Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peace talks must not neglect Jewish refugees

Point of No Return
22 December '10

Three cheers for Danny Ayalon, who is cranking up his campaign for justice for Jewish refugees by posting the following rebuttal to Rachel Shabi's rather mean-spirited effort on the Guardian's Comment is Free. 'The Jewish refugee issue was never given a speaking part' in international forums, he writes memorably.

"For a long time now, we have been wanting and waiting to sit down and talk. After all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not short of talking points that need to be urgently resolved. Unfortunately, however, instead of both sides discussing the problems, the Palestinians seem more comfortable issuing demands.

One of the topics that we could discuss is refugees, what some describe in the familiar mantra as the "right of return". The slogan itself is, of course, a misnomer – a right is a legal function and must be grounded in law to have applicable force. Yet, as with so many of the cliches and familiar refrains surrounding the Middle East, there are two sides to the refugee story, with the Israeli side one of the best-kept secrets of the conflict.

While those Arabs who fled or left mandatory Palestine and Israel numbered roughly 750,000, there were more than 900,000 Jewish refugees subsequently expelled or forced out from Arab lands at around the same time. Before the state of Israel was re-established in 1948, there were almost 1 million Jews in Arab lands; today there are around 5,000.

As opposed to the Arabs in mandatory Palestine, who had been waging a civil war on the Jewish community for decades, the Jews in Arab lands were loyal citizens and residents, and had not been involved in any violence. Sadly, however, the Arab leadership of the time treated them as a "fifth column", and began taking draconian measures to facilitate their expulsion.

On 16 May 1948, two days after the state of Israel was re-established, the New York Times reported that the Arab League had recommended to its member states to freeze all bank accounts belonging to Jews, discharge all Jews in civil service positions and arbitrarily subject Jews to mass imprisonment. Several Arab regimes went further and inspired pogroms and mass murder against their Jewish populations. Just a decade after the Nazi persecution began in earnest, it was now the turn of the Jews in the Middle East to suffer similar edicts.

(Read full "Peace talks must not neglect Jewish refugees")

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