The Shaar Ha’aliya transit camp for Jewish refugees , 1951
Today is Nakba Day – when Palestinians commemorate their exodus from what is now Israel in 1948, in spite of having declared war on the fledgling Israeli state. Their tragedy is recalled every year by a compliant media, and there are even plans to build a Nakba Museum in Washington DC . Dr Edy Cohen, a Jewish refugee from Lebanon in the1990s, writes in i24 News that no solution can be found for Palestinian refugees as long as justice for
the 870, 000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries is denied.
On May 15, Palestinians and groups associated with them – extreme
leftist Israelis and international organizations funded by Europeans –
mark a national Palestinian tragedy known as the Nakba (Arabic for
“disaster”). No one can deny the existence of the Palestinian refugee
problem, created by the 1948 creation of the State of Israel and the
ensuing Palestinian flight from their homes. This is historical fact.
However, the creation of Israel also resulted in the transfer from their
homes of hundreds of thousands of Jews living peacefully in Arab
countries. Having failed in their efforts to defeat the fledgling
Israeli state in 1948, Arab states took revenge on the Jews living in
their lands who had been loyal to the Arab rulers for centuries.
While the Palestinian refugee problem is well known, few in the West
are aware of the problem of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The
nature of that Jewish immigration from Arab countries varied. Some were
motivated to move to the newly established state by Zionism. Others did
not want to leave. My family, for example, had lived in Lebanon for
three generations and was an integral part of the Beiruti landscape of
Wadi Abu Jamil Street in the Jewish neighborhood of Harat-al-Yahudi. For
years we came to Israel to visit family but always returned to our home
My family did not choose to leave its homeland for Zionist
considerations. It was forced to flee in the 1990s fearing for its life.
Therefore, the definition of the word “refugee” as formulated in the
1951 Geneva Refugee Convention is compatible with my status and that of
hundreds of thousands of other Jews. “A person who [has] a well-founded
fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality.”
Dozens of Lebanese Jews were abducted and killed around Beirut in the
mid-80s and the Lebanese government was unable to keep the Jews of
Lebanon safe. The strengthening of the Shiite organization Hezbollah, on
the one hand, and the weakness of the government of President Amin
Gemayel, on the other, along with the emergence of many militias, turned
Lebanon into a dangerous place, not only for Jews but for hundreds of
foreigners many of whom were kidnapped and murdered.
Some 900,000 Jews from Arab countries left their homelands since
1948. The property they left behind is estimated at $30 billion,
including the buildings in dozens of Jewish communities in Arab
countries: magnificent synagogues, factories and private property that
was expropriated and confiscated.
In 2008, the US Congress adopted Resolution 185 which recognized the
rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and unanimously determined
that if aid is extended to Palestinian refugees, similar aid and
compensation must be extended to Jews from Arab lands. In an
unprecedented decision, the Canadian parliament recognized the rights of
Jewish refugees in March 2004.
In Israel, too, the Knesset approved a 2010 law aimed at preserving
the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran and receiving
compensation. In addition, Israel recently designated November 30 as
“Jewish Refugee Day”.
Let us not forget this quiet but paralyzing trauma, which has been
passed on to younger generations. Jewish refugees who came to Israel
from Arab countries were in a state of post-traumatic stress, and
therefore did not talk about their past. They came as refugees to a
dusty wilderness, dispossessed and beaten, and built new lives. Most
integrated into society and made a tremendous contribution to the state
and its institutions. But others, robbed of their wealth and property in
Arab countries, remain trapped in multi-generational poverty in
so-called “development” towns in the periphery, which is the term
corresponding to the so-called “refugee camps” on the other side.
Decision makers around the world are well aware that there will be no
solution to the Palestinian problem as long as they do not find a
solution to the problem of Jewish refugees. The Western world needs to
recognize that the tragedy has two faces: the tragedy of the Palestinian
refugees and the tragedy of the Jews of Arab countries.