‘Jews in grave danger in Moslem lands’: the New York Times headline on 16th May 1948
In all the welter of publicity following the Israeli government’sUN summit on Jewish refugees, Israel Hayom ‘s three-part series by Elizabeth Blade is one of the best in-depth explorations of the issue. You can read Part One here, and Part Two here. This extract from Part Threelooks at a possible solution to the refugee problem on both sides:
Arab leaders consistently deny accusations that their nations’
mistreatment of Jews led to an exodus and the creation of a Jewish
refugee problem in 1948. They regularly make a show of offering that
those Jews who left return to their Arab homelands as compensation for
any past misdeeds.
Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authtority’s chief negotiator, was
quoted by the Palestinian news agency Maan as saying, “We are not
against any Jew who wants to return to Morocco, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and
elsewhere. I believe no Arab state rejects the Jewish right of returning
to their native lands”.
Dr. Yitschak Ben-Gad, a former Libyan Jewish refugee who served as
Consul General of Israel in Florida, USA (2005-2007) responded with
fierce criticism, stating that the offer was unacceptable.
Dr. Haim Saadoun of Israel’s Open University agreed. “Jews cannot go
back, and it’s not the matter of the Arab Spring. It has more to do with
the gap between the Jewish drive for modernization and Arab societies’
desire to stick to their traditions, often at the expense of modernity”.
But if home-coming is out of question, what’s the alternative? The
answer to this question was suggested in a report by Israel’s Foreign
Ministry that offered to establish a special fund that would “compensate
the Jewish and the Palestinian refugees… [as well as those] countries
that had already been working on absorbing and rehabilitating [them]…
[It] will also deal with the issue of Jewish property that is still in
the hands of Arab and Muslim countries…”
This approach is nothing new. In 1948, the UN General Assembly
adopted a resolution calling for the settlement of the refugee issues,
both Jewish and Palestinian, but the call fell on deaf ears, with Arab
government representatives voting against it.
Another attempt to settle the problem was made during the Camp David
peace talks of 2000, when President Clinton offered to create an
international fund that would compensate the refugees, both Arab and
Jewish. His project, however, just like other initiatives, has never
seen the light of day.
In fact, the pleas of Jewish refugees have always been sidelined by
the much more popular Palestinian refugee issue. Comparing numbers on
both sides, BBC notes: “856,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries
[were registered between] 1948-1952 [as compared to] 860,000 Palestinian
refugees [recorded] by 1951,” adding that “now with their descendants
they total 5 million (UNRWA)”.
But the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs comes up with another
figure. “Studies suggest that in 1948 there were about 740,000
Palestinians living in what is now Israel. During the war some 190,000
either remained or left and returned soon thereafter. Thus, the most
plausible number of refugees is 550,000…”
Using the same methodology, the think tank indicated that the 1967
war created about 100,000 refugees in addition to some 25-46 thousands
of internally displaced persons, most of whom were compensated by either
the Israeli authorities or international donors.
If these numbers are accurate, the two wars produced some 650,000
Palestinian refugees, the majority of whom continue to live in camps
scattered across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Addressing this issue, Ben-Gad pinned the responsibility on the Arab community.
“Arab leaders are not trying to solve the problem of Palestinian
refugees, who are used as a football in the hands of their politicians,
aimed at de-legitimizing Israel,” he charged. “On the other hand, Jews,
who escaped persecution in Arab lands, were absorbed by Israel and
received assistance [especially from charity organizations funded by the
Jewish diaspora]. They turned from refugees to the constructive basis
of the society. You can see them in all walks of political and social
Will the suffering of Jewish refugees ever be acknowledged? “I have
always raised this question. I believe that a drop can make a hole in
concrete, if it only persists,” concluded Ben-Gad.
Other links to coverage in the international media:
This Globes article says the campaign for Jewish refugees is a ‘winner’
USA Today injects a note of scepticism (with thanks: Michelle Malka)
Le Temps (English version in Worldcrunch)
In Focus Newsblog
Wall St Journal article by Lucette Lagnado
Christian Science Monitor article by Christa Case Bryant