Every year on November 29th the international community marks the anniversary of the United Nations (hereinafter referred to as the ‘UN’) Partition Resolution 181(II) . It is sometimes forgotten ‘ and often not even known ‘ that this was the first blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian ‘two states for two peoples’ solution. While this resolution was accepted by Jewish leaders, it was renounced by Arab and Palestinian leadership who also, by their own acknowledgement, declared war on the fledgling Jewish state ‘ while also targeting the Jewish population living in their respective Arab countries.
The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ‘ within the broader Arab-Israeli conflict ‘ is deeply rooted. At the core of the conflict lies the Balfour Declaration. Created on 2 November 1917, the declaration is a letter from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, which was written for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. It read as follows:
The impact of this document on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is immeasurable, having been incorporated into the Treaty of S??vres , referenced in the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence , and disputed in the Sykes-Picot Agreement . As Jack Straw, former British Foreign Secretary noted in a 2002 interview:
Had Resolution 181(II) been accepted, there would not have been the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the ensuing refugee problems. Instead, the annual November 29 UN-organized International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People might well have been a day commemorating peace in the Middle East, and the co-existent establishment of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.
Instead, in May 1948, the local Arab population of Mandate Palestine was joined by seven Arab countries in a collective UN-violated attempt to destroy the newly re-established Jewish state (see Appendix A). This war would become known to Israelis as the ‘War of Independence’ and to Palestinians as ‘The Catastrophe’ . This is distinction in narratives is vitally important in understanding the plight of both Jewish and Palestinian refugees over the past 67 years.
As a direct result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, 500,000 Palestinians fled to camps in neighbouring Arab lands as refugees, while 160,000 Palestinian Arabs accepted Israel’s offer to remain. Today, there are more than 1.6 million Israeli-Arabs living in Israel ‘ 20% of Israel’s population ‘ who enjoy rights as Israeli citizens, the majority of whom identify themselves as Arab or Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship (International Crisis Group, 2004).
The subject of refugees remains one of the core issues for understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, as this Paper will demonstrate, the rights and claims of one group have come to be promoted at the expense and displacement of the other. This need not be the case, as the question of peace is never a zero-sum game. In fact, the opposite ought to hold true. As the Jewish and Palestinian refugees are reciprocally and intrinsically linked ‘ vis-??-vis their simultaneous creation ‘ light shed on one ought to shine onto both.
The goal of this Paper is to provide to Jewish refugees from Arab lands an accurate narrative of their plight, and a demonstration of how such dislocation and dispossession can auger in resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace negotiations.
Commentary on this topic has been divided, and have dissented into three distinct camps: first, those who believe that the uprooting of Jews from Arab lands was equally the result of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors; second, those who attribute Zionism as the consequential ‘pull’ factor ; and third, those who cite the Arab lands’ systematic quality of ‘push’ factors, consciously orchestrated to expel their native Jewish population.
Previous works such as Norman Stillman’s book The Jews of Arab lands in Modern Times, and George Gruen’s article ‘The Other Refugees: Jews of the Arab World’, fall into the first camp. That is, they assign equal weight to more benign ‘push’ factors such as tensions from modernization sparked by the withdrawal of colonial masters (see Chapter 1), or Jewish involvement in dissident groups such as Socialism (see Chapter 3). These authors, in chorus with many others, were unaware of the genuine scope and nature of the forced expulsion of Jews from Arab lands. This is due to the fact that for decades the phenomena of Jewish refugees from Arab lands went underreported. Only recently has the truth come out in the form of a renewed interest in their story. From legislative committee hearings (see Chapter 4) to documentary films, the world has begun to take notice of this ‘forgotten exodus’ ‘ a trend this Paper seeks to sustain.
Eli Hertz, in his article ‘Arab and Jewish Refugees ‘ The Contrast’, attributes cultural and judicial factors to this renewed interest in Jewish refugee history, including the revolution in human rights and humanitarian law, and the growth of multiculturalism and diversity. Other factors relating to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian Peace negotiations have also contributed to sparking an interest in this topic, most prominent of which is the question of Israel’s Law of Return and the Palestinian ‘right of return’ (see Chapter 5).
With the rejection of Resolution 181(II), a vast exchange of populations took place in the Middle East between the years 1947 and 1952 ‘ with the number of displaced Jews from Arab lands vastly exceeding that of Arabs from Mandate Palestine (Kedar, 1999). Despite this fact, the revisionist Middle East narrative holds that there was only one victim population: the Palestinians (and that Israel was responsible). Not only is this factually incorrect, but it rejects the pain and plight of almost one million Jews who were expelled from Arab lands as a result of an open policy of anti-Semitic incitement and attempts at ethnic cleansing.
Moreover, this revisionist narrative not only eclipsed ‘ and erased ‘ the forgotten exodus from memory and remembrance, but also denied that it was a forced exodus. Simply put, the Arab lands not only rejected a proposed Palestinian state by declaring a UN-violated war on the fledgling Jewish state, but they also targeted their Jewish population living in their respective lands, thereby creating two refugee groups: the evacuee Palestinian refugee population resulting from the UN-violated Arab war against Israel, and the Jewish refugees resulting from Arab hostilities against its own expelled Jewish population.
The UN also bears express and continued responsibility for the distorted narrative of Jewish refugees. Since 1948, for instance, there have been more than 150 UN resolutions that have specifically dealt with the Palestinian refugee plight. Not one, however, has made any reference to, or expression of concern for, the plight of almost one million Jews displaced from Arab lands.
The Palestinians are also the only group of refugees out of the more than one hundred million from World War II who were provided with their own special UN agency ‘ the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) ‘ that, according to its mandate, cannot but perpetuate their tragedy (Bartholomeusz, 2009). Every other refugee in the world is administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (see Chapter 3).
Taking into account the imbalance of attention and resources given to Palestinian refugees over Jewish refugees, this Paper recommends five steps to rectifying a historical wrong and ongoing injustice. Taken individually, these steps will bring attention, retribution, closure, and/or compensation to the victims. Together, however, these steps will go to ensure a sustainable and balanced solution for all Jewish and Palestinian refugees to live and thrive in coexistent peace.
First, each of the Arab lands ‘ and the Arab League ‘ must acknowledge their role and responsibility in their triple aggression of launching a UN-violated war against Israel, the perpetration of human rights violations against their Jewish population, and the tangential Palestinian displacement and disposition from the Mandated lands. Second, remedies must be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab lands ‘ including compensation. Third, the UN must recognize the perpetuation that is caused by the UNRWA, and transfer responsibility for Palestinian refugees to the UNHCR. Fourth, the international community’s perception of Jewish refugees must change, including referencing and addressing their plight in balanced measure to that of Palestinian refugees. And fifth, bilateral Israeli-Palestinian Peace negotiations must include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder of discussion.
The exclusion and denial of rights and redress of Jewish refugees from Arab lands continues to distort authentic negotiations between the Peace negotiation Parties, and a just and lasting settlement between them. As the Honourable Irwin Cotler, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, noted in an editorial written for The Jerusalem Post in 2012:
This is a story whose voices are only now being heard by many for the first time. It is a story whose painful testimony has been shared too often only among the victims themselves. It is a truth that must now be affirmed, acknowledged, and acted upon in the interests of justice, history, and peace.
This call to guarantee the rights and reparations for Jewish refugees from Arab lands will not counter Palestinian rights and claims. Rather, it will encourage all Parties to recognize the fact that there were two groups of refugees, each of whom are entitled to redress and to an enduring peace and coexistence.
As previously referenced, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on 29 November 1947 that would have created a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state in the land that was then known as Mandate Palestine. The Arab leaders’ rejection of the UN-sanctioned Partition Plan sparked the persecution and eventual exodus of almost one million Jews from Arab lands. Unfortunately their story has been lost ‘ a forgotten narrative ‘ with the majority of them having quietly been absorbed into their new homes without seeking restitution of any form (see Chapter 2). This chapter will expose the atrocities that took place in four key Arab lands between the years 1947 and 1952, and suggest ways in which the Arab lands can acknowledge their role and responsibility in their triple aggression of launching a UN-violated war against Israel, the perpetration of human rights violations against their Jewish population, and the tangential Palestinian displacement and disposition from the Mandated lands.
At the time of the Partition Plan nearly one million Jews lived peacefully in the various Arab lands of the Middle East, many of them in communities that had existed for thousands of years (see Appendix B). The Arab leaders’ rejection of the UN-sanctioned Partition Plan set light to anti-Zionist fervor throughout the Middle East, which cumulated on 17 May 1948 when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared a UN-sanctioned independent State of Israel. From that moment on, Jews living in Arab lands were the target of ethnic abuses. The situation was to become so unscrupulous that Egypt’s delegation to the UN warned the General Assembly of what would come: ‘The lives of one million Jews in Muslim countries will be jeopardized by partition’ (UN Dept. Of Public Information, 1947). This dire warning quickly became the brutal reality.
With the situation for Jews in Arab lands worsening, Dr. Stephen Wise, then President of the World Jewish Congress , appealed to United States Secretary of State George Marshall:
The United States took no follow-up action to investigate Dr. Wise’s pleadings. In an attempt to echo Dr. Wise’s call for action, The New York Times ran an article a few months later under the headline ‘Jews in Grave Danger in all Muslim Lands: Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia Face Wrath of Their Foes’ (Browne, 1948). The story reported of a law drafted by the Arab League’s Political Committee which was intended to govern the legal status of Jewish residents of Arab lands (see Appendix C). What transpired thereafter was truly devastating. In Iraq, Zionism was made a capital crime. In Libya, Jewish businesses were burned to the ground. In Syria, anti-Jewish riots erupted and the government froze all Jewish bank accounts. And in Egypt, bombs were detonated in the capital’s Jewish quarter.
The Jewish presence in Arab lands date back to before the arrival of Islam ‘ in some cases as early as the 6th Century B.C.E. Today, these communities have all but disappeared, with almost one million Jews having been either expelled from the country where they were born, or compelled to leave on their own accord. To more fully realize the plight of the Jewish population of Arab lands throughout the mid-20th century, one must understand the traditional legal status that, as non-Muslims, Jews were forced to live with.
The status of non-Muslim minorities in Arab lands was designated by the term dhimmi, which can be translated as ‘tolerated’ or ‘protected’ . It was governed by a shadow cast under the assertion that the Jewish and Christian scriptures were misrepresented by the unworthy people to whom they were entrusted. It was made into law by the Pact of Umar , and subsequently amended to incorporate a number of discriminatory measures. The dhimmi were in a position of inferiority in relation to Muslim society, having been succumbed to special taxes, recognizable clothing, humiliations, and non-entity status in legal cases involving Muslims (Bensoussan, 2013). While the specific status of Jews varied from one Arab land to another, many characteristics were common to all Arab-Jewish populations, with abusive and discriminatory measures that effectively led to their complete disappearance.
Jews lived in what is today referred to as Iraq since before the Common Era, prospering in what was then called Babylonia until the Muslim conquest of 634 A.D. Under Muslim rule, the situation of the Jewish community fluctuated, as they were often subjected to special taxes and restrictions on their professional activity. Under British rule, which began in 1917, Jews fared well economically. This changed dramatically when Iraq gained independence in 1932.
In 1941 a Mufti-inspired, pro-Nazi military coup took place, under Rashid Ali al-Gaylani. The coup sparked a pogrom in Baghdad with armed mods ‘ often complicit with the police and army ‘ which resulted in 180 Jews being murdered and almost 1,000 being injured. This led to a deep desire to emigrate among the Jewish community, despite emigration being prohibited under the new administration ‘ known as The Golden Square. Still, many Jews made their way to Mandate Palestine with the aid of an underground movement.
Additional outbreaks of anti-Jewish rioting occurred between 1946 and 1949, most notable of which occurred in 1948 when, following the establishment of the State of Israel, Zionism was made a capital crime. In 1950, the Council of Representatives of Iraq legalized emigration to Israel, provided that Iraqi Jews forfeited their citizenship before leaving. Between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel in Operation Ezra & Nehemiah . A year later the property of Jews who emigrated from Iraq were frozen, and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who remained in the country. Today, it is estimated that only seven Jews remain.
The Jewish community of Libya traced its origins back 2,500 years to the time of Hellenistic rule under Ptolemy Lagos in 323 B.C.E. At the time of the Italian occupation in 1911, approximately 21,000 Jews lived in Libya, with the majority residing in the capital Tripoli. By the late 1930s, fascist anti-Jewish laws were gradually being enforced and the Jewish community was increasingly becoming subjected to terrible repression. Yet, in 1941, Jews still accounted for a quarter of Tripoli’s population.
In 1942, the Germans occupied the Jewish quarter of Benghazi, Libya’s second city, where they plundered shops, and deported more than 2,000 Jews across the desert, where more than one-fifth of them perished. Many Jews from Tripoli were also sent to forced labour camps.
Conditions did not greatly improve following liberation, and under the British occupation there were a series of brutal pogroms. One savage pogrom occurred in Tripoli in 1945, when more than 140 Jews were massacred and almost every synagogue in the city was looted. In 1948, rioters murdered another twelve Jews and destroyed 280 Jewish homes. When the British finally legalized emigration in 1949, more than 30,000 Jews fled Libya. Thousands more fled to Israel upon Libya gaining independence in 1951. Today, there are no Jews living in Libya.
Jews had lived in Syria since biblical times and the Jewish population increased significantly after the Spanish expulsion in 1492. Throughout the generations, the main Jewish communities were in Damascus and Aleppo.
By 1943, the Jewish community of Syria had approximately 30,000 members. In 1944, after Syria gained independence from France, the new Arab government prohibited Jewish emigration to Mandate Palestine, severely restricted the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools, called boycotts against Jewish businesses, and sat idle as attacks against Jews escalated. In 1945, in an attempt to thwart international efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Mandate Palestine, the Syrian government fully restricted Jewish emigration, burned, looted, and confiscated Jewish property, and froze Jewish bank accounts.
When the Partition Plan was declared in 1947, Arab mobs in Aleppo devastated the 2,500-year-old Jewish community and left it in ruins. Scores of Jews were killed and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews illegally fled as refugees, with 5,000 going to Israel. All of their property was taken over by the local Muslims. Today, the only Jews left in Syria are over the age of 60, with contact between their communities and Israel strictly prohibited.
Israelite tribes first moved to the land of Goshen, the north-eastern edge of the Nile Delta, during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1375-1358 B.C.E.). By 1897, there were more than 25,000 Jews in Egypt, concentrated in Cairo and Alexandria.
The first Nationality Code was promulgated by Egypt in 1926, and declared that only those ‘who belonged racially to the majority of the population of a country whose language is Arabic or whose religion is Islam’ were entitled to Egyptian nationality (JIMENA, n.d.). This provision served as the official pretext for expelling many Jews from Egypt.
In 1937, the Jewish population was 63,500 but by 1945, with the rise of Egyptian nationalism and the cultivation of anti-Jewish sentiment, violence erupted against the peaceful Jewish community. That year, 10 Jews were killed, more than 300 were injured, and a synagogue, a Jewish hospital, and an old-age home were destroyed. In July 1947, an amendment to Egyptian law stipulated that companies must employ a minimum of 90% Egyptian population. This decree resulted in the loss of livelihood for many Jews.
Israel’s establishment in 1948 led to further anti-Jewish sentiments. Between June and November 1948, bombs set off in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo killed more than 70 Jews and wounded nearly 200, while another 2,000 Jews were arrested and had their property confiscated. Rioting over the following months resulted in more Jewish deaths. Today, the community is on the verge of extinction with fewer than 100 Jews remaining in Egypt, the majority of whom are elderly.
In 1975, over forty years after the most recent of the aforementioned abuse took place, a prominent Palestinian activist named Sabri Jiryis wrote an article during his tenure as Director of the Institute of Palestine Studies in Beirut. The article accuses the Arab lands of expelling their Jews ‘in a mostly cruel manner after confiscating their possessions or taking control of them at the lowest price’ (Shulewitz, 2000). He goes on to profess that in future negotiations, Israelis would claim that there had been a population exchange in the Middle East:
Although Israelis have raised the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands in international fora (see Chapter 3), the issue has yet to enter Peace talks as a clear and unequivocal demand on the part of the Government of Israel (see Chapter 5). Nor have Arab lands acknowledged their role and responsibility in their triple aggression of launching a UN-violated war against Israel, the perpetration of human rights violations against their respective Jewish population, and tangential displacement and dispossession of Palestinians from the Mandated lands.
The topic of property left behind by Jewish refugees from Arab lands is one that is seldom discussed, and even more seldom acted upon. Yet, the impact of reparation and compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab lands cannot be underestimated within the context of a viable two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. And while there has been some movement on the issue of Jewish property abandoned or stolen in Arab lands (see Chapter 4), it has not yet found its way onto the international agenda on par with that of Palestinian refugees’ claims.
Central to understanding this issue of reparation is a definition of said term. Reparation, according to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, is a principle of law that has existed for centuries, referring to the obligation of a wrongdoing party to redress damages caused. Under international law, ‘reparation[s] must, as far as possible, wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act and re-establish the situation which would, in all probability, have existed if that act had not been committed’ (Court of Arbitration, 1928).
International human rights treaties provide that victims of international crimes have the right to seek and obtain effective remedies for the violation of their rights (UDHR, 1948). The Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation, a UN document, provides that the term victim includes ‘those who have individually or collectively suffered harm, and may include the immediate family or dependants of the direct victim and persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization’ (Basic Principles, 2006)
Reparations can take many forms, including restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition (ibid). This Paper argues for reparation through compensation, which is understood to include any quantifiable damage resulting from the crime, including ‘physical or mental harm, including pain, suffering and emotional distress; lost opportunities, including education; material damages and loss of earnings, including loss of earning potential; harm to reputation or dignity; and costs required for legal or expert assistance, medicines and medical services, and psychological and social services’ (ibid).
The exact value of confiscated and lost property and assets ‘ both public and private ‘ that the Jewish community left behind in Arab lands between 1947 and 1952 is the topic of much debate. Organizations such as Justice for Jews from Arab lands (see Chapter 4) claim that the property is valued at $30 billion, while Nahum, an organization representing Jews from Iraq, claims that in that country alone, Jewish property is estimated to be worth $100 billion (Peskin, 2009). Meanwhile, Sidney Zabludoff, an economist who worked for the White House, CIA, and Treasury Department for more than thirty years, estimated that the property was worth $700 million in the 1950s, and that its approximate value in 2007 was $6 billion (Zabludoff, 2008).
Regardless of the value, the heads of these organizations are well-aware that it will be difficult for any compensation to materialize. Some central questions include: How will the money be returned? Who will pay it back? Are Arab leaders dealing with armed Islamist extremist rebel groups and fledgling oil prices able to take hundreds of millions of dollars out of their budgets to provide Jewish emigrants with reparations?
Numerous groups, including umbrella organizations representing Jews from Arab lands (see Chapter 4), have spent years requesting that the Government of Israel demand compensation for Jewish property and assets left behind. They firmly reject any claim that Jews left willingly and that they willfully abandoned their property there, i.e. that they were ‘pulled’ towards Israel (see Introduction). This issue reached a climax when, during an annual gathering of Jews from Arab lands at the UN in November 2013, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor provided data and testimony to UN ambassadors and other invited guests about the close to one million Jews who lost their property in the Arab lands. He went on to note that ‘sixty-five years have passed and the Arab states have not been asked to account for their crimes’ (The Jerusalem Post, 2011).
To more thoroughly understand the need for remedies to be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab lands ‘ including restitution ‘ one must become familiar with the history of refugees and reparations ‘ particularity compensation. For some, it is all about the money. For others, an admission of guilt by the wrongdoer is most important.
All refugee crises since World War I have involved considerable discussions regarding how to most appropriately compensate for the property losses of individuals. International agreements on the subject increased gradually in the years following World War I, with substantial growth in the years following World War II and the founding of the UN in 1945.
In all cases the agreements had little to no effect, becoming nothing more than idealistic pronouncements of what the guilty party ought to have done. Moreover, all parties to the issue had differentiated and often confrontational interpretations of the language used. This was especially true of UN Resolution 194(III) which defined principles for reaching a final settlement and returning Palestinian refugees to their homes.
Examples of compensation falling short for victims, are numerous. Less than twenty percent of assets lost by Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, for example, have been returned (Zabludoff, 2007). Only ten percent of the $20 billion worth of property left behind by nine hundred thousand French pieds-noirs when they fled Algeria in 1962 was reimbursed by the Government of France in the form of assimilation assistance over the next fifteen years (Kacowicz, Marcelo, & Lutomski, 2007).
More akin to the Israeli-Palestinian situation was the division of the British-ruled Indian subcontinent in 1947. The creation of India and Pakistan led to killings, pogroms, and property destruction on both sides of the Radcliffe Line . Among the more than fourteen million refugees, less than two percent returned and/or recovered their property. There was considerable discussion of individual compensation, but nothing ever materialized. Once again in the Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1923 , individual compensation was suggested but dropped because of its complexities in favor of a global settlement between the parties. In both cases, the land and shops abandoned by those fleeing were turned over to the incoming refugees.
Such an exchange of property also took place between Jewish and Palestinian refugees. Israel used previously owned Palestinian land within its newly controlled borders to absorb Jewish refugees, while the Syrian government seized Jewish property after their expulsion and turned it over to Palestinian refugees (Levin, 2001). A more common occurrence in Arab lands, however, involved governments and local individuals seizing control of Jewish property and profiting by not paying compensation ‘ rather than using the seized Jewish property to resettle some of the 500,000 Palestinian refugees.
The most well-known and relevant reparation agreement in modern times was that between West Germany and Israel. This agreement is particularly important within the context of this Paper, as it provides a workable case study of Jews receiving reparations from an aggressor state. The document outlining the reparations was signed in September 1952, and entered into force in March 1953. According to the agreement, West Germany was to pay Israel for the slave labour and persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, and compensate for Jewish property that was stolen by the Nazis (Honig, 1954).
According to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, the reparation demand was based on recovering as much Jewish property as possible ‘so that the murderers do not become the heirs as well’ (Zweig, 1991). He also argued that the reparations were needed to finance the absorption and rehabilitation of the Holocaust survivors into Israel.
In response to calls from Jewish organizations and the State of Israel for reparation, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany announced his intention to ‘bring about a solution of the material indemnity problem” (Claims Conference, 1952). One month later, a meeting was convened in New York City with major Jewish national and international organizations to discuss the material claims to be made against Germany. This was to be known as the Claims Conference.
Public debate in Israel over the issue of reparations was among the fiercest in the young Nation-State’s history. Many argued that accepting reparation payments was the equivalent of forgiving the Nazis for their crimes. Yet despite protests and opposition, the agreement was signed in 1952, and West Germany paid Israel a sum of 3 billion marks ($750 million) over the next fourteen years. This is equivalent to approximately $66 billion in today’s currency .
The payments were made to the State of Israel as the heir to those victims who had no surviving family. The money was invested in the country’s infrastructure, and played an important role in establishing the economy of the new state. Israel at the time faced a deep economic crisis and was heavily dependent on donations by foreign Jews, and the reparations, along with these donations, would help turn Israel into an economically viable country.
Still, the living conditions for many Jewish refugees from Arab lands were perilous. This underlines the fact that Jews were ‘pushed’ out of their homes in Arab lands and had no choice but to move into the one and only Nation-State that would absorb them . It was due to hard work and a desire to purge their refugee label which accounted for the success of modern day Israel. This is in sharp contrast to Palestinian refugees who chose at an early stage to perpetuate their label as refugees (see Chapter 3).
One obstacle that many anti-reparation activists cite is the ongoing case of a prominent Jewish-Egyptian family’s legal proceedings against the Coca-Cola Company (Coca-Cola), which they claim has been profiting from their family’s stolen property just outside Cairo in Egypt. In March 2007, the United Sates Supreme Court refused to hear a case in which Coca-Cola was seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed against it in the United States District Court for the Second District in April 1997 by the Bigio family of Canada, who were heirs of a Jewish landowner in Egypt. The property was expropriated by Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser in the mid-1960s during one of Egypt’s anti-Jewish purges ‘ property that the family had leased to Coca-Cola since the 1930s. Coca-Cola continued to lease the land after its expropriation and, in 1994, bought a large share of the property. The family filed a damage suit against Coca-Cola under the Alien Torts Claims Law, a two-hundred-year-old American law that allows foreign population to seek damages for violations of international law in American courts (Fischback, 2008).
Over the course of a decade and a half, Coca-Cola continuously refused to bargain in good faith or to negotiate any fair compensation for the expropriated property, according to Bigio’s lawyers. In the company’s defence, its attorneys defended Egypt’s anti-Jewish seizures and even those of Hitler’s Germany as confiscations that ‘did not violate international law’ (Kasdan, n.d.).
Coca-Cola’s refusal to compensate the Bigio family stands in contrast to the hundreds of millions of dollars in profits derived since 1965 from the operations of Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has always known that its multimillion dollar windfall was being generated on property unlawfully stolen from its Jewish owners by Nasser’s regime in a Nazi-style property seizure. In other words, Coca-Cola is in possession of stolen property’and knows it. The company’s only defence is that the theft the Bigio family suffered, for no reason other than being Jewish, did not violate international law. By this long-standing legal rationale, the property of every Jew in the world could be seized without violating international law.
This case, still unresolved, has a resounding impact on the question of reparations for the close to one million Jews from Arab lands. And while most claims are not as vast as that of the Bigio family, this case underlines an issue that needs to be addressed within the practical framework of Middle Eastern refugees. Many Arab lands will cite the expulsion of Jews as legal under national laws ‘ which by extension make them legal under international law (Koskenniemi & Leino, 1999). International legislative bodies will therefore need to take it upon themselves to study this issue, and identify how national laws, in circumstances such as this, can be overruled by international laws .
One solution to the issue of reparations ‘ for both Jewish and Palestinian refugees ‘ is to establish a global fund in which each family/heir receives an equivalent amount. While this would be unfair to those in both camps that held the bulk of the wealth in their respective societies, it would be a lot simpler than determining each person’s individual losses .
Under either option billions of dollars would be needed to support an asset restitution fund. Realistically, only a small portion could be expected to come from the countries from which the refugees fled. Most funds would have to be provided by developed or oil-rich Arab nations. During the 2000 Camp David Summit, President Bill Clinton’s administration suggested that a global fund be financed by all developed countries (Brynen, 2008). This was an historic statement, as it was the first time that a sitting American president recognized Jewish refugees’ entitlement to compensation:
The purpose of a global peace fund would be four-fold. First, to provide adequate funding for the development of the infrastructure for a new Palestinian state, including hospitals, schools, and roads. Second, to provide funding for Israel to establish secure defence perimeters along the new borders, as agreed upon by both States. Third, to provide compensation for all refugees, both Jewish and Arab, who were victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And fourth, to retroactively compensate countries ‘ such as Israel (for Jewish refugees) and Jordan (for Palestinians) who invested efforts and resources to the absorption of refugees (Al-Khatib, 2006).
There is also precedent for the United States supporting reparation payments for Jewish refugees from Arab lands. In a press conference held on 27 October 1977, President Jimmy Carter said in regard to the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty: ‘Palestinians have rights…obviously there are Jewish refugees… they have the same rights as others do’ (Carter, 1977). Although both President Carter and President Clinton’s statements are critical of the historical narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and convey serious consequences for solving the Palestinian refugee problem, they have not had uptake in the Peace process.
The UN Compensation Commission (UNCC) provides a useful model that could be negotiated as part of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement. In the aftermath of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, for example, the UNCC adopted a policy of paying individuals first, with the remaining sums owed entirely to government entities. The UNCC also created six categories for resolving claims from the Iraq-Kuwait war. These categories included claims for families killed or injured during the war, business losses, individual anguish, cost of resettling population, and damage to the environment. These categories could be adapted to fit the needs of an international peace fund for Jewish and Palestinian refugees.
The matter of reparations through compensation for Jewish refugees will forever lurk as a ‘secret weapon’ or fall-back position for the Israel/Jewish camp in case the Arab side refuses to compromise on the right of return (see Chapter 5). Still, it will take a concerted voice of redress, led by Israel, to demand such sums of money (see Chapter 5).
In the years surrounding the creation of the State of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Jews lost their homes, property, and livelihoods. Yet, one need look no further than the UN to witness how the Jewish side of the Middle East refugees story has been purged from the narrative . In fact, the only two sentences ever written by a UN agency that related solely to Jewish refugees from Arab lands was in an October 1950 interim report to the UN written by Howard Kennedy, then Director of the UNRWA.
In the report, Mr. Kennedy makes passing reference to the Jewish refugee problem, saying Israel spurned the very idea of Jewish refugees. He goes on to assert that Israel rejected the notion that they or any other Jewish refugee become wards of the international community, and offhandedly noted that, ‘the Israeli government indicates that the idea of relief distribution is repugnant to it’ (UN General Assembly, 1950). It is worth noting that at the time Mr. Kennedy was writing his report, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands were flooding for absorption and integration into Israel, yet living in deplorable conditions (Kedar, 2014). It is also worth noting that the Government of Israel formally reversed its long-standing narrative in 2009, when it decided to officially label the almost one million Jews from Arab lands as refugees (see Chapter 5).
Since then, the UN’s narrative of refugees from the Middle East has been distorted by its failure to even mention the existence of Jewish refugees within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . In fact, the only UN agency that noticed the Jewish refugees was the UNHCR, which sought to expedite the transfer of assets to Jews who fled Egypt. According to a report by Justice for Jews from Arab Lands in June 2003, the UNHCR pursued these goals through quiet diplomacy, as it tried to alleviate the plight of Jews held hostage in Arab lands. These steps, while tangible, lack in comparison to the UN’s massive support and concern for Palestinian refugees; in terms of funding , the creation of the UNRWA, and a steady stream of resolutions that have effectively rewritten history. As the Mr. Cotler notes:
The UNRWA is the only UN agency that is devoted solely to a specific group of refugees. Unlike the UNHCR, an agency that deals with all other refugees throughout the world, the UNRWA opposes rehabilitation for the displaced Palestinians. UNRWA’s political objective upon its creation in 1949 was clear: to create a permanent reminder of alleged Israeli misdeeds so as to keep the Palestinian issue alive. In August 1958, the former Director of UNRWA in Jordan, Sir Alexander Galloway, said it best during his testimony before the United States Congressional Committee on Foreign Relations:
Former Egyptian President Nasser explained the effect of this weapon aimed at overwhelming Israel demographically ‘ with generations of refugees cultivated to hate: ‘If the refugees return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist’ (Schoenberg, 1989). Moreover, in 2000 an official Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) document reaffirmed said strategy to perpetuate the refugees’ distress by keeping them in the camps:
According to Dr. Avi Beker, a former Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress, the UNRWA system has largely enabled the corruption of the Palestinian Arab leadership who have never displayed a real concern for the refugees. Rather, they are focused on exploiting them for political-financial interests (Beker, 2005). Dr. Beker continues by noting that, although the UNRWA had carried out laudable humanitarian work, the way in which its mandate was defined played into the hands of militant groups, including those in the Palestinian refugee camps. This led many Palestinian refugee camps to become hotbeds of terror (Rayal, 2015).
The link between Palestinian refugee camps and terror in general as a military-political gaming tool was recognized by the UN Security Council in 1998 when, in discussing refugees in Africa, Resolution 1208 declared the ‘unacceptability of using refugee camps…to achieve military purposes’ (UN Security Council, 1998). Later that year Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his report to the Security Council, demanded that ‘refugee camps…be kept free of any military presence or equipment.’ Unfortunately such strictures were never applied to UNRWA camps (Goldenziel, 2010).
To more fully understand the differences between the UNRWA and the UNHCR, it is important to know how the two agencies define refugee. The UNRWA defines refugees as ‘persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict’ (UNRWA, n.d.).
The UNHCR, meanwhile, defines a refugee as someone who ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’ (UNHCR, n.d.).
One key facet regarding the UNRWA is that, in contrast to the UNHCR, it provides relief to registered refugees who do not live in refugee camps. According to a UN publication entitled The UN and Palestinian Refugees,
The UNRWA’s definition for defining refugees differs greatly from all other refugees in the world. This is most evident by the fact that any displaced Arab who had lived in Mandate Palestine for at least two years prior to 1948 is eligible for refugee status. Moreover, the UNRWA considers every descendant of the original refugee to be refugees.
In 2011 the Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd. composed a comparative chart outlining the statistical differences between the UNRWA and the UNHCR. Below are a few of their more startling findings, as well as some figures to fill in the gaps. These are all 2011 figures (The Center for Near East Policy Research, 2011).
The UNRWA also grants refugee status based solely on the word of the applicant. This policy led the UNRWA to admitting, in 1998, that its figures were inflated (Report of the Commissioner General, 1998):
This policy has transformed the status of refugee among Palestinians to become an entitlement to repatriation ‘ not destitution. Furthermore, the UNRWA’s charter puts no time limit on humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Thus, a large portion of the UN’s budget has been channelled to supporting them, when countless other new refugees in the world desperately need help and want to rebuild their lives.
Mordechai Kedar, Director for the Centre for the Study of the Middle East and Islam at Bar-Ilan University refers to Palestinian refugees as ‘professional refugees’ (Kedar, 2014). He cites instances of Palestinian families who, due to a number of reasons including sectarian strife and Israeli raids, feel safer in a UNRWA refugee camp than in their own home ‘ and therefore dig deep into their ancestral roots to claim refugee status. This breeds a culture of entitled refugees who take UN-provided food allotments or building materials, and sell them for profit ‘ a scenario unheard of in any other part of the world.
In 1985 ‘ 45 years after the establishment of the UNRWA ‘ the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 194(III), which called on Israel to cease their efforts of convincing Palestinian refugees to leave the camps and purchase houses or plots of land to rehabilitate their lives in Israel. This would have been done in exchange for demolishing their former homes in the refugee camps. The resolution stated:
In other words, the UN has facilitated Palestinian refugees’ ongoing status as refugees. Ironically, the same policy has continued, even after Palestinians were granted self-rule under the Oslo Accords with the vision of a two-state solution. As a result, instead of urging Palestinian refugees to rebuild their lives under their own government, the UNRWA, in April 1994, chose to recognize the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a special host to the West Bank and Gaza refugees in the UNRWA camps ‘ a move that restricted the PA from undertaking steps to accommodate their release from the camps (Schiff, 1995). This further deepened the resolve of Palestinian refugees.
In 2005 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, the withdrawal of the Israeli army Gaza, and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2003). This was an historical decision to forcibly remove all Israeli living in ‘the occupied Gaza Strip’ in the interest of Peace. Many Israelis continue to live with the consequences of this withdrawal, including unemployment and homelessness (IRIN, 2011). Regrettably actions of this nature have yet to be replicated by the Palestinians.
Jewish refugees, meanwhile, worked tirelessly in the years following 1948 to rid themselves of the status of refugee as quickly as possible. They did this under the leadership of Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, and his ideology of Labour Zionism or Socialist Zionism. This ideology, as it relates to Jews in Israel, gained impetus from Moses Hess’ 1862 work Rome and Jerusalem: The Last National Question. In it, Hess proposes that a socialist state be created for the Jews to become ‘agrarianized’ through a process of ‘redemption of the soil’ (Hess, 1058). This sort of community transformed the Jewish people into a modern Nation, where they created productive layers of society rather than the non-productive merchant class.
Under this political ideology the Jewish people prospered, not once appealing to the UN for assistance (see Chapter 5). This fact, however, must not diminish their right to recognition by the UN. By disintegrating the UNRWA and merging it with the UNHCR, it will send a clear message to the Palestinian refugees their time has come to follow suit: to rid themselves of their refugee status and build productive layers of society.
Two refugee problems were created as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, yet the Jewish refugees have been almost completely omitted from many western nations’ Middle East policies. The question of Palestinian refugees, by contrast, feature prominently for a variety of reasons, including many political parties’ partisan desires to appeal to larger constituencies . This holds true in nations such as the United States and Canada, with parties from one end of the political spectrum often inciting pro-Palestinian rhetoric (Yakabuski, 2014). While there is no fault in Palestinian self-determination, there is fault is misrepresenting history, and formulating an inaccurate narrative to serve a narrow political-military purpose.
Peace is not a zero-sum game. Within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this means that the rights and claims of one group need not come at the expense of, or in displacement of, those of the other. As noted by Shimon Fogel, Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs:
In other words, the purpose of incorporating the historic claims of Jewish refugees from Arab lands into a nation’s foreign policy is important not insofar as to diminish or compete with the claims of Palestinian refugees. Rather, the inclusion of Jewish refugees is to complete ‘ not revise ‘ the historical narrative. This can only be done by governments’ acknowledgment, in their foreign policy, of their omission of the experience of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.
While there have been discussions pertaining to the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands in legislatures around the world ‘ including in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the House of Commons of Canada, and the United States Congress ‘ the issue has not been addressed as often as it ought to have been.
In March 1949, Canadian diplomats reported that thousands of Jewish refugees were fleeing North Africa and pouring into the newly established Jewish State. By March 1952, the Government of Canada received reports that Israel had absorbed almost 300,000 Jews from Arab lands (Dept. Of External Affairs, 1948). In the months following, the Canadian Jewish Congress requested that the Government of Canada waive the normal security procedures in order to facilitate the movement of North African Jews into Canada (Hodge, 2011). This resulted in approximately 25,000 Jews coming to Canada from Morocco alone between 1948 and 1967.
A similar policy was initiated in December 1956 when, is response to the atrocities facing Jewish population of Egypt due to the discriminatory 1926 Nationality Code, the Canadian Minister of External Affairs noted that,
Despite this, the official foreign policy of successive Canadian governments have only officially recognized the displaced Palestinians ‘ not the Jews. This imbalance in Canadian policy stands in sharp contrast to the role Canada has played on the refugee file, especially since its participation in the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference .
In June 2003 Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin became the first world leader outside of the United States to raise the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands by noting that:
The issue was again raised in 2013 when it was the topic of a study in the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development entitled ‘A Study on the Situation of Jewish Refugees from the Middle East and North Africa’.
4.1b Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
After two days of hearings from a number of experts in May 2013, the Committee called on the Government of Canada to make the following two recommendations:
The following year, the Government of Canada accepted the Committee’s first recommendation, but not the second. Its responses were as follows:
Today, the Government of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development’s policy on key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fails to make any mention of Jewish refugees .
The most vocal United States Congressman on the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands has been Jerrold Nadler, representative for New York’s 10th congressional district. On 16 February 2007 Nadler introduced H.Res.185 . The Bill was reported to committee on 27 February 2008, and passed to on 1 April 2008. The Bill stated that any comprehensive Middle East peace agreement must resolve all outstanding issues relating to the legitimate rights of all refugees in the Middle East, including Jews, Christians, and other displaced populations.
Nadler introduced another Bill on 31 July 2012, H.R.6242, which directed the President to report to Congress every two years regarding executive branch actions taken to ensure that the interests of all refugees displaced from Arab lands, including Jews, Christians, and other groups, were considered in any final settlement of the Middle East refugee question that is part of any comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. This Bill died in Congress.
Another vocal Congresswomen on this topic was Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, representative for Florida’s 27th congressional district. Her Bill, H.Con.Res.311, expressed that the international community should recognize the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, and that the UNRWA should establish a program for resettling Palestinian refugees. The Bill was introduced on 28 October 2003, yet died in the following session of Congress.
To date, the United States has not enshrined the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands into their foreign policy. Still, the fact that the issue has been brought up on numerous occasions is a step in the right direction.
There are a number of advocacy groups that advocate on behalf of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. While some no longer exist, others continue to play an important role in advancing global recognition of the injustices that transpired.
The WOJAC was created in 1975 to represent Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Its purpose was to make certain that any ‘just settlement of the refugee problem’ recognized those Jews who were forced to flee from lands where they had lived for centuries (Laskier, 2004). The WOJAC’s aspiration was to operate a counterbalance to the claims of the Palestinian leadership on, among other issues, the right of return. The WOJAC functioned until 1999 ‘ for approximately 25 years.
JJAC is a modern political advocacy organization that was founded in New York in 2002. It was formed by the Conference of Presidents, the World Jewish Congress, the American Sephardi Federation, and the WOJAC. Its mission is five-fold: to represent the interests of Jews from Arab lands; to recognize the legacy of Jewish refugees from Arab lands; to register and record personal testimonies of Jews from Arab lands; to serve as a clearing house of information and documentation on Jewish refugees from Arab lands; and, to conduct public education programs that provide historical perspective (JJAC, 2008). It considers as its biggest accomplishment the adoption in April 2008 of Congressman Nadler’s H.Res.185, which granted the first-ever recognition of Jewish refugees from the Arab lands.
JIMENA’s mission is to achieve universal recognition for the heritage and history of the close to one million Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Their programs aim to ensure that the accurate history of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews are incorporated into mainstream Jewish and Middle Eastern narratives in order to create balance in attitudes, narratives, and discourse about Middle Eastern refugees and the modern Jewish experience (JIMENA, 2012). Founded in 2001, JIMENA also played a key role in the unanimous passage of H.Res.185. JIMENA also testified at the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 on behalf of Jewish refugees from Middle East and North Africa (Waldman, 2008).
JIMENA is one of the few organizations to offer a Claim Registration Form as part of its ongoing International Rights and Redress Campaign for Jews from Arab lands (see Appendix D).
4.3d Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa (HARIF)
HARIF is a British association representing Jews from North Africa and the Middle East. They are dedicated to promoting the history, culture, and heritage of Jews from Arab lands (HARIF, n.d.).
While there are a number of group devoted to raising awareness of the plight of Jews from Arab lands, they very much operate in a silo. The mainstream media has shown little to no effort in raising awareness and/or education on the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Fortunately, the legislative bodies of Canada, the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom have taken the time to hear about the plight, and all have been commended by both the Government of Israel and the families of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, for their efforts. These nations must continue, with the help of the aforementioned organizations, to encourage their allies and neighbours to follow suit, the goal of which is for the world to reference and address the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands in equal measure to that of Palestinian refugees.
The world at large is not solely to blame for silence on the issue, as there has been a longstanding domestic suppression of the topic within Israel. This is due to a number of reasons, most formidable of which is the fact that most Israelis regard the immigration, absorption, and integration of Arab Jews into Israeli society as an integral element of the Zionist ethos of Aliyah . As such, many Israelis refuse to describe it in terms of forced expulsion or involuntary emigration. The Zionist leadership, for example, chose to romanticize the exodus of Jews from Yemen and Iraq by issuing operational code-names that instilled the very concept of Aliyah: Operation Magic Carpet and Operation Ezra and Nehemiah .
With all the jubilation that was involved with these and other airlifts, it is understandable that many Jewish refugees ‘ and their families ‘ have repressed these painful memories in favour of the delight and opportunities that Aliyah brought to them in Israel. However, it is more difficult to comprehend why the Government of Israel ‘ and the Jewish diaspora ‘ have remained silent on an issue that touches the very nerve of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel’s left-leaning politics are traditionally supported by academics, cultural and business elites, and the security establishments (The New York Times, 2015). They have trouble with most arguments that emphasize the morally superior approach of the Jewish people who absorbed and rehabilitated the Jewish refugees from Arab lands ‘ in contrast to the Palestinians who sought to perpetuate their status as refugees (see Chapter 3). They also cloud the Zionist ethos with guilt over having caused the Palestinians to flee, and have even gone so far as to have made accusations that Israeli forces committed systematic massacres and deportation during and after the 1948 War of Independence. In other words, Israel’s political left accuse the State of Israel of having been born in sin.
Israel’s right-leaning and center politics represent the mainstream ideology within the State of Israel. They believe that the term ‘Jewish refugee’ should be avoided so as to diminish any social tensions between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The popular view in Israel is therefore to stress that most Jews from Arab lands were drawn to Israel as a result of Zionist ideals ‘ they did not come as refugees. Polls also suggest that many Israelis from Arab lands prefer that interpretation (Meron, 1995).
For ideological reasons ‘ encouraged by the Zionist mission ‘ the Government of Israel preferred for many years not to refer to Jews from Arab lands as refugees, since it referred to someone without a home or shelter. As Ya’akov Meron notes in his book Expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, ‘the State of Israel abolished the term from the Jewish historical lexicon, aiming to show that its door was open to Jewish immigration according to its Law of Return’ (Shulewitz, 2000).
These Zionist principles concealed the fact that almost all of the nearly one million Jews from Arab lands were in fact refugees, as defined by the UNHCR. They had undergone persecution, official and unofficial discrimination, and daily political, social, religious, and economic restrictions. They also were refugees because they arrived penniless after all their property and bank accounts were confiscated or looted.
While Israel preferred to reference the Zionist motive of these immigrants, it begs the question as to why it didn’t translate into a voluntary, massive immigration to the State of Israel (Kedar, 2014). Rather, what prompted their Aliyah were riots and massacres that were incited by Arab leaders in their former countries of residency ‘ from the rostrum of both their palaces and their seats at the UN (see Chapter 3).
In 2003, the Government of Israel, through the Ministry of Justice’s Decision n. 1250, officially recognized the Jews who emigrated from Arab lands between 1947 and 1952 as refugees (Israeli Ministry of Justice, 2003). In doing so, the Government of Israel formally considered the rights of Jews who left property in their Arab countries of their former residency as valid and existent.
In 2008, the Israeli Orthodox Sephardi party, Shas, announced its intention to seek restitution for Jewish refugees from Arab lands (Ravid, 2008). This was enhanced in 2009 when MP Nissim Ze’ev, one of the founders of the Shas party, introduced a Bill into the Israel Knesset to make compensation for Jews from Arab lands an integral part any future peace negotiations by requiring compensation on behalf of current Jewish Israeli population who were expelled from Arab lands after Israel was established in 1948, and who left behind a significant amount of valuable property (Kliger, 2010). In February 2010, the Bill passed its first reading.
In 2005 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law, the withdrawal of the Israeli army Gaza, and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2003). Those Israelis who refused to accept government compensation packages and voluntarily vacate their homes prior to the August 15 deadline were evicted by Israeli security forces (Democracy Now, 2005) After Israel’s withdrawal, the Palestinians were given control over the Gaza Strip, except for the borders, the airspace, and territorial waters. On September 23, just over a month after the last Jew left Gaza, rockets were shot into Israel.
The need for Israel’s disengagement in Gaza was expressed most concisely in a letter from Prime Minister Sharon to then U.S. President George W. Bush, in which he claimed: ‘there exists no Palestinian partner with whom to advance peacefully toward a settlement’ (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2004).
Israel’s disengagement from Gaza is relevant to the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands because it forms a case study of a tried-and-failed form of compensation legislation. In short, the Knesset passed legislation to compensate anyone over the age of 21 for the loss of their homes, lands, and business (Jewish Virtual Library, 2011). The Israeli Supreme Court soon after ruled that compensation for younger settlers should also be included in compensation payments (ibid).
Micha Lidnenstrauss, an Israeli judge and the State Comptroller between 2005 and 2012 found that the treatment of the evacuees was a ‘big failure’ (BBC, 2006). These sentiments were echoed by an Israeli committee of inquiry, which found that the government failed to properly implement its compensation plan (Dromi, 2013)
Despite its failure, the Disengagement Plan was a transparent, often painful overture made towards the Palestinian people in the interest of peace. Thousands of Israelis surrendered their lives with the hope that future generations would live in peace with the Palestinians. Regrettably their dream has not yet come to fruition. Still, Israel must be relentless in their pursuit of peace, which includes forging the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands in order to sequester Palestinian refugee claims
As noted above, the Government of Israel changed its long-standing policy on the narrative of Jewish immigrants from the Middle East in 2003. Until then, Israel had objected to labelling them as refugees for two reasons. First, because Israel preferred the narrative that they absorbed immigrants ‘ not refugees ‘ who arrived after 2,000 years of longing for a homeland. And second, because by recognizing and labelling Jewish refugees as an outcome of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, they were de facto in recognition of the Palestinian refugees ‘ and would thereby be subjected to their demands.
The change in Israel’s positioning that came in 2003 stemmed from recognition that, from an international perspective, Israel would be needed to be seen as taking responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem ‘ even though, as argued above, they were not responsible. The Government of Israel therefore deduced that by labelling the Jews from Arab lands as refugees, they would be able to match the Palestinian narrative, and offset their financial claims against Israel.
To accomplish this, the Government of Israel, through the Ministry for Senior Population, created a project called ‘And You Shall Tell Your Son’ (Ministry for Senior Population, 2013). The purpose was to collect testimony from those Jews who lived in Arab lands while they were still alive. The Project’s website includes government decisions and legislation on the topic, historical background, and testimonial/compensation forms for population to complete.
The Government of Israel has made monumental leaps in recognizing the need for reparations through compensation and restitution of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. It would be in the interest of Palestinians and Arab alike to join in this recognition, as the results will be of mutual benefits for peace and coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians.
In 2013 the Knesset established an official body to speak up for the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab lands who migrated to Israel. The Knesset Lobby for Dealing with Jewish Refugees from Arab lands was inaugurated ‘ and chaired ‘ by MK Shimon Ohayon from the Yisrael Beytenu party. One of its main aims was to encourage the Knesset to pass legislation establishing a day to recall the exodus of Jews from Arab lands.
MK Ohayon was also instrumental is passing a law designating November 30th as a national day of commemoration in Israel for the close to one million Jewish refugees forced to flee Arab lands (and Iran ), to be known as Jewish Refugee Day. The main purpose of the Day is to explain why close to 50 percent of Israel’s Jews hail from Arab lands. As MK Ohayon noted,
Until very recently, successive Israeli governments have been criticized by Jewish refugees from Arab lands ‘ and their descendants ‘ for their near silence on the issue. Much of the silence stemmed from the fact that few Jews wanted to go back to Arab lands due to ongoing anti-Semitism, and that the prospect of any Arab country agreeing to compensate expelled Jews was considered too remote. In recent years, however, the Palestinian Authority’s incessant demand for a ‘right of return’ for the significantly fewer Arab refugees from 1948 have led many Israelis to begin asserting the rights of reparations through compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab lands (Knesset, 2014).
The Palestinian ‘right of return’ is arguably the largest obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Demands for reparations through compensation to Jews exiled from Arab lands can therefore be used as an issue for Israel to gain a set-off against Palestinian claims for reparations, and for the explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, i.e. Israel’s ‘pre-conditions’ for continued Peace Talks negotiations. This would combat the assertion that Palestinian refugees have a ‘right of return’ without the quid pro quo acknowledgement of the status of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Israel’s right to exist.
These false Palestinian premises include the notion that there is such a right under international law, that it was granted to them in UN resolutions, and that Israel is responsible for creating their plight (Beker, 2005). The case of the Jewish refugees, conversely, highlights the Arabs’ unwillingness to recognize the Jewish right to a homeland, and exhibits a calculated policy of exploiting the conflict to pursue their goal of destroying Israel (Yoong, 2006). As such, there are almost no Jews left in the Arab world (see Chapter 1).
When the Arabs launched their UN-violated war against Israel in 1948, they provoked the Jewish and Palestinian refugee problems. During the war, in which Arab armies invaded Israel and battles raged in almost every city and settlement (see Appendix A), there were instances in which Israeli troops had to force the local Arab population out of their homes. These were acts of self-defence during a conflict that claimed ten percent of Israel’s Jewish population. Israel did not, as alleged, mastermind a large-scale expulsion of Palestinians. Rather, based on the memoirs of former Syrian Prime Minister Khalid Al- Azm, the responsibility of the Palestinian refugee problems rests with the Arabs:
In March 1976, in the official PLO journal in Beirut, Falastin Al- Thawra, current President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas supported this view by writing that:
The Palestinian demand for a ‘right of return’ is a formula for destroying Israel as a Jewish state and reflects the unwillingness to seek a realistic Peace settlement. At the same time, introducing a new element ‘ restitution for Jewish refugees ‘ may go to balance the Peace dialogue.
When an historical narrative presents as many contradictions as that of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, it is a challenge to deduce fact from contrivance. In circumstances such as these, it is important to countenance first-hand accounts from those who suffered personally. There have been a variety of such accounts from Jews who were expelled or forced to flee from Arab lands between 1947 and 1952. These come in many forms, including documentary films, academic journals, and non-fiction books.
One of the more noteworthy documentaries is The Forgotten Refugees. Produced in 2005 by The David Project and IsraTV, this 49-minute documentary film recounts the history of the Jewish communities throughout the Arab lands, and their rapid demise in the face of persecution. This documentary features interviews and testimonies from a number of individuals who are either experts in their field, or who lived through the exodus. The former includes Irwin Cotler, Gina Waldman, and Raphael Israeli, while the latter includes Mordechai Ben-Porat (The Forgotten Refugees, 2005). Mr. Ben-Porat is an Iraqi Jew most well-known for his part in organizing the mass exodus of Iraqi Jews between 1949 and 1951 (see Chapter 1).
Another important documentary is The Silent Exodus, a 2004 film by Pierre Rehov. In it, Mr. Rehov, a French-Israeli, recounts the fate of almost one million Jews who fled Arab lands after 1948 (The Silent Exodus, 2004). It is worth noting that this documentary was presented at the 2004 UN Geneva Human Rights Annual Convention.
Understanding the experiences of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is vitally important to any and all future peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides, as well as the global community, must fully appreciate that there are two groups of refugees, and that each have an equal voice in claiming reparations. This is especially important given the fact that there were more Jews who fled Arab lands than Palestinians who fled Mandate Palestine (UN General Progress Report, 1950).
The sad reality is that while much of the contemporary narrative of Palestinian refugees is focused on the narrative of their experiences within the borders of Israel, most of the close to 500,000 Palestinian refugees who fled following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War faced persecution in Arab lands akin to those faced by Jews. These included attempts to block their resettlement, and the introduction of a variety of discriminatory laws including: a ban on receiving citizenship ‘ with the exception of Jordan; blocking them from entering many professions; restrictions on owning land; restrictions on movement, and; denial of education and health services (Ayalon, 2014).
History has proven that resettlement and integration has helped tens of millions of refugees reclaim their lives. Unfortunately the Palestinian refugees are trapped between Arab leaders unwilling to accept their brethren, and UN agencies who do not apply equal and universal principles to all refugees. Jewish refugees, by contrast, have been expunged and eclipsed from the history books, thereby formulating an inaccurate account of the Middle East peace and justice narratives.
Israel’s first overture at peace with the Palestinians was Israel’s withdrawal of occupation from Gaza in 2005, which was never reciprocated by any peace overture by the Palestinians towards Israel (e.g., recognition of Israel’s right to exist), except for secure boundary agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Unfortunately, the result of this withdrawal of occupation resulted in the election of a terrorist government in Gaza: Hamas.
Transforming these narratives can only be achieved by altering the refugee question ‘ of both Jews and Palestinians ‘ away from its current state as a political-military tool, and into a peace issue. Doing so will help set the entire Middle Eastern narrative back on track by granting Jewish refugees the recognition they deserve ‘ doing so will also reinvigorate the Palestinian refugee claims. Again, it is essential that distinctions are made between the two groups of refugee.
First, Jewish refugees from Arab lands bear the same generic label of refugee that is the universal standard application to almost all of the world’s refugees. Palestinians, however, have a separate agency and a separate definition, which is tied to a geographic location and that benefits a very specific population. Second, the status of Palestinian refugees is hereditary, unlike that of Jewish refugees, or indeed any other group refugees. The descendants of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, unlike Palestinians, do not inherit the refugee status of their parents. Third, if any of the world’s refugees acquire a new nationality, they immediately cease being a refugee. This holds true for all refugee groups, except for Palestinians, who maintain refugee status even though they are listed population of countries that are both willing and able to protect them . And, fourth, to qualify as a refugee, one must have had nationality or habitual residence in the country from which they fled. The UNRWA, in contrast, requires only a two-year residency. Palestinian refugees therefore needed to have lived in the British Mandate Palestine for only two years (between June 1946 and May 1948) to be eligible for UNRWA refugee status. Any other group of refugees is defined as such only as currently living in the land in which they are being persecuted.
Regrettably the world is ignorant to these truths. They are hardened to view Palestinian refugees through the eternal lens of ‘victim’, and Israel through the eternal lens of ‘villain’. While Israel is no archetype state, it is not a pariah state either. It does what is necessary to protect its population, akin to every other democratic nation on earth. The Palestinian leadership, by contrast, does whatever is necessary to cement the status of refugee among its population. Notwithstanding the reality that many Palestinian refugees are honest victims in need of assistance, the global community must realize that the villain is not Israel ‘ it is the Palestinian leadership: the de facto Government of Palestine .
With increasing demands by both Israelis and Palestinians, and demands being revised and revoked on a continual basis ‘ including restitution for Jewish refugees from Arab lands ‘ one group increasingly holds the position of ‘spoiler’: the Government of Palestine. The issue of who governs Palestinians is in itself a topic of much debate, but what is not debatable is that, as of June 2014, it has included Hamas ‘ a listed terrorist organization.
The Government of Palestine, for much of its history, has been split into two competing factions: Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip ‘ the latter of which is a designated terrorist organization in seven nations . This is important to note because the two administrations formally declared a unity government on 2 June 2014 (BBC, 2014). In other words, a listed terrorist organization currently forms the Government of Palestine, which has ‘Non-Member Observer State’ status at the UN (UN General Assembly, 2012). The only other ‘Non-Member Observer State’ at the UN is the Holy See .
Hamas is known for launching attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, including suicide bombings and rocket attacks. In 2006, Hamas used an underground cross-border tunnel to abduct the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, holding him captive until 2011 when he was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners (CNN, 2014). Since then, they have continued to build their network of internal and cross-border tunnels which are used to deploy weapons, shield militants, and facilitate cross-border attacks (Sherwood, 2014). Destroying these tunnels was a primary objective of the 2014 Israeli-Gaza conflict, yet many of them are still intact which, if used for any of the purposes stated above, can spoil Israel’s recent attempt to balance the refugee element in contemporary Peace negotiations.
This Paper holds that, absent any interference from the Government of Palestine, Hamas, or other regional terrorist entities, including Hezbollah, ISIL, Iran, or Al Qaeda, the five steps presented in this Paper will ensure that the legitimate calls to guarantee the rights and reparations for both groups of refugees are heard at the Peace table.
First, each of the Arab lands ‘ and the Arab League ‘ must acknowledge their role and responsibility in their triple aggression of launching a UN-violated war against Israel, the perpetration of human rights violations against their Jewish population, and the tangential Palestinian displacement and disposition from the Mandated lands. Second, remedies must be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab lands ‘ including restitution. Third, the UN must recognize the perpetuation that is caused by the UNRWA, and transfer responsibility of Palestinian refugees to the UNHCR. Fourth, the international community’s perception of Jewish refugees must change, including referencing and addressing their plight in equal balance to that of Palestinian refugees. And fifth, any bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations must include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder of discussion.
This Paper is offered as a model for the exercise of diplomatic peace practices among belligerents with competing histories.