With thanks: Lucy
A key demand by groups campaigning on behalf of Jews from Arab countries is for Jewish refugees to be compensated for lost or abandoned property and assets. The Israeli government began collecting claims in the early 1950s. Other organisations,like WOJAC,the American Sephardi Federation and JJAC have also done so. But it has taken an investigative documentary by film-maker Emanuel Rozen to uncover just how confused, chaotic and inaccessible the system is to claimants themselves.
Rozen’s film ‘Secrets of the lost Treasure’(Hebrew) follows two Israeli claimants, Lucy Calamaro of Egypt and Samir Muallem of Iraq in their quest for compensation.The total value of assets lost by Jews from Arab countries could amount to nine billion dollars at today”s prices. Muallem’s family business, a brickworks, could be worth 38 million dollars alone.
Lucy, who left Egypt in the 1960s, promised her father she would not rest until she obtained justice.
The two claimants soon find themselves shunted from pillar to post. Important documents are stored in the bowels of the Ministry of Justice, in a garden shed or in an underground car park. They are not allowed to inspect the documents in the Ministry of Justice ‘for security reasons’.
The word ‘Kizzuz’ is the dark cloud hovering over the issue of reparations for Jewish refugees. For years, Israeli government policy was to ‘offset’ Jewish losses with Palestinian losses.The Jews would get nothing.
Many refugees fled with no deeds or other documents. Instead,Samir has a home movie of his family’s brickworks. However, Lucy has documents of her own recording her family’s assets in Egypt, so precious she pleaded for burglars not to take them from her home.
No Israeli has ever received compensation from an Arab government. Lucy’s approach to the Italian government (she had an Italian passport)comes to nought. Even Jews now resident in the UK who have received compensation, like the Smouha family,have been short-changed by an Anglo-Egyptian agreement for their property in Alexandria, worth three billion dollars. Others have won cases in the Egyptian court, only to find that the government has not the money to pay. One Egyptian lawyer advises Lucy to get together with other claimants and file a class action.
The Iraqi trail ends with a furtive interview with Mordechai Ben Porat, Israeli Mossad agent,who is meant to hold thousands of documents. Is he also an agent of ‘Kizzuz’, jealously guarding the information for the Israeli government? But he claims only to have communal property records.
The film ends with a big question mark.Will these claimants ever see one ‘grush’ of their lost assets? It looks highly unlikely.