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 monthin Jerusalem and the meetingat 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 government
s 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 month
s 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.

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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.