Egyptian Jewish refugees arriving in Piraeus en route to Israel, 1950s (photo: JDC archives)
Sarah Honig is my favourite Jerusalem Post columnist, but her piece on John Kerry’s proposed compensation for Jewish Refugees from Arab lands is a little off-base. Yes, the proposal could be playing to the antisemitic stereotype of the Jew who would sell his soul for money – but there is no denying that compensation for Jewish refugees – by no means a new concept – is their due. I do not share Sarah’s cynicism that no-one will pay. Uncle Sam will end up paying the lion’s share – but the Arab world must dig into their pockets too. Unless the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing show contrition, there can be no genuine reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. And an apology would cost them nothing.
The point of departure here is that Jews – be their background
Mideastern or otherwise – are greedy. If only offered enough payback,
Israel’s “hardliners” will let go of all their mistrust of the Arabs,
among whom they or their ancestors lived and from whom they had to flee
for fear of their lives.
Thus – to bait those covetous Jews –
the notion of compensating Jewish refugees from Arab lands was inserted
into Kerry’s so-called framework for a peace agreement.
first glance it looks like an unassailable proposition. If anything, it
should be cheered. Here, so it would seem, is the first tangible
acknowledgement of our long-time contentions that there had been no Arab
calamity in 1948 but in effect an exchange of populations.
Some 600,000 Arabs fled what was to become Israel – in many cases at the
prompting of their leaders. This resulted directly from a war the Arabs
had instigated to annihilate Israel. Their misfortune was that the
genocide they planned had backfired and the Jews, slated for
extermination, had the temerity to win and remain alive.
fact, these uncooperative Jews remained alive enough to absorb into
their midst over 800,000 Jews who fled Arab lands. Unlike the
Palestinians, these Jewish refugees did not start a war, did not aim to
massacre their neighbors or destroy the countries where they had
constituted the oldest continuous communities, long predating both the
Arab conquests and Islam.
These were genuine refugees rather than frustrated aggressors who had
ascribed their own homicidal fervor to their intended victims.
The so-called Palestinian refugees, furthermore, weren’t on the whole
local Arabs anyhow. Many were itinerant Arab laborers drawn to this
country by the Zionist Jews who made the desert bloom and the land
habitable. For the benefit of those who forget, this was the remote,
malaria-ridden, depopulating hinterland of the decaying Ottoman Empire.
The Jews, who longed for this forlorn place – their one and only
historic home – literally watered the wasteland with their blood, sweat
Word then got round the entire Arab sphere that
there’s opportunity to be had here – the term used was “prosperity.”
Arabs started flocking in from Iraq, Syria, Egypt and all the way to
Libya and the Maghreb.
The British mandatory government, which callously collaborated in the
Nazi “final solution” by barring the entry to this country of desperate
Jewish refugees from Hitler’s hell, flung the gates open for Arab
economic migrants (see Joan Peters’
matchless From Time Immemorial). The UN later unabashedly defined as a
Palestinian refugee any Arab, no matter from where, who sojourned
temporarily here for two years before the 1948 Arab attack on day-old
No such benign attention was focused on Jews fleeing
Arab countries. Indeed no attention whatsoever was paid them. They, like
the displaced post-Holocaust European Jews, were looked upon as
detestable bothers whose very plight upset the global applecart and
destabilized the Mideast. Jewish tragedies evoked no compassion. It’s as
if Jews were anyhow, from the dawn of history, portable and destined to
rootlessness and wandering.
So obviously no heartstrings were
tugged by the fact that refugee Jews from Arab jurisdictions had left
far more land and way more property behind than did the diverse Arab
transients who ran away from Israel, plainly expecting the Jews to mete
out to them all that they had boastfully declared they would do to the
Arab hardship was lamented while Jewish suffering was, as
per usual, overlooked (if not actually disdained). Making matters worse
was that beleaguered newborn Israel, where there wasn’t enough of
anything and where the most basic foodstuffs were severely rationed,
welcomed the refugees as repatriated brethren.
occurred across the armistice lines. Arab refugees were segregated in
camps, not allowed to assimilate or to economically rehabilitate. A
special UN agency – UNWRA
– was set up uniquely for them and for them alone. Their refugee status
was perpetuated over the generations. The Jews, in contrast, were never
regarded as refugees.
Israel is held accountable for the Arab
displacement, despite the fact that it implored the Arabs to stay and
not to attack. Consequently, in Kerry’s view, Israel must in the very
least compensate dispossessed Arabs. To make this palatable, it appeared
prudent to also throw in compensation for the Jews who streamed
penniless into Israel from all corners of the Mideast.
it fairness Kerry is after? The truth is quickly exposed via a simple
question – who will pay? Whereas Israel must make reparations to the
Arabs (because they had failed to defeat it), who will pay the Jewish
Surely it won’t be the Palestinians – not that we
know who among them would pay even if they were trustworthy peace
partners, which they clearly are not. Will jihadist Gaza
pay? Will terror-glorifying Ramallah? Seriously? Even if all the
goodwill in the universe suddenly descended upon them, they will surely
shirk responsibility for what Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, etc. had done.
And surely Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Tripoli,
Sana’a, etc. (all in the dire throes of internecine turmoil) will
assert that they aren’t sides to any deal between Ramallah and
Technically they would be darn tootin’ right.
Washington cannot foist any sort of financial onus on them. Obama
(considering the deficits with which he has lumbered his own country)
would surely not endorse a payout to Jewish refugees from depleted
American coffers. That’s not how far his “sharing the wealth” ethos
The long and the short of it is that nobody will
compensate the Arab realm’s Jewish refugees. Obama knows it. Kerry knows
it. So why make promises that can’t possibly be kept? Well, of course
Kerry’s entire misnamed peace framework is a promise that can’t be kept.