Jewish Refugees of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Much attention is paid to the Arab Palestinian refugees created as the result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Almost no attention is given to the Jewish refugees who were forced to immigrate or became homeless as a direct or indirect result of the conflict, their rights and the rights of their descendants. These refugees have found homes in Israel, Europe and the United States. Nonetheless, they were usually forced to leave their homes under duress, and in most cases were deprived of their property. There is no doubt that they suffered unjustifiably, and that any "just" solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict must take into account their legitimate claims and just grievances. The Jewish refugees include a small number of Jews evacuated from their homes in Palestine/Israel, and a much larger number of Jews who fled Arab countries.
A small number of Jewish refugees were created as a direct result of the conflict in Palestine or Israel. The Jewish communities of Hebron and Jerusalem were destroyed successively in the Arab riots of 1929 uprising of 1936 and finally in the 1948 War of Independence. No Jews were allowed to live in territories held by the Arab forces. Therefore the remaining Jews of Jerusalem, and those of Gush Etzion, Atarot, Neve Yaakov and kibbutzim in the Gaza strip were forced to evacuate their homes and leave their property without compensation. The total number of such persons might have been under 10,000. They are more numerous if we include dependents. In fairness, there seems to be no logical reason why such people should not be designated "refugees" as opposed to Arab Palestinians who left their homes or were forced to flee their homes. UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which deals with the refugee problem, refers to "refugees" without specifying their origin. In fairness, it should apply to Jewish refugees created by the conflict as well as to Palestinian Arab refugees.
A far larger number of Jews left the Arab and Muslim countries, due directly to the conflict, or to persecution of Jews in Arab and Muslim countries which intensified as a result of the conflict. In Iraq, Jews suffered a bloody pogrom in 1941, the Farhud, instigated by the Palestinian Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini and his coterie of Nazi-sympathizers. They were subjected to further persecutions following the outbreak of hostilities in 1948. Allegations that some of the violence against Iraqi Jews was instigated by Zionists are apparently groundless. In Morocco, the position of the Jews was perhaps one of the best among all Arab countries. Nonetheless, emigration was forbidden for several years when Morocco achieved independence in 1958, and was only resumed in 1967 and anti-Semitism was rife. In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab wrote regarding the attitude of his fellow Muslims toward their Jewish neighbors:
The condition of Jews in other countries was generally worse.
In most cases, Jews were not allowed to take out their property, and in many cases they were forced to leave. This Exodus did not take place all at once in 1948 in all countries. In Egypt, Jews lingered on until they were forced to leave after the 6-Day war in 1967. The table below summarizes the data. Not all of the Jews who left Arab or Muslim countries may be considered refugees, but over 600,000 were apparently forced to leave without their property and are refugees. In addition to the numbers shown in the table below, there were about 100,000 Jews in Iran in 1948. At the time of the Khomeini revolution in 1979, there were about 80,000. About 55,000 found life impossible under the Islamist revolution and fled Iran, leaving abut 25,000 in 2004. Of course the current population of such refugees and their descendants must be numbered in the millions.
(Table adapted from Justice for Jews from Arab Countries
Mr. Auguste Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, recognized the refugee status of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries in the report of the UNREF Executive Committee, Fourth Session – Geneva 29 January to 4 February, 1957. Likewise, Dr. E. Jahn, Office of the UN High Commissioner, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Document No. 7/2/3/Libya, July 6, 1967, recognized the refugee status of these Jews.
Nonetheless, in contrast with the numerous UN resolutions concerning Palestinian Arab refugees, as well as the apparatus of UNRWA set up to deal with Arab refugees, no action at all was taken regarding Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The expulsions of Jews from Arab countries in many cases violated human rights conventions, but no actions were taken against the countries concerned. Israel has not pressed the claims of Jewish refugees from Arab countries or refugees evacuated in 1948 from areas conquered by the Arabs.
The resolution of the Jewish refugee problem, like that of the Arab Palestinian refugee problem, has implications for the peace process. As Ada Aharoni and Alain Albagli wrote:
It is high time that emphasis in the peace process be redirected to community leaders and away from top-down conflict-resolution processes. Community leaders in the civic, religious, education and media realms need to assume their responsibility in pursuing reconciliation. They must acknowledge explicitly the legitimacy of their opponent's claim and commit themselves to rebuilding the image of the opponent. Espousing a perverted image of the opponent even in the heat of debate negates efforts at acknowledging legitimacy. Western support should be limited to those that pass this test.
This reciprocal acknowledgement is the cornerstone upon which future political leaders will be able to build a viable peace process. Putting the claims of Jewish refugees from Arab countries into the balance would encourage both populations to favor a two-state solution and the election of pro-peace political leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
In conclusion, a more objective and balanced approach to the tragedies of both Jews from Arab countries and Palestinians could have a moderating effect on both populations. Jews from Arab countries would have their history and heritage restored and would become more open to a peaceful arrangement. In turn, the Palestinians would realize that they are not the only ones who have suffered, making them more prone to reconciliation. This conciliatory effect could lead to a beneficial promotion of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and in the Middle East in general.
More about refugees from Arab Countries:
There seems to always be one more question!
Justice for Jews from Arab Countries
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Palestinian Refugee Problem and Right of Return.
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