Thursday, October 18, 2012

Forgotten refugees are forgotten no more

 Jewish refugees in an Israeli transit camp or ma'abara

We have Danny Ayalon and the current Israeli government to thank for putting Jewish refugees from Arab countries firmly on the international agenda, argues Michelle Huberman of Harif in the Jerusalem Post.

 If you have been following the work of my organisation Harif, (representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK) you will know that campaigning for Jewish Refugees from Arab countries has, until last month, been an uphill struggle. However,the issue has moved to the mainstream since the "Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries conference last month in Jerusalem and the meeting at the UN building in New York telling their untold story, and featuring leading advocates Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler.

Some 64 years after the creation of the State of Israel in what is often referred to as the forgotten exodus, 850,000 Jews were forced to leave Arab countries as refugees, leaving their property behind. Over 600,000 went to Israel and until the Russia aliyah of the 1990's  the largest communities in Israel were Moroccan and Iraqi. The rest went mostly to France, Canada, the Americas, Australia and the UK.

Today just over half of the Israeli population is  made up of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. The big question everyone is asking is why are recognition and redress  being discussed now? Why didn't previous Israeli governments bring the issue to the UN years ago?

In Israel the issue is hardly known. Many of the older generation who have traumatic memories of witnessing murders, torture and fleeing or being expelled from with only a suitcase from Arab countries have found the experiences too painful to retell to their children and grandchildren.

Other reasons why the Israeli government did not tell the Jewish refugee story were the Eurocentricism of the Israeli establishment, the desire to integrate the refugees as immigrants returning to their ancestral homeland, and the belief, especially on the Left during the Oslo years, that the Jewish refugees were a stumbling block to peace.

 The issue of refugee rights is now a hot topic with the national and  international media.   Arab spokesmen and media have been thrown onto the back foot Hardly a day goes by without an opinion piece in Haaretz, criticising  or extolling  the Israeli governments diplomatic initiative.

 Israels stance on Jewish refugees only changed since the Yisrael Beytenu party joined the coalition government in 2009 on a platform of rights-based diplomacy.  Building on a US Congressional resolution demanding parity for Jewish and Palestinian refugees in 2008 and a 2010 Knesset law making compensation for Jewish refugees a condition of a peace settlement, the initiative to make  Jewish refugees  a policy issue came from Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, the son of an Algerian refugee father. 

In 2010 he penned an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post headlined "I Am A Refugee". That was followed with international op-eds and an information video The Truth about Refugees’that has already had over a million views. Danny Ayalon was the driving force behind last months conference and UN meeting.

At the same time  the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a Facebook page called ‘I am a refugee’ : any refugee could upload his or her story online, giving the lie to  allegations that Jews left Arab countries of their own free will.   

Describing the Jerusalem conference as historic, Danny Ayalon said: we will work on achieving justice to Jewish refugees, who were expelled and tortured, and their rights were taken away. The conference produced a declaration, pledging the Israeli government to include the history of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the school curriculum, to build a museum commemorating their rich heritage, and to add a memorial day to the calendar.  

In Israel, the lack of elementary knowledge, along with many of the older generation withholding their stories, has led to naive young Israelis ignoring their own rights, while peddling the narrative of  Israel's enemies.

The work is not over, it is only just beginning. and we are waiting to announce the date for a Jewish Refugee day to be inserted into the Jewish calendar. The real challenge is to produce an education programme not only for Israeli schools, but also to teach Jews in the Diaspora the history of the Jews from Arab countries.

Organisations like JJAC , Harif and JIMENA  will continue to work alongside the Israeli Foreign Ministry to instigate education programmes in the UK and America.

We have Danny  Ayalon  and the current government to thank for putting this issue  firmly on the international agenda. The forgotten refugees are forgotten no more.

Read article in full


Anonymous said...

Will I see the accomplishment of Mr.Ayalon's crusade in my lifetime?
Don't forget that we have been refugees for over 60 years and that we are quickly ,as my French fellow Jewish refugee told me yesterday: Ils tombent comme des mouches. They are falling like flies.
Still we must encourage and congratulate anyone who is working on that project
Sultana Latifa

Sylvia said...

Another article in HaOketz on the subject titled:
"A Robbers' Deal" by Dotan Leshem

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Some say that the US Govt proposed an international fund to compensate people on both sides, Jews and Arabs.
Is this true?

Sylvia said...