ilan Conference, Itzhak Cohen, Minister of Religious Affairs, said "that no peace agreement will be implemented without solving the problem of the Jews from Middle Eastern states". This is of course the kind of declaration politicians make before elections, but now that the subject is becoming hot, it will only get bigger. The next JJAC International meeting promises to be even hotter.

Picture caption: Left to right: lawyer Jean-Claude Niddam, Levana Zamir of the International Association of Jews from Egypt and Meir Kahlon of the Association of Jews from Libya (photo Joe Cohen)

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