Setting the record straight on ‘the right of return’

 Jewish refugees in a camp in Israel, 1950

 Arabs often cite UN Resolution 194 as enshrining the Palestinian ‘right to return’ to Israel. Writing in Myths and Facts, Eli Hertz helpfully reminds us that the only paragraph 11 deals with ‘return’, that returning refugees must meet certain conditions, that compensation is an alternative and that not only Arab refugees were covered. Hertz also deals with the Jewish side of the refugee coin – stating that any attempt to detach their plight from the conflict as a whole is a rewriting of history.   (With thanks: Eliyahu)

Resolution 194, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 11, 1948, addressed
a host of issues, but only one paragraph out of 15 dealt with refugees
created by the conflict. Resolution 194 attempted to create the tools
required to reach a truce in the region. It established a conciliation
commission with representatives from the United States, France and
Turkey to replace the UN mediator. The commission was charged with
achieving “a final settlement of all questions between … governments and
authorities concerned.”

The Resolution’s “refugee clause” is not a
standalone item, as the Arabs would have us think, nor does it pertain
specifically to Palestinian Arab refugees.

Of the 15 paragraphs, the first six sections addressed ways to achieve a
truce; the next four paragraphs addressed the ways that Jerusalem and
surrounding villages and towns should be demilitarized, and how an
international zone or jurisdiction would be created in and around
Jerusalem. The resolution also called on all parties to protect and
allow free access to holy places, including religious buildings.

One paragraph has drawn the most attention: Paragraph 11, which alone
addressed the issue of refugees and compensation for those whose
property was lost or damaged. Contrary to Arab claims, it did not
guarantee a Right of Return and certainly did not guarantee an unconditional  Right of Return – that is the right of Palestinian Arab refugees to return to Israel. Nor did it specifically mention refugees, thereby indicating that the resolution was aimed at all refugees, both Jewish and Arab. Instead, Resolution 194 recommended that refugees be allowed to return to their homeland they met two important conditions:

1. That they be willing to live in peace with their neighbors.

2. That the return takes place “at the earliest practicable date.”

Arab leaders point to Resolution 194 as proof that Arab refugees have a right of return or be compensated, it is important to note that the Arab States: Egypt,
Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen voted against Resolution
194. Israel is not even mentioned in the resolution. The fact that wording
also is used – “governments or authorities” – suggests that, contrary
to Arab claims, the burden of compensation does not fall solely upon one
side of the conflict.

 Because seven Arab armies invaded Israel, Israel
was not responsible for creating the refugee problem. When hundreds of
thousands of Arab Jews ( an unfortunate expression – ed), under threat of death, attack and other forms of
persecution, were forced to flee Arab communities, the State of Israel
absorbed the overwhelming majority of them into the then-fledgling
nation.

The resolution also recommended that for those who did not wish to return,
“Compensation should be paid for the property … and for loss of or
damage to property” by the “governments or authorities responsible.”

Although Arab leaders point to Resolution 194 as proof that Arab refugees have a right of return or
be compensated, it is important to note that the Arab States: Egypt,
Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen voted against Resolution
194. Israel is not even mentioned in the resolution. The fact that wording
also is used – “governments or authorities” – suggests that, contrary
to Arab claims, the burden of compensation does not fall solely upon one
side of the conflict. Because seven Arab armies invaded Israel, Israel
was not responsible for creating the refugee problem. When hundreds of
thousands of Arab Jews, under threat of death, attack and other forms of
persecution, were forced to flee Arab communities, the State of Israel
absorbed the overwhelming majority of them into the then-fledgling
nation.

 The Forgotten Jewish Refugees: For
a host of reasons – practical to parochial – Israel has failed to raise
the issue of the mammoth injustice done to almost a million Jews from
Arab countries. The scale and premeditated state-sponsored nature of
persecution that prompted the 1948 flight of close to 900,000 Jews from
their homes has only recently begun to emerge. Arab publicists have
sought to detach entirely the flight of Jews from Arab lands from the
Arab-Israeli conflict, claiming they are two separate phenomena, and
that Israelis should take up the issue with each respective Arab state
that was involved, not with the Palestinian Arabs.

Clearly this is an attempt to rewrite history. One only needs to reexamine the almost prophetic article in The New York Times two days after Israel declared independence (“Jews in Grave Danger in all Moslem Lands”) to confirm the tie. The New York Times reported on May 16, 1948:

“For nearly four months, the United Nations has had before it, an appeal for
‘immediate and urgent’ consideration of the case of the Jewish
populations in Arab and Moslem countries stretching from Morocco to
India.”

 The New York Times country-by-country table estimated the Jewish population-at-risk as 899,000 people. The article cited the dismissal of Jews in the civil service in Syria, per capita ransom payment of $20,000 by Iraqi Jews seeking to leave Iraq, a
forced levy on the Lebanese Jewish community to support the Arab war effort parallel to incitement and physical attacks on Jews, and Jews fleeing to India from Afghanistan. It quoted the UN Economic and Social
Council report as saying:

“The very survival of the Jewish communities in certain Arab and Moslem
countries is in serious danger, unless preventive action is taken
without delay.

Hostility and oppression only grew, ultimately leading to the exodus of almost all Jews from all Arab and Moslem countries from Casablanca to Karachi.

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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.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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