UN hosts historic meeting on Jewish refugees

 Prior to the UN meeting on 21 September Danny Ayalon addressing a Jerusalem conference on Jewish refugees on 10 September (Photo: Oren Nachshon)

 It was a historic moment at the UN, but it will be the first of many occasions when Israel will raise the issue of the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Deputy foreign minister  Danny Ayalon appealed to the UN to hear and document the stories of brutally expelled Jews; Referring to the issue’s potential for achieving peace, UN Ambassador Ron Prosor said ‘this is not about the past, it’s about the future’; Ron Lauder of the WJC said peace had to be based on truth; law professor Alan Dershowitz said that Jewish refugees had one of the strongest claims to be refugees while Palestinians had one of the weakest. Dan Diker of the World Jewish Congress stated that Jews were card-carrying members of the Middle East, and one of its oldest peoples – an argument  not stated enough. Before a comprehensive list of links to the press coverage of the UN event, here’s an extract from Jonathan Tobin’s intelligent analysis on the Commentary  blog (with thanks to all those who emailed me with links):

The tragic fate of Palestinian Arab refugees has always loomed over
the Middle East conflict. The descendants of those who fled the
territory of the newborn state of Israel in 1948 have been kept
stateless and dependent on United Nations charity rather than being
absorbed into other Arab countries so as to perpetuate the war to
extinguish the Jewish state.

The refugees and those who purport to
advocate for their interests have consistently sought to veto any peace
plans that might end the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.
They have refused to accept any outcome that did not involve their
“return” to what is now Israel, an idea that is tantamount to the
destruction of Israel. The Palestinians have gotten away with this
irresponsible behavior because they retained the sympathy of a world
that saw them as the sole victims of Israel’s War of Independence. But
the historical truth is far more complex.

Far from 1948 being a case of a one-sided population flight in which
Palestinians left what is now Israel (something that most did
voluntarily as they sought to escape the war or because they feared what
would happen to them in a Jewish majority state), what actually
occurred was a population exchange. At the same time that hundreds of
thousands of Arabs left the Palestine Mandate, hundreds of thousands of
Jews living in the Arab and Muslim world began to be pushed out of their
homes. The story of the Jewish refugees has rarely been told in
international forums or the mainstream media but it got a boost today
when the first United Nations Conference on Jews expelled from Arab
Countries was held at the world body’s New York headquarters. While
Palestinian refugees deserve sympathy and perhaps some compensation in
any agreement that would finally end the conflict, so, too, do the
descendants of the Jews who lost their homes. As Danny Ayalon, Israel’s
Deputy Foreign Minister rightly said today:

We will not arrive at peace without solving the refugee
problem – but that includes the Jewish refugees. Justice does not lie on
just one side and equal measures must be applied to both.

It is true that the descendants of the Jewish refugees are not still
living in camps waiting for new homes. Though the process was not
without its problems, rather than abuse those Jews who were dispossessed
and using them as political props as the Arabs did, refugees from the
Arab world found homes and lives in Israel and the West with the help of
their brethren. But that does not diminish their right to compensation
or a fair hearing for their grievances.

The truth about the Jewish refugees is something that foreign
cheerleaders for the Palestinians as well as the Arab nations who took
part in the expulsion have never acknowledged, let alone refuted. As Ron
Prosor, Israel’s UN ambassador, pointed out in his speech at the
conference, what occurred after Israel’s birth was nothing less than a
campaign aimed at eliminating ancient Jewish communities. Arab leaders
“launched a war of terror, incitement, and expulsion to decimate and
destroy their Jewish communities. Their effort was systematic. It was
deliberate. It was planned.”

Indeed, not only did Jews lose billions of dollars in property but
were deprived of property that amounts to a land mass that is five times
the size of the state of Israel. This is something that a lot of people, especially those to whom the
peace process with the Palestinians has become an end unto itself don’t
want to hear about. They believe that the putting forward of Jewish
claims from 1948 is merely an obstacle to negotiations. But such
arguments are absurd. Peace cannot be built merely by appeasing the
Palestinian claim to sole victimhood. Just as the dispute over territory
is one between two peoples with claims, so, too is the question of
refugee compensation. Peace cannot be bought by pretending that only
Palestinians suffered or that only Arabs have rights. Indeed, such a
formulation is a guarantee that the struggle will continue indefinitely
since the Palestinians are encouraged to think that they are the only
ones with just claims.

For far too long the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has
been cast as one pitting the security of the former against the rights
of the latter. Framed this way, it is no surprise that the more
emotional appeals of the Palestinians have often prevailed over the
arguments of Israelis. Rather than asserting their historic rights, the
Jews have often allowed themselves to be cast in the false role of
colonial oppressor. The Palestinian pose as the only victims of the war
enables them to evade their historic responsibility for both the
creation of a refugee problem in 1948 as well as their refusal to accept
Israeli peace offers.

Read article in full 

UN webcast – 21 September 2012

Ynet News report 

Haaretz (Chemi Shalev – registration required)

Times of Israel report 

Israel Hayom report

JPost report 

Controversial Jerusalem Post op-ed 

The Tablet 

JTA News

Maariv (Hebrew)

Washington Times 

Jewish Weekly 

Jewish Voice (NY)

Blogger Elder of Ziyon says that this is not the first time the issue of Jewish refugees has been raised at the UN 

2 Comments

  • Who was their leader (king )? What currency did they use then? How come they dont even have stories of how great their culture was ?

    Reply
  • Tobin makes a mistake that many other people make. There never was a "palestinian people" in all history. Indeed, the notion of a "palestinian people" was invented in order to undermine Jewish rights to the Land of Israel.

    Reply

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.